Patients Aren’t Fakers: Doctor Bias is Killing Us

[medical trauma, stillbirth]

I’ve been banned on Twitter for standing up for patient rights, so I would appreciate anyone posting this on that platform.

The first time I recognized toxic medical culture was when I was pregnant with my first daughter. It was late 2002, and I was living with my husband in Portland, Oregon. I had a job as a paralegal, which came with really good health insurance. I know younger folks won’t believe this, but the amount I paid out of pocket for that medical insurance? $53 a month. My dental and vision was an additional $6.

I was excited to be pregnant and, like a lot of folks carrying a child for the first time, I was perhaps a little overly-fastidious about what I put into my body and how I took care of myself. It was the only time in my life I shopped at Whole Foods, for instance, paying more for organic kale shipped overnight from California than I could afford to spend on a week’s groceries now. I stayed entirely away from caffeine, which I likely couldn’t do now to save my life. I walked the three miles to work every day to keep in shape, but worried endlessly about whether I was inhaling too much exhaust because of it.

I didn’t smoke cigarettes, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. Not even weed. As some of you know, I spent some time in prison for heroin addiction in 1999-2000, but I’d managed to leave that life entirely behind after that.

However, this wasn’t enough for the midwifery team. Because of my past, they subjected me to random drug testing. It was, they said, for my own protection. It’s amazing what people with power over you will force you to do for your own protection, when they know you have no recourse. If I wouldn’t take the tests, they’d turn me into child protective services and I’d lose my baby before she was born.

It turned out my daughter had a heart defect that was incompatible with life. As I lay sobbing on the gurney, preparing to stillbirth my tiny baby, they had the fucking audacity to tell me my drug tests had come out clean.

I fucking know,” I sobbed, and they had the further audacity to look shocked and offended.

As if it was about them, in that moment. As if their feelings were the ones that mattered in that situation, when I was in extreme physical and emotional pain, and they had the highly-paid job of caring for me.

This scenario repeats itself in medical facilities all over the world, and especially (it seems) in the United States, where toxic medical culture is the third leading cause of death. Doctor bias—especially against people of color, women, and people with disabilities—has been shown to cause tens of thousands of medical mistakes that lead to permanent injury or death.

Medical providers don’t pay attention to these studies, or the ones that show that trusting your patients and allowing them to be equal partners in their care leads to much better outcomes. Quite the contrary: nurses and doctors often openly opine that a large portion of their patients are fakers and drug seekers. Any perusal of Twitter or Reddit will show them mocking their patients, and if you’ve ever known medical professionals personally, you know that cruelly mocking the folks who come to them for help is one of their favorite pastimes. They have all sorts of opinion articles on medical sites about how we’re all a bunch of fakers, too.

They sometimes use the “opioid crisis” as a reason to torture their patients, but the opioid crisis isn’t driven by prescriptions, and they should know that. In fact, decreasing prescriptions has increased overdoses.

That a large portion of patients could be fakers isn’t rational, especially in the U.S. Who has twenty grand to waste on an ER visit just because we want attention? Who has seven hours to sit in the waiting room just for fun? Anyone can get narcotics for $10 on the street, in a lot less time. You can get a massage or a sex worker for an hour for $60-$400 depending on where you go, and that attention is a lot more positive.

Not only is the “patients are all fakers and drug seekers” narrative not backed up by logic—it’s not supported by evidence. In fact, as I’ve pointed out above, THE OPPOSITE is true—people are regularly dismissed as fakers, then die because of it or are permanently injured. Those are just the worst cases, too. Pretty much everyone who has been to the ER or the doctor has a story of how they were dismissed. Most of us are able to eventually get a correct diagnosis…if we have the privilege of being able to continue self-advocating. But not all of us can, especially if we’re part of a marginalized group.

So many have suffered, and will continue to suffer, until we defeat this toxic medical culture.

The reason I think it’s proliferated, especially in the U.S., is because you generally have to have a certain level of privilege in order to afford the schooling to become a nurse or doctor, so you already are in danger of having a superiority complex. Add that to the fact that insurance companies and medical costs have made it very difficult to get treatment. Medical providers have a de facto monopoly: if they fuck you over, you have nowhere else to go. If you do have the privilege of getting a second opinion, they accuse you of doctor shopping or collecting diagnoses.

The second time I encountered toxic medical culture was when I was in active labor with Kid. My water broke after many hours of contractions. I had to be taken by ambulance to the ER because the ice storm of the century had hit Portland, leaving six inches of ice on the roads and sealed our car doors shut.

The midwife on duty, regardless, wanted to send me home because I was only dilated 4 cm. She had to relent, however, because there was no way to get home. Instead, she told me to stop vocalizing (I had opted to go completely unmedicated, and I was howling. It really helped). The entirety of her “care” was to tell me I was exaggerating my pain. “This is your time to rest, between contractions. Stop wasting your energy being dramatic.” I didn’t have the breath to tell her that there was no time between contractions. They were one after the other.

She went off duty, and a new midwife came on. The last one had refused to check my dilation again. This one did. I was at 9 ½, and started to push immediately. (Hey, Millennials: you know how much I paid for the ambulance ride, birth, and recovery? $45. FORTY-FIVE FUCKING DOLLARS. This was in 2004.)

Luckily, I haven’t had to go to the ER since then, though I have had my back pain dismissed repeatedly by primary care to the point where I’ve quit going to the doctor for it, and just take kratom for it instead. However, my mom has been suffering for years because doctors have refused to investigate or treat her issues. Most recently, she had a seizure at home, and my dad had given her (inept) CPR on the 911 operator’s instructions, when she quit breathing.

The EMTs had to strap her to a gurney and give her Ativan to get her to the ER, because she had post-seizure psychosis and thought they were trying to hurt her. The ER staff had, instead of trying to figure out why she had a seizure, given her a drug test, which came up positive for the Ativan, so they figured she must just be in there for drugs. Why this would be their go-to assumption defies logic or evidence, but these are the people they are dismissing as drug seekers: incredibly sick 65-year-old women.

My mom told shift after shift of medical staff, repeatedly (since they all asked her about pain), that she had pain at a level of 7 in her back, but they never gave her so much as an ibuprofen for the 30 hours she was in the hospital, nor did they investigate the cause of the pain. It wasn’t until months later her primary care doctor (who she’d had to wait months to see) found out my dad had broken one of her vertebrae with the CPR.

They’re still not helping her with it.

And the neurologist she saw recently for follow up on the seizure? He said it was a panic attack and spent their hour consult berating her. She came home in tears and went off her meds. She is refusing further treatment for the seizure she had.

This is medical care in the U.S. This is what we pay a large portion of our incomes for.

I have more anecdotal evidence, but this doesn’t need to be an exhaustive account. Pretty much everyone who has ever had a medical issue has anecdotal evidence. And, again, large-scale studies back up that people in legitimate pain and with legitimate health issues are constantly dismissed and misdiagnosed.

Medical professionals: get your fucking shit together. You’re bad at your jobs. (Except those of you who recognize and fight against this toxic culture. Thank you. That can’t be easy.)

 

Official announcement and publication story: TALES FROM PURGATORY!!

Well, the time has finally come to announce this: I’ve signed a three-book contract with Scarsdale Press for the Tales from Purgatory series. Yay! The publication dates aren’t set yet, but if everything goes as planned, the first book should come out sometime in the autumn of 2020, with the next two to come out shortly after, in succession.

