Leftist Ableism Bingo

leftist-ableism-bingo

What can I say? I hate it when supposedly “woke” people throw disabled people under the bus.

Image description: a five-by-five bingo board containing descriptions of ableist actions frequently taken by so-called liberals and/or progressives. The text is as follows.

First column:

  1. Telling disabled people that ableism is less important than [-ism of choice]
  2. Calling Trump or his policies “ins*ne”
  3. Lack of trigger warnings on political writings
  4. “Keyboard warrior/slacktivist”
  5. Insulting Barron Trump by calling him “autistic”

Second column:

  1. Vidist or audist descriptions of conservatives
  2. “I can’t be ableist! I’m woke!”
  3. “How r*****ed do you have to be to vote for Trump?”
  4. Conservatives should have some empathy!”
  5. Laughing at the “mentally, are you okay?” line from the SNL Spicer skit

Third column:

  1. Diagnosing Trump
  2. Organizing inaccessible activism events
  3. Free space
  4. Bashing self-diagnosis despite race, class, etc. barriers to diagnosis
  5. Calling bigots “emotionally h*ndic*pped”

Fourth column:

  1. Not talking about IDEA when criticizing Betsy DeVos
  2. Ignoring sheltered workshops while discussing the wage gap
  3. Calling bigotry a disease or mental illness
  4. “Can Trump be impeached for being a l*natic?”
  5. Insulting the intelligence of conservatives

Fifth column:

  1. “[Trump appointee] is cr*zy”
  2. “Triggered” jokes about Trump or his supporters
  3. Arguing against repeal of ACA while ignoring how many disabled people will die without it
  4. Tokenizing Serge Kovaleski
  5. Making videos about social justice without captions

 

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I’ve learned to celebrate my life, to embrace it. If I have the problems, the problems don’t have me. They’re not something I’m ashamed of.” I’m not very articulate today, so I can’t really tell why, but this quote speaks to me.

Normalizing ND Symptoms & Traits

Content/trigger warning: mentions of abuse and police brutality, reclaimed slur

Today I want to talk about normalizing neurodivergent symptoms and traits.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have experienced a metric crapload of invalidation of my mental illness. (I don’t believe I gave an amount, but the correct technical term is “metric crapload”.) Thinking about invalidation made me wonder what could possibly motivate an asshole NT to tell someone they weren’t actually mentally ill. Could it be because they had never seen me being visibly mentally ill? A week or so later, I found myself ruminating on how I was born with a near-inability to lie. (It is a stereotype that Autistic people cannot lie. Also, I am an eight-foot tall ferret with purple stripes and opposable thumbs.) But at this point in my life, I can lie as easily as I can breathe. Many abuse survivors can do this—lying to our abusers could keep us safe—but even if I hadn’t been abused, I think I would have learned well to lie. Because I find myself telling small lies all the time. I get asked if I have a cold and I say yes, although the reason I am blowing my nose is because I was crying, not because I’m sick. I tell my supervisor I am physically sick and cannot come into work, but the organ that is misbehaving isn’t my stomach but my brain. Someone asks if I’m stressed or nervous, and I laugh and say “no” even though my spine feels as though it has turned to ice water because something has just tripped my PTSD and I’m a hair’s breadth from dissociating.

You might be asking, “Mara, why do you do that? You’re such a loudmouth about mental illness stuff.” Well, first of all, sometimes I have to lie to my abuser. (Yes, I’m still in contact with that person; it’s a long story about a lot of things I can’t change.) But also, I’m not as brave as I would like to be. I stay afraid, but can’t always do it anyway when I’m having a symptom and someone wants to know what’s happening. And sometimes I’m not even afraid; it’s just a reflex from the days before I was diagnosed but knew something was wrong with me, but I felt like it would be wrong to talk about what was really happening. Maybe, even at that young age, I was already afraid of invalidation. Maybe I knew enough to be afraid of saneism. But it became a habit that is hard to break. I catch myself lying about symptoms and then mentally kick myself.

