I first encountered the author, Shree, when, alongside my two Romani rights short stories, she published her own piece in the number two best-selling short story anthology, “Flock: The Journey,” edited by Mahua Sen.
I long-promised Shree a review of her work there for this author feature, but when I found out that she had a book out, hey, I figured, let’s think big. So I opened up her novella, “Silent Invaders,” and, not knowing at all what the story was about, got to work.
I found her opening, urging compassion towards the mentally ill, very apt and touching, particularly because my maternal family has a history of mental illness and I’ve seen the devastation that prejudice and the lack of treatment can cause.
Soon enough, I found that there was a lot more than that in her book which I would identify with. In fact, there was a staggering lot there which rang personal bells—so much that I actually doubted whether or not I was going to be able to make good on my promise to her to give her an author feature. This had nothing to do with her quality as a writer, but the fact that her book revolves around a female with multiple personality disorder—a thing which precious few know much about, largely because it is so surrounded in misconceptions.
But I do know about it. In fact, I know a great deal about it because I’m the daughter of a psychiatrist who considered during the 1980s—the height of when MPD was being very popularly diagnosed in the United States—that the treatment of multiple personality disorder was his practice’s specialty. And it was my father’s belief that it would improve the therapy sessions for one MPD patient in particular to have her child “personalities,” (also called “alternates,”) play with an actual child. That actual child was me and these “play sessions” went on for years. Consequently, I’ve been up close and personal with this particular illness in ways which had an indie film director once ask to buy my story so that he could direct it. To which I said a resounding “no.”
Due to this familiarity with my father’s patients, one of my friends growing up was the daughter of a very kind woman who had MPD. On the other hand, for many years—in fact, up until she died, I was stalked by that same homicidal MPD patient of my father’s that, for years of my childhood, used to stay at our house overnight three nights a week for, among other things, “play sessions.”
So, honestly, it’s not easy for me to read books on MPD characters. From my personal experience, I’ve seen the MPD factor can so dazzle people that they begin to overlook who the person is underneath it. The one patient I referenced, for example, if she were fully cured, would have continued being a very lovely lady. The second one could have merged with all of her alternates and it would have made zero difference regarding whether or not she remained a cold-blooded psychopath.
Beyond this issue, there’s also the fact that a good many people, including serial killers, have falsely claimed this diagnosis trying to get themselves out of the hot seat regarding violent crimes.
And, even ignoring that, there are a good many people who were diagnosed with the illness, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s, whose cases were later disproven and attributed to pressure being applied on them by exploitative psychiatrists. One fine example of that is a colleague of my father’s would diagnose children as young as three years old with multiple personality disorder—something which would not be tolerated today, but during the MPD craze was actually not uncommon. (A perspective on this is that no one under the age of eighteen is allowed in the US to be diagnosed with being a psychopath, regardless of how much evidence supports such a diagnosis.)
I almost wrote Shree back, half-way through reading the book, and said, “You know, I’m really the wrong person to review this. It’s not about you. It’s not about your book. Because of my experience, I can’t maintain a proper degree of distance.”
But I took a deep breath and decided to attempt to use this experience to my advantage.
MPD is not a typical mental illness in many ways. Most likely, the most famous film to portray it would be Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Psycho is a well-done horror flick, sure. It’s entertaining. But, when the ending comes, the explanation behind the killer’s drive holds no water, psychiatrically-speaking, whatsoever. The one thing that all psychiatrists who believe in MPD—(yes, a growing number do not)—agree on is that an MPD patient is built. One doesn’t get it, like manic depression, via genetics—at least, certainly not exclusively. (As the illness’ existence is debated, obviously so too is a genetic component.) An MPD’s early childhood will be filled with extreme neglect and violence. Psycho’s myth denies both, but Shree’s portrayal does not—in fact, very far from it.
Shree’s description of child abuse and the failure of the system to prevent it until it has past the point of no return is not only saddeningly accurate, but also reads like a how-to manual on the creation of a long-term mental condition. The fact that a horribly abused child cannot be cured and their traumas erased by simple adoption into a good, loving family is also showcased. This epitomizes the need for government assistance to abused children—therapy, so that the real people like Shree’s main character, Sana, would have had the care they needed to prevent things from progressing to the level that, for Sana, they did.
Would Sana’s revelation as being MPD be a shock to her adoptive family? No, not at all likely. With an illness like this, there are so many obvious signs to outsiders that they would have had to take note that something was wrong. And those signs would be ongoing and extreme. On the other hand, that’s assuming that the adoptive family was not only versed in mental illness, but also attached no stigma to it, in the first place. To those who do not fit into this category, “denial” is a huge issue which has kept many who need help from seeking treatment for themselves or for their afflicted children. Shree focuses a good deal on Sana’s kind-hearted, protective adopted mother, correctly portraying her with a highly-tuned degree of naiveté—the only way that it is at all believable that such a woman would have missed all the warning signs of such an intense level of mental illness. The mother’s shimmering refusal to accept the full gravity of the situation, as well as how much treatment Sana truly needs and how much of a danger to the public Sana genuinely poses, holds up without fail to the very last page. Seeing it through the mother’s eyesight, the gravity also will not penetrate the psyche of the audience. This conveys, granted, a very unrealistic view of multiple personality disorder, but does so in a way which gives plausibility as to how no one noticed Sana’s plight and growing threat years earlier.
In short, if one is looking for an informed book on the realities of multiple personality disorder, from my experience, I don’t think that “Silent Invaders” is likely what you’re looking for. The condition is extremely complex and this is a fast-paced novella, with a great deal of focus on the thriller genre. But if you’re looking for a book which showcases societal failure towards child abuse victims, not only from a prosecution of perpetrator point of view, but also from a therapeutic one, Shree did a good job. She shows how the damage is inflicted. She shows how it is ignored. And she shows that there are major consequences to deliberate ignorance and determined indifference.
