Wendy Howard tackles Beverley Allitt: Women in Horror

I really enjoy Wendy Howard’s writing. As a part of February’s Women In Horror Month, I had the privilege of meeting her in virtual space and writing an article about torture.

Maybe I’m biased towards Wendy because she shares a name with one of my favorite characters of mine (Wendy Willow). Nah. She’s just a compelling writer.

This was one post that Wendy wrote for WiHM. She discusses a very real serial killer who had Munchausen Syndrome AND Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome. These are both rare conditions, and to have them together was, as I said in the comments, “like finding a unicorn. A horrible, flesh-eating unicorn, but still.”

In my series The Psych Writer, I will be tackling both Munchausen and MBP. I think it would make for some interesting characters if handled correctly, and I like to pick things apart. As I said, Munchausen Syndrome and MBP are rare, but they’re fun to explore (as long as you’re not the one suffering from it).

Enjoy Wendy’s article and sleep tight.

Read here: Beverley Allitt: Serial Murderer and Evil Woman In Pop Culture | Women in horror

The Psych Writer on Major Depressive Disorder, Part Three – MDD with Psychotic Features

This is the final installment of The Psych Writer series on Major Depressive Disorder. This week, we turn our focus on MDD with Psychotic Features.

Of course, when writing any disorder, focus on showing rather than telling, and remember, your character is human. Give them more dimensions than their disorder.

What’s tricky about writing MDD with psychotic features is not making it look like schizophrenia or bipolar with psychotic features. You will need to make sure that the depressive features are most prominent, otherwise the reader isn’t going to get it.

Naturally our writings are always open to interpretation by the reader–that’s what makes it such an enriching experience. It’s not the focus on the symptoms that makes the writing interesting, anyway. It’s the expression of the character and their life that makes the reading compelling.

So, we’ve already reviewed what MDD is all about, but what about psychotic features? Psychotic is a word that’s used in lay terms that tends to get confused with other terms (hell, even I’ve confused the terms when I was exhausted at one point). Psychotic is a term for losing touch with external reality.

The patient who is psychotic can experience any of the following, with some examples for illustrative purposes:

  • delusions – believing someone has bugged their home, is being gang stalked, they have a terrible disease, or that they’re the Archduke Ferdinand.
  • hallucinations – seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling things that aren’t there, such as seeing a person that no one else can see.
  • anxiety – the person may seem anxious and restless.
  • withdrawal from family and friends – sometimes due to the delusions and hallucinations, the patient withdraws from social interactions. This is not just an “oh, I don’t want to go to the mall.” This is more like they don’t answer any of their phone calls and they stop talking to people entirely. Think the most extreme form of withdrawal possible.
  • suicidal ideation and actions – they may attempt to kill themselves or think about it all the time.
  • disorganized speech – this isn’t your average non-sequitur. Disorganized speech is often completely incoherent. There are several types of DS:
    • word salad – seemingly random words put together in a sentence. “My pants raisin toggle the burp slurped in a cat.”
    • derailment – completely unrelated or tenuously related ideas put together as if they were related. “I have to pick up my dry cleaning. There’s a bar in the street that keeps me from walking to the park.”
    • neologisms – words that are made up. “I took my wife to the helgistahooven for a new haircut.”
    • perseveration – a response repeated uncontrollably (this can be verbal or gestural). “Did you pack a pair of socks?” “Socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks, socks…”
    • thought blocking – when a person stops talking abruptly in the middle of a sentence without any explanation. “I went to the store and-” *silence*
    • pressured speech – rapid speech that sometimes is incoherent.
  • difficulty concentrating – this is pretty self-explanatory.
  • hypersomnia or insomnia – sleeping too much or not enough.
  • suspicion of others and situations – this is usually due to delusions.

Keep in mind that the person with psychosis is typically unaware of these symptoms and signs. They are often so out of touch with external reality that they have no idea that their delusions or hallucinations aren’t real, and that their behavior has changed to be out of the ordinary.

Here you see there are some things that crossover with depression, such as suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, and withdrawal. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how difficult differential diagnosis can be.

The standard treatment for MDD with psychotic features is antidepressants and antipsychotics. If that doesn’t bring relief, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is another common method.