I once had a combination flashback and meltdown—that’s my best description of it; I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it really sucked—on public transportation. Specifically, I was on a bus. I was already dissociated after finding out I had gotten on the bus going in the wrong direction, so I don’t remember what the bus driver said to me to set me off, but I ran to the back of the bus, screaming and pounding my fists and my head against the seats. I’m lucky the bus driver didn’t call the police. If she had, I might have been shot. (No, that’s not an exaggeration. The police are not properly trained to handle neurodivergent people.) One of the other passengers was a nurse who was able to identify what was happening to me; she talked to the bus driver, and thank the gods, I was left alone until I calmed down. This scenario could have gone very, very differently had there not been someone who knew what was happening to me, and I was nonverbal and too panicked to tell anyone what was going on or flash one of those (admittedly handy) apps on my phone saying I was having a meltdown.

Formal medical training shouldn’t have been necessary to know what was happening to me. Traits and symptoms of neurodivergence should be common knowledge. Perhaps they could be taught in middle and high school health classes, along with what to do to help (hint: ask if the person in distress needs anything, and if they do not respond, let them be, and for the love of chocolate don’t call the police unless they are actively threatening someone). Stigma against mentally ill and other ND people is a safety issue. (Note: this also means that if you feel safest hiding your symptoms, please hide all you want. Stay safe.) A society that doesn’t know how to handle neurodivergent people is literally dangerous to us. (More on that in another entry.)

I’m sure that having symptoms or talking about them in front of NTs makes those people uncomfortable. To be honest, sometimes I get a thrill watching them squirm because I hope they’re confronting their biases against neurodivergent people. It’s not a day if I haven’t made an NT uncomfortable. You might think that making so many people uncomfortable would be counterproductive and make NT people hate us ND people more. Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the root of stigma is NTs thinking of ND people as Other. If they could see or hear about people they know exhibiting symptoms, maybe they could understand that those symptoms happen in those they already think of as people. It’s easy to Other someone if you don’t know their name, their ambitions, their likes and dislikes, etc.

I try to do what I can to normalize being obviously neurodivergent. I make neurodivergent pride gear. I post pictures of my pill bottles on Instagram and tag them “#medicatedandmighty”. I tell my friends that I don’t have the spoons for a social event instead of faking sick. My Facebook profile picture reads: “I’m not neurotypical and that’s okay”. Unfortunately, sometimes I still balk at discussing symptoms during interpersonal interactions. When I insisted to a friend on the bus ride to work that yes, I am Autistic, and she would find that easier to believe if she had seen me melt down, my heart was beating so hard felt like it was trying to escape from my ribs. When I first told my girlfriend that I had been hospitalized for suicidal ideation, I thought I would start shaking. It’s hard to power through that fear sometimes.

I’m not going to ask every mentally ill person to start showing or talking about their symptoms more openly. That wouldn’t be practical or fair. The onus should never be on the oppressed to make their case to the oppressors, anyway. NTs need to learn to accept that neurodivergent people have neurodivergent traits that affect their lives. Yes, yes, I know that that sounds contradictory to how much I talk about what I, a neurodivergent as hell person, do to try to dismantle saneism and other forms of ableism. But I have to do something, because that’s who I am. I do what I can even though I know I shouldn’t have to. I dream of a world where neurodivergent people can freely discuss their symptoms and/or traits without fear, and in the meantime, I fight like hell.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I’m what the psychology journals refer to as ‘batshit crazy’. It’s a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I’m able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of ‘I just don’t give a shit’.” Yeah, replace “bipolar disorder” with my cocktail of mental illnesses and you’ve got me too, Carrie.

Stop Calling Donald Trump Neurodivergent

Content/trigger warning: slurs (censored), discussion of ableism

Stop trying to diagnose Trump. Stop trying to diagnose Trump. Stop trying to diagnose Trump.

It is ableist, full stop. Specifically, it is saneist, unless you’re diagnosing him with a neurodevelopmental disability (or just calling him the r-slur) instead of a mental illness, in which case it is neurotypicalist. In any case, it is an act of bigotry. Donald Trump is currently one of the most famous ableists alive after his public ridicule of Pulizter-winning journalist Serge Kovaleski (except most people tokenize him as simply “that disabled reporter”, seeing him as a prop to use to insult Trump as opposed to an actual human being). So congratulations, you have put yourself on Trump’s level. Are you happy now?

