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

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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!

 

Liberals: Stop Being Assholes to the Mentally Ill -#NeverAgain

gun-revolver-fire-firing-370202.jpegRight now, President Trump, a Florida Sheriff, and millions of citizens are talking about how involuntarily locking up mentally ill/neurodivergent people is the answer to the U.S.’s gun violence problems. According to them, corralling all the “savage sickos” in hastily-erected, for-profit hospitals is in everyone’s best interests. Registering and rounding up neurodivergent people is much more practical and desirable than registering or confiscating people’s guns; Second Amendment freedoms apparently are more valuable than Fourth Amendment freedoms.

As most of us should know by now, neurodivergent folks are only responsible for 1% of gun violence in the United States. Beginning another Aktion T-4 wouldn’t even have any discernable effect on gun violence in this country. But neurodivergent people are often the ones to pay for neurotypicals’ violence.

This stark ableism doesn’t matter to most Americans, because it doesn’t affect them. We’re not really human in their eyes.

Liberals reading this are no doubt nodding along, albeit without much emotion. Most of you think all this talk of locking us up is just bluster. Nothing could ever possibly come of the sitting U.S. President loudly calling for the wholesale imprisonment of a whole class of people, who have committed no crime other than to be born with different brains. To most of you, it’s just another annoying thing right-wingers say. It’s no real threat to you.

You need to take this seriously. Liberals: YOU AREN’T HELPING.

I hear the things you say. The jokes you crack when Trump calls for our involuntary hospitalization: “Well, Trump should be the first one in, crazy as he is!” I hear you talking about how life was better before Reagan shut down all the mental hospitals. “All the sudden, the streets were full of screaming wackos.” Did you know those hospitals he shut down were hellish places where we were sometimes warehoused naked in bare rooms, hosed down for sanitation? Did you know we generally got no treatment other than perhaps a five-minute visit from a psychiatrist once a month, and no medication save for body- and mind-destroying chemicals like Thorazine?

Homelessness was actually a step up for the mentally ill. But all you care about is that, before, you didn’t have to see us.

So, when the time comes to round us up, you will sit by, telling yourself it’s a good thing for society, and even a good thing for us.

You feel not a whit of compassion or empathy for mentally-ill people. It doesn’t occur to you what it might be like to be locked up for no reason, even under the best of conditions (and they won’t be the best of conditions). To you, we’re not human, so it doesn’t register that we have feelings, thoughts, a life that we want to live.

For the most part, Liberals don’t actively campaign for us all to be locked up. However, they do say mentally ill people shouldn’t be able to get guns. Well, okay. But you know that means you’re taking constitutional rights away from a marginalized group for no reason, right? You’re denying us the liberties you enjoy, simply because of how we were born. And think through what it would entail, to take those rights from us. It means that, whenever someone got a diagnosis, our doctor would have to report us to the government and have us put on a list, so that we couldn’t get guns. Does that sound cool to you? Hint: it’s not.

Did you know that a domestic violence conviction doesn’t preclude someone from having a gun? That’s a much better predictor of gun violence than mental illness, but it doesn’t occur to y’all to ban those folks (who are already known to the government, because of their conviction, and who actually did something wrong), instead of the neurodivergent. (Those who want to jump in and say they ARE banned from having guns, please do your research. That ban only prevents them (in some limited cases) from BUYING guns, and has a billion loopholes that have allowed a large number of men with DV convictions to be mass-shooters with legally-obtained guns.)

Liberals don’t stop there with the ableism, though. They tell people not to “humanize” folks like Nikolas Cruz by pointing out that he might be neurodivergent. I have news for you: he is human. Human beings are the ones who take high-powered semi-automatic weapons and shoot other human beings. In Cruz’ case, it was because he was apparently a white supremacist, and had a violent personality. Yes, you can throw in the neurodivergence (though as I stated before, statistically, neurodivergence and violence are inversely related, so it doesn’t make sense), but then you’d also have to take a look at how society systematically shunned, tortured and mistreated a lonely and confused little boy until he grew evil enough to do what he did.

That’s not an excuse for him, though. Society tortures and shuns all neurodivergent people, all the time, and most of us don’t ever hurt anyone else.

Neurodivergence is not a predictor of violent behavior. However, Cruz had been reported to the police and FBI dozens of times for violent behavior. Strangely enough, violent behavior is a predictor of violent behavior, whether you’re neurodivergent or neurotypical.

Despite all this, liberals are willing to throw neurodivergent folks under the bus in order to feel like they’re keeping their kids safe. Statistically, ableism is a lot more likely to harm their children than gun violence. It’s estimated that one in five people suffers some sort of mental illness in their lifetime, and every one of those people will be hurt by ableism. I don’t know how many people are hurt by gun violence, but it’s definitely not 20% of the population. So, they’re actually hurting their kids with their ableist shitfuckery, not keeping them safe.