If you’ve been following me a while, you know that this is a 7-book series; you also might know that the series takes a very untraditional turn in Book 4, and then becomes more of a spinoff of the first three books in installments 5-7. I felt it was more appropriate to start with the first three with an option for the rest. Fear not, however; Persephone Cavanaugh will see the light of day, though the manner of it may surprise even some of those who have read all the books.

[CN: abuse]

This series has been a long time coming. It has, as they say, been a rollercoaster. Tales from Purgatory was the very first series I wrote; the very first books I wrote. The idea for it had grown in my mind over a decade, spawned by a psychotic experience I’d had on my 27th birthday. I somehow processed my visions of being dead and transported into the dimension of Purgatory, where spirits gave me messages in code designed to lead me astray or toward the light if I could decipher them correctly, into a YA urban fantasy about a runaway who holes up with a cult of rogue scientists who think lucid dreaming can allow passage to the afterlife and beyond.

After a couple of false starts, I finally started writing this series in the late summer of 2013. It was a strange period of my life. I had just moved to California with my husband and daughter. After years of supporting him emotionally through his postdocs, my husband had finally gotten a tenure-track position…in the one school I’d told him not to apply at—one that would require us to move to one of the most expensive areas of the country.

We ended up living in a hotel room for months, trying to close on a house. I was homeschooling my daughter, and feeling completely uprooted from my family, friends, bands, job…everything I’d ever known. So, I started to write.

I couldn’t stop writing. Part of it was the story, maybe, and part of it was the fact that the weather on the California coast went from summer to spring with no downtime in between, no cold, dark teatime of the soul as it were. I went manic and hyperfocused, writing 12-18 hours a day, having to dose myself with whiskey and antihistamines to even catch a few hours of sleep so I could function well enough to write the next day. Writing was pretty much all I cared about. I could taste the story, and couldn’t calm down unless I was sitting in front of my much-abused laptop in some quiet place or other.

It was difficult, sometimes, to find those quiet places. My husband didn’t like me writing so much. He thought I was wasting my time, and advised me to get a minimum wage job working in the grape fields…anything, he reasoned, would be better than writing. Better than the one thing I’d ever felt destined to do.

So, Juniper and I went on road trips. We went to stay with my parents for a while. Finally, we were able to move into a little house in a tiny town called Shandon, California. It’s there that my life changed forever, and took a definite turn for the weird, as most of you know.

It took me almost exactly a year to draft all seven books in the series. That year was a crash course in how to write. I joined five different writing groups, much the way I’d joined five different bands back in Seattle. I joined online pitching contests and took courses in how to write queries.

I started pitching Book One of Tales from Purgatory way too early—when it had only been drafted for a few months. Working on writing as many hours as I was, I’d still gotten feedback from critiquers and beta readers and managed to edit it several times (while working on the sequels), but I still didn’t really know how to write. I hadn’t found my style or my footing yet.

I’m glad I pitched it early, though. It gave me the experience I needed in order to get my first book deal with Love or Money (which was the thirteenth book I wrote), with The Other Place series (books 8-12 in my list) following soon after.

This publishing deal came during a very tumultuous time, when I really needed something good to hold on to. My husband, once we were settled in California and he was doing well in his job, decided he didn’t need me anymore and, as he said, was only keeping me around so he could see my daughter (who isn’t his biological daughter, but he’d been her stepdad since she was two). I was very much adrift, and a book deal was a life raft: a sign that I could make it on my own, that I had value as an individual and not just as the supportive wife of a successful biophysicist.

I finally left him and moved back to my hometown in eastern Washington State in the spring of 2016. That’s when the real work began, both career-wise, and emotionally.

During that first, windy April, I renovated a one-room cabin on my family’s farm. I dug into the cold earth and planted a huge vegetable garden, sprayed and pruned acres of peach trees, and tried to come to terms with myself. I’ve been living in that cabin since then, trying to build up my writing and editing business and grow the farm’s income.

This is the first time I’ve ever been on my own. Building my identity as an individual and learning how to take care of myself has been a real struggle. I’ve wanted to give up so many times: on my dreams and on myself.

The thing about trying to make it as an author and freelancer is, there’s no stability, no guarantees. I’m lucky that I have a place to live and food to eat; my daughter and I will never go homeless and hungry here. But I can’t shake the feeling that I have something to prove. No matter how hard it gets, I can’t bring myself to fall back on my family’s support. I’ve had too many abusive partners who have assured me they’d take care of me if I gave up or deferred my own dreams in order to support theirs, only to crap out on that promise or discard me as soon as they’d achieved their goals.

For the first time in my life, I need to stand on my own two feet. And I’d really like to do it on my own terms, doing something I love.

Month after month of barely scraping by really wears on a person’s nerves, though. I’ve applied for regular jobs dozens of times, but nothing has panned out, as if the universe itself wants me to be poor. My self-doubt started to crush me, and my pace of writing slowed, my focus shattered. I couldn’t finish a novel. I’d get halfway in and lose interest to the point it was painful to open the manuscript. I’d start on something else, only to have the same thing happen.

I quit querying, and quit marketing my books. It all seemed like too much, the tasks and to-dos nagging at my conscience, failure sitting on my chest like a boulder. I always knew that making it in the arts can be a slog, that it’s a job, and that you have to keep working at it. I never expected that I would get a few books published and they’d take off on their own without me putting any more work into it. But I’d lost my nerve.

I never stopped loving to write though, and I never gave up on Tales from Purgatory. I wanted so much to recapture the feeling I’d had while working on that series: the complete immersion in the story, the exhilaration of creating a new world. I’d still open the document every so often and make more revisions, and I found a very good new beta reader who gave me some excellent suggestions.

Then, last March, I decided to pitch Tales from Purgatory in PitMad (the same contest which had netted me my first publishing deal). I got a request, sent off a partial to Scarsdale Press, and promptly forgot about it.

I didn’t send out any more queries. I was in a complete funk and immersed myself in the farm and in anything else I could find that might make me a few dollars, working on my manuscripts in fits and starts without much enthusiasm.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I got a request for the full manuscript from Scarsdale. They apologized; apparently my pitch had been misplaced.

A few days later, I had an offer.

I’m really happy this story is going to be out in the world. It’s my favorite one I’ve written so far. Even with all the editing, I think I’ve preserved the initial spark that drove me to write it. The pure joy of discovering what it means to be master of your own written universe, the euphoria of feeling that magic inside yourself.

The editor who took it on has more excellent ideas for revisions. Her initial letter of offer showed her dedication to the story, and made me feel like I had, finally, found someone in the business who saw my vision and appreciated it for what it is. I’m excited to see the finished product.

I wrote these books before I had come to terms with my neurodivergence. Before I knew Phoenix. Before the crash that turned my life on its heels. But it still has a schizophrenic character and deals with processing of abuse. It holds the seeds of my self-discovery, before they became entangled with identity and politics.

I hope that you all will buy it and love it as much as I do.

In Which I Saw Joker Thinking I Would Hate it, and Ended Up Hating it

 

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve ranted at you. I’ve had a lot going on in my life, and I’ve been a little shy of writing for the public. I’m trying to get back into it, though. And what better reason to get back into it than a nice, vitriol-filled review of a movie I hated? Whooo!

