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!

 

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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.

Disability: Crutch, Scapegoat, and Shield

CW: Ableism, racism, Nazis, and centering of disabled voices.

 

Notice I gave a content warning for centering of disabled voices. I’m not doing this to be cheeky. Abled people think they not only have the right, but the obligation to center themselves in the disabled narrative. After all, disabled people are weak, feeble, befuddled and delusional; the disabled narrative is obviously too heavy for us to carry, too complex for us to understand. We’re no doubt extremely grateful that abled people can take over that burden for us.

After all, abled people are the experts in our narrative: they have a degree, or a disabled family member, or they’ve so angelically dedicated their lives to “helping us.”

When disabled people try to stand up and say, “Well, actually, you’ve got it wrong,” abled people get absolutely irate. They call us names, shout us down, then block us on Twitter and go around subtweeting about what problematic assholes we are for not getting the disabled narrative “right”.

Part of the problem here is that the disability narrative doesn’t get much press. Disabled people are trying really hard to get our seat at the table, but the table isn’t accessible. So those “experts” have so kindly decided they’ll be martyrs for our cause and sit in for us.

Consequently, even those who consider themselves on the forefront of the social justice movement don’t know what “neurodiversity” or “ableism” or “neurotypical privilege” are; they still insist on person-first language, and use phrases like “wheelchair-bound”, because they’re listening to the “experts” and not to disabled people themselves.

Another problem is the complexity of the disability narrative itself. “Disabled” is a wide swath of identity including both physical and mental disabilities. Most of us who consider ourselves disabled become a little lax in educating ourselves about disability. We think we know it all already, so when another disabled person says something we don’t understand, we tend to lash out.

Disabled people of all kinds are tired of this shit. I, personally, am completely done with it. So, I’ve given you your content warning. If you can’t handle disabled voices being centered without flipping out and being ableist, please go elsewhere on the internet where we can’t distress one another.

Thank you. Moving on.

Disabled people are the receptacle for a huge amount of bullshit. Abled people use us as crutches, scapegoats, and shields.

I’m not just talking about abled people on the right. The left is just as guilty.

Let’s start with how disabled people are used as crutches. The irony of this metaphor—an abled person using a disabled person as a crutch—is intentional. Yes, it’s is exactly that painful, awkward, and incapacitating…for us, the “crutches”.

So. If we’re thoughtful people, we know white people are to blame for electing Trump (and other leaders of his ilk around the white world). What most of us don’t realize is that we white folk used disabled people as a crutch to help get him elected.

Most disabled people wouldn’t vote for someone like Trump. After all, we know the violence behind the “personal responsibility” narrative. People have been trying to get us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps since the dawn of time, and all that’s happened is we’ve ended up on our asses in the dirt, with abled people shaking their heads and blaming us for not trying hard enough.

Disabled people know what will happen to us if Medicaid and other safety net programs get cut. A lot of us remember what it was like before those programs even existed in their current forms. And we know that, even if we can access those programs now, they provide the absolute minimum in benefit to us, leaving us in a position of perpetual instability.

Trump’s presidency is a literal death sentence for us. But our identity has been hijacked and used against us to elect him and prop him up.

Abled people see disabled people as burdens and fakers; victims and villains. Which part of this spectrum a specific disabled person will fall on depends a lot on factors like their race and how they’re disabled. For the most part, disabled people of color are more likely to be seen as villains: as dangerously crazy, or “fakers” who are working the system, while white people are infantilized and seen as helpless victims. But it is by no means that simple. All of us tend to be seen and portrayed as ALL of these things, even by a single individual, and all in the space of one sentence.

For instance, we’re spoken of as creatures created by cycles of poverty and abuse, brainwashed by victims’ complexes, who only need a chance to do “useful” and “productive” work so that we can get our “dignity” back. We’re not only brainless, childlike victims, but also conniving villains who are working the system, and only abled people can save us.