Oh, and don’t just stop with the diagnoses; stop the ableist language, too. I’ve listened to Rachel Maddow call Trump “cr*zy”. I have heard interviewees on  criticizing Trump’s policies and beliefs call him a “l*natic”. I have seen articles written by mental health professionals pontificating on what symptoms Trump displays. And I am so fucking fucking tired of mental illness being shat on by so-called liberals and progressives in the name of social justice. Armchair diagnoses of Trump—yes, even those made by psych professionals—are rooted in the idea that such a morally reprehensible person must be mentally ill, thereby conflating evil and bigotry with mental illness. I don’t care if he is mentally ill. He may be; I’m not his shrink (although frankly, I don’t think he is; I think he’s just what you get when you have that level of privilege). Conflating evil and bigotry with mental illness is an act of bigotry that is morally wrong.

Every time I see an armchair diagnosis or hear Trump referred to by a neurotypicalist slur, I think, “this person hates me because of my brain” or “this person thinks I’m less than human”. And they don’t just think this of me, either. Under the bus with me are my best friend, an ADHDer with PTSD from a car accident; my found sibling, who has anxiety; a close friend from college, who has trypanophobia and bipolar 2; and my younger sister, who is recovering from an eating disorder. When anyone besides a mental health professional who is counseling Donald Trump—you know, people who aren’t actually qualified to diagnose him—calls Trump a “l*natic”, “cr*zy”, “ins*ane”, “s****path”, “p****path”, or even just “mentally ill”, they are actively harming the mentally ill community. “But Mara, what if I didn’t use that kind of language, or just referred to his entourage as mentally ill?” Then you’re still guilty. Referring to his campaign as “schizophrenic” or his supporters as “delusional” or “psychotic” are other examples of saneist bullshit.

Carrie Fisher hated Trump. She once Tweeted that if Trump were to become president, it would no longer be the highest office in the land. She, like me, chose to reclaim “cr*zy”. When you call Trump “cr*zy” or slap him with an armchair diagnosis of NPD or ASPD or what have you—and if you refer to his tendency to change his mind about policy as “bipolar”, I will hunt you down and beat you with my copy of Wishful Drinking—you are disrespecting the memory of a mentally ill icon. If you don’t care about some random blogger chick feeling dehumanized, fine. But I’m sure that if Carrie were alive, she’d not appreciate the demonization of mentally ill people in order to critique a repugnant, evil person. And she wouldn’t take that shit. Neither will I.

So what do you do instead? Call him what he is, accurately: a morally bankrupt asshole. A liar. Willfully ignorant of reality. Incredibly far up his own ass. A racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist bastard. See? There are ways to describe Trump’s execrable behavior without resorting to bigotry.

I’m too pissed off to keep going with this. Just stop engaging in bigotry in order to criticize a bigot. No quote today either because fuck everything.

 

 

What the Hell is a Microaggression?

Content/trigger warning: saneist slurs (censored)

It feels like an appropriate day to discuss a particular way in which saneism rears its ugly head. Let’s talk about microaggressions and how to deal with them.

What the hell is a microaggression? Simply put, a microaggression is the casual degradation of any socially maligned group. It’s a fairly new term, coined in 1970 by a psychiatrist and Harvard professor named Chester M. Pierce. “Microaggression” originally meant the crappy things that Pierce witnessed happening to Black Americans at the hands of non-Black Americans. The aforementioned crappy things were comparatively mild; not hate crimes, but obviously motivated by racism (intentional or unintentional). “Microaggression” has since been adopted as a term for small, casual acts that harm any oppressed group. While microaggressions can take several forms, in this post, I will be discussing one particular common microaggression against mentally ill people: saneist language.

I used to have an even stronger reaction to saneist language than I do now, believe it or not. I’m Autistic as hell, so for the longest time, I had no sense of when it was appropriate to tell someone they had committed a microaggression or how extremely to react. (Black-and-white thinking. It makes life interesting.) This became awkward for me quickly, because microaggressions against mentally ill people are everywhere. I have songs in my iTunes with “ps*cho” in their titles. I constantly hear people describe viewpoints to which they do not ascribe as “cr*zy”. I check my Twitter and see people calling a certain immoral orange Cheeto politician a “l*natic”. I used to see this and, well, fly off the handle. I wouldn’t just call people out; I’d get furious. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with anger. I think I have every right to be pissed off at language that reminds me that my brain is used as a slight. And as much as certain factions crow that being angry will never solve anything when attempting to affect social change (even on a small scale), anger can be a powerful motivator. And if some NT isn’t going to listen to me because I’m upset at being reminded that I’m perceived as a subhuman insult, that’s their problem. What was my problem, you ask? It was that I would be too angry and I would let that anger cause me to insult the people I was trying to correct. That is never, ever okay. So key point one of reacting to microaggressions: don’t sink to the other person’s level and use insults. Yes, even if they’re being a saneist ass on purpose. It’s wrong.

