A Stark Look at Neurodiversity and What it Takes to Be an Ally

It’s been a long time since I ranted at y’all. I can’t say I’ve been saving up things to rant about, because I’ve trained myself to let stuff go so that it doesn’t dissolve my brain in caustic acid. But this rant needs to happen.

This is going to be the most brutal window into what it’s like for me to live with mental illness that I’ve ever given you. I’ve decided that my entire recovery depends on me being emotionally honest with myself and others, and on not playing the victim by putting up with other people’s shit. My feelings are important, and it shouldn’t be okay to hurt me just because I act “crazy” sometimes.

If your life is too pretty, you might want to stop reading, because you probably won’t understand any of this.

Neurodiverse people put up with discrimination, both subtle and otherwise, constantly. So much, in fact, that a lot of us don’t even realize that it’s happening, and we end up being the ones to apologize when we’re the ones suffering from prejudice.

Neurodiversity comes in a lot of forms and levels, from nearly constant, full-blown psychosis to mild, periodic depression. There’s also autism, which I won’t speak to here because I’m no expert, though I have observed that autistic people suffer a lot of the same types of discrimination that “mentally ill” people do.

There is really only one all-encompassing way to describe all forms of neurodiversity. It’s an inability, at some level, to correctly play society’s game. I know most neurotypical people feel this applies to them, but they’re fundamentally misunderstanding what I mean. “Not being able to play society’s game” doesn’t mean you’re sometimes weird or awkward or say the wrong thing…as far as I can tell, that stuff is a big part of society’s game. Neurodiversity means that you act in ways that make you fundamentally incompatible with social norms, in ways that affect your ability to get along with others and be “functional”. This isn’t voluntary; it’s just the way we are.

I’ll clarify here that, while it can affect your ability to get along with people, neurodiversity is not a synonym for “asshole”. Yes, some neurodiverse people are assholes, or they act like assholes sometimes (like everyone else), but not all assholes are mentally ill. I’m really damn tired of people saying Trump is mentally ill, for instance. That’s an insult to mentally- ill people. Trump is just a self-involved, inconsiderate, manipulative, unintelligent fuckhead. NOT. THE SAME. THING. It seems like assholes do pretty damn well in society a lot of the time. By getting elected president of the U.S., for example.

Hardly anyone would say that they hate neurodiverse people. It’s just like hardly anyone would say they’re racist, but it doesn’t stop them from doing/saying racist things. With neurodiversity, others don’t really understand what it is or what it looks like, so they end up punishing and demeaning us, even on an institutional level, for behavior we can’t easily control, or can’t control at all. They’re discriminating against us for being who we are.

I can understand why that is, though. Sometimes, neurodiverse behavior isn’t pretty. Neurotypical behavior isn’t pretty sometimes, either, but the neurodiverse have the disadvantage of having more overblown reactions to “triggers” (and I shouldn’t put quotes around this word, because it’s the correct use of a word that is used incorrectly so often) than neurotypical people do, and also of not usually being able to wait until they’re behind closed doors to have those reactions. So, we’re often the ones that get called the asshole for having an episode, when others either don’t know the context (didn’t see what led up to us acting that way), or don’t even understand what set us off.

Unfortunately, in the case of those who know us well, these triggers become a really good way to intentionally or subliminally manipulate and abuse us. They say or do something they know will set us off, and then point to us and say, “See? She’s the bad one.”

Neurodiverse people can be hard for others to love. We get rejected and isolated, some of us on a daily basis, sometimes in just about every interaction. This contributes to the progression of our illness, and becomes sort of a feedback loop. What neurotypical people don’t realize is that y’all are just the same as us. We’re no more threatening, toxic, or hard to deal with than you are, on average, though there are jerkwipes on both sides of the line. We’re just different. We express our emotions differently, because our emotions can take us over more powerfully than they do neurotypical people, but that doesn’t mean we’re dangerous. It just means y’all have to give us a minute, and we’ll be back with you shortly.

And, when we come back, it will probably with an apology—though we rarely get one in return from you guys, because you rarely see what it was you did that was insulting/abusive/discriminatory, while we’re trained from birth to think that we’re in the wrong, because we don’t fit social norms.

In order to be a true ally of the neurodiverse community, you have to understand the above, and accept it, instead of chiding us or being derisive about our behavior. Accepting us goes far beyond language policing or treating us like children who need coddled and taken care of, and then ignored when we’re having a fit. We’re adults— valid, wonderful human beings just like you guys—and should be treated as such. Doesn’t mean you have to like what we do, but it’d be nice if you’d understand and forgive us, and take a look at yourself, as well.

I’m going to give an example of what subtle discrimination looks like, and then an example of what pure acceptance looks like.

I’m not doing this to call anyone out. This is a true attempt to educate, because educating people about this sort of stuff is part and parcel of my survival in this society—I don’t have a chance in hell of ever being “normal”, so my only hope is to try to get people to accept me (and hopefully others) on our own terms. Besides, in the following examples, I’m calling myself out more than anyone, because I was also in the wrong.