Trump claimed he was the only one who could create opportunities to get disabled people back to work. He’d bring back the jobs. He’d purge the “welfare” roles of all the lazy fakers who were draining the system. He’d put a new system in place and make us all reapply for aid, so those fabled disabled people who are really in need could get even better support. Plus, the military veterans who weren’t “strong enough to handle” the atrocities of war would have a new and improved V.A.

All of this rhetoric gets disabled people both going and coming. Not only are we fakers, but we’re weak. We’re not only burdens, but we have to bend over backward to prove to abled people that we’re worthy of being burdens, if we wish to get what we need to survive.

And this narrative helped elect Trump. Abled people thought they were helping us by buying into this bullshit narrative.

Abled people on the left also want to use us as a crutch to counter Trump’s agenda of dismantling Medicaid and Medicare and the safety net. I’m much more willing to be used as this type of crutch, but I really wish they’d give actual disabled people a seat at the table, instead of letting experts speak for us, and letting unethical reporters write both inspiration porn about disabled people “overcoming in spite of”, and sepia-toned tragedy pieces about how we get ourselves stuck in a cycle of welfare culture because of our infantile inability to see our way into a better—abled—way of life.

Now, let’s look at how disabled people are used as a scapegoat.

We’ve all noticed how, when someone commits an act of violence, they’re called a terrorist if they’re a person of color, or mentally ill if they’re white. All rational people know how this hurts people of color. Fewer people see how this hurts the neurodiverse.

Being neurodiverse or mentally ill has absolutely nothing to do with being violent. Say this again, because I’m almost positive you still don’t understand: violence and mental illness are completely unrelated things.

Committing an act of violence doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill.

Being mentally ill doesn’t mean you’ll commit an act of violence.

People who commit acts of violence are not statistically more likely to have a diagnosed mental illness. Mentally ill people are MORE likely to be hurt BY neurotypical people than the other way around.

Neurotypical people are the violent ones. Not us. Some of you reading this won’t believe me. Google is your friend. Do some research about the percentage of violent and other crimes perpetrated upon neurodiverse people as opposed to by them (and/or read some of the blog pieces I’ve wrote on this in the past), because I speak the truth.

So, calling white terrorists mentally ill is a cop out: it’s white people saying, “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE!” It’s white people thinking that people who commit those acts are somehow different from them. We white people can compartmentalize and “other” that hate and racism as “crazy”, so we don’t have to think about what ideas we ourselves might have that support and feed into the toxic mindset of a violent racist.

People on the left also call Trump “mentally ill”. He’s not. He’s just a dangerous asshole, and this isn’t the same thing at all. “I’m not trying to insult neurodiverse people,” is the answer I get when I speak up about this. “I’m just saying there’s legitimately something wrong with the dude.”

No arguments here about that. There is legitimately something wrong with him. But that “something wrong” isn’t “mental illness” because despite what people think, neurodiversity isn’t “something wrong” to begin with. At all. Just please, stop. Neurodiverse people are not the trash barrel where you can throw all your goddamn issues. Instead, try dealing with them and admitting that “sane” people do very, very horrible and irrational things.

Disabled people are also used as a shield, which is sort of a hybrid of a crutch and a scapegoat.

I saw this a lot yesterday, during that Nazi march. White people said a lot of things like, “I understand that what they’re doing is wrong. But think of things from their perspective. Maybe they’ve suffered abuse. Maybe they’re mentally ill. Maybe they’ve had to struggle to pay the bills because their parents are disabled.” Etc.

Disability and mental illness are not shields that you can put up so that accusations of racism/bigotry will bounce off. It pisses me off that abled people try to blame neurodiverse people for being the perpetrators of all violence and racism, and then they also think they can shield white people from accusations of racism because of their supposed mental illness and disability. Abled people are exhausting.

Mental illness and racism have nothing to do with one another in the same way that mental illness and violence have nothing to do with one another. Mental illness and/or trauma will not lead someone to be a bigot. Those sick and dysfunctional ways of thinking are not neurodiversity. They’re just bigotry.

How abled people can be so fucking ableist and then accuse disabled people of being the root of all evil is just fucking aggravating.