Key point two: Like I said, it’s okay to get mad—anger can be a powerful motivator—but it’s not always effective to show as much anger as you feel, especially if you’re as much of a towering crankypants as I am. (Well, towering in the metaphorical sense only; I’m actually shorter than Carrie Fisher was. I used to laugh at how she would sit on chairs oddly because otherwise her feet would dangle, since I also sit funny to avoid foot-dangling. Gods I miss her. What were we talking about?) Recently, I have begun correcting saneist language in a small, tight voice that contains plenty of restrained anger. People tend to be intimidated by the fact that I’m upset, but also relieved I didn’t actually explode. Restrained anger tends to be the way to go in certain social situations, especially if the conversation is already quiet and low-key. And if my Autistic ass can figure that out, it must be really true, right?

Key point three: try to be brave. Even I, someone who is so motivated by rage that bravery doesn’t really come into the equation, know that pointing out when someone has hurt you can be absolutely terrifying. It can be especially terrifying if you feel like you have to reveal that you’re mentally ill in order to bolster your point that saneist language is unacceptable. You may be concerned about how they will react; it could be worse than the original microaggression. (Note: being brave doesn’t mean putting yourself in unsafe situations. If you can’t call someone out because it is dangerous to you, please, stay safe.) It can also be terrifying to ask a person acting saneist to stop if the person is someone you care about. You might fear losing them. You might fear them caring less about you. But consider this: if you ask someone saying unacceptable things to stop and explain your position, they also might listen. And if they don’t, you tried, and you did a good thing. And if the person really cares about you, then they will most likely listen.

Key point four: I mentioned this briefly during key point three. Try to explain why the microaggression is wrong. A good explanation for why saneist language is wrong is “it is used to deny rights and humanity to mentally ill people, so it’s hurtful”. Emphasize that while somebody may not intentionally be denying rights and humanity to mentally ill people, the use of the language is still harmful because words have power and meaning. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. If they keep hitting you with the intent argument, try the foot-stepping counter-argument: if you accidentally step on someone’s foot, you may not have done it intentionally, but you should still get off their foot, apologize, and try to avoid further foot-stepping.

Key point five: think about who it is you’re talking to when asking someone to stop it with the microaggressions. I’m absolutely terrible at this, but I’m trying to get better. Are they someone who will respond well to jargon? Would they prefer layman’s terms? Will they only listen if you get angry, or do they admire an argument delivered calmly and coolly? If you consider questions like these before asking someone to change their language, you may get a better response.

Key point six: some people are lost causes. They don’t want to listen and they never will, at least to you; they have to make a point of standing their ground. This doesn’t mean you should give up trying to spread the word on how saneist microaggressive language has an impact on how mentally ill people are perceived and treated, but it does mean that there might be times when you should conserve spoons and say “Well, I guess I’m not going to convince you” and disengage with someone who’s acting like a willfully ignorant douchenozzle.

Why does this matter? How will all of this help destigmatize mental illness and dismantle saneism? Shouldn’t you have bigger goals than getting people to stop using a few words, Mara? Well, I think correcting microaggressive language is a actually good place to start when it comes to my big goals. But what do I think will solve microaggressions? Well, first people have to know what words not to use. But my long-term hope is that once comparisons to mental illness are no longer used to describe things that are illogical or evil, mentally ill people will be seen as less immoral, less frightening, less Other. My most long-term goal would be that NTs see mentally ill people as people to the degree that it is repugnant to use a comparison to mental illness as an insult.

If you’re still with me after this fairly long entry, you might be wondering what exactly constitutes saneist language. On that front, I think I will defer to Autistic Hoya. They have covered saneist and other ableist language more eloquently than I could. http://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html

Today’s Carrie Fisher quote is one I mentioned in my first entry, but it’s of great help to me when I’m scared to call out saneism even though I want to: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I’m very, very afraid today. But I will do my best to keep my fear from halting my mental illness advocacy.

