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.

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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.

TO SIRI WITH LOVE: The Oppression of Neurodivergent and Marginalized Points of View

A book has just been published, entitled To Siri, With Love. The author is Judith Newman—a person we in the neurodivergent community call an “autism mommy”: that is, the non-autistic mother of an autistic child.To Siri

Ms. Newman is a great example of how neruodivergent points of view are commonly discounted, ignored, and subverted. Since neurodivergent people, by definition, think and see the world differently than the mainstream, we’re misunderstood. It’s like we’re speaking a different language, or like we come from a culture where all the gestures are different. Like, when I was in Nicaragua, and the “come hither” gesture looked to me like waving hello. Until I learned, every time someone told me to “come here”, I waved back…I wasn’t being nonsensical or thoughtless, I just had a different way of communicating.

This is how neurodivergent people feel, day in and day out. Since we don’t do or say the things people expect us to, they think we’re nonsensical, delusional, or thoughtless. This can lead our imprisonment, abuse, you name it. Because people don’t understand us, they think we’re dangerous, or unintelligent, or that our brains are “dead”. They think our lives aren’t worth living, and they treat us accordingly.

The author of To Siri, With Love is a perfect example of this mindset. Ms. Newman has stated that she doesn’t believe her son is capable of independent thought, or understanding others’ feelings. She publicly mocked his sexuality, telling the world what kind of porn he likes, and indicating she found the idea of him ever attempting sex to be silly and grotesque. This mother has stated outright, with impunity, that she doesn’t believe any girl[sic] will ever be interested in someone like him, and is planning to get a medical power of attorney so she can have him forcibly sterilized when he turns eighteen—because, in her words, “he can never be a real father.”

It probably comes as no surprise that the autism community is really scared, hurt and angry that this book has been published. It’s my understanding that the author has received death threats. I don’t agree with this, but that’s a view of how deeply the community is rattled. (If you want to see the quotes from the books and interviews, and community responses, check out the #BoycottToSiri hashtag on Twitter. Here is the thread of an activist who was included (and made fun of) in the book, without her permission, and here is my friend Kaelan Rhywol, live-tweeting her review of the book.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet. = I plan to, when I can get it at the library (I don’t want the author to have any of my money, or for her rankings to increase). [UPDATE: I’ve started reading it. Here’s my ongoing thread of tweets. I’ll be doing a full review when I’m done.] I feel the need to read it—even though chances are I’ll hate it—not only because her son sounds wonderful and I want to read about him, but because I want review the book, and I don’t review books I haven’t read. Rarely, I’ll review books I can’t finish, to be clear, but I never base a review on someone else’s opinion. They’ve already left that opinion, and if I can’t offer something new, there’s no point in saying anything.

However, in the case of this particular book, I wanted to review and speak out against its whole concept, and to things the author and her supporters have said and done, before I even deal with the particularities of the book. I think it’s important for me (and every other autistic person who can, and wants to) to make our voices heard on matters like these. Because allowing nothing about us without us is the only way neurodivergent people will ever gain their civil rights in this society. We need to show the world that we are thinking, feeling, intelligent individuals…because people literally think we aren’t, and that we shouldn’t have control over our own lives or narratives. Judith Newman is one of those people, and her viewpoint is popular enough that Harper Collins gave her a platform.

So, it’s time for me to dust of the old blogging fingers and write about one of my areas of expertise: points of view.

For those of you new to this blog, I’m a neurodivergent person. That means, my brain function is different than an average person’s. I am bipolar, autistic, and have PTSD. It’s caused me a lot of trouble and anguish in life, but it’s also pretty cool in other ways.

The first time I learned about point of view was when I had my first psychotic break, when I was about 14. I was wandering down the street screaming that I’d been poisoned and that I needed help. I wandered into a stranger’s house. They called the police.

Technically, I was breaking and entering (I didn’t actually break anything, I don’t believe, but still). Luckily, I wasn’t charged with it, because of the kindness of the police officer. But, from their point of view, I was a dangerous person.

I wasn’t dangerous. I was scared, and very upset.

Whose point of view was correct?

I can’t blame those people for being scared. They had no idea what was going on. However, if they’d been more knowledgeable about neurodivergence, they might not have been scared. They might have been able to offer me kindness and compassion, get me calmed down, and get me the help I needed. It would have been a less horrifying experience for all of us.

I still experience these divergence of points of view almost every day, even when I’m not in a psychotic break. For instance, I’ve been having a lot of problems with people shooting their guns on and near our property—hunting coyotes for the most part. This is a pretty heavily-populated area, all private property and it’s not legal to hunt here. The hunters’ bullets go astray, hit our outbuildings, scare the fuck out of my dog, my kid, and me. I went to my local Facebook group and posted a story of a woman in Wisconsin or somewhere who had been killed by just such an illegal hunter, and asked that people be more responsible with their guns.