I’m done with it. Please stop. For the love of GOD.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and neurodiverse activist. She’s busy writing books, which abled people think is inspiring while simultaneously thinking that she’s a burden on society and should get a real job in order to get her dignity back. If you want to support her in her undignified and childish inspirational pseudo-work, you can find her on Amazon.

I’m Autistic!

(CN: descriptions of ableism, ableist language, abuse, addiction, grunge culture, and a lot of navel gazing)

Well, this post is a long time coming. Those few people (if any) who read this blog without following me on social media have probably noticed something strange in my last few posts: I started identifying as autistic all of the sudden. I’m not in one of those bipolar states where I start thinking I’m an ancient, reincarnated deity, a really great painter, or someone who could make a good living as a televangelist. I really am autistic.

This diagnosis was a long time in coming. I’m not sure if I would have been better or worse off if diagnosed earlier. All I know, is I’ve suffered a great deal because of my neurodiversity, in ways I’m only now beginning to realize. Before, I blamed myself for the raw treatment I received. Ableism is a horrible thing, especially when internalized.

I was born in 1977, which is old enough to put me in the other army of the ageism battle than a lot of you. Autism wasn’t even a diagnosis until like 1984 or something, and it was well into the ‘90s before I’d ever heard of it.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time alone, nerding out on special interests: writing Lord of the Rings fanfic, cataloguing every species of plant that grew around my home, and trying to form telepathic bonds with my cats. I was so in my own head that I rarely had the “correct” reaction to social stimuli. I would often become overloaded in social situations and explode, or do strange things (like rubbing blankets on my face or licking someone’s silk shirt) to calm down. I didn’t care about wearing fashionable (or even presentable) clothing or brushing my hair. When my daily routine was interrupted, or if my environment were too noisy/frenetic, I’d have embarrassing meltdowns. I had very few friends, as you might imagine.

Anyway, if I’d been born in 2001, I would have been in all sorts of horrible programs and special ed classes. I dodged a bullet, I think (even though I was skipped a grade, which was a nasty idea because of my lack of mainstream social skills). Back when I was a kid, autistic people weren’t called autistic; they were “nerds” and “weirdos” (or worse, depending). We suffered horrid ableism—the same way we do now—but most of us were left more or less to our own devices. I didn’t have any formal brainwashing, but I was punished for my “bad behavior” and exiled for my social oddness. I hated myself for that behavior, but could never manage to control it.

I’ve spoken before about the physical/emotional/sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager. Neurodiverse people are A LOT more likely to suffer abuse of all kinds, and I fell into that category. That was partly because of my lack of neurotypical social skills, and the scars ableism had put on me: I was a flashing target for abusers. I just wanted someone to pay attention to me, and figured I deserved whatever abuse I got, because I was such a disgusting, annoying loser who couldn’t act right.

I’ve discussed my other diagnoses ad nauseum, so I won’t go into it further here. At any rate, I was a psychological hot mess by the end of high school (not because I’m autistic or bipolar, but because of ABLEISM, to be clear). By the time I was in college, I was doing heroin to control the psychosis, depression, and anxiety.

I think a word about college here, because grandma Liz is in a sentimental mood.

I went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, during the height of the grunge era (so yeah, Nirvana, Beck, Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney and I all hung out in the same damp coffee shops, wiping our snuffy noses on each other’s alpaca wool hats). A lot of people have just recently heard about Evergreen, because of the protests there. That sort of thing is nothing new at Evergreen.

Evergreen was (probably still is) a great college for certain types of neurodiverse people, comparatively. No tests. No grades (just evaluations). And back then, you didn’t even have to declare a major. Also, you could do independent study courses, where you would propose an area of research to a professor, and if they approved it you could go on your merry way, researching dogs’ emotional responses to music in New Orleans as opposed to Austin, or whatever, and write a report at the end of the semester for your sixteen credits.

I thought I’d fit in great at Evergreen. I considered myself something of an intellectual and an artist (I’m a musician, and I wrote back then as well, though not as much as I do now). Additionally, I’d come out as bisexual in high school, and I knew they had a thriving LGBTQ (or just “gay” as we called it back then) community at Evergreen.