If you’ve known or followed me for any length of time, you know that I’m not one to go around telling people what kind of media they should or shouldn’t like. I do think it’s ridiculous to claim that art doesn’t have an effect on the collective psyche, but I also don’t think people are generally going to go out and harm people or themselves just because they read a novel or watched a movie.

It’s pointless and oppressive to shame people for what they like. Usually we can’t even control what we enjoy. It just hits the right buttons in our brains and releases the happy chemicals. I will NEVER try to deny someone their happy chemicals. HAPPY CHEMICALS ARE IMPORTANT.

I do believe, though, that it’s important that we pay attention to the discourse around art. Quite often, the discourse is the most important part of a piece of media. It’s how we learn as individuals, and how we progress as a society.

That’s why I hate-watched Joker, even though hate-watching isn’t a thing I usually do. This movie is getting so much attention. I knew the subject matter would be difficult for me, since I am a psychotic person, and many of the people I care about deeply are also psychotic, so I wanted to be able to speak about it in the hopes my opinion would be heard and would make folks think about this portrayal of mental illness.

In theory, I didn’t really have to see the movie. It would have been easy enough to point out that this was yet another “psychotic person becomes a mass murderer” story, and that this tired, old trope is harmful to psychotic people. After all, only 3-5% of violence is because of mental illness (even less of it because of psychosis), and yet around 99% of mainstream psychotic characters are portrayed as creepy mass murderers or serial killers. It didn’t take a full watch to realize that DC was rehashing this narrative.

But I wanted to be able to discuss the film with authority, and with a firm grasp of the complexities and subtleties of the plot. Hopefully, this will make folks more apt to listen.

I really do hope folks listen, because our lives could depend on it. While I don’t expect we’ll see much violence directly attributable to this movie, I do think it will have an effect. The average non-psychotic person is TERRIFIED of psychotic people, and while there may not be any studies on it that I can find, you can’t tell me that media portrayal doesn’t contribute to general fear of us. These portrayals are both a symptom of, and fuel for, saneism.

And saneism is rampant. Even though psychotic people are only responsible for a statistically insignificant portion of violence in the world, it is legal to lock us up just for being who we are. Neurodivergent folks are the only group in this country where it is still, in 2019, unambiguously LEGAL and COMMON PRACTICE to lock us up for existing.

That’s because y’all think it’s only a matter of time before we “snap” like Joker did and start killing people. Even though that never really happens.

One of the people I’m closest to in this world is schizophrenic, and although his mother has known him for going on 27 years and he has never hurt her, she STILL goes around saying that she’s just waiting for him to “snap” and murder her.

It’s not logical, y’all.

And yet, this illogical belief that we’re dangerous means that psychotic people are locked up for existing, and are much more likely than sane folks to be hurt and killed. We’re just hanging out minding our own business, and y’all take it upon yourselves to pull a preemptive strike on us.

THIS, in fact, is something that was portrayed QUITE WELL in Joker. There were several other aspects of the psychotic experience that were also portrayed quite well.

So, I guess I’ll actually talk about the movie.

 

As Deadpool once so aptly said, “You’re so dark. Are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?”

As all of you probably know, I’m a Marvel stan. I can get a little uwu-y when discussing the MCU in particular.

Because of the fact I like superheroes, I really tried to get into the DC movies. After all, who wouldn’t want a whole ‘nuther set of movies to watch when they’re depressed? There’s only so many times in a row I can watch Guardians of the Galaxy before I get restless.

However, DC movies have a fatal flaw in my mind: they take themselves MUCH too seriously.

Marvel also deals with complex issues, and their characters and plots have a way of making you think. However, they know that a huge draw of the films is the explosions and the attractive people in capes who can do magic. They’re not trying to be pretentious art films.

Joker, however, has forgotten its entertaining comic book roots. People are quick to call this movie a “masterpiece”. They’re comparing it to Taxi Driver, another pretentious load of crap that exploits psychosis for cheap thrills under the guise of artistic expression.

That’s partly because having a psychotic character is an easy way to level up on the artsy fartsy scale: if you’re “tackling” the “serious issue” of psychotic mental illness in your book or film, people consider your work “brave” and “complex”.

This is exactly why folks say that yet another rehashing of a musty and unimaginative comic book villain’s origin story is a “masterpiece”. It’s probably also why some readers have said my book The Other Place is literary fiction, when in reality it’s a YA story about a guy trying to figure out his love life and art career while gangsters mess with him. But since the main character happens to be schizophrenic, it obviously must be serious literature.

Dressing your work in the sepia tones of high artistry isn’t the only reason sane people include psychotic characters, though. Non-psychotic people love psychotic characters, even though they hate us as people.

For one, Psychosis is, in their minds, a way to explain aberrant and violent behavior without the trouble of developing your character’s personality and motivations. Don’t want to strain your writing muscles by coming up with a logical backstory about why the villain wants to kill your hero’s parents? Just make her crazy! Psychotic people just want to kill everyone for no reason, right?

I think the biggest reason non-psychotic folks write us into their stories, however, is because they want a vehicle to live out their violent revenge and power fantasies—and a vehicle which they can view as “other”: different enough from them that they’ll be spared the guilt brought on by identifying with the character’s motivations, and saved having to identify and examine their own non-socially-acceptable violent urges.

This is the same reason psychotic people are scapegoated for violent crimes in real life: people don’t want to think about how they share toxic ideologies and habits with a mass-shooter. They don’t want to examine the fact that some of their ideas can lead to violence. So they say “You’d have to be crazy to do something like that”, and immediately write off killers as psychotic. It’s an easy way to explain certain behavior without affecting their own cozy worldview or threatening their privilege.

Unfortunately, this scapegoating has a profound negative affect on people like me, who have psychosis.

I fear that movies like Joker feed into that sort of narrative, and thus make life measurably worse for psychotic people.

 

BEWARE: HERE BE SPOILERS

­­­­­___________________________________________________

There are a lot of things about the movie that I might have liked, if things had been different. Joaquin Phoenix is a damn good actor. He played a believable neurodivergent person at first, albeit an extremely depressing one. DC of course falls into the rut worn down by so many before them in assuming that psychotic people are never happy.

Joker also did do a very good job of portraying how psychotic people are treated by society. I had to hide my face in Kid’s shoulder during the scenes where the character was beat down by strangers for being “weird” or “creepy”. He also receives a lot of lower-level ostracism which hit home pretty hard.

The way his counselor treated him—not really listening to him—also rang true. I’ve had great providers, but they’re not all great. And when the funding for his treatment got cut, leaving him without a way to obtain his medication, it was an apt, albeit simplistic, commentary on the way shit like that works in our society.

However, in the end, the movie did more than fail to portray psychosis realistically. It turned out to just be bad storytelling.

There was one instance of true delusion portrayed in the movie. Phoenix (argh! Of all the actors, why him…I’ll be calling him by the name of his character—Arthur Fleek—from now on) at one point got a girlfriend. It was jarring…not because psychotic people can’t have romantic relationships (although that bigoted belief is probably why most people would find it jarring) but because the way the romance started was completely unbelievable: he stalked her, and she liked the fact he was stalking her, so she came to his apartment and they started dating.

I thought it was incredibly bad writing and a horrible message, but I was happy for him because the girlfriend was really supportive. I thought it (and his fairly healthy relationship with his mom) were good touches in a movie that was otherwise trying WAY too hard to be dark. However, it soon became clear that my happy thoughts were in vain: he didn’t have a girlfriend. It had all been a delusion…although the scenes that had happened with the woman there had actually happened, she just hadn’t been there.