I’ve waited until the end of this to make something clear: I’m completely in favor of gun control. But if you have to take away neurodivergent folks’ liberty and humanity to do it, it’s not worth doing.

However, here’s some good news that is so fucking common sense that I shouldn’t have to say it: YOU CAN HAVE EFFECTIVE GUN CONTROL WITHOUT TAKING AWAY NEURODIVERGENT CIVIL RIGHTS. In fact, taking away our rights will have close to zero effect on gun violence.

So please. Fight for gun control, but leave us out of it. And take our president seriously when he talks about locking us up. Stand up to him when he says shit like this, instead of laughing it off.

Thank you.

Elizabeth Roderick is a savage sicko who writes about screeching wackos. You can explore the wonders of Neurodivergent culture (and support a marginalized artist) by reading her books.

Diverse Books and Writing What You Don’t Know

rainbow book(revisiting this post from 2015)

Write what you know. It’s a trite piece of advice for writers struggling to find a subject to which to put their pen, and a dire warning to those embarking on literary excursions into the unknown.

Many feel this saying is a load of crap. After all, if we can only write what we know, then we have no business even writing a memoir: our view of ourselves and our experience is so myopic, and our blind spots so extensive, that we can’t claim to truly know even what’s going on in our own lives. However, when we plunge into writing about something we don’t know, it pays to be cautious. After all, when you’re an “outsider” with respect to your subject matter, those on the inside are going to know if you get it wrong.

I’ll start with this piece of advice: Write what you want. Writing is an art, and stifling that art with a bunch of rules and warnings isn’t going to help anyone. You have something to say, and so say it, with your whole heart and to the best of your ability. But I’ll add this caveat: if you’re going to write about a type of character or situation that exists in contemporary life and yet is outside your personal experience, I advise you give it deep thought. The agonizing, soul-searching variety of deep thought. Your characters, and your readers, deserve no less.

Most of us have heard of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It is a worthy cause. Stories, both fiction and nonfiction, are an integral part of social change. Books help connect readers with people and situations that they may never encounter in their day-to-day life, and can broaden understanding and acceptance in a way that no amount of preaching or direct social activism can do. Books are a safe way to explore situations that we’d be frightened to become involved in in real life, and can help to lessen our fear and misunderstanding of those situations. For instance, a person frightened of foreign travel might be more comfortable after reading a million guidebooks. The more different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of being people are exposed to in books, the more comfortable they’ll be with it in their real lives.

It is precisely for this reason that we need to be mindful of how we portray our diverse characters. I’m not saying that we should never let a diverse character be anything other than a shining beacon of perfection, so that we don’t give readers the impression that all people of that diverse group are “bad”. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is, the character has to be realistic. We have to be comfortable in that character’s shoes. We have to know them like we know a human being, and relate to their struggle, before we write about them. Otherwise, we’ll get it wrong. We’ll portray them as an issue, instead of a character, and we’ll miss an opportunity to let readers identify with them on a human level. And yes, we can end up doing actual, measurable harm to real people by reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.

I love it when books have diverse characters, but when I hear editors or agents say, “If there’s no diversity in your books, don’t worry: it can be added,” I cringe. It is possible to deliberately add diversity in this way and still have a great book. But, if you’re adding diversity purely for diversity’s sake, be very cautious. After all, if you’re inserting a diverse character just to make the novel more marketable, then you are exploiting the group to which that diverse character belongs. If you’re changing the color of a character’s skin, giving her a limp, or modifying his religious practice, take a long moment to get to know that character again, because you have changed who they are. Make sure you don’t overlook, misunderstand, or gloss over the issues that the character might face in their daily life. Otherwise, you run the risk of your character being a blue-eyed guy with shoe polish on his face asking John Wayne to smoke-um peace pipe.

You’ll have readers that identify with your diverse characters, and if you tell their story incorrectly, you’re selling those readers short and hurting them on a personal level.

This concept also applies to characters who are members of groups which may not traditionally be viewed as “diverse”. If your character is dealing with issues of any kind that you haven’t dealt with personally, make sure you put thought into it. For instance, I’m a recovering heroin addict, an ex-con, and a victim of physical and sexual abuse. I have thrown books across the room and cursed authors’ very souls for, in my view, misrepresenting these issues. I’m really tired of reading about poor, battered women who suffer their completely evil, idiot husbands stolidly until the day they rise up with unblemished inner strength to assert themselves. I know it may sound counterintuitive to some of you, but I feel belittled by this narrative. Abuse is ugly; it changes you. It weakens you. And it can make you stoop to the level of the abuser, because you know no different, and because you’re so scarred and hurt that you can’t function in a healthy manner. I do recognize that not all survivors of abuse see it this way, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that my story is being exploited and told incorrectly for profit, when I read a book that gets it “wrong”.