Of course, cue a bunch of hunters to get pissed and tell me not to knock hunting.

When they said that, I freaked. The fuck. Out. They were basically saying it was okay to shoot at my house. I tried to reiterate the fact that it was illegal and wrong to hunt on my private property, or on other private property marked “NO HUNTING”, and have their bullets go astray and endanger my family and animals, but mostly I just called people idiots and pieces of shit.

I felt very threatened, is why.

I got banned, of course.

When I calmed down, I was able to see their point of view. They for the most part weren’t being directly threatening, they’d just—for no particular reason—thought I was bashing ALL hunters. And I had—wrongly, except for in the case of one commenter—felt like they were personally threatening me. Since I’m neurodivergent, (I have PTSD, and have had guns pulled on me, have been personally threatened with them), the way I felt and expressed my fear and anger was socially unacceptable. I’m working on it, but it’s difficult to control my reactions sometimes.

But, even if how I expressed myself was “wrong”, my fear and anger were understandable, right? All I wanted was for people not to shoot at my house, and for this, people called me “ignorant”. They said “People probably just don’t like you, libtard. That’s why they’re shooting at your house.”

Understandable or not, since I’m the neurodivergent one, I was immediately seen as the one being threatening. I was in the wrong, by mainstream standards.

The difference is, afterward, I can see where I went wrong. Those neurotypical people, in my experience, never will. I’m forced to live in their idea of mainstream reality, so I’m forced to constantly second-guess my point of view. They’re never forced to.

That’s neurotypical privilege: the privilege of living in mainstream reality, so to speak, and the ability to communicate one’s thoughts and feelings in mainstream ways.

The privilege of being, and feeling, “right”.

I see this type of divergence of point of view play out every day, in all aspects of life. Two completely different viewpoints, and each is completely unable to see the other’s. This happens between neurotypical folks, too, but it’s particularly bad for neurodivergent people, because—by nature—we think differently, and neurotypical people think our brains are wrong and defective.

Can you imagine what it would be like if people thought your brain was wrong and defective? If they immediately dismissed everything you said, always misinterpreted you, and misunderstood you to the point of becoming angry or even violent, when you had no idea what you were doing wrong? Can you imagine if your own mother was like that?

This is how Judith Newman treats her son Gus. It’s the treatment she describes in the book.

I believe it, because this is what it is like for neurodivergent people, every day.

That guy ranting on the street corner (or the girl wandering down the street, screaming about spirits and poison, or the woman freaking out and calling you an idiot on Facebook)—in our own mind, we make sense, just as much as you make sense to yourself. If you got to know us fully, we’d make sense even to you.

We are sentient beings, and have fully-formed minds, just like you.

But hardly anyone wants to get to know “people like that”—people like me, or like Gus—because they think we’re dangerous, or at the very least, pathetic and annoying.

The woman who wrote To Siri, With Love, states throughout the book how annoying and nonsensical her son is—she’s being lauded by neurotypical culture for her “honesty”.

The autistic community, however, isn’t. We’re crying out to her that her son isn’t thoughtless or unlovable; that we’re like him; that often our mothers also thought we were incapable of love or thought, but here we are: thinking, functioning, feeling human beings, some of us with careers and families, all of us with loves and interests and inner lives.

But the author and her supporters are incapable of seeing that point of view. The author sees the outcry in the autistic community as bullying. She can only see her own hurt feelings, and can’t see that she has hurt the feelings of thousands of others…including her own son (whom she states in the book did not give his permission to be used in this way, or have his private life mocked and outed. The mother states that she didn’t think he was capable of consent).

Everyone who is reading this: I hope you will recognize that her point of view is wrong, even though it is currently the mainstream one.

It is time to change your way of thinking about neurodivergent people. It is time for our point of view to come into its own.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor. She thinks trains are pretty cool, and wouldn’t mind if one played percussion in her band. You can find her on Amazon, and on TalesFromPurgatory.com

Ableism in Literary Gatekeeping

I’ve been thinking about ableism/bigotry in literary gatekeepers again. My last post on this stirred up wank. I’d appreciate it if y’all kept that to subtweets if you must, because I’m through making room for that ableism in my world.

I’ve been writing as always, and forging ahead in this career of mine. I’m working on my 17th full-length novel, and I’ve been pitching agents with an own voices YA—the (*counts*) twelfth novel I finished, about a bipolar girl navigating high school, first love, and institutionalization (sounds cool, right? It is 😊) .

Right now, I’m not making a lot of money off of book sales; most of it comes from the freelance editing/writing/consulting work I do. Deep in my heart, I know I’ve been concentrating my efforts in the wrong areas, and avoiding the work I really need to do. Because, no matter how much I enjoy editing and the other stuff, my goal is to make the bulk of my money off my own books.