Unfortunately, I fit in even worse there than I had in my rural high school. I just couldn’t get social situations right, and boy were social situations complicated in college. That time, much like now, was one of radical exploration of culture and bias, and I always somehow ended up on the wrong side of those debates. Once, when looking for an apartment, I asked a friend who had a room for rent at her house. She told me I had to be a lesbian in order to rent there; bisexual wasn’t “gay enough”. When I pointed out she herself was currently dating a dude, though (which is what we called cishet males back in the days when we wore onions on our belts), she said she was a lesbian currently dating a dude, and she got mad at me for not understanding the difference.

I felt incredibly left behind by the entire social justice movement at the time, in fact. I was looked down upon for my abused woman syndrome; if I had any self-respect, I was told, I’d be able to rise above my abuse more than I had. Some guy friends of mine let me play in one of their bands once for a show; the women told them it was about time they had a woman in their band, but after they saw me play said I was too timid to be interesting. I probably made those girls think I hated them or something, because I couldn’t make eye contact or small talk, but still.

There were more social narratives in that environment than I’d had to deal with in high school, and I wasn’t good at social narratives to begin with. It was horrifying.

So I retreated. I completed my education by independent contract (living with Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and staring an organic farm business back home). I fell into my heroin addiction, and into another abusive relationship. I ended up in prison for the heroin eventually. I’ve gone on and on about those stories elsewhere in my blog.

I didn’t think of myself as neurodiverse. I just thought of myself as a failure, and too weak to do life correctly. Even when, a long time later, I began to recognize my neurodiversity, I continued to run on internalized ableism. I can’t help but think this is at least partially because I’d been alienated from the message of empowerment in college. The social justice movement is taking a long time to embrace neurodiversity.

I wanted to point this out only because this dynamic has not changed much in the SJW arena: there is SO MUCH ableism. People accept mental illness and neurodiversity (and the signs of abuse) as long as they follow the accepted narrative and fit into the box people are comfortable with. The whole thing about neurodiverse people is we don’t fit into that narrative the way neurotypical people expect, though.

We need to do better. I don’t want more young people to be driven away the way I was. If I had been embraced for what I was back then, my life might have gone very differently. We need to renounce ableism—even internalized ableism—and be a safe place for neurodiverse people of all kinds. We especially need to avoid ableism during call-outs (if you believe in call-out culture at all, as it currently exists). Pointing out homomisia etc. doesn’t mean much if you’re being incredibly ableist while doing it.

At any rate, it was a long, long time before I was able to love myself for who I am.

I won’t go into the long process of accepting my bipolar and PTSD, which came first; I’ve written about that elsewhere on my blog. But my acceptance of those parts of myself led me to the neurodiverse community.  There, I finally found others who believed as I was coming to believe: that having a brain that worked differently was something to be proud of, rather than ashamed.

Of course, most people in the neurodiverse community don’t really believe psychosis or bipolar are things to be proud of, and things that don’t need curing. They aren’t…but that’s another subject I’ve gone on and on about in other posts.

Finding the neurodiverse community taught me a lot about autism, something I was researching anyway at the time, since I was having real marriage difficulties. My last husband was undiagnosed autistic—I’m sure of this now. I used to think it was his autism that was causing our marital difficulties, but as I learned more about it, I realized that autism wasn’t the problem at all. It was his abusive, toxic masculinity that was causing our marital difficulties.

As I learned and interacted more with people in the autistic community, though, I found myself identifying with them a lot. People talked about needing to fidget and stim, their social difficulties, their emotional overloads… that was me in spades. Eventually, I took an online diagnostic test, which was pretty definitively in the “most likely autistic” category. So, I took another, with the same result.

It’s taking me a while to get used to the new label, but not as long as I thought it would, since it fits me so well. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll get formal testing. It could open up new counseling opportunities, but I’m not sure how effective those would be anyway. The only real reason I’d get formal testing is to avoid the reactions of doctors and neurotypical people when I tell them I’m self-diagnosed. I’m so used to ableism at this point, unfortunately, that this consideration doesn’t hold much water with me, though.

