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.

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.

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.