So, for those of you who don’t know, this isn’t how delusions work, at least in any instance I’ve experienced or heard of. Either you hallucinate people who don’t exist, or you become confused about whether something has happened or not, but I’ve never heard of someone having a walking daydream like that, imagining someone is there when they aren’t (and truly believing it). Obviously, this aspect was just something the writers did for shock value, because the subplot served no other purpose I could discern. There were no other instances of this type of delusion, either. It was really ungrounding, because I kept expecting other unbelievable, badly-written plot twists to also be delusion when they weren’t (like when he was called to go on the talk show).

Then, all the great character development Joaquin Phoenix did went out the window at the end when Arthur Fleck changed from a well-developed, nuanced, and believable human into a cartoonish villain. About ¾ of the way into the film, he just started killing people for no discernable reason. This, I suppose, is a “breakdown”, and it makes sense to sane people, especially given that Fleck was off his meds. But, y’all, not only do we not turn into mass murderers because we’ve had a bad day, we don’t turn into completely different people either (folks with DID might, I don’t know, but this wasn’t portrayed as that, just psychosis).

He even murdered his own mom—who he’d cared about deeply and had a good relationship with—for no real reason (for those of you who have seen it, I don’t understand why he’d believe she was lying to him, and wouldn’t suspect that her so-called delusions weren’t concocted by the psychiatric community and Thomas Wayne as a cover story. Even if he did believe her story wasn’t true, I don’t get why he’d kill her and then celebrate when he’d shown every sign of caring about her before).

Then he suddenly got political ideas, when he’d never shown much interest in politics, or patterns of political thinking, before.

This just isn’t how psychosis works. Not just the killing part, either. Our personalities don’t completely turn around until we’re unrecognizable. Psychosis is basically a mood. Just like you act different when you’re happy than you do when you’re sad, we act different when we’re psychotic than when we’re not, but we still act like the same person.

Speaking of politics, there was an unrelated thing about the movie that bugged me, too: he right-wing spin. The people protesting income inequality were portrayed as mindless sheeple and, literally, clowns. They were carrying placards that said “Resist”, and their hero was a mass-murderer. It wasn’t a very subtle metaphor, but it can’t be that subtle or the teenage incels who tend to go all bug-eyed over movies like this wouldn’t get it.

The whole movie was just a mess, and it’s just annoying that people unironically call it a masterpiece.

Anyway, that’s my opinion. I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t see the movie or that you should feel bad if you like it. I just hope you’ll keep in mind that this is not a realistic portrayal of psychosis, or any form of mental illness, because it seems most folks think it is. Consider volunteering somewhere where you can get to know some real psychotic people, in order to counteract the messages in this movie, and others like it. Maybe just talk to that guy who hangs out on the street corner singing to himself and see if he might be way cooler than you thought. You could also read books with Own Voices psychotic characters, like my book The Other Place, or Jet Set Desolate by Andrea Lambert.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

PUB DATE AND COVER REVEAL!

HEYYYYYY it’s been so long since I’ve written a blog post. You know how life can be. I’m trying to run a subsistence farm, raise a kid, and be a human being. It takes up a lot of time.

However, I have BIG NEWS. I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK COMING OUT. AND IT IS REALLY FUNNY AND GOOD. It’s a modern day Robin Hood retelling…and Robin is a woman. It has autistic and otherwise neurodivergent characters, too.

You want a blurb? Here’s a blurb:

A Robin Hood for the Modern Age…

Robin never thought she’d meet the girl of her dreams in a bank, much less when they were both robbing it, but her mother always said to find someone who shares your interests.

Maryann wants to start a cooking school for disadvantaged kids, Robin to save her parents’ farm from repossession. It’s natural that they team up to make the world a better place through crime.

Their job experience as a barista and a hotel maid doesn’t transfer to grand larceny, however. Some clumsy mistakes mean it’s not long before the FBI is hot on their heels. The agents seem to have criminal motivations of their own, so going to jail might be the least of Robin and Maryann’s worries.

Worst of all, Robin is falling in love. She doesn’t think Maryann has ever dated a woman, but sometimes it seems like maybe, just maybe, she feels something deeper than criminal conspiracy.

Will they find a happily-ever-after this side of prison…or the grave?

SO…hopefully you’ll be asking yourself WHEN DO I GET TO BUY THIS?? The answer is, July 9, 2019! However, if you are a blogger/reviewer and want an advance review copy, I still have some available. You don’t have to be super famous or anything, just a nice and semi-reliable person. FILL OUT A REQUEST FOR AN ARC HERE.

So…are you ready to see the cover? Thank you to Ashley at Redbird Designs for doing such an awesome job with this!

HoodlumeBook

 

The Privilege of Having Friends

I’ve made no qualms lately about how I’ve been feeling. More or less, just done. Tired of the struggle. Tired of trying. And now, after yet another bout of deactivating Twitter and a go-round with my neurodivergent boyfriend, I have to wonder even more what the point is.

I’m a mature person, and I know all the platitudes and all the reasoning that folks give when someone is feeling like this. But, other than the fact I have a daughter who I don’t want to hurt, all that reasoning rings hollow in a world that prides itself on rejecting and isolating people like me.

Everyone thinks they’re a good person, and that they’re right. So when they “just don’t like someone”, they think they’re just being practical by cutting that person out of their lives and social groups. “So-and-so is so creepy. They just give me a weird feeling.” “They try too hard.” “They’re just boring.”

Of course, everyone has a right to have the friends they want, to surround themselves with the folks they feel comfortable with. But they never stop and think about the ones they reject–not because those people are harmful, but because they’re just *eyeroll* or *side-eye for no tangible reason* or “other people don’t like them” or, in the case of the Twitterverse, “they said something once that was wrong for [insert convoluted reason that has nothing to do with what they were actually trying to communicate]” .

It’s a privilege to be liked. It’s a privilege to know how to present yourself in a way that’s socially-acceptable; to communicate in a way that’s understood. It’s a privilege to have friends.

Those of us without that privilege, if we have our feelings hurt and are unable to understand why we’re rejected, we’re accused of seeking pity and trying to manipulate.

It’s true you can’t make people like you. But, when the bulk of society has rejected you for reasons you can’t understand (and which they can’t even really define), it’s really difficult to go on trying.

This is a huge problem for Autistic people. It is, I’m sure, the reason behind our huge suicide rate. We’re too earnest. Our feelings are too powerful. We don’t understand social interaction. We don’t know how to explain our thoughts and feelings and find a way to connect with people. So, we’re rejected. Over, and over, and over.

It’s also an issue, as I can attest to—heartbreakingly—for schizophrenic folks like my partner, and for people with major depression.

I can yell all I want about the fact that there’s nothing actually wrong with us, but that’s not going to change anything. It’s not going to make people respond differently to us. It’s not going to save lives. This is a phenomenon that starts as schoolyard bullying and persists through the nursing home stage. It’s effectively a form of eugenics against neurodivergent people, to be honest, but I know that rhetoric is over the heads of most of you if you haven’t experienced it.

All I can say is, our feelings are just as important as anyone else’s. There are good people out there who will love us for who we are. It can seem so hard to find those few people in the sea of assholes, though. Maybe I shouldn’t be harsh and call them assholes, but I don’t know what else to call folks who reject people simply for being “weird” or different.