Self-diagnosis is valid; a lot of us would bang our heads on the wall trying to get a diagnosis otherwise. It would have been cool if a doctor had spotted I was autistic earlier, so that I could have perhaps gotten more appropriate psychological care. But doctors don’t know much about autism. They say things like, “You’re just smart/shy/introverted/anxious,” or, “You’re not autistic! An autistic person wouldn’t be able to sit here talking with me like this! An autistic person wouldn’t have a job!” Or, “Sure, you might be autistic, but we’re all ‘on the spectrum’.”

Ableism abounds. Neurodiverse people are scalp-deep in it all the time, so we kind of have to get on with things despite it. Diagnosing ourselves is just one aspect of that.

If you’re interested in taking the test yourself, here’s one…I’m not finding the first one I took, for some reason. That one was cool because it had a graph of where in the “spectrum” you were with regard to your social life, romantic life, and intellectual life. If someone has the link to one like that, I’d appreciate it.

If you’re interested, I got a 37 on the Psych Central test that I linked to above 😊

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

Neurotypical Privilege: What is it?

It’s time to write another blog piece about neurotypical privilege! And yes, I think about this stuff all the time, unfortunately. (I have to.) So I have new insight on almost a daily basis.

A lot of people don’t know what neurotypical privilege means; even a lot of neurodiverse people don’t seem to know what it means. But my life is a study of it, so I’m in a unique position to describe what it is and how it affects neurodiverse people.

I am a neurodivergent person. What that means is my brain works differently than most people’s. Yes, I know—everyone’s brain is unique. However, mine is unique enough that I have a good deal of difficulty functioning in society on many levels.

I am bipolar, autistic, and have PTSD. I have a lot of trouble communicating with people sometimes, and I’ve had trouble maintaining steady employment and housing. My neurodivergence has put me in prison (for self-medicating), and has brought me into conflict various times with the police (for nonviolent behavior, to be clear). I have difficulty maintaining relationships of all kinds, as well, and not because I’m a jerk—this is one thing I’ve never been accused of by anyone who knows me—but because I’m flighty, have trust issues, and I often misinterpret what others say and am misinterpreted in turn.

Even though my neurodivergence has caused this level of disruption in my life, I still have some measure of neurotypical privilege. NT privilege is, like most other types of privilege, a spectrum…and I won’t even get into the interplay with other types of privilege, because that gets too complex. I’ll leave that discussion to others.

As some of you know, I’m waking up today alone for the first time in weeks. The man better known to y’all as Boy—my partner—went back to California yesterday. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.

Boy is schizophrenic, and he has even less NT privilege than I do. It affects every aspect of his life at all times, and is completely disabling. This isn’t, however, because he’s not capable, intelligent, or fully functional, because he is. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He may function in a different way and on a different schedule, but he’s completely able to take care of himself. He has a rich and full life.

The immense majority of Boy’s problems come from other people’s ableism—their mistreatment of him based on their apparent need for him to function like everyone else.

People interpret neurodiversity—and/or what is called “mental illness”—as dangerous. When they see someone acting in a way that’s different than the norm, they get angry and afraid. But statistically, neurodiverse people are much more likely to be hurt by neurotypical people than the other way around. Both Boy and I are prime examples of this. I’ve been taken advantage of and worse during psychotic breaks. Boy has been beaten into a coma, and has been wrongfully arrested and involuntarily committed on various occasions. On none of these occasions were either of us armed or posing any actual threat to anyone. We were just being who we were born to be.

The stories of many of these incidents are peppered throughout my blog and my Tinkerbell anecdotes, if you’re incredulous or interested in the specifics.

Boy and I—especially Boy—are often kicked out of public places (libraries, parks) and private businesses for doing nothing else besides cheerfully being neurodiverse. Restaurants suddenly have no tables available when we show up. We’re followed around stores because we’re suspected of shoplifting (we aren’t). So many laws and rules are targeted at people like us: vagrancy and loitering laws, involuntary commitment laws, forced sterilization laws, the right to refuse service, and “no shirt no shoes”, for example.

