Psychiatry and Writing by Olga Núñez Miret

First of all, thanks, Marie Lavender, for offering me the opportunity of contributing to your great blog. As an author, I know well there’s a lot to learn and it is good to find a place where people come to share their knowledge and experiences thus helping us improve our skills. 

Let me introduce myself. I’m originally from Barcelona (Spain), but I moved to the UK for work reasons many years back. I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist to be more precise, and I have worked as a forensic psychiatrist until very recently. I’ve always loved books and stories and I started writing when I was quite young. I remember how I would exchange stories with my primary school friends and how we used to enjoy the experience. Studying Medicine and then becoming a psychiatrist left me little time although I continued to read and write as much as I could. I also studied a BA in American Literature and a PhD on the same subject (I wrote about ‘The Films of David Mamet’) and more recently completed a Masters in Criminology. When I decided to take a break from studying, I felt it was time to go back to writing and my books. Thanks to self-publishing, I’ve published now a number of works, including novels, novellas and a collection of three stories called ‘Escaping Psychiatry’. I published both in English and Spanish, and in different genres (I’ll leave you some links at the end). 

When we were discussing this post, Marie suggested that people might be interested in knowing how my experience and knowledge as a psychiatrist has helped my writing. Her question made me think. Of course I’ve been writing for a long time, well before I became a psychiatrist. But it is true that although I love stories and plots, I’ve always been interested in characters. I can’t say I’m big when it comes to descriptions (of settings, people…), but I find that being detailed in the psychology and motives of the characters makes the books more interesting and easier to connect with. I can appreciate the beauty of a paragraph and a great description, but for me stories are mostly about the people who make them happen, or who come through at the other end. We’re humans and we feel empathy with others; we’re intrigued, fascinated, attracted or disgusted by them. Because of that, if we can make our characters believable, readers will happily come with us in our journey.

Psychiatry studies disorders of the mind, although of course we also spend time studying different psychological approaches and theories (and I recall using psychoanalytical theory to analyze literary texts during my degree). We all know many people (1 in 4) suffer from mental illnesses during their lifetime. Even if nobody in a book is mentally ill, in many cases mental illnesses are extreme manifestations of states of mind or behaviors (or personality traits) that many of us have (or we can identify easily in those around us). We might not have been clinically depressed, but most of us will know people who have, and will have experienced low moods. We might not suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but we all have our quirks and peculiarities. We have read about people with antisocial personality disorder and have at times wondered if somebody is paranoid or suffers from psychosis. 

In psychiatry I learned how to listen and also how to ask questions (I will always remember with affection the Maudsley orange booklet containing different versions of many questions to try and ascertain somebody’s mental state), and I have the experience of listening to many people’s personal stories. Although I would not use those in my stories (it would be unethical), the words used, the expressions, the emphasis, the feelings, inform my writing and I hope make it more “real”.

The latest book I have published, Escaping Psychiatry, is a collection of three novellas. It has as a main character a psychiatrist who is also a writer. She wants to dedicate herself full time to writing, but circumstances keep dragging her back to using her professional skills. I wrote the first story, ‘Cannon Fodder’, years back, but due to its length I was advised to try and write a few more stories with the same main characters and publish them together. This took a bit of time but now ‘Teamwork’ and ‘Memory’ complete the trio of stories. I wanted to share a fragment of ‘Cannon Fodder’ where Mary interviews Cain White, the young African-American man who has been accused of inciting others to riot due to his comments about God and race. She is trying to ascertain if he might be suffering from a mental illness. As it often happens, she gets a bit more than she bargained for... 