Additionally, I’m tired of seeing drug addicts portrayed as objects of pity or contempt; complete hot-mess wastrels; soulless beings with no hope, intelligence, or inner life. I especially hate this narrative when said addict ends up seeing the light, and becomes a pink-cheeked, happy and productive member of society within the course of 350 pages.

It’s also annoying just when people get details wrong: heroin addicts with dilated pupils (opiates contract the pupils), or about a character “melting” black tar heroin in a spoon (it doesn’t melt; you have to dissolve it in water). The details are easy to research, and the rest, well, all I can say is that drug addicts are people, too. Drugs can make people into a hot mess, it’s true; but that hot mess can be interesting to examine, and you’ll make your story better if your character is well-rounded.

And, as a psychotic person, when a book about a “psycho killer” comes out, I have a legitimate fear reaction. People like me are beaten, imprisoned, and killed because of wrongful stereotypes like this. The same for some other marginalized groups. Misportrayals can do real harm, and you don’t want that on your conscience. So, do your research if you’re writing about characters from different walks of life as you. And, the best research is not academic research, but experience*.

If you want to have marginalized characters in your books, but don’t share that marginalization, I say go for it…but put thought into it, and seriously consider having your diverse characters be side-characters, and not main characters. Also, don’t write characters with marginalizations that you’ve only read about. If you don’t have a diverse group of friends, then you might not be the right person to be repping diversity in literature. But, seriously, we all have diverse friends, right?

I have a lot of Mexican-American characters. I speak Spanish and have lived most of my life in areas with a huge Mexican-American population, so I’m comfortable writing about the culture—usually from an outside point of view, because I may not know the internal issues of being Mexican-American, but I can speak to my experience as an observer, and so my characters can as well. I also have Mexican-American beta readers, so if I mess up, as I always will, they can help me with it.

I also often write about characters with mental illness/neurodivergence. I am mentally ill, autistic, and have psychosis. However, when I was writing a book with a schizophrenic main character, I reached a point where I felt like I was getting it wrong. So, I went down to the local park and made friends with a young schizophrenic man I’d seen hanging around.

My friendship with Phoenix was never about writing a novel. I don’t hang out with him because of his mental illness, but because I enjoy his company. He’s an amazing, intelligent, and hilariously funny person.

Hanging out with him taught me a lot about myself as a neurodivergent person, and opened my eyes to the way ableism affects us all. We were kicked out of bars, restaurants, casinos and libraries because people were uncomfortable with his behavior (mine too, to be honest); I had to intervene with the cops and the courts when he was arrested for no crime other than being schizophrenic. I spent horrible, anguished days and nights, crying and worrying, when he was institutionalized, or in the hospital after someone misinterpreted something he said and beat him into a coma. Certain experiences with him have triggered my own episodes of psychosis, as well, which were of course frightening and draining.

My Other Place Series wouldn’t be what it is without Phoenix. I would have missed so much of the joy, the beauty, the horror, and the subtleties of the schizophrenic experience if I hadn’t spent time with him, because seeing psychosis from the outside, and really being part of someone else’s experience, is different than experiencing it myself. The more insight we have into life and people of all kinds, the better our writing will be.

Just like I don’t hang out with Phoenix because he’s mentally ill, I didn’t write my book about the schizophrenic character because he is schizophrenic. I wrote it because he’s an interesting character, with a really good story to tell. Readers will identify with characters, and want to spend time with them, if they’re interesting people, and not just a list of symptoms and diagnoses or character traits you gleaned from internet research.

Putting thought into it doesn’t make you exempt from criticism, however. Nothing will. If, someday, a reader gets angry at me for getting a Latinx character wrong, well, it will upset me, and I’ll listen, but I’ll have the consolation of being able to talk about it with my Latinx beta readers and friends and do better next time, so it won’t destroy my love of writing.

And, y’all, I get criticism about my own voices characters. Nothing makes you exempt. Criticism is part of being a writer. Even when we are writing from experience, we won’t know all facets of that experience. Every experience is valid, and incomplete. (Note: please don’t harass own voices writers because their experience doesn’t match yours. Truly.)

Even if they don’t resonate with everyone, I am comfortable with and proud of my books. I think they can add to people’s understanding, rather than detracting from it by creating false impressions.

This is what we should strive to do when we write, whether it’s from a diverse perspective or not, and whether our tale is a lighthearted romantic comedy or a dark “issues” novel.

Always treat your characters (and your readers) with the respect they deserve, and you will be able to bear any criticism with dignity.

*For the love of God, man, don’t apply this concept to writing about drug addicts and ex-cons. I’d rather your characters be trite and wooden than for you to go get thrown in the slammer for a PCP binge you embarked on for novel research.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor. You can find THE OTHER PLACE and her other books on Amazon.