Overall, when writing a character with this disorder, there’s an opportunity to do a little reality bending. Just don’t make it too much of a trope.

Coming up for The Psych Writer, we’ll tackle some of the following subjects (not necessarily in this order):

  • Bipolar Disorder I and II
  • Munchausen Syndrome
  • Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome
  • Anxiety Disorders – Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Panic Disorder, PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Personality Disorders: Exploring the three clusters of the ten disorders.

I also take requests. Any disorder you’d like me to explore? Contact me via Facebook.


Anne is a former supervised therapist at the Master’s level who abandoned it all to become a writer. Visit her shiny Author Page to learn more about her and read some of her more macabre thoughts on paper (or eBook).

The Psych Writer on Major Depressive Disorder, Part Two – Treatment Resistant Depression

Welcome to part two of my series on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). If you’re looking for the introduction to what MDD is all about, you can find that here.

Last week in part one, I wrote about writing a character with MDD, after detailing the symptoms for the disorder (link in the first paragraph). This week, I’m going to discuss Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD), which I still like to pronounce as ‘turd,” because it really is a turd. When you’re writing a character and would like them to have TRD, it’s important to understand what it is.

So rather than go on with a laundry list of how your character may be written, I’ll go through what TRD is and how it is treated. Then you can decide how your character will fit into it or not. Remember, you’re writing your character as a human being, so it’s okay if they deviate a bit. Humans are not their disorder, so neither are your characters.

TRD is defined as MDD that has not responded to a minimum of two antidepressants. Although some literature says only one, in most professional settings, two antidepressants are tried before determining whether  the depression is treatment resistant.

The difficulty lies in determining the threshold for TRD. There is complete remission and partial remission in symptoms, and there is also reduction in severity of depression. So determining what’s enough for the patient is what determines whether depression is treatment-resistant or not. Personally, I prefer elimination of symptoms, and if any are left, then that’s not good enough, so it’s time to try something else or add something to the treatment. But some people are okay with partial remission. It’s sometimes enough to have some relief over no relief, so best practice is to support the patient’s decision if they have good decision making skills.

When a person has TRD, there are things that they can try to get help. Usually treating TRD begins with an increase of dosage or switching medications. If that doesn’t help, then an add-on is usually used. For example, if the SSRI isn’t working, a combination of an SSRI and an NRI may be used.

Sometimes playing around with medications doesn’t help, though, and sometimes it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. But if it doesn’t work and the patient isn’t already in counseling, they can try a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Other treatment avenues are Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Most people cringe when they hear “ECT,” but that’s because they associate it with what they’ve seen in the movies and in old videos when the treatment was actually horrible. Now, the patient is given a sedative and most sleep through it. I’ve watched it done (on video rather than in vivo) and the experience was underwhelming. Of course, there are risks with ECT, including short-term memory loss, but for some patients it beats the hell out of MDD/TRD.

Now, finally, the numbers. This is something you may want to consider when creating a character. Around 10% to 30% of people have TRD, and that number varies on the spectrum of TRD (whether it’s full or partial remission, reduction in severity, etc.). So when you’re creating this character and you want to give them TRD, consider Special Snowflake Syndrome (SSS).While it’s recently been co-opted as a political inflammatory term, I refuse to use it in that manner. SSS means that your character has become a little too precious. If you give them TRD, make sure that they don’t come out corny and cliched, and actually make their suffering real rather than something they manage to brush off whenever it’s inconvenient to your plot.

If you came here looking for help with depression, please seek the help of a licensed professional in your area. Depression is a horrible, soul-sucking disorder that takes your life piece-by-piece. Don’t let it take control over you. Call for help. It’s out there.


There is little more horrific than what lies in our own imaginations. If you love reading about nightmare worlds and strange happenings, check out my author page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Goodbye to a Companion Animal | The Macabre Author

I had gone on a short break after learning that my pup was terminally ill in Hiatus for a Companion Animal | The Macabre Author.

I am officially back and am going to stay back. Today, my sweet pup died suddenly (either a blood clot to the brain or heart). We are bereaved.

