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.

Going Homeless for the Homeless

I’ve been inspired by the women who ran from NYC to DC to raise money for Planned Parenthood. I’ve had an idea, and I mentalwant to put out feelers to see what kind of support this idea would have, because it will be a difficult thing to do and I need to know it would have an effect before I set out to do it.

I would like to walk from here (Yakima, WA) to our state capital (Olympia, WA), a distance of around 180 miles. I would be living homeless, in order to raise awareness and money about the plight of the homeless and neurodiverse. I wouldn’t be accepting money directly for these causes – I would ask for pledges to charities like NAMI.

I’d like to know who would be willing to donate, and who would help me by amplifying my social media presence with regard to this. I would love to hear your thoughts, and would love it even more if you’d retweet, reblog, or share this post to see if any of your friends might be interested in supporting me one way or another on this journey.

If I got enough awareness, my next trip would be to DC.

And yes, I’d be living homeless, as authentically as possible, but I’d make it as safe as I could in ways I will brainstorm with you and discuss later.

Who’s with me?

Left-Wing Survivalists: We Are the Majority

I’ve been struggling a lot lately, as my friends online and offline are probably aware/tired of. A lot of my struggle boils down to this: I feel like I have no voice in society.

I think a lot of people can relate to that.

I think that helpless feeling has become a “trigger” for me personally, since the end of my marriage was brought on largely by the fact my ex wouldn’t listen to me. No matter how much I tried to tell him how I felt, he dismissed it and told me how I really felt, according to him. I’ve experienced a lot more personal rejection, as well. For instance, a sheriff’s deputy told me yesterday my recent sexual assault was not really a crime and I was wasting his time by reporting it.

This sort of scenario plays out constantly in society at large. It always has, but some of us have been more aware of it than others. After the recent election, though, more people are coming to realize that a lot of people’s voices are being drowned out, dismissed and belittled in favor of the very loud voices of a certain class of almost entirely white people.

I’ve been railing against this phenomenon (what might be called an “inequality in the societal narrative”) since I first began to realize how much of an effect it had on my own life. This wasn’t until a few years ago. Before that, I’d blamed my personal failings for the fact that I seemed to struggle a lot harder than others. I’m not giving up all personal responsibility for my struggles, of course, but what those Loud-Talking Whiteys (or LTWs, as they will be called henceforth)* don’t understand is, when you’re talking about disadvantaged peoples, the notion of “personal responsibility” isn’t as cut-and-dry as they think.

When your voice is dismissed and belittled, it tends to affect your very identity. In society’s plotline, you are the villain; the pathetic hopeless creature who needs saving; or you just don’t appear in the story at all. You feel this fact in your very bones. You begin to believe there’s something “wrong” or “lesser” about you, because that’s what you hear and experience, day in and day out. This feeling can sometimes cause you to act in ways that, in turn, cause society to further ignore and/or heap scorn upon you.

It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. And this idea of “privilege”, white or otherwise, is very much outside of the dominant social narrative. People who do not experience this phenomenon are privileged. They usually do not understand that privilege, or have any idea what it is like to live without it. They are LTWs.

When you try to talk to a LTW about their privilege—be it white, male, socioeconomic, cis/hetero, Christian, neurotypical or other—they roll their eyes. They explain that “everyone has problems”. They tell you to “grow up”, “get over yourself”, and “take personal responsibility for your life.” “Stop pulling the race/gender etc. card, it’s getting really old,” they say, or “Why do you have to make this about race/gender etc.?” They often say that they’ve worked really hard to get where they are, and if we’d just stop complaining and work as hard as they do, we’d be in the same position of privilege that they are.

They’re wrong on so many levels. That’s not just my opinion, that’s fact. A lot of people work way harder than LTWs do, are much smarter and more qualified, and yet get passed over/ignored in favor of LTWs over and over and over again. No amount of affirmative action or reasonable accommodation will ever make up for racism and bigotry, because that racism and bigotry still controls the system the affirmative action exists in.

Most bias is latent—unconscious—and the perpetrators of it will never, ever admit they have it, and thus cannot work to change it. They don’t recognize their own prejudices because they think the only really prejudiced ones are the KKK-type people. But those sorts of blatantly horrible assholes are a tiny minority, and their voices are fairly easily dismissed (even though they’re embraced by our president elect, but I digress). The type of bias we have to worry about more, because it knits the fabric of our society, is the type expressed by the mainstream LTWs.

I will reiterate, for those new to my ranting, the ways I experience bias and understand the idea of “privilege” in my own life (for those tired of hearing it, skip down to the heading in bold). I have seen my own white and limited socioeconomic privilege in action, and will never deny it—I have plenty of very specific examples—but being white and not without financial resources doesn’t negate the prejudice I do experience. It just softens the burden.