In order to make money off of books, however, you have to do THE “M” WORD.

(I mean marketing, not some more interesting “m” word.)

I have five titles already published. I’m proud of those books, and people who read them like them. I’m utter crap at marketing, which is why I’ve been looking for an agent: for guidance and handholding in my marketing efforts, more than my publisher can give. But even with an agent, I’d have to do a lot of that work myself. So what am I waiting for? Why am I not doing it?

Marketing my books is no easy task, however. To start with, they don’t fall easily into a niche (especially my Other Place series). If you were to ask me who my audience is, I would probably say…people? Who like books?

More typical marketing efforts haven’t worked well for me. My romance and other genre fic author friends often try to take me under their wing and get me involved in Instafreebie giveaways, takeovers, anthologies…that stuff is hella fun, and I get great comments about my little romance short stories and such that I write, but it never translates into a major boost in sales. That’s because my full-length books are pretty much in the “other” genre.

Just like me, according to the neurotypical world.

Strangely enough, the only marketing method that gives me a sales bump is when I appear in-person to give talks about my writing and neurodiversity. I sell out of books at events like these, then get an e-book bump, as well. I think this might be because I’m a five-foot-tall, snub-nosed white lady who, as some officers at a recent CIT session I spoke at so aptly put it, doesn’t “look crazy”. I’m non-threatening. I may fidget a lot, but I’m told I’m an eloquent and compelling speaker. At any rate, people just seem a lot more prepared to listen to me in person than they do online.

So, I decided, it’s time for me to do That Thing That I Hate So Much: contact people. Specifically, to try to get book signings.

There’s an indy bookstore in Seattle that a lot of my friends told me to contact, because it was easiest for them to get to. It’s a place a lot like other bookstores I’ve done well at, so I wrote them a little email. I introduced myself as a neurodiverse own voices writer, and said I was looking for a signing to showcase my Other Place series, which is the story of a woman dealing with homelessness and addiction, and a schizophrenic man trying to make it in the art world.

I got a response back: “Thank you for contacting us. We don’t feel your books would be a good fit for our venue, because our clientele aren’t generally interested in romantic suspense.”

Readers, I should have left it at that. But, sometimes I’m so fatigued by ableist what-the-fuckery that I dissolve into a big bucket of can’t-even.  I replied that the books aren’t at all romantic suspense (not adding that I fucking wish they were RS, because then I wouldn’t have to waste so much time talking to bitches like her, and could just do the Instafreebie and author takeover things that work well for RS authors). I tried to clarify what type of books they are…of course, I was just restating what I’d already made clear in the first email. And, of course, she didn’t reply.

I don’t know if literary gatekeepers (and others) even know how ableist they are. From the way they’ve said in the past that I’m “whining”, “bitter”, “delusional”, and that I “don’t know how publishing works” when I’ve spoken up about the ableism I encounter as a neurodiverse own voices writer, I’m hoping not. But, while I may not know marketing from the inside of my dog’s butt (I don’t know anything specific about the inside of my dog’s butt, for context), I do know ableism when I see it. I’m a goddamn expert on ableism. And gatekeepers: y’all are IT.

This events coordinator woman wanted to reject me, because of the visceral reaction people have when they hear someone is “mentally ill”, especially when that mental illness involves psychosis. She went looking for a reason to reject me. It wasn’t a reason that made sense, at all. I mean, the books aren’t by any logical yardstick romantic suspense, and also, how whacked-out do you think I am that I’d believe a bookstore could afford to alienate romance readers? You’re a BOOKSTORE. I don’t care how cultured you think you are: unless you’re a university store where students get their textbooks, romance of some sort is likely your bread and butter, or a good portion thereof. Additionally, even if the Other Place series was  romantic suspense, it would be own voices romantic suspense with neurodiverse characters. That’s not “just” romantic suspense: that’s something that *should* be interesting to a more…(educated? Pretentious? I can’t find the right word here. They’re all inappropriate and/or more insulting than I want them to be)…readership.

I’ll get a signing eventually, but it doesn’t mean that this experience was okay.

So, gatekeepers: y’all are ableist (and prejudiced in other ways). I’m not whining. I’m not bitter. I’m just throwing the God’s-honest truth at you. It doesn’t matter that you already have a book with a neurodiverse character, or by an own voices author, on your list or on your shelves. We’re not a trophy that you can hold up to prove you’re not bigoted. We’re not that “one friend” you have that means you’re compassionate and progressive. We’re authors, writing great books, and you’re shutting us out with your (sometimes unconscious) prejudice.

Get conscious of that shit, because y’all are assholes.