Sample (from ‘Cannon Fodder’ in Escaping Psychiatry)

After some general questions about his job and family, and medical illnesses, she asked him about his sleep, appetite, and mood…
“I’m fine. I sleep like a log, I have a good appetite, and I feel on top of the world.”
“But not ‘the top of the world’.”
“Oh, no, no. I’m only me, Cain White, a fairly normal boy.”
“Do you think fairly normal boys say they can hear God?”
“I don’t know any who say that, but that’s probably because they can’t hear him. But I do.”
“Do you hear his voice as you hear me? Is it a voice outside your head?”
“It’s difficult to explain. It isn’t a voice like anything I’ve ever heard before. It isn’t a man or a woman, it’s God.”
“How do you know?”
“Because the voice says so. And I believe it.”
“Does it talk to you or does it talk about you or others?”
“It talks to me.”
“Does it call your name?”
“Yes…It says something like: “Cain, listen. There’s something I want you to tell the others. Tell them they must love themselves. Tell them they are beautiful.””
“Who are the others?”
“Black people.”
“You mean God is talking to the black people through you.”
“I mean God is black.”
Mary had to bite her lip not to smile. Cain wouldn’t stand a chance if the judge were white and conservative.
“You don’t believe me.”
Mary looked at him straight in the eyes.
“I’m not trying to determine if God is black or white or any other colour. “
“You only want to know if I am mad. I guess I must be a raving lunatic to say things like that to a white psychiatrist.”
“Do you think black psychiatrists have different criteria for diagnosing madness?”
“Probably not.”
“This voice, is it inside your head or outside?”
“Outside. I’m not imagining it.”
“I didn’t say you were. Do you hear it at any particular time of the day or in a particular place?”
“No. It comes to me any time, any place.”
“When was the first time you heard that voice?”
“I heard it once as a child, just after my father died, telling me that I should look after my mother and siblings. And then, a few months ago. First I thought I was tired and I was hallucinating. But I had to accept it. It was God.”
“Are you taking drugs?”
“I don’t touch the stuff. I’m not off my head or anything like that,” he said in a brisk manner.
“I must ask these type of questions.”
“OK.”
They sat in a bench opposite a cubist painting by Picasso.
“I’m sure a few people thought he was mad,” Cain said pointing at the painting.
“Probably. Cain…This voice is never threatening or nasty…”
“No. God couldn’t be threatening or nasty.”
“Can you control the voice? Can you make it shut up?”
“Why should I want it to shut up? At the beginning I tried to make it go away but the only thing that worked…”
“The only thing that worked…”
He blushed. The people (white) who say that blacks don’t blush should have seen Cain.
“…was thinking bad things. “
“Like?”
“Like…”
They walked past a nude painting. He averted his gaze.
“Sex?” She suggested.
“Yes. He doesn’t like that.”
“Are you saying that sex is bad?”
“God doesn’t like that type of thoughts.”
He seemed very embarrassed and she decided to let him off for the moment.
“Have you ever thought that you could read other people’s minds, or that other people could control you or could put thoughts into your mind?”
“Sometimes God tells me what other people are thinking.”
“Has he told you about me?”
“He’s very quiet at the moment.”
She couldn’t avoid the smile this time.
“You don’t take me seriously. I’m not a joke.”
“Sorry. It wasn’t what you said, but the way you said it. You’re very honest. It isn’t common to find somebody who says what he thinks.”
“I do.”
Cain didn’t have any other symptoms of mental illness. Apart from God’s voice there were no other indications of psychosis, and his mood was even.
“Have you ever thought of suicide?”
“Suicide is sin…Only once, when my father died. I thought about jumping of a bridge. I went there. Then I heard God’s voice telling me to look after my mother and…”
“Couldn’t it have been you father’s voice?”
Cain smiled.
“I thought so at the time. But now I know better. It was God.”
“Did you think you would become famous when you first talked about hearing God?”
“I only talked about it because God told me to do so.”
“What does your mum think?”
“She knows I am not a liar. She trusts me.”
“And your brother and sisters?”
“They believe what I say.”
“Do you think you have been elected by God?”
“I only know he’s talking to me. I’m his instrument. I must do as He tells me.”
“Some people are saying that you can cure illnesses by touching someone.”
“I’ve heard that. I don’t know. I only know that if God wants me to heal somebody by touching he will make me able to do so.”
Links
 Here I leave you some links to the above book and to some sites where you can find more information about me. 