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.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Means They’re Out to Get You – Oppression of Neurodivergent People in Our Society

[Rape, abuse, assault, ableism]

It’s a hell of a time for a marginalized person to be in PTSD therapy.

I went into therapy to get help with dealing with trauma from a lifetime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Instead, I’m learning ways to cope with the ongoing abuse and threats to my person and wellbeing that are just part of being a neurodivergent person living in Trump’s America.

The therapy I’m doing is called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) which is something like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I’ve tried a lot of different therapies for my PTSD, and have always given up pretty quickly because they dredge up old memories and send me into crisis, without actually giving me any tools to improve my life. But CPT seems to be working. It helps me to separate my emotions from my intellect and deal with them more rationally. (I wouldn’t have been able to do this earlier in my life. It’s a lot easier now that I’m on medication and stable.)

The problem is, the world isn’t safe, especially for people like me and my daughter, and there’s only so much you can do to control your emotions when they’re based on a valid threat.

Sane and abled people—as well as a lot of neurodivergent people who simply haven’t experienced certain kinds of oppression yet, for whatever reason—don’t understand the stress neurodivergent folks are under. When we speak out against it, they tell us we’re being crazy and paranoid, thus adding to our oppression and making life less safe for us.

This threat is real, and it seems to be growing lately in the United States (and surely other places, but I wouldn’t know).

I’m going to take you through the threats that we face, to try to give you an idea of what it feels like to be someone like me. I’m going to do that in the form of a CPT Challenging Questions worksheet.

A Challenging Questions worksheet is where the patient writes out the negative beliefs that trigger and sustain emotional crisis, and work through them in an attempt to see them more rationally and change the patterns of belief and behavior that screw up our lives so badly. This is because I – along with countless other marginalized people – have PTSD from bigotry.

Belief: People want me dead, or want to torture me, because I’m a neurodivergent woman.

The majority of people reading this are rolling their eyes. “Oh, come on. No one wants to kill or torture you. Get a grip.”

Remember you had that thought. The fact you’re having it belongs squarely in the category below, as evidence that my belief is true. You may not see why yet, but keep reading.

Evidence For the Belief:

  1. Involuntary commitment

This seems simple enough, but for people who haven’t been locked up, you’ve probably never even thought about what it means.

Involuntary commitment means that you get locked up when you haven’t even committed a crime. It means they lock you up simply for being neurodivergent. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to do this, using the few demonstrable incidents where mentally ill people hurt or kill people as evidence that “clear and present danger to themselves or others” is too high a bar. They want to be able to lock us up just for having a diagnosis, and effectively, that’s usually what happens. I’ve had friends locked up for being schizophrenic and having a Swiss Army knife in their room somewhere. I’ve had other friends locked up simply for being nonviolently angry at someone. Involuntary commitment is used as a tool of coercion, manipulation and abuse against us.

“Yeah, but, dangerous psychos need to be off the streets,” you say.

This almost universally-held belief is very strong evidence in favor of my belief . Sane folks want people like me to be locked up just for being neurodivergent, and locking someone up in a mental institution is literal torture on so many levels, and is morally suspect at best. It has been used as a method of oppression of all manner of neurodivergent people for hundreds of years, and (despite neurotypical folks’ belief that it’s difficult to get people committed) most people who are put away against their will aren’t a demonstrable threat to themselves or others. Neurotypical people are scared of us for no good reason because they’ve been taught to believe we’re scary and out of control—and to not believe us when we say we’re not—so they think we’re a threat to ourselves and others just by existing.

You’re rolling your eyes again. “No one wants to lock up someone like you. Just the dangerous psychos!”

What sane people don’t know is that there aren’t very many dangerous psychos—we don’t have a higher rate of violence than people without mental illness. Neurodivergent people are a lot more likely to be hurt by sane people than we are to hurt others.

So, when a sane person places a neurodivergent person in involuntary commitment, the dangerous person is locking up the less dangerous person.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who truly are a danger to themselves and others—just like there are neurotypical people who are. Most people who get involuntarily committed just simply aren’t a danger. We’re in crisis (a crisis often caused by the oppression and ableism we experience on a daily basis, and therefore avoidable). We need compassion and understanding. We need help. Sometimes we just need to be left alone.

The data show that locking someone up involuntarily very rarely provides any actual benefit to the neurodivergent person. All it does is scare us, stigmatize us, anger us, make us feel ashamed and, more often than you think, it leads to us being physically hurt or worse.

Yes, involuntary commitment can serve a purpose. However, not only is it vastly overused, it very rarely serves the purpose for which it is designed. It’s torture. Pure and simple.

  1. Bleach enemas/spinal taps/forcible sterilization/therapies that cause PTSD and physical injury.

Oh, you haven’t heard about this stuff? Read the links above, and do some more research.

This is real stuff that happens to neurodivergent people in the here and now. People do it to us in an attempt to cure us of being who we are. Society thinks it’s okay to torture us, because they believe our lives aren’t worth living unless we are “cured”.