Besides being just naturally strange, I’m bipolar and have what has proven to be serious PTSD. I experience subtle or not-so-subtle bias any time I walk out the door an interact with strangers. People who know me are used to me, and they usually don’t think I’m all that different, unless they’ve seen me in full-blown psychosis, depression, or mania. But when I meet people for the very first time, they often get wary—I’m not sure they always notice it, but they choose to end conversations with me as quickly as possible and move on. It has been said behind my back and to my face many times—I’m “annoying” or a “little bit off”. I’ve been told to “grow up” and “stop acting like that”.

Some people seem to like my weirdness, though, and I love y’all so much.

I didn’t recognize this bias against me for what it was until recently. Before, I thought there was something “wrong” with me, and I beat myself up for it. But when I tried to change my behavior, it just made me weirder and more annoying.

Then I met Phoenix, who is schizophrenic. People recognize his bizarreness as soon as he walks into a room. He has the same effect I have on people, but magnified by a hundred. Phoenix is ignored, treated with pity, bullied, beaten up, reviled; he’s regularly harassed by police, arrested, and has almost been shot for committing no crime at all. He’s kicked out of businesses, public buildings, and other people’s houses just for being “weird”.

When I realized how much I loved Phoenix precisely because of the reasons others feared and hated him, I realized that I, too, have nothing wrong with me, and I needed to discard society’s narrative in favor of my own.

It’s not just neurodiverse people who experience prejudice. It’s people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ people, and all others who are a cultural/religious/etc. “minority” in their society. If you haven’t experienced it, I’m not certain you can truly understand it. But if you at least recognize it exists and try to understand and empathize, you are automatically not an LTW. Give yourself a high five.

Let’s get to the point of this blog post.

Something has recently hit home for me lately: LTWs are NOT the majority in this country. Even though large numbers of ghoulish, inbred deplorables have recently crawled out of their dank dens into the light of day, and even more of our supposed friends have shown some seriously scary and racist opinions and behaviors we’d never seen before, I still hold tight to my belief that they aren’t the majority. After all, Hillary won the popular vote.

Since we, the non-LTWs, ARE the majority, we need to start acting like it. We need to dismiss hateful and ignorant voices the same way the LTWs do to us. So, I hereby declare that I’m creating a magical world where Trump isn’t president. We’re the privileged majority, and the LTWs are the pathetic, whiny minority who aren’t worth listening to.

We could all use a good escape from the real world right now. And my personal motto is: If you believe something hard enough, you can make it real.

Part of my job is creating fantasy worlds, so I’m somewhat of an expert on how therapeutic they can be. Think of it as a sort of creative visualization process. If we spend at least a few minutes each day living as the dominant majority, we will hopefully go out into the real world with more strength and confidence. We will stop letting others have any control of our narratives.

If you want to live in this world with me, I’ve created a Facebook group called the Left-Wing Survivalists. I like that name because it has a sort of subversive and cultish ring to it: we, the Left-Wing Survivalists, are rejecting your reality in favor of our own and creating our own society. We’re preparing for the Glorious Kingdom of Cultural Enlightenment, which is nigh.

I also like it because I’m living in a tiny house compound, growing my own food and weaving baskets out of dry reeds. I am, in fact, a left-wing survivalist.

On this page we can certainly discuss politics, but in the offhand, unworried way of privileged people sitting on the terrace of their manor house, having tea and discussing what those silly little people did today. I’d like to see a lot of (probably fictional) stories about how you wouldn’t go to a straight cousin’s wedding on principle, or refused to use the same drinking fountain as a Wall Street executive. But it could also be a place to discuss positive things we are doing in our real lives to forget/reject the LTWs’ narrative and make our world a beautiful place, be it volunteer work, recipes, gardening/farming tips, pictures of our crafts, or just good ol’ tales of how we were dismissive and disdainful of those pathetic little LTWs, and rousing yarns of how we stood up with good humor and assertiveness for ourselves and/or others who are disadvantaged.

I know this is play pretend. We’re still struggling under the very real burdens of racism, sexism, and other discrimination in our society. We (apparently) have to live with the piss-poor reality that we have a fleshy pile of lying fuckface for president. But let’s do it with as much grace as we can. I think a little play pretend could help.

As this presidency progresses, it might get harder and harder to maintain this illusion. But that makes it all the more important to have a “happy place” to retreat to, in order to survive our troubles and recognize our strength. We need to keep our spirits up and foster true unity, so that our majority narrative of love, acceptance, and mutual respect will eventually be able to take its rightful place as the dominant one.

 

*I am perfectly aware that calling this sort of person (or group of people, if you will) “Loud-Talking Whiteys” is a gross generalization. Not all of them are white, no group is truly homogenous and coherent, this sort of stereotyping is what I’m supposedly fighting against, blah blah etc. But, however we may try to love and respect them for the true goodness that does exist somewhere in their souls, we all know the sorts of people I’m talking about. So I will use the term LTWs for the sake of expediency.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and the deepest thinker in the Universe. Find her on Amazon.