When I first found out that Tish was terminally ill, I sat down and wrote her obituary. She actually sat in my lap when I wrote it. I like to imagine that secretly, she could read and enjoyed reading it.

I wrote it using a “fill in the blanks” style so that it could be modified with ease when the time came. I have reprinted it below.

21st pic tish

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Chihuahua, Morticia Luanne Hogue-Boucher Strong on Saturday, March 11, 2017. She was a beloved member of our family, and died suddenly of an ischemic attack or myocardial infarction. She experienced no pain and did not cry. She died instantly. This was after a period of home hospice care for five Months. She was 14 years old. Her last meal was a wonderful breakfast of chicken meatballs and cat kibble, which she enjoyed a great deal.

She was born in Tampa, Florida on December 20, 2002 and was brought to her adoptive home on February 14, 2003. It is said that companion animals choose their humans, and this saying rings true for Morticia. She quietly sat in her cage while her sister ran circles around her. Anne put her hand in the cage and her litter-mate ran right by. Morticia, however, put her paw in the center of Anne’s hand. The connection went straight to her heart. She was instantly family.

In the car ride home, Tish cried a little at first, but when her parents talked to her and assured her it was safe, she settled right down and began a long love affair with car rides (though sometimes she got carsick on sharp turns).

Her first act in her new household was to greet the cats, Nikita, Pishnook, and Sappawee (all belated now), who all believed she was a large rat. However, a piercing bark and chase convinced the cats otherwise. Instead of viewing her as prey, they knew she was something special. They soon became good friends, and cuddle buddies.

Morticia led a fast-paced, active puppyhood marked by pranks that earned her the title of “Little Clown Dog,” such as putting kibble in Mami’s shoes, and drinking decaffeinated coffee when her mother’s back was turned (which only happened once and thank goodness she was okay).

She was a performer of great tricks, such as the barrel roll, dancing in a circle on her hind legs, high and low fives, and even being able to find the treat in the hand. She enjoyed overpowering a pit bull named Elvis who became her play buddy and platonic boyfriend, and hanging out with the belated Babe Jerkins, a well-loved Great Dane. She was also buddies with the late Lukah Juge-Jerkins, and she taught him to bark for fun, and possibly profit.

Her favorite pastimes were short walks, long car rides, and visiting her Nanda (the late Helene Van Amerongen) and her Abuelos (Dean and Diane Cadoret). Above all, her favorite foods included P-Nuttier biscuits, Cowboy Cookout for dogs, and a special dog food made with Kobe beef, which she ate during her final days to ensure maximum canine happiness. She also loved Milo’s Kitchen chicken meatballs.

When her parents moved to Atlanta, Georgia, she adapted quickly, enjoying her new environment and welcoming three new cat siblings into the family. Though she didn’t get along with Jeff (he is too big and used to try to grab her food), Abbey and Charlie were her steadfast friends. Jeff and Tish kept the peace by occasionally sniffing each other and engaging in non-violent communication. Sadly, Tish eventually had to say goodbye to Sappawee and then Nikita. She ensured to cuddle and care for them in their final days.

Morticia’s life was often about food, but without the pretense of gourmet demands. Her favorite fast-food place was Sonic, especially their tater tots. Yet she managed to keep a trim figure for the most part, shedding weight with ease and the help of her parents.

During her clownish performances, she also trained for Chihuahua races but never engaged in them. She enjoyed zooming around the house at top speed to “Ready! Set! Go!” and reveled in the applause. She enjoyed singing Christmas carols with her family, howling along and making everyone laugh. She assumed all laughter was because she was the entertaining clown of the evening—and to her parents, this is so.

There is so much more to be said about the happiness and joy this little canine brought into her parents’ lives and to all the people she met—it could fill a book. Suffice it to say she was an ideal little dog in a big, imperfect world.

She is survived by her adopted parents and siblings who will miss her more than she’ll ever know.

Morticia, you brought so much joy and happiness into our lives at a time we didn’t expect. We didn’t know if we would be good parents to a tiny dog, but your little paws left big prints all over our hearts. You are the Official Best Dog and we just hope that we were able to help ease you into the transition where all roads meet. We hope that road is paved with yummy dog treats and all-you-can-chase butterflies. May you be free of pain, and free of fear. We hope it is warm and sunny where you are now.