The reason I identify as Christian is that Jesus’ message was exactly that: stop being assholes to folks just because they’re different. The people who society throws away and rejects are often the most valuable, and how you treat them is a true measure of your character.

Of course, professing those values is another reason for me to be rejected, by atheists and other self-identified Christian bigots alike.

This is the world people say is worth sticking around for. And, they’re right. But it’s fucking hard sometimes.

Where Feminism Failed Me

[rape, assault, abuse, gender dysphoria]

I’ve been tossing around the idea lately that I’m not actually a woman.

It’s not just “lately”, to be honest, but this latest bout of introspection on the matter has been rather more decisive.

Today, my gender crisis was triggered by a tweet asking women what they’d do if men all disappeared for a day.

Cue the regular answers of “spin around gleefully in a field of wildflowers while not getting raped” and such. I’m not going to say I don’t understand those answers. I do, sort of. I’m a survivor of multiple bouts of domestic abuse, domestic rape, many counts of sexual assault, and constant sexual harassment. I mean, I am a woman. Or, at least, I look like one, if not a very good one, according to social norms.

However, I just can’t buy into it. Not really.

I’ve always hated feminism—or, at least the brand of it that I recently discovered is called “white feminism”. Anyone who doesn’t know the distinction should really look it up. It explains so much.

White feminism is the “rah rah Sisterhood” brand of feminism. The type that separates the world into men and their victims. Yes, that is glossing over a lot of complex and valid theory, I know.

But that’s my reaction to white feminism. I hate it in the way I hate things that trigger me emotionally: that is, I hate it on a non-rational level. I have a knee-jerk reaction to it that comes before thought.

I have always been rejected by femininity and have never identified very strongly with it. I’m not sure which of those things came first. Since I was little, girls have always told me I’m not really a girl, that I don’t act like a girl, and have made that clear in every way possible: I’m not one of them.

White feminism would have me believe either that this isn’t true—that my internalized misogyny is the reason women have rejected me—or that these females only rejected me because they’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy into believing a narrow and subservient view of femininity.

That, however, is cop-out bullshit. It’s women turning around and blaming their own victims.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The patriarchy exists, and misogyny does exist. Better folks than I have written about it. But it’s indisputable that women get paid less and are at a disadvantage in the general power dynamic. Men perpetuate almost all rape, the majority of violence, and are able to keep women systematically subservient.

But what we need to not ignore is how women are complicit in this. We need to not ignore the ways that we benefit from traditional femininity and use it to oppress other women. And we need to not ignore the ways we perpetuate other systems of oppression that intersect—or don’t—with misogyny.

I’ve been abused in a lot of different ways in my 41 years. Every single one of those times, there were women who could have stopped it, and didn’t. There were women who blamed me, who gaslighted me, who ignored my cries for help. Not because they didn’t have the power to help, but because it would have destroyed their comfort. It would have disrupted their place in the system of supremacy—a place where they’re given preferential treatment by nature of their traditional (read mostly white, cis, heterosexual, abled, neurotypical) femininity.

Women don’t get a pass from me for that by nature of their gender. They’re not just victims of their circumstances.

The only way we’re going to stop these systems of abuse and oppression is by acknowledging the ways in which we benefit and are complicit. It’s a complex and painful process to acknowledge that. I know we’d all like to think that it would suddenly get a lot easier if men just disappeared. But I think you’d find that the majority of those systems would still persist in the absence of masculinity. Because it’s WAY more complicated than men, and their victims.

We need to look at the ways in which WE perpetuate oppression if we want to have any hand in dismantling it.

Personally, I do.

I’ll be damned if my daughter will go through the shit I did, and if I’ll allow that to happen simply because I myself have been a victim or beneficiary of the same systems.

Narcissism Isn’t Neurodivergence

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate!

I do, and I’ve been spending my Christmas in the normal way: researching Narcissistic Personality Disorder. What I’ve discovered is:

  1. I probably am not myself a narcissist; but
  2. A lot of neurodivergent personality traits seem to be typically mischaracterized as narcissism; and
  3. Neurodivergent people are groomed to think we are being narcissistic if we ever dare insist that our feelings are as valid as anyone else’s.

Now, there are A LOT of blog articles about narcissism, and most of them seem to be written by some schmo who feels victimized by their ex-girlfriend or mom, and so they spend a lot of time detailing how that person’s personality traits are signs of narcissism.

It’s always good when you read something—especially on the internet—to think about who is writing it, what the context is for their opinions, and what their motivations are for writing it. This is vital when you’re reading about neurodivergence and mental illness. Ableism and saneism are real and harmful, and they infect a large percentage of the literature. Even mental health professionals are burdened by their ableism and saneism, as are most of our family members. Internalized and lateral ableism and saneism are also a thing, so even stuff written by neurodivergent people can display it. Be thoughtful when you’re reading anything about neurodivergence.

In that spirit, I’ll start by giving you some context in which to read this post.

I’m not a psychiatric professional. I’m a neurodivergent person—bipolar and autistic with PTSD. I’m an activist, and an author who writes books with neurodivergent characters. My kid, my partner, and many of my family and friends are also neurodivergent. The upshot of all of this is I spend a lot of time studying and thinking about psychiatric conditions and neurodivergence, and the interactions of different sorts of personalities.

maymay xmasI started researching narcissism because I was worried that I was showing traits of it. It’s a long story. Basically, I worried I was a narcissist for thinking my feelings and opinions might be as important as anyone else’s in a situation where someone was hurting me. After researching, I can feel pretty safe in declaring I’m not a narcissist, but I worry that other neurodivergent folks might also be groomed to feel this way—or might actually be told they show signs of narcissism just because they dare think their own neurodivergent feelings have merit in a neurotypical world. So I wrote this article.

Since I’m not a professional, I will give links in this article to back up the stuff I’m saying, help you process what I’m saying, and separate my opinion (and others’ opinions) from accepted science. If I don’t give a link, it’s probably because I don’t think it’s needed–either because I’m speaking from experience or what I’m saying is so well-accepted as to not need a reference. If you need a source, try looking it up yourself (though you can always ask me if you need help).

 

WHAT IS NARCISSISM?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, is very much in fashion right now as a diagnosis. Part of that is undoubtedly because of all the armchair-diagnosing of Trump. It’s really frustrating for a lot of neurodivergent folks—and a lot of others who are hurt by Trump’s policies—to have his behavior framed in this way, because it’s often accompanied by suggestions that he’s “sick” and “needs help”—i.e., the idea that he’s a narcissist is used to excuse his behavior and suggest that it isn’t his fault.

However, NPD isn’t neurodivergence. In fact, it was proposed to removed from the DSM-5 in 2013, because a lot of research suggests that narcissism is a bunch of personality traits present across many different mental illnesses, and also in people without mental illness. A lot of clinicians were pissed off about that (take away one of their favorite punishment diagnoses?? NEVER!), so it was reintroduced. However, it appears that it might be removed from the DSM-6.tess xmas

Remember that the DSM isn’t some sort of bible of what a “true disorder” is, anyhow. Psychiatric professionals are often wrong. There are fads and fashions in the mental health industry, just like anywhere else, and science makes loads of mistakes. Homosexuality was listed in the DSM until quite recently, and autism has a layered and complex history in the DSM as well, just as a couple of examples.

