The Externalization of Mental Health: Key Thoughts From A Dragon Will Rise

I knew long before I wrote the first word for A Dragon Will Rise that the book would continue my series’ commentary on mental health, but that this story would be unique. It is not a tale about the monsters of doubt and fear in your head or about the creatures that come in the dead of night to tear away your willpower and burrow eggs of self-loathing in your skull. This story is about a woman who has lived through it all and has made it out on the other side, on the path to recovery toward happiness and wholeness.

But not everyone around her travels the same path.

Hidekazu, Masanori, and Aihi have drifted apart on their own paths in life, as surviving the first leg of the war with the Kairese has damaged their persons (spiritually and mentally) in irreparable ways. Hidekazu especially suffers from the sacrifice he made, ripping his spirit apart and turning him into less than a shadow of what he once was. He’s more powerful than ever before, yet he’s turned dangerous and cruel.

Aihi has all but given up hope of returning him to his old self until the beginning of A Dragon Will Rise, where the discovery of an artificial spirit potentially has the capacity to graft onto a human’s and recover the damaged threads of a spirit in ways previously impossible by science and healing spells.

But when Hidekazu refuses the treatment, Aihi is forced to ask questions such as…

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

How can you accept them for the new person they’ve become after a life-changing experience?

How can you stop comparing a loved one to who they used to be?

How can you accept that not all forms of happiness are perfect?

For a lot of mental health struggles, there is no band-aid solution, no one-size-fits-all. The story itself isn’t about Hidekazu’s recovery from his trauma and mental health, it is more the experience of a loved one (Aihi) trying to come to terms with the fact that her brother will never, ever be the man he once was, and learning to accept him for who he is now.

The tale, while laced with dragons, epic battles, and excitement, is also about how we perceive others who are struggling with mental health.

Hidekazu is, by Aihi’s own admission, one of the most powerful majyu she’s ever known–if not the most powerful. And yet after returning from their first taste of war, his spirit is fractured, and his mind is in tatters. He’s not the man she calls brother anymore.

Like any good sister, Aihi wants to help her brother return to a sense of normalcy. Only, her perception of what “normal” should be does not match his. Distilling down the fantasy fluff revolving around this scenario, Aihi is ultimately put in a position where she has no choice but to either accept Hidekazu’s wishes, or convince him that she knows what’s best.

My intention with this kind of storyline is twofold:

1. Personal Experience

In a way, I’m putting my own experiences with mental health and giving Aihi an opportunity to live out a similar scenario that many people go through. I am someone who has struggled with severe depression in the past (and still struggles from time to time) and on many occasions, people have told me that “depression isn’t real—it’s all in your head” (no shit, sherlock).

There is an invisible epidemic of mental health issues that very few people wish to acknowledge. The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis. For many, their struggles have become the forefront of their lives, including those who would never previously describe themselves as depressed or anxious.

While Aihi is definitely not someone who blindly dismisses mental health as a myth, she does have to come to terms with her reality: the fact that she has been pushing aside her own trauma and putting on a brave face. And as a result, she has been expecting those around her to do the same.

This leads me to my second point:

2. We Are Not Without Judgment

I consider myself to be a very empathetic person, especially toward those who are struggling or have struggled in the past with their mental health. In a way, it’s a shared journey even if the causes, symptoms, and experiences can often be very different from one another.

However, even those with high empathy are prone to judging perceived failures. None of us are truly without judgment, the best we can do, most of the time, is to acknowledge our perceptions and biases and recognize that our circumstances are different from others. We do not all have the same strengths, mental and physical capacities, or the same support systems in place to care for us.

For Aihi & Hidekazu, this judgment materializes in how she wishes Hidekazu would behave. She is empathetic about the trauma he has experienced to protect her, and yet at the same time, believes herself to be the authority on how he should recover from his deteriorating mental health.

Part of Aihi’s attitude manifests because she’s bottled up her own hurts, but A Dragon Will Rise goes into a lot more detail on her journey from believing she knows best to understanding that no one will ever know what is right for Hidekazu except for him.

It’s an unfortunate reality that even those who have struggled with severe mental health are prone to judging others in the middle of their experience.

But everyone is worthy of love, patience, and support. Why can’t that start with you?

While I indulge myself with deeper meanings behind the words, you can enjoy A Dragon Will Rise without a care for the mental health journey at all if that’s what you prefer.


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