COVER REVEAL FOR SYNCHRONICITY

It’s less than a month now before the final book in The Other Place Series is released. Synchronicity comes out May 2!

The Other Place Series was really fun to write. Well, maybe “fun” isn’t quite the right word. The stories in the series are, in my opinion, great stories. But they go deeper than that for me.

The Other Place Series starts out with The Hustle, which is a tale of Liria, a young woman battling addiction, homelessness, and abuse. She’s trying to find her place in a world that seems set up to exclude and take advantage of her. It’s often described by readers as “a rollercoaster”. That’s a good description, because that’s what it feels like to deal with those issues.

When I was younger, I was dealing with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as the onset of psychosis. I was addicted to heroin, and went through periods of effective homelessness, as well as incarceration.  Writing The Hustle was a way for me to process those experiences in a way I never had before. It was hard, but it was also a great experience.

The next book in the series, The Other Place, follows Justin, a talented young artist with schizophrenia, as he struggles to find his own place in the world.

Writing The Other Place was my attempt to deal with my deep fear of my own psychosis. When I was younger, I thought I was schizophrenic. It terrified me that I might be. I couldn’t think of anything worse than to be trapped in the horrors of your own mind, caught in a constant, living nightmare. I didn’t tell anyone about my psychosis for decades, and (as I said) self-medicated it with heroin and other things.

My psychotic episodes ended up being infrequent. It turns out I actually am bipolar and have PTSD, not schizophrenia. In writing The Other Place, though, I was exploring that part of myself that I was so afraid of…and discovering that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with me, or with anyone with psychosis. It’s not a living nightmare at all, though it can be tough to deal with some symptoms at times.

In writing The Other Place, I also ended up in a close relationship with the man who is now my fiancé, who himself is schizophrenic. When I began hanging out with him, I recognized a lot of my own behaviors in him, and I identified with the way he was treated by society—getting harassed, threatened, physically abused, and kicked out of places when he wasn’t doing anything wrong at all. I started to see myself and my place in society more clearly, and realized that a lot of behaviors I’d been blaming myself for and trying to change, were not things I could or even wanted to change. They were things other people wanted to change about me, because they saw me as abnormal and even dangerous. All those years, I’d been beating up on myself for other people’s prejudice.

Society’s prejudice against people with neurodiversity—the idea that we’re violent, scary, hopeless, helpless, and lacking any kind of beauty or inner life— is so deep-seated that people don’t recognize it as prejudice. Not even I saw it for what it is.

The Other Place Series is an insider’s perspective on how it feels to be an outcast. It shows the prejudice and mistreatment people like me face on a daily basis. Not only was this series a growth experience for me personally, I think it could change the way others think of people with mental health issues.

Besides all that, they’re just good stories. In my opinion, they’d be good stories even if they didn’t deal with addiction or mental health issues at all. After all, people with mental health issues are just people, with their own stories to tell that have nothing at all to do with their diagnoses and addictions.

The last book Synchronicity, is the story of Liria and Justin trying to make a life together, despite all the forces trying to tear them apart. I’m really proud of this book, and I hope you all love it as much as I do.

Are you ready to see the cover? Okay…

 

More Thoughts About Neurotypical Privilege and the Prejudice against Psychotics

I am just now coming back from a long weekend with my partner (I can call him my fiancé now, but it’s gonna take me a while to get used to that).

It was really nice to see him, and we had a good time. We stayed one night in a nice hotel, and mobbed around town like always. We faced fewer problems with the public than we usually do this time, but I wanted to talk a little bit about the treatment we often face.

There’s a lot of prejudice about people with psychosis, and we encounter it not just when we’re having a psychotic break—though that’s certainly the most dangerous time for us, because that’s when our liberty, health, wellbeing, and even lives are most at risk. But just being ourselves on a good day has consequences in society that most people don’t recognize or think about as problems.

Even by myself, I often get tailed by store clerks, and I almost always get told to leave my backpack at the front of the store—it’s not a big backpack, either. It’s about eleven-by-seventeen inches, smaller than most purses, and I never see them ask anyone else with that small of a bag to leave it. My partner, who has schizophrenia, has it worse: he’s often kicked out of stores, accused of shoplifting, or not even allowed in (sometimes he dresses really nicely, but other times he wanders around in his pajamas and slippers. The “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” rule is actually very ableist/sanist. There’s nothing wrong with dressing like a slob. Seriously. Get over yourselves).