Why “Triggered” Jokes Suck

Content/trigger warning: description of dissociation, discussion of emotional abuse

Today, I want to talk about triggers and the mocking thereof.

I want to talk about triggers because I can’t do any work. I’m sitting in front of my work computer, quaking with a mixture of rage and terror, pressing myself hard into the seat for grounding purposes (“grounding” is a technique used to prevent dissociation). My spine is starting to do that annoying thing where it feels like it turns to ice and then my soul shoots out the top of it, leaving behind an empty shell. The music blasting through my earbuds—somewhat ironically, I’m listening to a song called “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” as I type an entry about being prepared for being metaphorically hit—helps remind me that the material world is real.

Why am I like this? I was triggered. While a trigger can be literally anything—for example, a domestic abuse survivor might be triggered by the scent of the perfume her abuser used to wear—my trigger was being reminded of something my abuser used to do. In this case, I was told my feelings were wrong, and I was shamed for having those feelings; my abuser was quite fond of doing this to me. Fortunately, the antipsychotic I take (mostly) kept me from having a stereotypical flashback in which my brain forces me to relive the trauma. But I’m having one hell of a physical post-traumatic reaction. My CPTSD symptoms can be more severe, such as dissociating for days or having such a bad flashback it kicks off an Autistic meltdown. (Comorbidity is fun.) My symptoms aren’t always this severe; sometimes I’m just left shaking or hypervigilant. But my symptoms always, always, always suck. Even if they’re mild, they suck, and it isn’t fair that I should have to put up with them because of someone else’s douchebaggery or insensitivity.

Is it apparent yet how important it is to help keep neurodivergent people from being triggered? (Note: I say “neurodivergent” instead of “mentally ill” because mental illnesses are not the only ND conditions that can have triggers. I don’t want to imply that mentally ill people, especially trauma survivors, have some kind of embargo on the word “trigger”, because other people with PTSD have claimed that and it is just. Such crap.)

Just a note, I am not suggesting that people with psych/neuro conditions that can be triggered should not work to recover so those triggers no longer affect them or affect them less. EMDR, one of the leading treatments for PTSD, has that exact goal, and EMDR is my jam. I’m just saying that during that recovery progress, triggers should be avoided as much as possible. Desensitization doesn’t work when it’s sudden and inconsiderate. Also, some triggers are never going to go away. Many people with epilepsy have their seizures triggered by, say, strobe lights, and that’s never going to change.

Speaking of inconsiderate, let’s talk about the backlash against trigger warnings and why it makes no sense. Trigger warnings are similar to movie ratings: a method of cautioning someone about the material they are about to view. (Sometimes I want to ask people who make triggered jokes or are against trigger warnings if they hate the MPAA as much as they hate neurodivergent people.) In some cases, people who are warned about a trigger can then be exposed to it safely. In other cases, people will have to stay away from it. But the idea that trigger warnings are “coddling” is crap. Not only can trigger warnings help people experience things that would otherwise be triggering; for example, if a rape survivor has to do a reading for class that involves a rape scene, they might be able to get through that scene if they’re mentally prepared, or they might be able to do the other parts of reading instead of being triggered and then spending the rest of their day having symptoms too terrible to accomplish anything. Trigger warnings are not pandering to people who are “too sensitive”. (Also, what the hell is wrong with being sensitive? Some people are sensitive. Deal with it. The world would be a much nicer place if sensitivity were accommodated instead of mocked and taken advantage of.) Trigger warnings exist to help make the world accessible to people who have measurable emotional, psychological, and/or physiological debilitating responses to triggers. Those debilitating responses are not funny. They are serious and deserve to be taken seriously.

Every time someone makes a “triggered” joke, at least one ND person near them thinks “this person is not safe. This person thinks my suffering is funny. This person is dangerous to me”. When an academic institution insists that it does not condone trigger warnings, at least one ND student thinks that they do not have the right to be educated while ND. Sometimes, “triggered” jokes, by virtue of their being neurotypicalist, are in and of themselves a trigger. They sure as hell are triggering for me.

