(I wrote this two days ago but anxiety made me delete it #ironic. Attempt No.2)
I feel like the Les Mis fandom needs to address how it approaches mental illness, as I’ve been a part of it for two years and some of the ways in which it’s presented is… Well, to be honest, gross. There are a lot of examples I could use, but I’m going to focus on Joly for now.
Health Anxiety (or hypochondria, as it’s commonly known) is where a person continually obsesses about their health, and usually derives from a ‘larger’ mental health disorder; for example, my health anxiety comes from my GAD.
Joly is canonically a hypochondriac, in a time where there was little to no understanding of how mental health disorders work. Maybe because the source material isn’t particularly detailed, or even flippant about it, the fandom therefore responds the same and thinks that it isn’t a serious condition. Too often, I’ve seen fics and headcanons along the lines of:
“Oh, he’s diagnosed himself with mono, so he’s quarantined himself.”
The problem with hypochondria is that, to people who don’t have it, it can seem irrational, or even ridiculous. I have taken infinite amounts of pregnancy tests in the past few months alone, despite being celibate for half a year, because my tummy hurts a bit and my periods stopped from the pill. My friends this in itself is ridiculous; they don’t know that, once I ruled out pregnancy, I began to convince myself that I had IBS or colon cancer.
Health anxiety is debilitating. I cry myself to sleep because I think I’m dying and I can’t afford to pay for the doctors (even though, more often than not, I don’t need to go). I check my entire body at least once a day for any changes. I get so stressed that my body physically responds, which therefore scares me and makes me think something’s wrong, and the cycle continues. It goes beyond panic attacks; it can make me not leave my house, or think extremely dark things.
Obviously medication and therapy is available nowadays, as understanding has developed. If you have Joly in a Modern AU and you’re writing him with health anxiety, make sure that he is accessing these things, or realises he needs them if his anxiety is somehow important to the plot. Take time to research the ways in which we counter the anxiety, and ways in which it manifests, particularly if you don’t have anxiety and hypochondria yourself.
This goes for a lot of things; from Grantaire’s depression and alcoholism, to Bahorel’s anger issues. You have to be considerate that these are real things people suffer from and have to be approached with sensitivity. Representation doesn’t count if it’s treated as a punchline.
This isn’t me trying to attack any specific person; like I said, I think that most of the time genuine naivety is the cause of the offending material. But it is upsetting to see something that genuinely does damage my way of living treated so flippantly, especially in a fandom that I have been in for two years and am extremely invested in.
This is a pretty hard topic for me to talk about, but it needs to be said. Thanks for reading X