In hotels (especially nicer ones), we get questioned by the staff, and have to show our keys to prove we’re guests.

In restaurants, we’ve been denied seating. The excuse is often that they’re “full”, but we’re not given the option of waiting. We’ve also (more rarely) been asked to leave because we’re making other diners uncomfortable.

All of this happens not when we’re doing anything illegal, harmful, or even particularly distracting. My partner, and I to a lesser extent, just give off strange vibes. We make people nervous, because they’re conditioned to think of people with psychosis/people who act differently are dangerous.

We’re not dangerous.

I hope you think about this next time you interact with someone like us.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Resistance

hippieInvisible Friend Jesus sits next to me on my bed. He’s cleaning his toenails with a file, scraping the dirt from under them and flicking it onto my quilt. It’s gross, but part of me wants to save the dirt and put it on display in some cathedral.

“I feel like I should be cleaning your feet for you or something,” I say.

He glances up at me, smirking. “Do you want to?” He holds the file out toward me.

I lean away from it. “Not really.”

He goes back to his task, shrugging. “Cleaning other people’s feet isn’t really part of your culture. It’d be sort of awkward if you wanted to, to tell you the truth.”

“Another thing about my culture,” I say, “while we’re on the subject: cleaning your toenails on someone else’s bed: not really okay. But it’s cool, because we’re friends. The quilt washes.”

He pauses in digging out a particularly stubborn deposit in the corner of his big toe. “Sorry. I didn’t really think about it. My feet were just dirty.”

“Naw, it’s cool, it’s cool. Really.”

He hesitates a moment then, seeing I’m serious, goes back to digging.

I watch him with disgusted fascination. “I didn’t really think about Jesus’ feet getting dirty before. I thought you were perfect in every way.”

He raises an eyebrow. “The Bible talks about my dirty feet. It’s a little embarrassing, but it was necessary to the story, I think.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.”

He wipes the file on the hem of his suit jacket and starts in on shaping His nails. “I’m a human being. The whole point of me—as a religious concept, anyway—is that I’m a human like any other, with dirty feet and everything. I’m God’s way of showing the world that it’s okay to be human.

“Dirty feet don’t make us ‘imperfect’, anyway,” he continues, “they just make us human.” He frowns in concentration, trying to shape his pinky toenail just so. “It’s the same with all the other stuff that goes along with being human. None of it is imperfection. All the trouble starts when people start blaming and judging others for what they see as their flaws. It’s what I spoke out against, because we would be a lot happier if we’d quit worrying about that stuff and just accepted ourselves and others.”

“I get you,” I say, “but that’s some complicated shit when you get into issues of people’s  beliefs threatening others. I’d say that sort of behavior truly is a ‘flaw’.”

He nods. “I know what you mean. If you’d notice, the Bible talks about how I lost it on a few people for doing stupid and hateful stuff, too.”

I grin. “Yeah, I remember some of that stuff. Those are some of my favorite parts.”

“I can’t say it wasn’t satisfying.” He clips the edge off one of his nails and flicks it away; I wince as it lands on my pillow. “Living on Earth is a complicated thing,” He says. “God understands that. But God is bigger than all that, too. God wants you to forgive your enemies, even for threatening and hurting you. Notice I don’t say ‘embrace’, just ‘forgive’. And I don’t mean we should lie down and let them trample us, but we should forgive them for trying.

“This is not an easy thing to do, when you’re just trying to get by as a mortal person, and assholes keep messing with you and your family—messing with them, or worse,” He says. “God understands that it’s difficult. He knows we won’t always succeed—that we’ll flip our shit sometimes—and forgives us for it. But we’d be a lot happier if we stopped trying to get revenge. Because, in the process, sometimes we end up becoming the thing that we hate: we end up threatening and hurting other people in return. Then those people act out in self-defense and in greater hatred, and the cycle continues.”

“That’s why you forgave the people who crucified you,” I say. “As an example that it can be done by human beings, even in those circumstances.”

He nods, stretching out his legs and wiggling his toes. “Yep. That shit wasn’t easy, but I felt better after I’d done it. Better in my soul, anyway; I was in some pretty bad agony physically, to say the least. But forgiveness helps the forgiver as much as the forgiven.”