Why do people make “triggered” jokes? I think it boils down to neurotypicals not believing the experiences of those who can be triggered are valid. Neurodivergent people are not people to them. We are only tools for their (unoriginal, crappy, bigoted) comedy. Our suffering is funny to them. Well, either that or they don’t believe we’re suffering, because you have to believe someone is a person before you believe their experiences are real, right? They think we should “just get over” our triggers and their garbage trigger jokes to make their lives easier when our lives are already made harder by our conditions, and it is no more possible to “just get over” a disability-related trait or symptom of an illness than it is for a person with the flu magically stop having a fever.

It is wrong—morally wrong—to mock the experiences of a neurodivergent person because they seem “weird” or “too sensitive”. It is also wrong to deny a neurodivergent person accessibility by refusing to use trigger warnings on potentially triggering content. (Like I mentioned, anything can be a trigger, but it’s best to start out warning for what I call the Trigger Trifecta: murder, rape, and abuse. I might expand on common triggers and how to do trigger warnings in another entry.) The mass invalidation of triggers and trigger warnings is harmful to those of us with conditions that can be triggered. Many of us are now afraid to discuss our triggers with our friends, family, and psych professionals because we expect to not be believed or, worse, shamed for our experiences. This, to me, is deeply saddening. It needs to change.

Trigger warnings need to be commonplace. People’s needs should be respected even if they are not neurotypical needs. And gods help me, those needs should not be mocked or seen as some mere political concept that is up for debate. We are not controversial abstract topics. We are people.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day, which I like because it relates to how I feel regarding writing about mental illness: “I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.”

“You’re so strong!” Um…okay…

Content/TW: sex mention, death mention, discussion of inspiration porn, cursing

On the surface, it seems a bit weird to be discussing this topic on an anti-stigma blog, because it’s about NTs actually having what they think is a positive outlook on mental illness. But at the root of stigma is NTs seeing mentally ill people as Other, not like them, not entirely human, etc. And inspiration porn? Yeah, that’s seeing mentally ill people as Other.

You may be asking: Mara, what the hell is inspiration porn? My girlfriend says (half-jokingly) that that phrase inspires her to have sex with me. (I did mention I’m a lesbian, right? I think so. If I didn’t, yeah, I’m gay. I was also, like. Next-level gay for Carrie.) Anyway, what is inspiration porn? Inspiration porn, as coined by disabled activist Stella Young (RIP), is the phrase for what happens when people who are privileged by their ability level feel “inspired” by something a disabled person does because they’re doing a thing while being disabled, oh my fucking god, would you look at that!?. That isn’t the only kind of inspiration porn, though; sometimes it takes the form of a disabled person being treated decently and the abled person being decent is canonized. An example that absolutely made my Autistic blood boil occurred recently when this basketball player sat with an Autistic boy at lunch because the boy was sitting alone. (When I sit alone, I usually want it that way. Leave me be, allistics. And maybe ask the person sitting alone if they want company?) Allistic people fell all over each other awww-ing over this crap. They saw what they perceived as a famous person treating an Autistic boy more nicely than the boy’s peers did, i.e., like a human being. I, personally, think that we Auties should be treated as humans all the time.

So what’s wrong with inspiration porn? The fact that disabled people do not exist to ~inspire abled people. When abled people coo over disabled people existing while disabled, it’s Othering as hell. (If I wasn’t clear in the first paragraph about what it means to “Other” someone, it means to treat them as Not Like You in a big kind of way, often in a way that paints the Other as subhuman.) We’re just trying to live our lives. And now I’m going to bring this back to the idea of strength, because a common form of inspiration porn is mentally healthy people calling mentally ill people “strong” just for existing. And we’re sick of it.

Remember when I said that NT definitions of “strength” when it comes to mental illness are “garbage”? I stand by that. Unfortunately, I forgot to talk about the garbage definition that is “you’re so strong for dealing with mental illness every second of your life!!!1!!111!!!one!!”. UGH. I’m strong because I have done martial arts for much of my life and like weightlifting, Dave*, not because I’m mentally ill. It’s hard for me to articulate why this attitude pisses me off so much. Because as I mentioned in my last entry, some MI people do derive strength from how much our brains have put us through, and the fact that we survived it. But then again, some of us don’t survive it. Others are so damn tired of being “strong” and long to exist without struggling constantly. Many hate being reminded that we’re “strong” because we know we have no other choice, but NTs seem to think we do. I guess the “you’re so strong” attitude makes my skin crawl because the NTs who ascribe to it are sort of…acting like mentally ill people are here for them to judge and consume. And that’s creepy to me. It involves a mental chasm or fence that NTs are placing between them and us, sort of like we’re animals in a zoo. When an NT tells me that I’m “so strong” because my neurotransmitters like to misbehave, I feel like I’m a tiger in a cage being gawked at. And I want to unsheathe my giant claws.