We don’t need to be cured. We need help with some of our symptoms but mostly we need respect, acceptance, and supports.

It’s not okay to do this stuff to us. It’s not okay to think about doing this stuff to us. If you’ve considered it, you need to be ashamed of yourself, do some soul-searching, and do better. Our society is ableist, so the idea that neurodivergent people don’t deserve or can’t handle our bodily autonomy is mainstream, so I’m not surprised you had it. But the fact it’s a mainstream idea doesn’t make it right. It is just another piece of evidence that my belief is true.

If your beliefs uphold a system that tortures and kills neurodivergent people, your beliefs are very wrong and need to be discarded.

  1. High incidence of violence toward and murder of neurodivergent people

Here are some more statistics, also. Neurodivergent folks are more likely than neurotypical folks to be hurt or murdered.

“But you guys probably did something to deserve it.” Toss that widely-held belief into the “evidence for” bucket, Steve!

The very fact that we’re more likely to be hurt and murdered by sane people than the other way around is pretty definitive proof that you’re the scary and dangerous ones, not us. If anyone deserves to be hurt or killed, it’s folks who believe neurodivergent people deserve to be hurt or killed. I’m a really nonviolent person, however, so you won’t have to worry about me trying to hurt or kill you.

  1. High incarceration rate and high rate of police violence against us

And more reading on this here. There are laws that disproportionately target neurodivergent people. Not just involuntary commitment laws, which target ONLY us, but laws against homelessness, loitering, public disturbance.

People don’t hate the neurodivergent…they just don’t want to see us in public.

We’re not hurting you by sleeping on park benches, ranting to ourselves on street corners, etc. We truly aren’t. If you’re so offended and scared by the fact we exist and are different than you, then perhaps check your ableism and leave us the fuck alone.

Drug laws also affect us disproportionately. A large amount of substance use and abuse is self-medication of the symptoms we don’t like. That ALSO IS NOT HURTING YOU. YOU JUST WANT TO PUT US IN JAIL ON BASIC PRINCIPLES. I can’t say this enough.

Police also tend to shoot us, beat us, or take us to jail for no reason, because they see a neurodivergent person and immediately think we’re creepy or dangerous simply because we’re not acting neurotypical. I’ve been harassed by police and arrested for being neurodivergent. My ex-partner was almost shot for the same reason. This even though evidence shows that if police and other responders have training in how to deal with us compassionately, the outcomes are immeasurably better and very rarely result in violence. If you treat us with respect, kindness, and compassion, we will almost always respond in kind.

Most police contact with us, we’re not being violent or posing any sort of threat to others to begin with, anyway, so we should just be left alone. There’s no probable cause to make contact with us, other than the fact we’re neurodivergent. All too often, someone calls the police because they’re worried we’ll hurt ourselves…and the police end up hurting or killing us. At other times, we’re just yelling or “acting suspicious”.

There’s no reason to even engage with us. But police still do, and they escalate the situation until we end up hurt, incarcerated, or dead. That’s not our fault. It’s the police’s fault.

I participate in Crisis Intervention Training with the police. Not all of them are bad. Some of them truly do want to help. They have a long way to go to learn to combat their ableism, however, and until they do, we’ll continue to be hurt, killed, and locked up for no reason.

  1. Rape, abuse, domestic violence

Neurodivergent folks are more likely to suffer these things, and we’re less likely to be believed, or to have any way to escape it, than neurotypical people are.

I know this firsthand. It’s why I’m in PTSD therapy to begin with. I’ve suffered rape, physical and emotional abuse, and assault on more than one occasion. I’ve been homeless on several occasions because it was my only alternative to abuse. And I’ve been not only disbelieved but outright accused of being at fault for my rape, assault and abuse…even by the police. And yes, because I’m neurodivergent. If you wanna know more about how all of those things went down, peruse my blog or ask me. Or, (and this would be a first!) you could just take my word for it.

  1. Removal of supports

We’ve never had a great safety net, but now this administration is actively working to remove access to the medical care and programs that keep us alive and healthy. A lot of neurodivergent people can work, but the most vulnerable of us can’t…not because we’re not capable, but because people don’t want to deal with the neurodivergent and our atypical work habits.

Since we can’t work, we’re seen as lazy losers. Our existence is devalued in our society. We’re seen as burdens.

Useless eaters.

This is happening right now in our society, and it’s scary. It is a quiet form of eugenics…but so was Aktion T-4 at first. It WILL get louder, because neurotypical people won’t even admit that it’s happening. They think that people who truly need supports can still get them. That if we’re “truly disabled”, we can get SSI and easily support ourselves, or whatever. None of that is actually true, though. It’s really difficult to get on disability supports (financial or otherwise), and even if you can, it’s incredibly difficult to survive on the crumbs they give you.