Even though my shrink tells me my PTSD is more symptomatic lately (I was recently assaulted), I don’t always realize that I’m freaking out. Believe me, I’m working on it. I’m the only one who can control my behavior. I have a harder time with it than neurotypical people do, but I will get stable again, because I’m a pretty tough lady.

The only way I’m going to get better is by being emotionally honest with myself. Similarly, the only way neurotypical people are going to be good allies of the neurodiverse community is to be honest with themselves, and aware of their own behavior toward us.

So, my PTSD is from abuse. As a young teenager, I was physically/emotionally/sexually abused for a long period of time. This abuse has colored the progression of my entire life. It was a huge cause of the end of my last marriage, because when my husband said something insulting, I would have an overblown reaction, which would cause him to become more insulting, and so on.

I’m in a fairly unstable state now, so whenever someone says something that I perceive to be abusive or insulting, I freak out. Maybe not as much as when I’m unmedicated, but still.

There was a large amount of wank on my personal Facebook page, and a local group page, a couple of days ago because of a couple dogs that killed some of my chickens. I won’t go into the whole story; if you want it, I didn’t delete or alter the thread. It’s on my FB feed.

Long story short, this one dude ended up telling me I’m naïve, and that the dogs should have killed my chickens because they had as much right to eat as I did. Garden variety asshole, right? Except I actually need those eggs to eat since I’m living on a tight budget since my divorce, not to mention the chickens were my pets. The guy knew that. So this statement felt a lot like things my ex used to say to me about me being immature and worthless. I got really agitated, and I reacted without really thinking. I told him, “If you think you have every bit a right to eat as a dog does, kill yourself and make yourself into dog food for rescue dogs.”

This was a horrible word choice, but in my mind at the time, I was turning the tables and re-stating what he’d just said to me. I realized later that it was a poor word choice, but at least it got the guy to shut the fuck up, so I thought it was no big deal. Except it’s the internet, where everything is a big deal.

Another lady came back days later, and read only my statement. She admitted she didn’t read the context, or anything he’d said. All she saw was me freaking out. So, I was the one that got all the blame. “I know you care about people with mental illness, so I just wanted you to be aware that what you said is wrong.”

I apologized for what I’d said, but I also pointed out the irony to her. She didn’t call the other guy out for being abusive and demeaning. Be aware, I said, that my reaction is what mental illness—a PTSD trigger—looks like. That’s what true “awareness” of mental illness is.

She never responded. This is typical. We get rejected as not worth listening to, as hysterical, as an asshole. Rejection is another trigger for me, like it is for a lot of us. Instead of going off on that lady, I figured it would be healthier to go off on a blog piece, in the faint hope of educating someone.

Now, let me call myself out even more by showing you what true acceptance of mental illness looks like. I’ll give a trigger warning, though I don’t think trigger warnings are healthy when we’re dealing with real-life events. We can only heal by facing our triggers. But, anyhow, this is a pretty graphic description of physical violence and verbal…I won’t call it abuse in this case. But in another context it would be.

If you are my mom/dad, I suggest you stop reading now.

A certain friend of mine and I were having ourselves a fun white trash evening recently. Long story short, he was goofing around and called me a “dirty whore”.

I knew he was goofing around, but this brought me to a standstill. “Don’t call me that.”

He, though, didn’t see what the big deal was: he was just joking, and I knew it. So, he called me a dirty whore again.

I reacted before I knew what was happening. It was like watching myself from the outside. I punched him. Not hard, but in the exact same place he’d been punched another time, which had broken his tooth and ultimately put him in a coma for three days.

So, he (who is neurodiverse, also) had the same reaction. He punched me in the eye. Again, not hard, but it was enough to bring me to my senses.

We were both blasted off into PTSD land. He was alternating between threatening to call the cops if I didn’t give him money, and gently examining my eye and saying, “Oh, my God Liz, are you okay?” Then yelling at me for making him hit a girl. I for my part, was sobbing and apologizing my ass off and begging him to not leave or call the cops. See? Good ol’ white trash fun all around.

We calmed down eventually and talked. “Someone called you a dirty whore before, right?” he said, and I nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” he said.

“I’m sorry I punched you, especially right where that other guy did.”

And we spoke no more of it. Neither of us needed an explanation. Neither of us judged or even pitied the other. We understood one another. To us, it wasn’t that big a deal. Just a couple people overreacting like the freaks we are. Neither of us had so much as a bruise, to be clear.

That’s what it takes to accept people like us. Most of you won’t be able to do that, because our behavior is so easy to point at and say, “wrong”. Most of you, having read this, will be horrified, and will unfriend me/never talk to me again, because you don’t want to be associated with toxic people like me. But your behavior is just as wrong sometimes, it just takes longer to explain why because the abuse is emotional, and/or you do it behind closed doors so it’s harder to call you out on it.

So, if you want to be our allies, be patient with us, listen, and try to understand. It will require putting up with some bullshit, yes. But it will be worth it. We’re wonderful people, and you’ll also find a lot of us more willing to put up with YOUR bullshit than most, because we know what it’s like to do things we’re not proud of, and be rejected.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A Stark Look at Neurodiversity and What it Takes to Be an Ally

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s