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Laury A. Egan: Mental Health Musings 2024

I first got to know Laury (she/her) last year, when she and I discovered that we both had an interest in Dissociative Identity Disorder. I had just released The Summer We’ve Had, a Sapphic romance in which a woman with depression and a woman with DID fall in love alongside their mental health conditions. Laury, meanwhile, was in the process of writing Jack & I, a psychological thriller in which two people inhabit the same body, and grapple for power throughout a tumultuous time. I’ve just finished reading an ARC of this, and wow – what a rollercoaster! It's out today and you NEED to check it out.

Firstly, Laury, what does mental health mean to you?

Mental health is the ability to navigate life's peaks and valleys and to maintain a sense of self that doesn't dramatically change despite incoming positive or negative events. Not that we can always be balanced or unaffected, but being adaptable and productive and resilient are good signs of psychological health.

Why did you choose to write about mental health?

I have always been fascinated by psychology, perhaps because I grew up in a triangle, with two parents who left me alone quite a bit during my childhood. In order to understand my identity and family dynamics, I became an attentive observer of what was occurring around me--an ideal situation for a writer, although a difficult one. At university, I took quite a few courses in psychology and especially loved writing case studies and briefly considered continuing to a master's in psychology. Blending my passion for writing (self-entertainment but also an opportunity to explore my thoughts, feelings, and life) and my knowledge about psychology, seemed like a natural solution. In the past, I've focused on sociopathy, erotomania, religious charlatanism, dementia and other subjects. Now "Jack & I" features a teenage boy with dissociative identity disorder. This novel was challenging to write and required research, but I loved creating the narrative's dual structure, with the "host" Jack written in first person and the "alter" Jack in third person.

Is there anyone, or any book, that inspired you to write about mental health?

The writer Patricia Highsmith was an early inspiration. Although I suspect she was alcoholic, narcissistic, prejudiced, and possibly sociopathic, she wrote amazing novels about people who were probably like herself or who she sensed really was underneath her facade. The Tom Ripley series, for example. So, my first novel, "Jenny Kidd," borrowed a little Highsmithian entrapment plot: the sociopath entices the innocent abroad in Venice.

Tell me about your research process. What did you do to make sure your mental health representations were accurate?

I researched dissociative identity disorder in several books and online, re-read "Sybil" and "The Three Faces of Eve" as well as viewing both movies. A psychotherapist, who has treated several DID clients, read the manuscript and gave detailed advice which I incorporated into the novel.

Do you have any more intentions to write about mental health in the future?

Yes. In a collection I've almost finished gathering, a two-act play, "Duet," deals with a series of conversations between a therapist and a client, who has suddenly become partly disabled due to an airplane crash. Needless to say, the client is examining her life, her purpose, her future, but so, too, is the therapist as they realize their lives are very different yet strangely complementary. I have also recently published "The Psychologist's Shadow" about a therapist who acquires an unknown stalker. This allowed me to don a psychologist's hat and present her clients in sessions, their conversations, and her analysis as she tried to uncover the identity of her shadow.

Lastly, why did you pick that specific condition to represent in Jack & I? 

The concept of divided personalities is an attractive topic in literature--Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, tragedy/comedy, etc. Although I've never met anyone with DID, as a literary device, the disorder was a subject that allowed me to dig deeply into two very different personalities, to utilize the blackouts and amnesiac events that plagued the host Jack. Additionally, Jack has been raised within multiple foster care families, several with their own mental illnesses, so his history compounded and extended the original trauma that happened at about age one to two years of age.

If you are worried about your mental health, or that of someone around you, here are some helplines you may find useful.

If you’d like to read more books about mental health, I have a list of Sapphic-themed books with mental health rep, which you can find here. Please also check out my books, The Summer We’ve Had and Love You However, both of which have strong mental health themes, discussing Dissociative Identity Disorder and gender-dysphoria-fuelled self-harm, respectively.


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