Neurodiverse people aren’t hurting anyone by loitering/muttering to themselves/”babbling” (word salad isn’t actually a thing, people—we make perfect sense if you know us). The vast majority of our behavior is completely benign, and even when we’re in the midst of a psychotic break we’re really unlikely to be violent. We may have trouble following instructions (you would too, if you were in our state of mind), but we’re just scared and confused. If we’re treated with respect and compassion, the situation is likely to be resolved quite peacefully and to the benefit of all.

But instead, we’re treated brutally—hurt, killed, imprisoned, kicked out. People think we deserve it. That we’re doing something wrong.

We’re not doing anything wrong. We don’t deserve it.

Neurotypical privilege is the ability to get through life without being hurt/killed/imprisoned/oppressed/harassed, etc., simply for having a brain that works differently than the norm.

I’m sure I’m missing some points and/or conveying stuff in a way that confuses some people. I’m happy to discuss and clarify, and welcome being called out on anything I’ve gotten wrong. But anyone who wants to argue the very existence of NT privilege, or say they have a schizophrenic cousin and so they know better than I do…please just don’t.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and neurodivergent activist. You can find her (and her neurodiverse characters) on Amazon.

Living in a Tiny House: Part 3

I’m going to give myself a little break this lovely Sunday morning and do another blog post about living in my tiny house, and how I’m working toward my goal of subsistence farming, and independent living as a neurodivergent person.

It’s been closing in on a year since I last posted about this. Yikes! Time gets away from me when I’m so busy.

A lot has happened since my last tiny-house post. My mom had a triple bypass in February, for one. It’s really brought home the fact that all of the hardship that led me back to the family farm in the first place was well worth it, because this is where I belong. I was able to help my mom out and be there for her during her recovery, and it’s brought us closer together as a family.

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Winter on the farm

 

 

It was a beautiful fall, and an early (and pretty hard) winter. The first hard frost came early in October, and since our last one had been on June 15 (! – really, super late for this

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Tomatoes, peppers, and basil from last fall’s harvest.

area), we didn’t get enough tomatoes to can or freeze. I fried up quite a few green ones, though. Just thinking about the fried green tomato po boys and bahn mi (on homemade rolls) I ate is making me hungry right now. So good with veggie bacon and sprouts; or tofu, thin-sliced cabbage, Korean-style turnip pickles, and sriracha mayo.

 

I tried ripening some of the green tomatoes indoors, but without much success. I’ll hopefully get more ripe ones this year, but there are always some green ones left over when it freezes. I may sauce some of them this year, because green tomato puree/sauce is a great addition to soups, enchilada sauces, salsas, etc.

I did string a lot of peppers, can a lot of peaches, make jam galore, and Kid and I had

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Chestnuts and apples – gleaning leftover produce from others’ farms supplements my harvest.

plenty of dried plums, pears, and cherries to gorge ourselves on during the cold winter months and fight off ye olde scurvy. I also gleaned many pounds of chestnuts from a neighboring orchard (gleaning happens after harvest, so is not stealing. It’s produce that otherwise would have been left to rot.) I wrapped those up in tinfoil and roasted them in my potbelly woodstove, quickly learning that you have to score them beforehand or they’ll explode, sometimes right in your face, the shrapnel burning your eyeballs and curling your eyebrows. For those uninitiated, chestnuts are a little difficult to peel sometimes, but they’re SO good—really meaty and savory. I like roasting them in the oven with potatoes and root vegetables, and as a yummy addition to mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m going to experiment more next winter with grinding them into a paste to use in crusts, breads, and desserts. (Making a cookbook of all our recipes is something Kid and I are working on, but we have so much else going on, that it may take a while.)

 

IMG_2840This year is off to a great start. I’ve been working on expanding the farm business. We opened a little nursery (selling vegetable, herb, and flower starts we grew in our greenhouses). We were able to make costs (pay for the seeds and soil) plus a few hundred dollars on top of that, and we still had ample plants left over to fill our own gardens. I call that a success.

