Piece of notebook paper with words written in pencil: What if I'm not a real person and it hurts now."

The Neurodivergent Experience: It’s Never About Us

[Content warning for just about everything you can think of. If you’re having a bad day and don’t wanna hear about the horrible things neurodivergent people have to put up with, have this picture of a puppy and go read a nicer article]Picture of smiling, panting, tricolor Australian shepherd puppy on the beach

These are particularly bad times for neurodivergent/mentally ill folks. They’re trying to cut our benefits and health care. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to have us involuntarily committed and sterilized. Every day, it seems they come up with some new way to torture us in the name of a “cure”. The headlines are full of stories of police killing us for no reason, and we all know that those stories are just a few of the many abuses which occur on a daily basis to people like us. And yet, they continue to blame the neurodivergent for every highly-publicized violent crime that happens, as well as for the dangerous and destructive behavior of our (very mentally-healthy) president.  Yes: they hurt US, and then gaslight everyone and try to say it’s OUR fault.

But when we speak up, we get comments like this one here on my last post. People tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about. They think we’re unreliable narrators, and can’t be trusted to manage our own lives or even know what our own lives are about:

“Police are just doing their jobs when they illegally detain, harm, imprison, or kill you—they have no way to know that you’re not really dangerous.”

So, we have to prove to the police that we’re NOT dangerous in order to not get shot? We have to prove we’re NOT committing a crime in order to not get harassed or arrested? If we’re not holding a gun; if all we’re doing is yelling, or pacing, or crying, they have no reason to think we ARE dangerous, and we’re not committing a crime by showing emotion.

Like I said in my previous post, statistics show we’re no more violent than sane people are, and that we’re a good deal more likely to be hurt BY neurotypical folks than we are to hurt them. Especially when it comes to police: they’re more likely to hurt us than the other way around. So yes, it does follow that, when neurotypical folks lock up neurodivergent folks, the dangerous people are locking up the less dangerous people. In fact, we’re often hurt in the act of being locked up (usually for no reason).

It does follow.

“We all have problems; ableism isn’t real, people are jerks to everyone.”

Nope. You can’t be locked up for committing no crime. You can’t be forcibly sterilized. People don’t give you bleach enemas in an attempt to cure you of being neurotypical.

People are jerks, yes. But people are bigger jerks to neurodivergent people. Don’t think you understand what it’s like. You don’t.

“I heard a third-hand story of someone who was very nearly hurt by a schizophrenic person once, and therefore it’s completely right to lock up neurodivergent people.”

I hear this sort of story a lot. The only time it’s first-hand is when it’s being told by someone who worked as an ER medic or some such—someone else with a skewed sample size, because they only saw the folks who were in crisis, and were being forcibly detained and put in a position of high stress and danger (and therefore were actually defending themselves and not inciting violence. Don’t @ me telling me “the medics were trying to help them, they weren’t defending themselves.” If a group of people grabbed you and tried to tie you to a gurney, and you didn’t want them to do that, you’d fight back, too. We’re human beings, you know).

You’re forgetting a little thing called lived experience, which trumps your third-hand anecdote every time. Do you know what else trumps it? The statistics that show neurotypical people are more likely to injure us than the other way around.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who are violent. That doesn’t mean you get to lock all of us up…just like the fact that neurotypical people are more likely to be violent toward me doesn’t mean I get to lock up all neurotypical people.  (That however would be a course of action supported by statistics.)

There’s so much else going on in that comment (and in others that I get every day). The takeaway is this: A neurodivergent person can’t speak out without someone telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about—that they, a neurotypical person, know better than we do. Literally, if we say we had eggs for breakfast, a neurotypical person will rappel from the ceiling and ask us if we’re sure we aren’t hallucinating or confused, if maybe we had oatmeal instead. Our voices, experiences, and opinions are constantly silenced and passed over in favor of “experts” or our family members. These folks can be some of the most abusive toward us, and yet the narrative is always centered around what can be done to help them: what makes our caregivers, family, and friends more comfortable. Usually, that’s finding easier ways to lock us up, sterilize us, render us unconscioius or inert, “cure” us, or find a way to detect our neruodivergence in utero so that we’re never born in the first place. Do any of those things sound like civil rights to you? Would you like any of those things done to you?

Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we don’t want what anyone else wants: quality of life. We’re don’t exist in this world just to make you comfortable. No one does. If your neurotypical neighbor stays up all night singing loudly along with the radio, you don’t try to have him sterilized so he doesn’t have similarly-loud children, or make sure he’s medicated into a stupor. And yet, because we’re neurodivergent, you think you have the right to do that to us.

Even when talking about the realities of our everyday life, the way everyone does, we’re told we’re “oversharing”; that we’re making others uncomfortable; that we’re “whining” and “complaining” and that we should be more positive; that we’re triggering others with our stories.

It’s always about others’ feelings.

Is it any wonder we lose it sometimes? And yet we’re not afforded the luxury of venting our feelings and frustrations, again by the nature of being neurodivergent. Our emotions are too strong and messy for neurotypicals to deal with. When we display them, we’re ostracized and chided at best. We lose friends, we lose jobs, we lose everything that makes us happy. At worst, y’all beat us, lock us up, or kill us, just for speaking our minds. I have personal anecdotes, if you need them—read my blog, or my memoir, or ask me.

People don’t listen to us and constantly speak over us. Is it any wonder we feel isolated? Is it any wonder we commit suicide, because it seems like no one cares?

But, there are people who do care, who do understand. Never forget that.

All you glorious crazy people out there, I want you to know I’m listening. I’m here for your joy and your pain. You are important, and your feelings are valid.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who is crazy as fuck and wants to tell you all about it. You can find her on Amazon.


Left Wing Survivalists Episode 2: Apple Butter & Suicide

For #worldmentalhealthday I thought I’d do a podcast. This has advice on how to dry plums, make apple butter, glean fruit & vegetables…and also a discussion of suicide. *shrugs* Here you go.

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 “neurodivergent” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those obvious 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 neruodivergent. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses.  Neurodivergent 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 umbrella of neurodivergence. 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 neurodivergence has a more subtle effect on their lives.

If you have depression, for instance, you’re neurodivergent 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 periodic depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them, and you can go months or even years with no symptoms.

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 neurodivergence: 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, 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 neurodivergent because I’m good at masking. 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 neurodivergence doesn’t isolate me completely 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 schizoaffective disorder, or Down Syndrome, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodivergent 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 neurodivergent people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodivergent people are “doing it for attention”, that they’re “using their neurodivergence as a weapon/shield” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodivergent) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodivergent 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.