Making sure every neurodivergent person in the country had the health care, housing, and supports they need to get by—whether they can work or not, and in whatever capacity they can work—wouldn’t cost that much. It would be literally a few dollars a month in taxes for the average U.S. person. But you’d rather see us struggle and die.

  1. General Apathy about Neurodivergent Rights

Most people roll their eyes when you tell them oppression of neurodivergent people is a thing. They tell us we’re just crazy. In denying that the oppression is happening, they’re adding to that oppression, and enabling it to get worse.

Neurodivergent people are among the most forgotten and mistreated people in the world. Even among leftists, we’re considered the “other” marginalization, if we’re considered at all. But the most vulnerable people on the planet are neurodivergent folks with other marginalized identities. Mental illness and neurodivergence affect every other marginalized group, so you’re not doing social justice any favors if you think fighting against ableism is less important than fighting other forms of bigotry, or that it doesn’t have anything to do with your own cause.

I see this oppression on Twitter and out in the world every day, and not just from the right-wingers. People on the left will straight up tell a neurodivergent person that they’re whining and being a snowflake for speaking up about ableism. They’ll tell us that we’re “not helping” the cause by engaging in “minor-issue pseudo-activism”, and that we should fight more important battles. A lot of the time they’ll just ignore us or mock us, because they’re not interested in being aligned with embarrassing and gross people like us. We don’t make good poster children. No one likes the mentally ill.

Another one for the “evidence for” bucket, Steve. Gosh, that bucket is getting full.

So, there’s some of the evidence in favor of my belief being true. It’s not all of it. I could go on all day. But I’m tired and have other shit to do.

Evidence Against the Belief:

I’m still alive.

This is all I have. I may have been locked up, homeless, in physical danger, in crisis with no supports, subjected to abuse and rape…I may have experienced all these things at one point in my life, and I may still experience scary ableism on a daily basis, but I’m still alive.

I haven’t been killed yet, and am not currently being tortured.

Is Your Belief a Habit, or Based on Facts?

Well, Steve, it’s sure based on facts. But it’s true my fear and anger are sometimes perhaps out of proportion with my current circumstances. I’m so used to being attacked that I always think I’m under attack, so it’s based on habit, too.

In What Ways is Your Belief Not Including All the Information?

Not everyone wants me dead or tortured. There are some really great people out there. I have a lot of love in my life, a lot of friends. I find compassion everywhere I go. And yet everyone—even other neurodivergent folks—has at least a seed of ableism. We’re capable of overcoming it, though. We’re capable of great and beautiful things.

Also, I have more sane privilege than a lot of people, although that thought may actually be an example of minimizing my trauma, the same as saying, “Well, he beat me, but other people get beat worse, or killed, so I don’t have a right to complain.”

How is Your Belief Confusing Something that is Possible with Something that is Likely?

Well, I sure hope that Aktion T-4 doesn’t repeat full-scale in the U.S. I hope that my kid & I are never killed for being neurodivergent. And we certainly won’t get hurt or killed every time we leave the house. Usually things are okay. Most days are okay. Therefore, a lot of my fear and anger comes from confusing something that is possible with something that is likely.

But I will get hurt again because of my neurodivergence. And…God, I hate saying this…so will Kid. It’s a given.

How is Your Belief Based on Feelings Rather than Facts?

In the end, I have to look at this question, and shrug my shoulders.

My fear and anger aren’t serving me, even if they’re somewhat justified. I have to examine those feelings, and then let them go, so I can function.

This exercise is part of that process.

Oppression isn’t academic to us—it’s not our feelings being hurt, or us being offended. Oppression causes trauma. It makes us have to work through these feelings, which takes a lot of time and energy and can lead to unhealthy behavior. It contributes to PTSD. So, please stop oppressing us. You’re causing real damage to real people.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this, thank you for reading. I hope this was helpful to you in some way, or informative. If it was new info, please take it into consideration in your life. Work on your belief system with regard to neurodivergent and mentally ill folks, so that the world will be safer for us.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who spends a lot of time in her tiny home, screaming her frustration to her best friends—a potted orchid, an Australian shepherd, and a satanic cat. You can find her on Amazon, and she wishes you would, because she’s poor as fuck.

LEFT-WING SURVIVALISTS: New Podcast Episode

Hi, y’all! I got another podcast episode done finally! In this one, I give a recipe for chestnut lembas, talk about my tiny house, and discuss my plans to have a commune where autistic, neurodivergent, and disabled folks (as well as others) can survive—and thrive—during Trumpocalypse. NOTE: brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Elizabeth Roderick is an author who lives in a shack and rants about communism. You can support her in these endeavors by buying her books on Amazon.

Review of TO SIRI WITH LOVE by Judith Newman

I’m an autistic author, and I urge you to read the critical reviews written by autistic people before you buy this book. Even if you do decide to buy it, it’s important that you know that autistic people have agency, feelings, intelligence and inner life…because Ms. Newman portrays us as thoughtless, helpless beings with no empathy.