We’ll also be selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs—I’m already selling snap peas, turnips, basil, and cilantro. I have plans to start a worm farm soon, to save money on soil next year and increase our profit margin, while increasing the quantity of plants we grow.

I also hope to have enough extra eggs to sell soon, and maybe fresh chicken. The “fresh chicken” thing probably needs explanation…I used to be a vegetarian, but since my financial situation changed and I moved back to the farm, I’ve had to take a more practical approach.

This all started when (fucking asshole) neighbor dogs came in and killed a bunch of our chickens last winter. I’m so poor, that it just didn’t make good economic and moral sense to throw away good protein, so I butchered the poor things. It wasn’t too bad, though it was definitely an olfactory experience, and one that brought me into touch with my place in the food chain; as I labored at cutting out all the bad meaty/organy bits while leaving the good ones, I imagined hundreds of generations before me, working so hard just to feed themselves and their families, at peace with the fact that we are able to live

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Penguin

because other organisms die. There’s a sort of meditation to it.

 

So, anyway, still on the subject of chicken death, last year we had about thirteen chicks hatched on the farm by our own broody hens. Nine of those (eek) were roosters. They were wreaking havoc: fighting each other, brutally gang raping the hens, and traumatizing my parents’ border collie, who is autistic (this isn’t some ableist joke, nor am I comparing my dog to people to be clear—I’m serious, and I’m autistic so I have insight). She’s very noise-sensitive. Whenever the roosters would get into a kerfuffle, she’d pace and whine and be really upset. When a certain rooster crowed, it really set her off: she’d spin circles and snap at that rooster. I really felt for her, because she couldn’t walk away from the situation and it was really triggering for her.

So, before I moved back, my dad would give the roosters away to a guy down at the feed store who would slaughter them himself. I figured, if we know they’re going to be killed anyway, we should just own that fact and butcher them ourselves. My family reluctantly agreed, so we had a good old-fashioned butchering day in the spring. We rounded those cocks all up, my dad killed them and I processed them. I thought it was going to be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad because it was just family work, for a good purpose. We talked with each other so the togetherness could decrease the sting of mortality, and I just thought about those poor, gang-raped hens (it was really awful) and the poor dog, and it was a lot easier.

(Incidentally, if you’re a vegan who wants to harass me about this, I am quite literally doing what I need to survive. I’m neurodiverse, and disabled, and farming is the way I’ve come up with to make a life for myself and Kid. I’m happy to discuss the ethics of all this with you, but please don’t police my choices.)

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Nu Egg

 

I increased our chicken flock by twelve this spring by buying chicks (ten americaunas, and two silkies because I couldn’t help myself), and so far we’ve had seven chicks born on the farm. As I said, we lost some of our flock to (stupid fucking) neighbor dogs, so we’re currently standing at about 30-ish birds altogether. We eat all the eggs now ourselves, but hopefully I’ll have some extra to sell by fall.

 

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Bees!

We also got two hives of bees!! This is really exciting. I love watching them. The hives are already big enough that we had to add the second brood boxes, and hopefully we’ll be able to put on the honey supers by the end of summer. If all goes well, we’ll have honey next summer.

 

I increased my vegetable garden by 300%, tilling up a bunch more bottom land by my cabin. I’m growing lots of different stuff, including popcorn (I eat SO MUCH popcorn) and soybeans. I’ll sell some of it, but I’m digging a root cellar to store more of my vegetables and squash

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More garden!

