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Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Shared Psychosis and Psychotic Disorders

Dear Jeannie,
How close is too close? I have twin sisters with...issues. I'd like them to be realistic, and I think they're more fictional than factual. Mona is a pyromaniac with an unreasonable fear of pain. Very emotional, very attached to her sister, has trouble forming relationships without her (including romantic ones). Anna, in contrast, is a closet sociopath. She loves controlling people and circumstances around her, and doesn't generally care about consequences. Her favored puppet is her sister, for whom she will sometimes consider the outcome of an action. As adults, both are expected to fulfill betrothal contracts and manage their people and lands. Because one is emotional and the other is logical, the sisters have a tacit belief that they are a split soul. Is this too much dysfunction in one relationship?

Overanalyzed in Orlando

Dear Overanalyzed,

Twins are notorious for having a sixth sense about each other. Studies have shown this. You've gone beyond that to a codependence on each other (at least on Mona's side). I find it unusual that Mona is a pyromaniac who's scared of pain. Pyros deal with burns all the time. I would think these two are mutually exclusive, to some degree. But I suppose it's feasible...but I'd question it as an informed reader. As for Anna, sociopathy isn't something that stays in the closet forever (ahem, Ten Bundy). Anna's management of people and land contracted to her through marriage will need to display evidence of lack of empathy, manipulation, etc. I also think you might want to research what was formerly known as Shared Psychotic Disorder also known as folie à deux which is now Delusional Disorder, Shared in the DSM-V. Sisters can commonly have shared delusions...such as them being two halves of one split soul. Just something to check out. It's a lot of dysfunction, surely, but shared psychosis could account for it. You wouldn't have all that great of a HEA in store for them, though. Good luck!

Dear Jeannie,

Gerald, the boy who would be king, is a young man who has always believed in the power of belief. A sensible outlook, given that he lives in a fantasy world where words spoken aloud alter the fabric of reality, but this perspective doesn't help when he becomes convinced that he is a dragon. He spends several years in the wilderness, hoarding shiny "treasure", trying to burn people/things with his breath, and lashing out with his imaginary tail when provoked. During this time, if friends or family stay with him 24/7, he will settle down some and even mimic human behavior, but he relapses without the constant contact. I know there's a word for this sort of disorder (related to lycanthropy, kind of like what King Nebuchadnezzar went through), but my research keeps getting swallowed by werewolf fiction. Also, how will he remember this time when he recovers? Is it realistic (?!?!) for him to be restored to his former beliefs and philosophical stances, or is his lunacy in the wilderness going to stain his thought processes?

Stir-crazy in Carolina 

Dear Stir-Crazy,

You might find it helpful to add the word "clinical" in any searches you do about lycanthropy. Basically, Gerald is suffering from a bizarre delusion (which is an important distinction from non-bizarre delusion in my world) and when he's pretending to be a dragon, he's in an active psychotic episode. Some individuals do not remember what happens to them when they are actively psychotic, others remember everything eerily well. I wouldn't concern myself with that individual difference, and do whatever fits your story best. But as to have him be restored to his former beliefs...that's more tricky. Obviously in a fantasy world where words alter reality, my first question is why does his power of belief in him being a dragon fail him? Does he want to be a dragon for real? How old is he when this occurs? (Psychotic breaks are usually in mid- to late twenties.) What experiences has he had with dragons that made him want to be one? You might find it beneficial to research disorders like schizophreniform disorder. or brief psychotic disorder (depending on how long you've got him thinking he's a dragon). The link I've given you explains other possible disorders which also have active psychotic states. The difference between the two I've identified is time frame, mainly. Hopefully that helps. Thanks for writing in!

Got Questions?

Post your question anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle or Lost in LA. I'll post my answers in a future Dear Jeannie column.