I borrowed a copy of this book from a friend, so I could read it and opine on the controversy without financially supporting an author I’d heard was horrible to autistic people. However, Amazon is now not allowing reviews by people who don’t have a verified purchase through Amazon. I currently live on only a few hundred dollars per month (on most months), but I purchased a copy just so I could leave a review on Amazon. It is so important that autistic people endeavor to make themselves heard on the issues raised in this book.

Autistic voices are almost always overlooked, silenced, and dismissed. It’s a phenomenon embodied in this book, and in Amazon’s policing of its reviews in this case.

I first heard of this book when the author tangled with another autistic person—Amythest Shaber—on Twitter. Ms. Newman mentions Amythest in the book, in a really condescending light, and she further showed her contempt and disregard for autistic people in the way she spoke to Amythest online. I got a sick feeling. Autistic people are so often seen as not being worthy of consideration and respect, and I feared this book would be yet another example of that.

I wasn’t wrong.

To Siri With Love had a deep impact on me. I was able to identify, not with the supposedly heartwarming and hilarious struggles of a mother trying to come to terms with a son who doesn’t live up to her standards, but with the struggles of an autistic child who is ignored, harassed, abused, and condescended to by a mother who cannot see what a wonderful person he is.

Gus is now 16 years old, and his mother still hasn’t—will obviously never—come to terms with the fact he’s autistic. Instead, Ms. Newman seeks to make her son into something he’s not. No matter how hard she tries, however, she can’t force him to be normal. Oh, woe is her.

There are parts of this book that were almost heartwarming. The author, time and time again, seemed as if she were just about to realize the errors of her ways, and accept her son for the amazing individual that he is. Then she would ruin it by saying or doing something that made me want to curl up a cease to exist, because of how often I’ve had similar opinions and actions directed at me, and how badly they hurt.

It really sucks that a book that’s basically making fun of you—and everyone like you—for hundreds of pages can make it to a NYT Bestsellers’ List. And if I feel like that, I’d hate to know how Gus feels. Ms. Newman states she didn’t let Gus read the book, but I’m certain he understands her attitudes toward him more than she realizes.

I was born before autism was a diagnosis. I’m not certain when I first realized that I was different, though most of my childhood memories of interacting with others are marked by bullying, abuse and harassment. People constantly made fun of, tried to correct, or were angry at me for my behavior. Any change in my daily routine or plans would spark a meltdown—an uncontrollable episode of anger and fear—which earned me mockery and rage from my parents. My peers sneered at my suggestions we write a dictionary of a made-up language, or compile a catalogue the local plants. They ridiculed my age-inappropriate toys. They wanted to play boring games like house, or tag, but when I tried to join in, I’d get all the rules wrong, and end up rejected, curled in the grass in a fetal position, sobbing.

It was decades before I figured out what I was doing incorrectly: nothing. I was just being autistic, in an allistic (non-autistic) world.
Those who rejected me never learned that lesson. They still haven’t. Allistic people can’t see that there’s nothing wrong with being autistic, or with autistic behavior. I do understand that autistic people can be embarrassing or difficult to deal with, but 9 times out of 10, this would change if the allistic person would simply change their attitude and adherence to pointless ideals, and stop trying to get us to conform when our brains and bodies simply can’t.

To Siri With Love relates all these same experiences I had as a child, but not from the point of view of the child. Instead, it’s told from the standpoint of a mother who is fed up with her boring, weird, and difficult son.

Ms. Newman repeats over and over that she loves Gus. One gets the impression she’s trying to convince herself, or simply that she thinks stating it will make up for the fact that she doesn’t really love him that much (like those who prelude their racist statements and actions with “I’m not racist but…). Every time she states she loves her son, she follows it up with an anecdote that makes me want to weep, because of how clearly it demonstrates her contempt and dislike for Gus. Ms. Newman throws away her son’s toys—in which he obviously takes great comfort and joy—because she thinks a boy his age shouldn’t play with them anymore. She thinks the fact he enjoys Sesame Street is “alarming and frustrating”.
She steals and reads his phone when he’s texting with his friends because, in her words, “this is not a child who will ever have real friends,” and she’s just trying to protect him from people who are trying to use and hurt him (not seeing the irony, as she is the one who is hurting him, robbing him of real friends, while she makes fun of him behind his back or even to his face). Her idea of friendship, she says, is “people you go everywhere with”, “people who tease you” and “people you have healthy competitiveness with”. That makes sense, given the way she treats the son she supposedly loves: making fun of him and constantly comparing him to other mothers’ neurotypical sons.

She mocks and belittles Gus at every turn, even though she paints a picture of a son who is unerringly kind, genuinely likes people, is curious, and can discern when someone is being unkind…probably even when that person is his own mother. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Ms. Newman who lacks the social skills to tell when she is hurting her son.