Elizabeth Roderick doesn’t think YOU are an asshole. You read her whole post. If you’d like to check out her books, she’d really appreciate it.

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodivergent” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those obvious statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term neruodivergent. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses.  Neurodivergent expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the umbrella of neurodivergence. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodivergence has a more subtle effect on their lives.

If you have depression, for instance, you’re neurodivergent in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of periodic depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them, and you can go months or even years with no symptoms.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodivergence: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodivergent because I’m good at masking. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodivergence doesn’t isolate me completely in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with schizoaffective disorder, or Down Syndrome, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodivergent people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodivergent people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodivergent people are “doing it for attention”, that they’re “using their neurodivergence as a weapon/shield” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodivergent) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodivergent is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.

 

Going Homeless for the Homeless

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s with me?

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

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

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

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

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

Neurodivergence comes in a lot of forms, from nearly constant, full-blown psychosis to mild, periodic depression. There is really only one all-encompassing way to describe all forms of neurodiversity: it’s an inability, at some level, to correctly play society’s game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let me call myself out even more by showing you what true acceptance of mental illness looks like. I’ll give a trigger warning: this is a pretty graphic description of physical violence and verbal…I won’t call it abuse in this case. But in another context it would be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renovating and Building my Tiny House

When I first opened up the door to my old cabin, it was even worse than I’d anticipated. The grime-encrusted detritus of my old life was strewn everywhere. Mouse shit piled in tall drifts on the shelves, where I’d abandoned full bags of cornmeal and raisins. I had no recollection why I’d left underwear dangling from the rafters or felt the need to keep a quart jar full of dried rose petals and Christmas lights. In the cabinets, though, the photo albums and letters were remarkably well preserved; painful reminders of my abusive and long-dead first husband, and my beloved grandmother who had died only months before.

Worse even than the memories was the extensive black mold in the drywall. If I’d hoped for a quick, cheap, and easy renovation, I’d hoped in vain.

At that point, I was really unstable. I’d attempted suicide before I left California, and I landed more than once in the mental health crisis center after reaching Washington. I needed a place where I felt safe and that I could call my own. I needed a home that was inexpensive enough so I could devote all my time to building my writing and editing career. More than that, I needed something to be proud of, something to raise my self-esteem and make me feel like a whole, capable person: when I’d told my husband I was moving back into my tiny house, he said it was a shithole and that I’d never be able to fix it up on my own. He said that, if I’d had an ounce of respect for my daughter and myself, I’d get a real job and a real apartment.

So, no matter how completely disgusting and unmanageable the job looked, I was determined to fix up my tiny house with my own hands, and I’d make it comfortable and beautiful. I’d make it my home.

I squared my shoulders and got to work.

img_1454I didn’t take any “before” pictures: I was afraid that I’d never be able to sleep there if I had a reminder of how absolutely horrifying it was. I regret it now, because it would be nice to look back and see how much I’ve accomplished. The “before” pictures I do have were taken after I’d already filled a gigantic trash hopper with garbage and debris, ripped out all the drywall and insulation (which was even harder than it should have been, because I couldn’t see with my face mask steaming up my goggles), swept it clean, and scrubbed it several times with bleach. But I guess you can get an idea.img_1455

After I gutted it I put up new insulation, my mom helped me reroof it, put up new drywall and replace one of the windows (the original window had been stolen since I’d last lived there—don’t ask). I had to do dig out and repair the water line, do some minor plumbing on the indoor sink and replace the faucet.

img_2081When the house was done, my mom helped me build a little bathroom next to it, using reclaimed wood she’d kept after doing some demo on the property. I set it up with a composting toilet, and a shower with a propane-fueled, in-line heating unit. I created a rudimentary greywater system for the indoor sink and the shower; they currently drain into the flower garden in front of my house. I have plans to expand or improve that system in the future.img_2080

My mom really loves to do home-improvement stuff, and I loved working with her. It was kind of one of those “bonding” experiences people always talk about. Plus, it made me feel like she wasn’t just tolerating me, but actually liked me being there. Plus, I felt like she loved my tiny house almost as much as I did. She didn’t seem to think I was living in “a van down by the river” because I was too immature and lazy to get a real job and an apartment. She knew that I was choosing to live this way, and she seemed to understand why I would. And that felt good.

img_2083All told, the renovation and construction only cost about $1,500.00, including the toilet and shower…most of that money, in fact, went toward the toilet. I was able to do the job pretty cheaply, and to pay for it all out of savings.img_2086

So, I moved into my tiny house and started my new life.

 

Next episode, I’ll talk about how I’ve set up my space, and how I think it might be better utilized. If you have questions about my experience with tiny house living, or if you have an issue you’d like me to address in my blog, I’d love to hear from you.