I draw my knees up to my chest and hug them. “I wish your followers would listen to you about all this stuff, because my country is really scary right now. It’s starting to look like Nazi Germany. I have a hard time turning the other cheek when people are threatening our health and lives, and when they’re supporting racism, bigotry, and the destruction of society and the environment. And most of the people doing that in the U.S. claim to be Christian.”

He gives me a long look. “Human beings have a long way to go before they find the Kingdom of God. I know it seems like this battle has already been fought, but what a lot of people don’t realize is, their lives are short and the battle is long. The fight is ongoing, and will continue until the Kingdom is achieved. All I can say is, we have made progress. And God is still with us, no matter what.”IMG_2458.JPG

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence*). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodiverse” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those “duh” statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term “neruodiverse”. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses. “Neurodiverse” expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the neurodiverse umbrella. There’s a huge spectrum not only of different diagnoses under that umbrella, but also of levels of marginalization. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodiversity has only a minor effect on their lives.

If you have minor clinical depression, for instance, you’re neurodiverse in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of minor depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodiversity: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment for more than a few years at a time, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodiverse. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodiversity doesn’t isolate me in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with Autism, or schizoaffective disorder, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodiverse people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodiverse people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodiverse people are “doing it for attention” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodiverse) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodiverse is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.

* I don’t like that this term as much, for the silly reason that I don’t like the novel Divergent. We all have our quirks.

Drug Addicted and Autistic: A More Common Combination Than You Think

So glad for this. I’m not autistic, but I’ve struggled with heroin addiction too…it helped the negative symptoms of my bipolar/PTSD, like depression, psychosis and anxiety.

Longreads

Addicted and autistic? At Spectrum, Maia Szalavitz explores the unexpected biological and psychological commonalities of addiction and autism, and some new science that suggests that combination may be more common than you think.

Shane Stoner’s addiction began in 2008. He lost a factory job, his parents divorced, his father died — and then a relative introduced him to heroin. “I felt like heroin gave me confidence,” Stoner says. “I could get out of bed in the morning and do the day. No matter what happened, it made me feel like it was going to be all right.” It erased his constant anxiety.

Stoner, now 44, eventually entered detox in 2013 after he was arrested for stealing copper from an abandoned house. It was obvious at that point that he was addicted to heroin. But it would take several more years for him to get the diagnosis that truly helped…

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Social Justice Warriors are Hurting the Cause of Social Justice*

We’re truly in dark times. Trump is building concentration camps for immigrants. They’re lynching Muslims in my (very-blue, even) state. People are getting thrown out of the country for disagreeing with the president. Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated. The list is too long. There are too many fires popping up everywhere to even keep track of.

It’s overwhelming, and unfortunately, this shit going on now is just piling up on top of the shit a lot of people were dealing with beforehand. This is just the bigotry, hatred, maliciousness…you name it…coming out into the open where EVERYONE can see (as long as they’re not blind, like the majority of Trump supporters).

There’s no way to really deal productively with this, from the position of “normal” people. All the lobbying, protesting, organizing, social action, and self-care in the world is just busywork while we’re watching our world crumble. Most of us, all we can do is stay strong, and be there for one another. We take the actions we can to try to bang sense and action into our government and to prop up our failing democracy, and to take care of ourselves and others who need it, but ultimately we’re relying on those in positions of power to do what they need to do and can to save the country and the freedoms we’ve been fighting for—have fought for forever—and that we’re so proud of.

Amongst all this, I see a lot of people on the left who are hurting our cause. And we can’t afford that. Not right now.

There has been a lot of upheaval in the left. There are a lot of tensions between marginalized groups and more advantaged liberals that are now coming to a head, because for people who don’t have a real dog in this fight, it seems difficult for them to understand the depth of the anger, terror, resentment, and feeling of betrayal disadvantaged people are feeling. These conversations are happening. They’re being sorted out. Please, God, I hope so, because we cannot sustain a rift right now.