When you’re on my side of the mental health industry, you learn that professionals can show the most saneism and ableism of anyone, and that the science behind mental illness itself is driven by saneism and ableism in a lot of ways. So, you learn to take things like the DSM with a grain of salt.

DSM or no, it is truly very clear—narcissism IS NOT NEURODIVERGENCE OR A MENTAL ILLNESS. NARCISSISM IS JUST BEING AN ASSHOLE. It is voluntary and intentional behavior, and never causes distress to the narcissist. Those facts preclude it being a mental illness, by definition (if something doesn’t cause someone distress, it isn’t a mental illness!). Add that to the fact that narcissists are unlikely to seek treatment—narcissists don’t see anything wrong with their behavior, again, by definition—and that there is really no treatment that is shown to work in changing narcissistic behavior (probably mostly because the person doesn’t see it as a problem—you can’t change if you don’t’ want to), and one starts to wonder what the value is in listing narcissism in the DSM. The only value in identifying it is to warn others away from that person or give others information on how to deal with them.

However, this fashion in the psychiatric industry for diagnosing people with NPD—as evidenced by the books and articles coming out about the “epidemic of Narcissism”—will hurt neurodivergent people the worst. A lot of neurodivergent traits can look like narcissism if you’re looking at them through a saneist lens, which is a danger above and beyond the misdiagnosis itself: having a diagnosis of NPD on your record is a surefire way to make sure you’re ignored by medical professionals and treated badly.

Whether it’s listed in the DSM or not, and even though it might be misused as a punishment diagnosis, it’s pretty clear that REAL narcissists do actually exist. So, what does a true narcissist look like?

According to DSM-5, the signs of narcissism are as follows:

  1. They think they’re unique, special, smarter than others, and better than others;
  2. They expect to be treated better than other people;
  3. They have obsessive fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.;
  4. They only want to associate with high-status individuals;
  5. They need continual admiration from others;
  6. They use and manipulate people to advance their goals, intentionally and without guilt;
  7. They lack empathy;
  8. They’re intensely envious of others, and believe others are equally envious of them.

Most psychiatric professionals seem to agree that there are two types of narcissism: grandiose narcissism, and vulnerable narcissism. The grandiose type is “loud and proud” about their selfishness. The vulnerable type tries to hide it, because they don’t want to be judged for it (not because they think it’s wrong, though. A narcissist never thinks that they are wrong.) But both types truly believe they are better and smarter than everyone else, and that they are entitled to better things because of it.

Narcissists know that they are narcissists—in fact, one of the most failsafe tests for identifying a narcissist is to just ask them. They will tell you.

These people don’t hurt others on accident. Their actions aren’t unthinking. They don’t lash out or withdraw because of trauma or unregulated feelings; they purposefully manipulate people into doing what they want, because they think that they’re smarter than other people, and that they deserve to be catered to. They know exactly what they are doing.

What causes narcissism is not known. It has been suggested that there’s a genetic component, but, even if that’s true, there’s definitely also an environmental factor. Whatever the cause, narcissists tend to bear and raise other narcissists. It is generational. But we should spare that tired old chestnut, that someone hurt the narcissist in childhood and they’re acting out trauma. Narcissists do not deserve our pity, because they act intentionally.

NEURODIVERGENT PEOPLE AT HIGHER RISK OF BEING WRONGLY LABELED NARCISSISTS

I’ve seen this accusation leveled unfairly at a lot of neurodivergent people. Neurotypicals seem quick to condemn neurodivergent traits they don’t understand, and which make them uncomfortable, as narcissism. In fact, anytime a neurodivergent person asserts they have a right to express their feelings, it seems that someone will be standing by and accusing them of being a narcissist.

Neurodivergent people often have trouble regulating our feelings and expressing them in socially acceptable ways. Because of this, we’re told that our feelings are wrong. We’re punished—emotionally and physically—for expressing them.

This can cause us to mask (“masking” is a process by which a neurodivergent person tries to hide their true self and act more neurotypical). But masking tends to be a losing game. The stress of it can cause us to burn out, melt down, shut down, get very depressed, and withdraw. We are punished for that behavior, as well.

When we mask, we often feel like an imposter—like we are afraid that others will discover who we truly are, like we don’t belong. Since imposter syndrome is a sign of narcissism, this can cause us to be mislabeled (or for us to mislabel ourselves) as narcissists.

Another of the signs of a narcissist is that they lack empathy. This is something that autistics are also accused of, even though autistic people will tell you it isn’t true, and studies show that we actually have an increased physical reaction to seeing someone in pain, as opposed to an allistic person. We just have difficulty communicating our distress in a way that allistic people understand.

Sometimes neurodivergent traits cause us to hurt others on accident. We can lash out because we’re overstimulated, or because of trauma. We often don’t know the social rules so we miss cues, which can make us seem selfish or self-absorbed. And, since our feelings are more powerful than neurotypicals’, we can be so wrapped up in our own feelings that we can’t see others’ feelings or don’t have enough resources to cater to them.

However, there is a difference between neurodivergent behavior and narcissistic behavior—an important difference. A neurodivergent person, unlike a narcissist, cares how other people feel. We, in fact, put ourselves through a lot of pain and stress in order to make others feel better. We are taught, pretty much from birth, that we are disgusting, broken, and wrong, and the only way to make others comfortable and happy is by hiding who we truly are. This is very traumatic for us, and the trauma can make our behavior even more volatile and difficult. But we put ourselves through it anyway.

We are sacrificing our feelings for others, and sometimes we get called narcissists for it. Since our feelings are just as important as anyone else’s, it seems like the people demanding we do this might be showing more narcissistic tendencies than we are.

So, my fellow neurosiblings. Even if we accidentally hurt others because we miss social cues; are triggered into meltdown or shutdown because of overstimulation or trauma; or have difficulty regulating our feelings because of our neurodivergence: THIS IS NOT NARCISSISM. INTENT DOES MATTER IN THIS CONTEXT.

If you’re not hurting others or manipulating them on purpose, and if you feel awful afterwards for hurting people on accident, you’re not a narcissist.

Happy Holidays! reggie xmas

Even though she’s not that much of a narcissist, Elizabeth Roderick thinks her books are pretty cool and thinks you might like them. They have a lot of interesting neurodivergent characters, gun battles, and romance. Check them out!

 

What Happened with WriteMentor

I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth, about whether I need to write this blog post. When people are smearing you all over the writing community, it’s hard to just sit back and take it. But I’m exhausted, and scared. I can’t take any more abuse and bullying. I just want it to go away.

However, I’m not the only person who has been a victim of the particular group that’s smearing me and ruining my life and career. Anyone familiar with YA Book Twitter knows which group I’m talking about. It’s headed by a few very popular authors who have a lot of connections and power in the industry. These people do a lot of great things, have a lot of great ideas. But they also have a lot of problems.

These authors have a big following, and those followers apparently think they can do no wrong. Everything these authors say, their followers back them up. Whenever they call people out (which is a lot), those folks get drowned in a sea of vicious ally tweets. But every time these authors display problematic behavior of their own, their fans accept their excuses, believe their gaslighting, and attack the people who are calling them out.

Now, a lot of people are afraid to speak up and express their opinions about anything, for fear their opinion will be deemed “wrong” and they’ll be subjected to painful dragging.

People in the back threads of YA twitter whisper about it a lot, but what can you do? These are the folks who can—and do—destroy the careers and reputations of writers, bloggers, and readers over issues which often seem really minor and subjective to anyone not caught in the echo chamber of YA Book Twitter.

