Trigger warning: sexual abuse mention, emotional abuse mention, reclaimed slur
On several occasions, especially when trying to hammer home the point that no mental illness makes a person evil, I have referred to “scary” mental illnesses. I feel like I should spell out what I mean by that. On one level, a “scary” mental illness is any mental illness besides anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. On another level, a “scary” mental illness is a mental illness that includes at least one of the following:
- Unreality or psychosis
- Mania, hypomania, or mixed affective states
- Low or no empathy (cognitive or affective*)
- Unstable sense of self
- Impulse control problems
- Rigid and “extreme” thought patterns
- A pattern of deviation from cultural/social norms
- “Abnormal” (too close or too distant) attachment to others
- Unusual body movements
- (Supposed) tendency toward violence
I’m not entirely okay with further discussing mental illness and tendency toward violence, because I truly believe that saneism is so pervasive that it may affect even scientific studies on violent behavior in mentally ill people. (This is coming from someone with a master’s in biomedical sciences who just got her name on her first abstract.) So I won’t be talking about number twelve, partly because I already addressed it as much as I’m comfortable with in my entry on mass shootings and neurotypicalism. But as far as the others, I think you can see where I’m coming from, although I may have forgotten a few “scary” traits/symptoms. I would also like to point out that this list doesn’t only apply to mental illnesses; autism is often considered a “scary” disability due to our rigid thought patterns, deviation from social norms, low empathy (although many of us, myself included, have hyperempathy for affective empathy—which is what neurotypicals usually mean when they say “empathy”—some of us do have low affective empathy and that’s okay), stims, tendency to self-talk, and (completely bullshit) supposed tendency toward violence. If that list wasn’t helpful, here’s another list, this one of “scary” mental illnesses:
- Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
- Any personality disorder, especially cluster B (narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, antisocial)
- Bipolar disorder
- Dissociative disorders, especially DID (this is where I flip off M. Night Shyamalan)
Yeah, I put PTSD on there. As a CPTSD sufferer, I have noticed that many neurotypicals don’t seem to understand PTSD triggers and think we may just flip out at any second. And CPTSD shares many “scary” characteristics with borderline, especially the unstable sense of self and odd attachment patterns. I would know; I’m also borderline. Sometimes I have trouble identifying whether the shit my brain is pulling at any particular time is a borderline thing or a CPTSD thing.
You might be asking, “Mara, what’s the point of this?” The point–aside from the idea that mentally ill people are not inherently cruel or abusive, which I’ve mentioned before–is that “scary” ND conditions are treated differently from non-“scary” ND conditions. (I say “ND conditions” here because I am also referring to neurodevelopmental disabilities that aren’t mental illnesses. Remember what I said about autism?) This does not mean that people with “scary” disorders have it worse than ND people without “scary” disorders. But what it does mean is that many so-called allies are willing to support only mentally ill people who don’t have “scary” disorders. I have seen NTs reassuring their friends with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder that they aren’t like those other mentally ill people. I especially see this when the NTs have just said something crappy about mental illness and the person with depression or anxiety says “you realize I’m mentally ill, right?”. I’ve also seen neurotypicals on Twitter or Tumblr rhapsodize about how mental health is just as important as physical health and then turn around and post in #diagnoseTrump. I see this shit often, okay? And it’s frustrating. Neurotypical allies have to know that they should support all of us neurodivergent people, not just those of us who wouldn’t be villains in terrible horror movies. (I’m still mad about Split. I will probably always be mad about Split.) Either you’re with all of us or you’re with none of us.
It isn’t just terrible horror movies. I watch a lot of Law and Order: SVU. I can identify the season by Olivia Benson’s hairstyle. And it seems like every damn female perpetrator of abuse or violence is borderline. Dr. Huang, SVU’s resident psychiatrist for much of the show’s runtime, even said in one episode (I think it was season nine, episode three, “Impulsive”) that many female teachers who get caught sexually abusing their students are borderline. In the season eighteen episode “Motherly Love”, a woman who was raping two fifteen-year-old boys was described in horrified tones as “having no true sense of self” and “no empathy”. These traits were said to be a result of her borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. (I have no sense of self and garbage cognitive empathy. It doesn’t make me a sexual abuser. Also, the SVU writers seem to hate NPD as much as they hate BPD, and even as a person who doesn’t have NPD, that’s a towering pile of Not Okay.) The woman’s abuse of minors was then said to be a result of her mental illnesses, which led her to have a need to control, manipulate, and hurt vulnerable people. The season five episode “Home” used to be one of my all-time favorites before I accepted my borderline diagnosis; Dr. Huang blames a woman’s emotional abuse of her sons on her BPD.
Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, it isn’t just neurotypical screenwriters who pull this crap. People with non-“scary” ND conditions often exhibit lateral neurotypicalism toward “scary” ND conditions. I once watched in horror as a Facebook acquaintance who is Autistic and has anxiety ranted against “p*****pathic liars” and exhorted her friends to “run from anyone with that personality”. I had to unfollow a friend on Twitter who has suffered from major depression but won’t stop retweeting articles about Trump having NPD or being [saneist word of choice]. And don’t get me started on who I’ve seen posting “autistic screeching” memes. It’s not like I don’t understand the impulse to distance oneself from what society deems dangerous. I’m sure many ND people with non-“scary” illnesses or disabilities take comfort in the fact that they’re not like those other ND people. But this is still a form of bigotry. It is important to confront such biases. Being neurodivergent in one way does not preclude one from being neurotypicalist toward certain other neurodivergent people. I mean, look at me; I used to believe I suffered from “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse syndrome” before I realized that that “syndrome” was really a way to conflate NPD with being an abuser. Fortunately, I was open enough to the idea of supporting all of my ND siblings that I was able to realize I was being laterally neurotypicalist.
So, long story short: If you’re neurotypical, ally yourself with all ND people, not just the seemingly non-threatening of us. And if you’re neurodivergent, you should know better than to not support all your fellow ND folks. No matter who you are, check your assumptions and preconceived notions about people with “scary” neurodivergent conditions, because they’re probably wrong and discriminatory. And for the love of chocolate, stop saying “p*****path” and “s****path”. Cluster B gets enough shit.
Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I’ve always been quite sane about being insane.” (See, that’s how you use a neurotypicalist slur. Way to reclaim, Carrie.)
*Affective empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Cognitive empathy is the ability to think what someone else is thinking.