I started to suspect that Trump could win when I first started paying attention to the campaigns. During the first part, I was dealing with the destruction of my marriage and some severe mental health instability (anyone new to this blog, I have severe bipolar and PTSD, and I deal with psychosis, suicidal behaviors…blah blah blah). So I wasn’t paying attention. When I started to, I had a feeling of creeping dread. But still, when he was elected, I was stunned, and thrown way off balance. I had a bad episode.

I started out talking to people about the election from a place of pure terror and rage. And it was infuriating that people supposedly on my side didn’t understand my anger. They said I was being immature and counterproductive.

I’m mentally ill, sure, but I’m an adult. I’m also used to second-guessing my feelings. People blame and belittle me for my behavior, and because of that I’ve spent my whole life fighting out-of-control emotions which I can’t actually control without medication. So yeah, even when I was in that state, part of me knew they had a point. But they needed to give me space for my anger.

I’m starting to come out of that angry place. Thank God. It was a horrible place to be. Some people aren’t out of it yet.

Most of you know what happened to me on Twitter the other day. People were so angry, that they forgot that they needed to listen to me. They didn’t realize that I understood their anger, but that I was speaking from a different standpoint (different types of marginalization, a different place in my processing cycle, different life experiences). They mistook the fact that I didn’t agree with all their points, for deafness to their arguments. I was listening, though.

The real barrier to communication was that they weren’t listening to me. Which is too bad, not just for me, but because people never listen to “people like me” with severe mental illness, and they might have learned something and strengthened the cause of social justice.

But they didn’t strengthen the cause. Quite the opposite. Those people, in their anger, embodied THE WORST of the bigotry I get from the right wing. They said I was whiny, delusional, a snowflake, and that I needed to sit down and shut up and listen to people who really knew what they were talking about. And then they didn’t give me space for my FURY that they would DARE say that shit to me.

People like that play right into the hands of the alt-right, who say we’re a bunch of delusional snowflakes who think no one has a right to an opinion but us. It creates a habitat for more gaslighting. It is counterproductive.

I say this even though I understand their anger . Some of the people I spoke to had damn good points. I know that because I was listening. Some people DID listen to me, and I thank them for it.

In the meantime, though, some of the worst of those people damaged my career. And I’ve spent the last few days clinging to my sanity and trying to stay out of the hospital for the sake of my mother (whom I’m caring for after her open-heart surgery a week ago) and my daughter (who is also openly bisexual and recently diagnosed as neurodiverse, is dealing with a lot of marginalization and bullying because of it, and needs a solid example of a mother who knows how to do this shit).

It wasn’t the right-wing that marginalized me. It was the left.

They need to stop. They’re turning into the thing we’re fighting against.

 

*I actually considered a more inflammatory title, but I learned a long time ago that purposefully goading people wasn’t a good way to open dialogue. The problem (and the reason I considered a clickbait title), is that it (inadvertently) worked last time. Human beings don’t pay attention unless you MAKE them, by pissing them off or creating some other emotional reaction, accidentally or intentionally. (Milo has learned this, and you’re falling for it.) I’m not gonna play that game (or maybe I am. Idfk. I don’t know how to behave in society anymore, or never did). So, now I’m back to talking to my regular audience, who knows me and will talk to me respectfully if they misunderstand or disagree (please. I hope).

 

Elizabeth Roderick is an Own Voices writer of neurodiverse fiction. You can find her on Amazon.

Neurodiverse People Can Center Ourselves

I’d say I’m digging my grave worse, but now I know I’m back to my regular audience of neurodiverse folks and their allies…like I’d thought I was yesterday. That was a bad miscalculation, and I apologize, as I did from pretty much the outset, if you’ll read the thread. I listened to the people who actually spoke rationally to me, and I changed the article, then got mobbed by a bunch of mostly white people, many of whom did nothing but troll and bully.

I made a mistake and apologized, and fixed it as best I could. After that, I’m not in the wrong here. The people mobbing me were. And this needs said, even if it gets me more shit. I need to stand up for the rights of neurodiverse people to be part of the conversation, because we all are really tired of being told to sit down.

I’m going to go through the things I saw yesterday that were extremely worrying. Any of you who do/say these things, I really hope you do some introspection.

People who say I’m using my neurodiversity as a “shield” to “try to take part in the conversation” have no idea what it’s like to be marginalized. Marginalization is the opposite of a shield. It leaves you open to attack in a way that most people don’t understand. For instance, not to give hateful people ideas, but if someone were to call the police and say I’m a threat, they’d likely lock me up, no questions asked. This is what they do to people with psychosis, on a daily basis. This is institutional bigotry, and it’s wrong. So, yeah. Being psychotic: not a shield.