In Amazon:

In Barnes and Noble:

In Kobo:

In Apple store:

In Draft 2 Digital:

In paper in Create Space:

In Amazon:

My webpage:

I have a blog where I share other author’s work and talk about my writing and things I find interesting:

Thanks to Marie for offering me this opportunity, to you for reading, and if you have any psychiatry-related questions, don’t hesitate and get in touch. 

-Olga
 
Guest Blogger Bio 

 Olga Núñez Miret is from Barcelona but has lived in the UK for over 20 years. She is a doctor and until recently. Her day job was as a Forensic Psychiatrist (not exactly like the profilers in the movies, or anything to do with CSI either), although she's decided to try and dedicate more time to her own books and to translating other writers' books (English/Spanish, Spanish/English). She has also completed a degree in American Literature at the University of Sussex (including a year abroad at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts) and a a PhD on the Films of David Mamet. She was also teaching assistant whilst completing the PhD, mostly on Film courses.
Always a learner, she has recently finished a Distance Learning MSc on Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leicester.
Olga has loved reading and writing since she was a child. Her father always says that even before she could read she'd always ask what any signs or writing meant. She has written a variety of things over the years: short stories (some now disappeared), novels, novellas and plays, in English, Spanish and Catalan. Some have been edited into the trash bin, but a few are still available and sitting quietly waiting for their moment in the sun. (Or an e-reader, most likely). Due to the many distractions (studies and jobs), she has never fully dedicated herself to the business of writing, but after a minor health scare she decided that there is no time like now. Carpe diem!
Her main love is fiction; she has written in a variety of genres (crime, family saga, para-normal, science-fiction...) and she is currently working on a series for young adults.
Apart from reading and writing, she loves the cinema, the theater (modern, classic, musicals...), fitness classes (and more recently also yoga), walking, crochet, and owls.
Her main aim is not to be boring and to entertain.
The first of her books to be published as e-book (October 2012) is 'The Man Who Wasn't There', also available in Spanish version: 'El hombre que nunca existió'.
In December 2012 she published 3 novellas in the series 'Escaping Psychiatry'. 'Cannon Fodder' (Escaping Psychiatry Part 1), 'Teamwork' (Escaping Psychiatry Part 2), and 'Memory' (Escaping Psychiatry Part 3). The author has used her experience and insights in these three works of fiction that follow Mary, psychiatrist and writer, and her adventures.
In February 2013 she published a Young Adult novella in English (Twin Evils?) and Spanish(Gemela Maldad). This story talks about sibling rivalry taken to extremes, friendship, romance and has a touch of the paranormal.
In June 2013 she published her first foray in romantic fiction: 'Click Me Happy!' a novella where readers can choose between three endings, an unhappy, a neutral and an unhappy one. In October 2013 'Click Me Happy!' became also available in paperback format.
In January, she published the three novellas in the series Escaping Psychiatry in a single book with an epilogue that promises more adventures.
She is working on a series of YA novels, another romance, further adventures on the series Escaping Psychiatry and...many other things.

Books:

http://www.amazon.com/Escaping-Psychiatry-Olga-N%C3%BA%C3%B1ez-Miret-ebook/dp/B00HV2IOTY/ref=la_B009UC58G0_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400274497&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Click-Happy-Romantic-Novella-Endings-ebook/dp/B00DK02JT2/ref=la_B009UC58G0_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400274497&sr=1-4

http://www.amazon.com/Twin-Evils-Olga-N%C3%BA%C3%B1ez-Miret-ebook/dp/B00BDRA9DM/ref=la_B009UC58G0_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400274497&sr=1-8

http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Never-Was-ebook/dp/B009TWRT22/ref=la_B009UC58G0_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400274497&sr=1-5


Comments

  1. Replies
    1. Anytime, Olga! A pleasure to have you!

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  3. Interesting post. I love your books, best of luck, Olga!

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  4. Thanks Christoph and Seumas. And any time you want to visit my blog...you're welcome too!

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