. It got down below zero last winter, and was in the teens a lot, plus we had several feet of snow that stayed all winter, so the veggies didn’t keep in the ground at all. I was left having to go to the food bank and purchase food. I’m doing pretty well digging the hole. I’m hindered somewhat by the desire of my dog, my cat, and myself to lie in the cool dirt (which is unproductive in the traditional sense), but more by some physical problems: I’m getting a deep ache under the shoulder blade,

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Root cellar—hole in progress

and numb/tingling fingers, with an inability to grasp or lift things with that hand. It makes it hard to dig/hoe, and I have to sometimes rest for days on end (from strenuous arm-using physical labor, anyway) and drink my herbal painkilling tea. If ONLY I had a strong, sexy BOY who loved digging holes and eating fresh vegetables, and who could help me out…but I guess some people are just buttholes and don’t want to move up here, and I guess I’m not helping my cause by talking about how decrepit I am. I’ll get my hole dug by myself anyway. I don’t

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Man commonly known as Boy, here looking self-satisfied with the ocean breeze fluttering his beard

need any strong, sexy boys. *flounces*

 

As an aside, the weird thing is, if I were getting paid to dig someone else’s hole (not a euphemism), I would have quit and gotten worker’s comp for the injury, and would be in physical therapy and maybe having surgery. That would undoubtedly be the healthy thing to do, but I like digging holes if they’re my holes; I have to do it because no one else will do it for me; and I’m afraid of getting treatment because they’ll say, “stop digging darned holes, dammit” which is advice I will not heed in any event, at least not in the summer. So, I’ll soldier on and see what happens with my arm; if I need to get it looked at, I’ll do it this winter when I’m idler (as long as I get my wood all cut beforehand…and as long as Trump’s Deathcare bill hasn’t been put into effect yet CALL YOUR REPS, U.S.-IANS!)

All this farm work takes at a minimum three hours a day, often a lot more. It’s obviously not paying the bills yet (which, thankfully, are minor, because I own my car, have no debt, use barely any electricity (and we’re going solar!), have well water, etc. My only bills are my phone and my car insurance). I supplement this income with freelance editing, freelance writing, and a startup called Authordock that I’ve become involved in. It’s a website that helps writers with their publishing goals: I critique pitches, queries and first pages; give advice; direct clients to opportunities like pitch competitions; and provide resources by composing advice articles and making how-to videos…it’s a really cool project. The result of this is that, now that I’m, as people say, “lazy and unemployed”, I’m actually working 90-hour weeks, and yet making half a pittance. This is another way that disabled people end up making super-subminimum wage: the work we’re able to do isn’t something society values very much, so is underpaid.

I also have, you know, some books published (I’ve had several come out this year, and I have a short story in the next edition of a bestselling anthology, which comes out in a few days). That does bring in a little money, but I have very little time left for marketing, so not much at all. So, I’ll do that thing where I tell you I’m super poor and disabled (not that you should pity me—I love what I’m doing, I just make very little money at it). I don’t have a tip jar, so if you like hearing about my tiny-home and farming adventures, you should consider buying one of my books. People say they’re really good! And they’re ownvoices books, with neurodiverse and queer characters. They’re my way of trying to share my strange world with others. If you buy them, consider giving me a review, and/or recommending them to others who are into that sort of books.

Think of buying ownvoices books like donating to a charity, except you’re not paying forIMG_2873 marketing and executive salaries: you’re making a contribution toward someone’s independent, sustainable living and/or affirmation as an important member of society. In my case, you’re not only affirming my worth, you’re keeping me off the streets or out of an institution, making sure Kid has a stable and happy mom (and new socks when she needs them, which is too often), PLUS you get great books. This is such a win/win/win, y’all!

I’m trying to get an agent to help with the book marketing thing. My publisher is great, but their marketing apparatus isn’t really the best for my kind of books. If I had an agent directing and supporting me in my marketing efforts, I think I’d do a lot better. I have a handful of fulls out with agents right now, of my thirteenth novel—an ownvoices YA contemporary romance/magical realism about a young woman with bipolar psychosis trying to navigate high school, first love, the foster system and the mental health system. Wish me luck!

I have lots of other plans for my life—selling hand-woven baskets, and other crafts made with natural and upcycled materials, for instance, as well as the cookbook and some other things. Plus, I have a short story on contract for another anthology coming out in September, and I’m working hard on writing my seventeenth full-length novel. Another tiny house is also in the works, to give us more kitchen space and Kid her own bedroom. But I think I’ve rambled enough for this post, so I’ll talk about all that later.

Thank you for reading!