RARA-AVIS: Psychosis and characters in hardboiled and noir mysteries

From: Racerick75@aol.com
Date: 21 Mar 2006

Speaking as a retired forensic psychologist, which provides me with only a marginally better reference point than most when it comes to mental disorders... <g>
  Psychosis takes many forms. While, in general, it is presumed that psychotics all suffer some kind of hallucinations (auditory, visual, or tactile), in fact many only have delusions. They believe themselves to be people they aren't, to possess powers they don't, or believe that they are being pursued, persecuted, or harangued. Many accurately hear what people on television are saying to them, but believe that those images are actually talking directly to them alone. Many believe that they are being given directions by outside sources in the media, or in some cases by animals or even inanimate objects.
  Reid Meloy, one of the current golden boys in the field of psychopathy, even maintains that psychopaths are themselves psychotic, since their inability to accurately perceive and empathize with the feelings of others means that they are not in contact with reality.
  I agree with an earlier post that maintained that sometimes it is difficult to draw the line between psychosis and severe neurosis. Extremely high states of mood disorder, including anxiety and depression, and manifest as psychotic states. So can substance abuse, heavy metal toxicity, and some head injuries.
  There are even mental disorders that mimic psychosis, including schizoaffective disorder and schizoid personality disorder. Don't get me started on these.
  All of this makes it difficult to write characters who are both mentally disordered and convincing, let alone to integrate them into a cohesive storyline. I've tried with my character Scat Boudreaux, in my Pat Gallegher books, to present a picture of a man who really is delusional, but who can maintain contact with reality when necessary in order to get the job done. That's one of the really interesting things about many people with psychoses. If you tell them that they're being crazy, they can actually rein it in for a while and appear 'normal'. Sooner or later, though, the voices or delusions come back.
  In one scene that takes place in the bayous of southern Louisiana in my Pat Gallegher books, Boudreaux actually has a psychotic flashback at a critical moment and believes that he is back in Viet Nam, trying to escape from the Viet Cong. Gallegher reminds him where he really is, and he 'snaps' back to the reality of the moment.
  Anyone who is thinking of writing a character with psychological disorders is welcome to contact me, and I'll be happy to provide whatever technical assistance I can. R
  Richard Helms Two-Time Shamus Award Nominee CORDITE WINE (0-9710159-6-1), the second Eamon Gold PI novel, from Back Alley Books! website: http://hometown.aol.com/murdvoocarre
"Cordite Wine is tough, funny, exciting, and very good!" -Robert B. Parker

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