So, now, without further ado, her interview:
G: Kindly please introduce yourself to the readers.
S: First of all, thank you for this interview opportunity, Galina. After completing my Masters Degree in IT, I have worked as an IT professional in UK. But I was always fascinated by my mother’s writing skills and her storytelling talent. As a kid I tried my hand in essays and poems for school magazines. I really loved the experience when my teachers and classmates patted my back with appreciation of my job. That encouraged me to write more. I had been writing poems, articles and short stories in local magazines and newsletters regularly and finally when I moved to USA, I decided that this is what I really want to do in my life.
G: What prompted you to write about multiple personality disorder?
S: Good question! “Silent Invaders” is my debut novel (or novella, if you want to call it). And there is a real story behind the written story 🙂 . Writing about multiple personality disorder was not my first call. Actually, one of the very talented and critically acclaimed directors of the Indian Film Industry, Mr. Jaideep Chopra requested me to write a crime thriller with a female lead for his upcoming movie. He gave his own ideas on how he was visualizing his film on silver screen and then completely relied on me to shape up the story. I was honestly nervous as it was a huge responsibility to live up to his trust on me. During that time one of my very close family members was suffering from serious depression issues and I was trying to deal with it. Unfortunately or fortunately that situation had sparked my imagination to go wild and think about a plot based on mental illness, and eventually MPD cropped up in my mind.
G: What kind of research did you do in order to prepare for this book?
S: No doubt the topic was difficult and sensitive to handle, as I was playing with several layers in the same story. My main focus was on to make the narration and the characters as credible as possible. Hence I had to research not only on mental illness, but also on the various therapies, professions and procedures involved in the story. I did a few real life case studies while I was voluntarily working for children and elderly people in UK. I think those experiences have helped me to write more realistically about the incidents in the story.
G: There is great debate in the psychiatric community as to whether this condition does in fact exist at all, perhaps because females, (at least, in America,) are over nine times as likely as males to be diagnosed with it. Do you care to weigh in your personal opinion regarding this controversy…as well as why the numbers are so disproportionate regarding gender?
S: Honestly I would rather answer this question entirely from my point of view and the very little experience I have in dealing with mental illness. I cannot debate on whether the condition of MPD actually exist or not, but, I have personally known people who have hallucination problems. When they hallucinate, they do not shift from their personal being, although they talk about a completely unknown scenario in a very believable fashion which has in fact never happened or maybe happened with someone else. Their appearances transform completely when they go through this phase. This is seriously scary. And yes clinically several data exist that personality disorders are more common in women than men although the reasons are not clear. I personally opine that women are more vulnerable to depression due to numerous obvious reasons and if there is no awareness, acceptance or help at the initial stage, mental illness might take a threatening shape.
G: Does your book promote the concept that those suffering from multiple personality disorder are also violent? Why or why not?
S: My book is entirely a work of fiction and it does not promote anything other than a message that people with mental illness need empathy and help and it requires to be treated like any other known diseases.
G: Does your book promote the concept that urges towards homicidal violence can be cured via modern therapy? Why or why not?
S: As mentioned earlier this book is a work of fiction rather than a tool to promote any opinion. In my story the homicidal violence resulted as the domino effect of several incidents which happened in the past. Hence I considered modern therapy to be a major solution. In a nutshell, to me investigating the root cause behind any condition is very important before resolving the method of treating it.
G: The homicide victims in your book are mainly sex offenders/ child abusers. Did you write their killer’s character more as a vigilante or a compulsive killer? Why?
S: The killer’s character in story is more of a compulsive killer, again portrayed as horrid consequences of child abuse and molestation.
G: To you, what most sets your book apart from others which have used multiple personality disorder in murder mysteries/ thrillers? What gives yours that personal edge?
S: Ah! I like that question… 🙂 . I feel there are quite a few things which give my book a personal edge:
- i) Although the setting of the story is in England, the characters of the story belong to multi-cultural backgrounds, and their different lifestyles add extra shades of colour.
- ii) Despite of handling some dark topics like hate crimes, child abuse and mental illness in the story, it has a lot of informal family drama, which give the story a very natural flow and enable the readers relate themselves with the characters.
iii) I have also purposely chosen “easy to read” style of narration.
- iv) Even though the story is of crime thriller genre, this book is my humble endeavour to spread awareness to support and help people with mental health issues.
G: Is criminal psychology your preferred genre to write in?
S: This is the first time I tried to write this genre and I must say I have enjoyed.
G: What was hardest for you during the writing process?
S: As I mentioned earlier, the topic was not easy to handle. But the most difficult part was to create the plot realistically, combine and connect all the layers logically and of course weave the mystery intriguingly.
G: What are some positive messages that you would like for your book to convey to the general public regarding mental illness?
S: People suffering from mental illness are human beings like you and me. The illness is like any other known disease. All it requires are awareness and acceptance. The illness can be diagnosed and can be either cured or improved by accurate therapy, support and compassion.
G: What advice do you have for other authors who are trying to tackle forms of mental illness in their work?
S: I don’t consider myself qualified to advise other authors. But I can share a few pointers from my experience – e.g. put yourself in the sufferer’s shoes to fathom the depth of agony, be sensitive yet neutral and realistic while writing on such heavy topics.
G: What’s next on the publishing docket for Shree?
S: There are a few projects in the pipeline, but the ones worth mentioning are a collection of Bengali Poetry & Ghazals which will be released very soon and a collection of English short and micro stories. And the exciting thing is “Silent Invaders” is probably next in the queue to be filmed by Mr. Jaideep Chopra.