Dystopia and utopia — I’ve experienced both. Most of us have, though we may not realise it. I know I’m not a heroine from a broken society, even though I do live in one. But I am the heroine of my own dystopia, the dystopia I face inside everyday, my inner dystopia.
Dystopia, despite all the misconceptions and judgements, isn’t just in about the external society, it’s in our internal wellbeing too.
I think there’s a huge stigma surrounding dystopia, and it seriously isn’t justified. The genre is so huge and diverse (I wrote a post about this here), and dystopia isn’t just about society, it’s about our mental health, our inner dystopia.
When I say “inner dystopia” I mean anxiety, depression, OCD, the whole lot (if you want to put labels on them). The darkness so many of us face inside. I mean the internal conflict which rips us to pieces when the war wages too deeply and too strongly. Too many of us face this daily, so, (sadly) books need to and do explore this.
Some of my absolute favourite dystopias are ones that have internal and external dystopias. There’s the corrupt society which is a wide-scale dystopia, and then there’s the inner dystopia, the mental health issues our protagonist faces.
The idea of inner dystopia can be found in so many different ways. There’s the contemporary books which feature no obvious dystopia, but discuss mental health which, to me at least, is our inner dystopia. Yes, I might not feature them often or at all here on Delve into Dystopia, but they do still discuss a topic which is incredibly close to my heart. Then there are the ones which don’t obviously feature any mental health issues, and are more society based – this could still relate to mental health because it can be symbolic of the inner turmoil, just presented in an external situation.
I think the idea of an inner dystopia is one we can all relate the most to. Mental health is something that effects most of us every day, and is a constant battle. Not everyone will understand it, either because it’s never something they’ve faced themselves or have been exposed to, but so many of us do understand it, so sometimes we need to see it in literature to know that we’re not alone.
If you’re anything like me, then books aren’t just a place to see your own situation reflected back, they’re also your refuge. There where you go to seek an escape from the conflict within you. I think that’s a big reason why I love the dystopian genre so much, because it’s all about conflict, internal and external.
I’m going to be talking a lot on Delve into Dystopia about the idea of “inner dystopia” because it is such an important topic and relates to everything I believe in and want to share. On a personal level, suffering with mental health and having been in an extremely dark place for a few years, I’ve learnt what’s important to me and what I need to do to stay well. It’s a constant battle, but for me there are certain things which help to calm the toil. These include reading, eating well (but plenty and freely), using natural products to make me feel pampered and good, and taking time out to just be me.
Everything to do with “inner dystopia” varies so much from person to person, so there’s never a simple answer to it. There are, however, certain books I know have helped not only me, but others too, to feel less alone and more at peace. This list isn’t very long, and I know there are a million more which fit under the bracket, but these are the ones that spring to my mind…
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas
This is the second book in the ACOTAR trilogy, and discusses a lot about depression, abusive relationships, anxiety and more. It’s one of my all time favourite book, I think mainly because I really related to it, and it was so refreshing seeing mental health accurately represented in a main character. Sarah J Maas shows how there’s no fix or cure to mental health, but there are things you can do to help it.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Book 3 in The Hunger Games trilogy)
The only YA dystopia I’ve read where PTSD was written well and believably. I felt every single pang of pain in Katniss and felt like I could relate to her, even though I’d never suffered with PTSD myself.
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neil
One of the most painful books I’ve ever read, but one of the most important. It’s very similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of the concepts, but delves much deeper into mental health. Be careful though if you’re someone who suffers or has suffered with eating disorders of any description, because it can be incredibly triggering, however is very enlightening (horrifically) of the way our society is constructed.
Other notable books:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Are there any books you’d recommend which explore our inner dystopia? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!