A lot of people have suffered because of this group. I’m one of them. At this point I have nothing else to lose, it seems like, so I feel like I should step up and talk openly about all this, for the benefit of those who still do have something to lose…and in the faint hope that perhaps YA Twitter can make some steps toward healing and acceptance.

I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. But I just need shit to change in YA Twitter. A lot of us do. So I’m gonna have this convo, for better or worse, in hopes that folks actually listen for once.

So.

A little over a year ago, on the date THUG released, I wrote a blog post.

I’ll backtrack a bit. For those who don’t know, I’m an Own Voices writer. I’m neurodivergent and queer.

Being an own voices author is really difficult. In my case, it involves disclosing a whole bunch of things about myself that don’t exactly look good on a resume and cause a good deal of prejudice to come my way. But I decided at a turning point in my life that I’m going to be honest about my neurodivergence and embrace it, because people like me have nothing to be ashamed of.

My first book I pitched with a neurodivergent main character is The Other Place. It’s written in first person, present tense, with a very different sort of voice because the main character is schizophrenic.

I got all sorts of really exhausting rejections on that one. “Great writing, I just can’t identify with the character.” “I really wish this book were more about overcoming schizophrenia.” “Our reader recommended we take this on, but we already have a book about schizophrenia on our list.” There were other rejections, too, but they basically boiled down to “This is just too neurodivergent.”

I did get The Other Place published, though! Hooray. Then I moved on to pitching a YA with another psychotic main character and started getting a lot of the same kind of rejections.

So, anyway, THUG came out. I was excited for it, because it looked like something I could identify with, even from my white point of view. My partner was almost killed by police when he was having a nonviolent, unarmed psychotic episode, and everyone tried to blame him for it. I was so glad to have a book that talked about the problem of police violence coming out.

However, I hated how the publishing industry was patting itself on the back for publishing that book. Why wouldn’t they publish it? It’s just a great book. They didn’t deserve any of the kudos. Those go all to Angie Thomas.

Going back to the blog post.

At the time, I had literally about ten blog readers, all of them neurodivergent people like me and all of whom I knew pretty well. So, I felt comfortable in my audience and didn’t over-think the post too much. I told about my experiences, went on about how happy I was THUG was being published, but indicating that the publishing industry has a long way to go. I said I felt like they were using own voices writers as trophies, holding us up saying, “Look what we did!” Then, they’d go back and reject a bunch of other own voices writers because they already had their trophy, thanks.

I know now that including THUG in that post was hugely wrong. Yes, I know the book is important on its own merits, and I thought I’d made that clear in the post. But, you know, when writing from my own point of view, for my own friends—especially because I’m autistic and have very different social consciousness than most people—I don’t always correctly anticipate how stuff looks to others, and how it can hurt them.

The first comments I got were from my friends, that they liked the post, but it was fairly quickly that someone who wasn’t my friend pointed out that I’d done it wrong.

However, the way they pointed it out? They told me that I was “trashing” THUG and “griping” about the industry.

Hold up, I said. I’m not trashing the book. And I’m a marginalized woman talking about my experience as an own voices author. That isn’t griping.

People started calling me all sorts of saneist and ableist slurs and saying stuff that triggered my PTSD. But I did finally (after about 15 minutes) get it through my thick skull that, oh, wait, I can see through all their ugly ableism what they mean. I apologized and changed the post.

But this is YA Twitter. That wasn’t enough for them. I was dragged by literally thousands of people who said that I didn’t have a right to speak up as an Own Voices writer, that I can’t write, that my opinion doesn’t matter, that I need to shut up, blah blah blah. And when I pointed out that, hey, I’m trying to listen here, but you’re being awfully ableist with some of this shit, they said I was using my neurodivergence as a “shield” or “weapon”.

Now, I can understand how neurodivergence could seem like a shield or weapon to folks who only pick up the identity when they’re trashing other disabled people. But for me it is something that is with me always. It affects every word I say, everything I do, every thought I have. It can’t put it down, even when I’m in a good mood. Even when I’m alone. It is who I am. It causes me a lot of problems: I misunderstand what people say. I say the “wrong” things. I freak out. I withdraw. Sometimes I believe everyone is a spirit sent to give me clues that will lead me to the afterlife. But there are a lot of cool things about me, too.

So, here I was, a neurodivergent human being, trying to cope with millions of tons of abuse. I almost ended up in the hospital. I was eventually diagnosed with an exacerbation of my PTSD because of this incident.

I shouldn’t have included THUG, it’s true. But I apologized and changed the post, and the underlying point I was trying to get across is still relevant: publishing has a long way to go before it’s really unbiased. I don’t think what I did deserved what I got.

After that incident, I was put on a block list. I had agents who had my full ghost me. And I kept getting abuse.

More than a year later, I’m still getting abuse. And it is abuse. When there’s nothing you can do to stop it—no amount of apologizing, introspection, and learning about oneself that you can do to satisfy people—then it is just straight-up abuse. And these people are intent of driving me out of the industry. I guess they think that kicking a marginalized woman out of publishing is a big win for diverse books.

Recently, I volunteered to be a mentor on WriteMentor. I was really excited to help another neurodivergent author get into the industry. But soon after the sub window opened, the organizer, Stuart White, approached me. A friend had told him if he didn’t kick me out as a mentor, then this group that had abused and bullied me before would tweet that the contest was problematic. They told him that POC wouldn’t enter the contest because I was a mentor.

So, he dumped me. “It’s just business.”

It doesn’t matter that entrants get to choose which mentors they submit to, so prospective mentees wouldn’t have to deal with me in any way if they didn’t like me. It doesn’t matter that several neurodivergent and disabled folks said they felt more comfortable entering the contest because I was involved. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not out here being problematic – at least no more so than any of us. I wrote one blog post that some people took issue with, which I edited and apologized for within minutes of being called out, and otherwise I’m just a neurodivergent activist out here doing my thing to make the world better.

None of that matters. Ask yourself why none of that matters, and why it’s so important to kick a neurodivergent activist out of publishing because of what I did.

I’m not the only marginalized person these folks have bullied. In fact, they do it so much that they’ve been written up several times in mags with huge circulation. They especially enjoy trashing on disabled and neurodivergent women, it seems like. When they’re called out on it, they make a million excuses, and blame their victims…which is what they accuse their victims of doing. But with them, it works, because they’re popular. They’re the cool kids.

It sucks.

I feel like I’m back in middle school, trapped in an environment that is completely controlled by these cool mean girls, and I have to remind myself every moment that they’re not the whole world.  It doesn’t matter what I do – they’ll twist it to make it look like I was trying to do something else. They’ll point out every mistake, every failing. They’ll call me “stupid” and “gross” and “trash” and “useless”. Anyone who thinks of being my friend, they’ll tell them, “You don’t want to hang out with her. Did you hear what she did?” Even if my friend is not persuaded by those arguments (and cool girls are persuasive – that’s part of what being cool is), they’re left with a choice: stick by me, and be ostracized with me, suffer the same abuse that I do. Or ditch me and save themselves the trauma.

I don’t blame people for picking the latter. I really don’t. But it’s something we need to stop doing if we’re going to evolve as a community, as a species.