People who say neurodiverse people don’t know what it’s like to be marginalized, or that what we see as marginalization is society working to separate us “for our own good” need to step back and pay attention. Neurodiverse people like me are considered a “threat” even though we’re not. At all. We’re more likely to be hurt BY others than to hurt others. Nevertheless, any time someone does something shitty and violent, people say they’re “mentally ill”. For most people violent behavior equals mental illness, and vice versa. This is the sort of bigotry that gets us killed. Most people who do violent and horrible things are just assholes, racists, etc. Every time someone says we’re violent, we’re marginalized more and more.

The worst part of all of this marginalization is that most neurodiverse people buy into it. We think there really is something wrong with us. We have a hard time standing up for ourselves for this reason, and also because of how exhausting it is to be shouted down and told we have no right to speak up for ourselves. This is why I’m not backing down. I’m not going to be told, like I was so many times yesterday, that I need to sit down and shut up. That this isn’t about me. That I was “whining” and “being bitter” and “being delusional”, and that my “viewpoint is shitty”. Those words are marginalizing. In standing up for “diversity” and “inclusiveness”, you’re trying to silence and discount a marginalized voice. Period.

Because  me talking, on my own blog, about my own experience, is not me “talking over” anyone. There’s room for me in the conversation. Besides: when you’re marginalized, people don’t sit waiting to hear your voice. They don’t just let you talk. Sometimes you have to talk over people in order to be heard.

So, yeah, shame on me for using that book as an example, because it hurt people’s feelings. Again, I apologized, and took out the reference. I feel extremely bad, because this shit got so big it did end up taking away from the joy of the day. It’s something I didn’t think about when talking to my core audience of neurodiverse people. It wasn’t our day. That doesn’t mean I had no right to speak at all on that day, though, let me make that clear. And it doesn’t mean I was diminishing a person of color’s achievement, either. Neurodiverse people have a right to center ourselves and our feelings. There’s room for us at the table without anyone else having to feel they’re being shunted aside. If you think differently, then you’re actually trying to take the conversation away from us. You’re making it about you.

My main point in the article yesterday, I want to reiterate, because it was valid. To start with, all of the hurtful stuff people said that I said, I didn’t actually say. I said the book had to be a million times better than a non-Own Voices book to get published. I said that Own Voices books are necessary and special. My real point was the publishing industry shouldn’t pat themselves on the back for publishing an Own Voices book, because publishing great books is what they’re there to do. (To be clear, PEOPLE should celebrate that this book got published, because it’s important. Since my partner was nearly shot by police when unarmed, and then he was blamed for it, I have a very strong personal emotional reaction to this point of view being humanized, and am so glad it was given voice.)

One of the most worrisome things I saw was defensiveness from the gatekeeprs themselves. They said not only that I was “whining” and “bitter” (don’t say these things to a marginalized person who is talking about how they’re being marginalized. Ever. It’s not okay). They also said, “Publishers aren’t ‘patting themselves on the back’. They should make a big deal out publishing an Own Voices book. When publishers see there’s money in Own Voices, they’ll publish more.” That’s missing the point, and it’s dangerous for publishers to think of it this way, without addressing the real problem. There’s always been money in Own Voices. We, the readers, know it. We have been hungering for these books for ages, and JUST NOW they’re seeing dollar signs. But, considering rejections I got for my book with the schizophrenic MC before I found it a good home, and ones that other people are still getting, agents and editors continue to “not identify” with Own Voices to a much larger extent than non-Own Voices, and they use us to fill “quotas”. Until the latent bias in the gatekeepers goes away, a lot of great books are still going to fall through the cracks. Don’t get defensive and think we’re whining or bitter. Just listen.

I hope people will stop attacking me in non-productive ways, and see the real problem here. I’m not the real problem. I’m an Own Voices writer stating my opinion, and anyone who thinks that’s a problem, needs to take a good, hard look at themselves.

Anyone who still wants to talk to me and also LISTEN, I will be very happy to do so. If you’re not going to admit my voice is valid, though, you need to step back.