There’s such potential in fiction to educate and inform, and sometimes I feel like this gets overlooked in the rush to create things that are new and different. Some science fiction comes with a message, a parallel drawn in speculation of the future to familiar issues our society is facing today. But stories can be helpful on a smaller and more personal scale too: when they describe things that people feel instead of just labelling a condition or experience.
This morning I thought to myself, “I feel like I might throw up at any moment,” and my brain helpfully reminded me that this is called nausea. “Oh,” I thought, “I guess I feel nauseous.” I’ve had this same experience with migraines, which are a thing I assumed only other people got until someone told me, “It feels like the pain is lightning in my head.” And I knew exactly what they meant.
I don’t know how many people see their vision tunneling and feel their hands getting cold and immediately think, “I’m having an anxiety attack,” or “I’m about to pass out.” The first thing I think is, “What’s that roaring in my ears?” often followed by, “Oh shit.”
It’s easier to label things afterwards, with the objectivity that comes with distance or time, and many of us write in the past tense. That makes it more natural to label things the way we would looking back, remembering our experiences after they’ve happened. But for most of our characters, we’re telling a story of their present, and those character experience things in the moment: as they happen, not as they’re later identified or remembered.