I always say that intent does matter. If a person (especially someone neurodivergent with communication issues) says something and you misinterpret it, why would you claim injury when they try to explain what they really meant? Doing so is weaponizing your neurotypical privilege – the privilege of understanding language in the way the majority does. The privilege of communicating easily with others.

But, I have to say: intent doesn’t matter when you uphold discriminatory systems, like Stuart White did. He may have gained ally points for caving into pressure, but in the meantime, he caused real and measurable harm to a marginalized woman, and to the community as a whole. One fewer neurodivergent writer will get a mentor, thanks to Stuart White.

If you don’t see that as a problem, then just admit you don’t care about neurodivergent people and go home.

“But you deserve this harassment because you’re racist!”

Ok. Sure. Except I’m not out here being any more racist than anyone. I work on my mistakes and biases. The group that called me out, doesn’t. They’ve showed their asses so many times: putting ableist slurs in their books without apologizing, piling on disabled women for just existing, saying extremely heterosexist things, refusing to take down memes that are insulting to First Nations people. They never apologize, and they always do it again. But somehow those of us who make one wrong move that we immediately apologize and feel awful for deserve to be ostracized for the rest of our lives.

When popular people make mistakes, folks gloss it over. They make excuses. They forgive and forget. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky. One mistake or oversight can cost us our whole career – or worse. If we cross the wrong person— who is powerful, and toxic, and will not let it go – they will destroy us.

I know that these folks have endured bigotry and trauma in their pasts, and that’s where some of this venom comes from. Trauma in our past can make us see threats where there are none. It can make us read ill intent into people’s words and actions that isn’t there. I know, because I go through this, too. But part of healing is learning to work through that trauma and not have it affect your relationships. I try really hard to not make others pay for my PTSD-driven interpretations of their words and actions. If I freak out because they’ve said something that hurts or offends me, I take their word for it when they say they didn’t mean it that way. Their intent does matter – way more than my PTSD reaction does. My feelings are still valid, but I don’t have the right to make others pay for that. Making others pay is where toxicity starts.

Having your feelings hurt is harmful – but if the person who hurt them didn’t mean to, is that true harm? And do you have the right to intentionally harm them in return?

Just because a person is marginalized doesn’t mean they aren’t bigoted. We’re all bigoted. We all need to work on it. And we all need space to improve and do better. If we can’t offer that as a community, then soon there will be no space for any of us.

Just because someone is right sometimes— does great things and has great insights sometimes —doesn’t mean their ideology is perfect. None of us are right all the time.

These are complex issues, and we need to allow room for the discussions of the complexity without shutting each other down and only letting the blue check marks speak.

I really want to just give up. But writing is all I know how to do. It’s a coping skill for me, which has got me through some really tough times: abuse. Homelessness. Prison. Addiction. And worse. I can’t give it up. But I’m gonna be switching up how I go about my career.

As Kid says, I’ve been through worse, and I’ll make it through this, and I sure hope she’s right.

All the other ones who have been hurt by this group, or any other bullies: you’re not alone.

Query for Hoodlum Army

Hey, all~

This is weird, but I’m asking for input on this first draft of my query on here. I’ve decided to concentrate on pitching this one, since it’s more “normal” (meaning: it does have an autistic character, but neurodivergence doesn’t come into play in the plot). So, tell me what you think:

HOODLUM ARMY is a suspenseful romantic comedy, complete at 77,000 words.

Can crime make the world a better place?

Maryann wants to start a cooking school for disadvantaged kids, and Rob wants to save his parents’ farm. When they both try to raise money by robbing the same bank at the same time, they’re thrown together in what turns out to be an adventurous and altruistic crime spree.

To reach their goal before Rob’s parents’ farm is auctioned off, they have to rob thirty banks in sixty days. Dubbed the “Hoodlum Army”, they become a social media sensation. A cop and FBI agent are a step behind as the duo steal across the country. A couple close calls are enough to convince Rob and Maryann that there’s something illegal going on with these lawmen, and that prison might be the best outcome if they get busted.

As the game heats up, the Army set their sights on a bigger target: Larry Lemon, a bombastic billionaire with immense financial holdings ripe for pilfering. They get help from an unexpected quarter—Larry’s own family—and realize the stakes in this game are even higher than they suspected.

Even when you’re a crook, money isn’t the most important thing. Right and wrong are slippery concepts, but some things are worth stealing—or dying—for. They just hope the latter isn’t necessary, and that it’s possible for this tale to have a happy ending.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Baggage

Invisible friend Jesus sat beside my bed, his back against the wall and his long legs pexels-photo-463467.jpegstretched out in front of him. He was reading a Janet Evanovich hardback. Stacks of books lay beside him, and the walls around him were plastered with collages, drawings and graffiti.

“There you are,” I said.

He glanced up from his book and raised an eyebrow.

I pressed my cheek into my pillow and sighed. “I feel like shit.”

He marked his place in the book with one of the socks on my floor and set the book down. “That doesn’t surprise me. Look at all that junk piled on you.”

“Huh? There’s no junk piled on me.”

He rolled his eyes and stood up, then began lifting things off my back. He stacked them up against the wall: suitcases. Duffel bags. Boxes. There were enough to fill a U-Haul.

“Oh,” I said. “I guess there was junk piled on me.” The weight gradually lifted until he’d removed the last bag, and I lay there, dizzy with relief, as he unzipped one of the suitcases.

He dug in it and pulled out a plush duck, one of its wings torn, its fur stained and matted with what might have been spilled mocha. “Why are you keeping this?”

I sat up, stretching my newly-freed limbs and rolling my neck. I shrugged. “Donno.”

“And this?” He pursed his lips quizzically, holding up an acid wash jeans jacket with the arms cut off and Metallica written on the back in Sharpie.

“Ew, throw that one away.”

He tossed it into the air, and it disappeared. A feeling of relief and comfort stole over me.

I leaned back on the wall and watched him as he continued to dig through the detritus of my personal baggage. “How long can you carry that stuff for me?”

He shot me a smirking glance. “As long as you want. Are you sure you don’t want me to throw it away, though?”

The idea of removing all that weight from my shoulders forever was incredible. Amazing. What kind of beautiful life could I have if I weren’t weighed down by that junk? But the thought whisked away, my shoulders slumping. “I couldn’t live without my baggage. That’s just not how the world works.”

“If you say so.” He gave me a lopsided grin and pulled the weight from my shoulders, holding it up for me to see: a large athletic sock, full of… “Are you really going to eat these?” He pulled out a clump of dusty, melted-together hard candy.

“No, probably not.” I hugged my knees. “I know I don’t really need all that stuff, but it’s so hard to let go of.”

“I know.” He held the sock upside down. More disgusting candy and bits of broken plastic toys fell out into a pile on the floor. He waved his hands over it like a stage magician. “Mumbo jumbo, bibbity boo.” The pile vanished.

I squinted at him. “You’re not gonna, like, make fun of me for carrying it around, even though it makes no sense?”

He gave me a look and laughed. “Am I going to make you feel guilty and ashamed for wanting to carry around loads of guilt and shame? Fuck, no. That’s not what I’m here for. That’s what other people are here for, apparently, but only because they’re carrying around their own shit, and it’s heavy so they want to foist if off onto others.”

“People are weird,” I said.

He giggled and pulled a broken jewelry box from one of the duffel bags, tossing it into the air. It turned into a swarm of ladybugs, which buzzed out the window into the spring sunshine.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author. You can help her lift some of her financial baggage by checking out her books on Amazon