We love you. Goodbye.

The Psych Writer on Major Depressive Disorder, Part One

Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only. If you read this and any of the below sounds like you, seek the help of a licensed professional in your area.

Depression is a big topic. There are different types of depressive disorders, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which affects about 6.7% of the US population. That’s around 15 million adults.

Last week, we reviewed an introduction to MDD, and I still didn’t even get into all of it. So I’ll do that here, briefly. Because of the many sufferers of MDD, there get to be a whole slew of levels of severity and specifiers. While you’re writing about these characters who have these disorders, don’t forget they are a person and they are not their pathology.

Nothing is worse than a character whose only interesting thing about them is their disorder. Remember Forgetful Jones from Sesame Street? Even he had more than one dimension. He was a cowboy. So if a cowboy Muppet with amnestic disorder can be more than just a one-dimensional character, Depressive Jones can, too.

When you decide to write from a place where your character has MDD, decide what type they have. This can be mild, moderate, or severe. They can have psychotic features (delusions, hallucinations, etc.). They can have partial or full remission as well. (Partial remission is having some of the symptoms but not meeting the full criteria for MDD for a period of less than two months. Full remission is an absence of symptoms for more than two months.)

MDD also can come with certain specifiers, such as with anxious distress or with catatonia, but there are too many specifiers to go into without scaring you away from the subject forever. I could likely write a book on each of the specifiers. So, in the interest of time and space constraints (which I will now call space-time constraints to either irritate or amuse mathematicians and physicists), I won’t list them all here. You may wish to skip over certain specifiers, but with psychotic features you can often cross it over with supernatural fiction. This should be handled carefully, though, because otherwise you risk it becoming a trope.

Another important thing to remember is that MDD distorts a person’s perceptions. I used to tell patients that their brains were trolling them. This troll brain is part of the illness. It is best expressed through Beck’s cognitive triad. The person with depression has a negative view of themselves, of the future, and of the world. They often don’t believe they’ll ever get better, this is the way it is, and that there is no one or nothing that can help them. This triad does not necessarily apply to all people with depression all of the time, but there tends to be more leaning towards negative and pessimism during the course of a depressive episode.

When writing from a therapist’s point of view, your character would see the person as ill. They would note things such as poor attention to personal hygiene, being tearful, and a depressed affect (they look “sad” or “down”). It’s an ethical therapist’s job to help a patient process their thoughts and reframe things that happen to them–to teach them how to rethink things. They also do things such as medication education and other interventions. Treatment often consists of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

An unethical therapist would do things such as foster dependency, and interventions that keep the patient depressed and vulnerable to manipulate them into doing things the patient would not normally do. People with depression can be quite vulnerable, and so open to suggestion in order to find relief, a therapist without ethics could possibly ruin the patient’s life further.

I’m not sure if it’s as interesting to write about a therapist treating someone with depression as it is to write about someone who has depression, but even then, it’s important to give your characters full dimensions.

No matter what, though, write your character as a person first, and their condition second. Otherwise, you risk making a flat character that’s nothing more than a stereotype.

If you came here looking for help with depression, please seek the help of a licensed professional in your area. Depression is a horrible, soul-sucking disorder that takes your life piece-by-piece. Don’t let it take control over you. Call for help. It’s out there.


There is little more horrific than what lies in our own imaginations. If you love reading about nightmare worlds and strange happenings, check out my author page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

The Psych Writer: Introducing Depression

This is part of a series of The Psych Writer. I tend to write about pretty heavy topics because they’re mainly about mental illness, and though there are many things we can laugh and joke about to alleviate pain, these topics can be painful for some. So I ask you to stay with me and be tough. Put on your writer’s cap and use one of my favorite defense mechanisms–intellectualize with me.

And now, for a disclaimer: None of this is a substitute for professional medical advice. This is for the sole purpose of writing a character with realistic tones. Of course, there’s always poetic license. If you have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), note your individual experience may vary. If you see yourself in anything I’m describing, consult with a licensed clinician in your area for help.