Ms. Newman chuckles over her belief that Gus will never have a good career, or any sort of life at all, even though he already worked (as a child!) successfully as a doorman in their building—a job that was ultimately ended by ableism, not any fault of his own. Ms. Newman rolls her eyes repeatedly throughout the book and states outright that her son is “boring”, because he likes to talk about ambulances, escalators, and trains. I can understand that you might find a hour-long monologue about trains boring, Ms. Newman. Autistic people often feel the same way about small talk, or endless discussions of pop culture, sports, and the best recipes for vegetable chips (unless one of those is a special interest). Please accept that you are every bit as boring as we are, sometimes.

And then there’s the outright eugenicist bent of this book.

Ms. Newman hates her son’s autism so much that she’s stated she plans on getting medical power of attorney so that she can have him forcibly sterilized when he turns eighteen. Ms. Newman, here is the answer to the question you posed in the pages: you cannot even consider sterilizing your son without sounding like an eugenicist, without being one. Yes, many eugenicists are supposedly “well-meaning” people…just like you.
I want everyone reading this book to be very clear in their mind that this is what eugenics looks like. Ms. Newman and her supporters try to justify their eugenicist ideas by saying someone like Gus would never be a good father. This is demonstrably not true; please speak to the autistic community, and to ME personally. I’m a mother, and my former partner—a man so much like Gus I cried through parts of this book— was also a loving and amazing companion to my daughter. You and your supporters say, “wouldn’t sterilizing him be better than an unwanted pregnancy?” If so, all children should be sterilized, because allistic people have more unwanted pregnancies than autistics.

Eugenicists always have justifications for their behavior, and Ms. Newman is no different. Let’s call a duck a duck, please. There’s no excuse for eugenics.

In her mind, Ms. Newman is only trying to protect her son from hurt with her repressive, shaming, and controlling behavior. However, autistic people know from experience that parents like these can be the biggest source of hurt in a child’s life, and we know from experience that Ms. Newman is a horrible example of these. And example that, even more frighteningly, is being held up by mainstream society as a heartwarming and “refreshingly honest” paradigm.

As an autistic person, I’ve never understood why it is so important to allistic people that I act like them. If I want to play with my toys in public, or sing a song about my grocery list as I wheel my cart down the aisle, it is clearly not hurting them. In my mind, I’m expressing joy in being alive, or at the simple act of grocery shopping (as well as trying to remember my list, since I always forget something). However, I’ve been tailed by store personnel for this “suspicious” behavior.

I am a human being. I crave attention, love, and acceptance the same way anyone does. I have crushed so many of my loves, hopes, dreams and joys in an attempt to fit in.

After forty years, I can safely say it doesn’t work. I still don’t fit in.

So here is my advice to you, Ms. Newman: love the amazing son you have, not the allistic one you’ve spent 16 years mourning.

I’ll end this review with a couple quotes from the book:

>>Does he even understand that most people are not entranced by escalators? That he doesn’t see the world the way most others do? I’ve tried to approach the question a few times—“Do you know you are autistic?”—and he always acts like he doesn’t hear me. I want to understand what he’s thinking. Is he thinking? I keep trying.

Your son is thinking, Ms. Newman. He’s trying and trying to get through to you, to make you happy, to be good enough in your eyes. It’s tragic that he will obviously never succeed.

Do you know you are allistic, Ms. Newman? That not everyone is entranced by a tome vividly detailing emotional abuse? The autistic community is trying to tell you this, but you seem unwilling, or unable, to learn.

And another:
>>Through pain there is growth. I think about this all the time. Do I want my son to feel self-conscious and embarrassed? I do. Yes. Gus does not yet have self-awareness, and embarrassment is part of self-awareness. It is an acknowledgment that you live in a world where people may think differently than you do. Shame humbles and shame teaches.

Your son has self-awareness, Ms. Newman. I’m wondering if you do.

I don’t want you to feel self-conscious and embarrassed, because I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I do want you to acknowledge that your son thinks differently than you…and that that’s okay. You don’t need to change that.

I want you to have the self-awareness to acknowledge that you are hurting your son—and all autists—deeply with your attitudes, and this book.
Just because you don’t understand autistics, doesn’t mean we don’t think. Just because we bore you, doesn’t mean we’re not intelligent or interesting. Just because you imagine a Benny Hill soundtrack to our lovemaking, doesn’t mean others won’t want to make love to us.
Just because you don’t see our value doesn’t mean we deserve to be sterilized, or worse.

You don’t need to shame and humble us out of our autism. Just let us be.

To the world, from all autistic people: please, for the love of God, just let us be.

 


Elizabeth Roderick is an autistic author. You can find her on Amazon, and freely leave a review, whether you like her or not.