This is only an introduction. MDD is a complex mood disorder with several possible complications and offshoots, so in order to keep your eyes from falling out of your head (disclaimer: not responsible for deleterious effects), I am going to have to break it up into parts other than this introduction.

So for now, let’s just get to know what MDD is all about. MDD has a lengthy symptom list. The DSM-5 lists MDD as a mood disorder. I’m going to attempt to put it all into plain English here for you, using the copy I have at home.

Here are the criteria for diagnosing Major Depressive disorder:

  • The symptoms must be present daily or nearly every day for a minimum of two weeks before a diagnosis can be made. That means it’s persistent and pervasive.
  • The symptoms must be a change from how the person functioned previously.
  • Five or more of the symptoms must be present during that two-week minimum period. On top of that, the person must have either a depressed mood (feelings of emptiness, sadness, irritability) or loss of interest and pleasure (aka anhedonia). They can have both, but at least one of these must be consistently present.
  • You’re not allowed to include symptoms that can belong to other medical conditions. In other words, they want you to make sure it’s not something else before treatment. Other physical conditions to rule out include:
    • Central nervous system diseases (e.g., Parkinson disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, neoplastic lesions)
    • Endocrine disorders (e.g., hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism)
    • Drug-related conditions (e.g., cocaine abuse, side effects of some CNS depressants)
    • Infectious disease (e.g., mononucleosis)
    • Sleep-related disorders
    • Adjustment Disorders
    • Anemia
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
    • Dissociative Disorders
    • Hypochondriasis
    • Hypoglycemia
    • Hypopituitarism (Panhypopituitarism)

    Other psychological conditions to rule out include:

    • Dysthymia
    • Bipolar Disorder
    • Anxiety Disorders (e.g, PTSD, OCD, GAD)
    • Eating Disorders
    • Personality Disorders
    • Schizoaffective Disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Somatic Symptom Disorders

      ET CETERA

Okay, so now, the clinician gets into the symptoms. Symptoms of MDD (remember, there is a minimum of five with depressed mood and/or anhedonia being one of them) include:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day for at least two weeks. The person can report this themselves (“I feel sad,” “I feel empty,” or “I feel hopeless), or it can be observed by others (“Patient appears tearful.”). For kids and teenagers, there is often a sharp increase in irritability, although irritability is sometimes seen in adults with depression, too. It’s just more often seen in the young ones.
  • Noticeably losing interest and/or pleasure in all or almost all activities that the person enjoyed before. This can be self-reported or by observation from someone else.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain–within one month, losing or gaining more than 5% of the person’s starting weight–or, an increase or decrease in appetite nearly every day (e.g., the person who used to eat their three square can barely choke down a bowl of pudding every day, or a person who used to eat lightly now eats constantly. In kids, this will be seen as failure to make their expected weight gain.
  • Not sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia) almost every day.
  • Moving around too much (fidgeting) or not moving around enough (lethargy) nearly every day. This criterion is known as psychomotor agitation or psychomotor retardation. It also cannot be self-report alone–this must be observable by others.
  • Lack of energy nearly every day (fatigue). Can be self-reported or observed.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty inappropriately, sometimes to the point of being delusional. This isn’t just basic self-reproach or feeling guilt about an illness. It’s a magnified feeling.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions nearly every day. This can be self-reported or observed.
  • Thoughts of death repeatedly–not just fear of death, suicidal thoughts without a plan, with a plan, or an attempt to commit suicide. This also includes repeated suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

And finally, the criteria for these symptoms has to fit as below:

  • The symptoms cause significant distress or inability to function in social situations, on the job, or anywhere a person needs to function.
  • The episode isn’t because of any of the conditions listed previously or because of drugs.
  • The depression isn’t better explained by another psychological condition as listed above.
  • The depression didn’t come with any mania or hypomania. Clinicians can’t count this exclusion if the mania/hypomania is due to a drug/substance or because of a medical condition.

Did you think that MDD was easy to diagnose? As you can see from above, it’s not always clear-cut. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to symptoms.

Keep all this in mind as we venture into the depths of writing MDD, and again, if you need help, contact a licensed clinician in your area for help.


I am a former supervised therapist with experience in the mental health field since I began graduate schooling in 2003. Now, I write about the things in my head.