The “you’re so strong” narrative is also really patronizing. Remember that mental chasm I mentioned that NTs are placing between themselves and mentally ill people when they ascribe to that narrative? That chasm often makes me feel as if I’m on one side, feeling small and childlike (and pissed), while the NT reaches over to pat me on the head. It’s infantilizing. It places NTs in a position to be the one judging because they’re NT. Not being mentally ill gives them the authority to judge. Even though the trait these NTs are ascribing to us is supposedly good, the reason they are making that judgment is rooted in Othering us. I might go so far as to say the “you’re so strong” narrative is dehumanizing, turning mentally ill people into a feel-good movie for their consumption. Ew.

While some NTs genuinely (and foolishly) think they’re helping when they call a MI person “strong”, I have also noticed that there’s also a self-congratulatory element that I have noticed inherent in NTs invoking the “you’re so strong” narrative. When they croon “you’re so strong for dealing with your mental illness”, they picture themselves canonized for being what they think is nice and supportive; they see themselves as the basketball player who decided to join an Autistic boy for lunch. They think of how the basketball player was praised, not of how he didn’t ask the boy if he even wanted company. And they pat themselves on the back for what is really an act of Othering. They haven’t thought about the implications of the word “strong” when applied to mental illness (as I blathered about in my last entry), because in order to think about how another person might react to something, you have to first see them as a person. It’s inconvenient for an NT to consider someone a person when their goal is to use that Poor Widdow Mentally Ill Soul to make themselves feel good.

So, yeah, the “you’re so strong for dealing with your mental illness” crap is inspiration porn, it’s saneist, and it’s gross. On the surface, it might seem positive, but the idea of “strength” when it comes to mental illness is incredibly complicated. Not to mention that the fact that NTs feel like they get to make that call about us being “strong” is coming from a messed-up place of willful ignorance, smugness, privilege, and just…ugh. It’s messed up, okay? If you’re NT and call a mentally ill person “strong”, you had better be agreeing with them when they call themselves such, doing so with their permission because they’ve told you it helps, or referring to how much they bench. Want to actually help mentally ill people? That’s another entry for another day, and it’s one that I really hope many NTs will read.

Carrie quote of the day: “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls.” Well said, Carrie.

 

* “Dave” is an all-purpose name for some saneist dipwad and is not a reference to a real person.

“Be strong!” Um…okay…

TW: suicidal ideation, death

I have a lot of feelings about the idea of “strength” when it comes to mental illness. In the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death, I have seen Internet posts exhorting people to be “strong” because it’s what Carrie would want. Unfortunately, that hurts all three of my feelings. Said feelings are awfully muddled and I hope that making this post can help me sort them out. (That’s something else you might see quite a bit on this blog: muddled feelings and opinions. I tend to be very strong in my convictions, but sometimes I’m just not sure about stuff, and I think it’s important to normalize the process of going from not sure to sure. Nobody was born sure.)

Regarding the idea of being “strong” while mentally ill, what does that actually mean? Well, from the lips (or keyboards) of NTs, being “strong” seems to mean “not showing symptoms because I’m uncomfortable seeing them”. From these same people, “strong” can also mean “deciding to not experience symptoms”, as if that were even possible. Claiming that such a thing is possible is invalidating and insulting to MI people. If a person could simply decide to make their symptoms go away, then what they’re experiencing wouldn’t be an illness, would it? (Note: I’m not talking about the use of techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to confront symptoms and work through them so they aren’t so debilitating. CBT is my jam.)

These aforementioned definitions of “strength”—the ones touted by NTs that are unfair to MI people—are garbage. Many MI people feel emotions much more acutely (or, depending on the illness/es, less acutely) than NTs. This means that many of us grieve differently. Seeing us be visibly different makes NTs uncomfortable, and that is why they trot out the idea of “being strong” in the face of tragedy. It’s saneist and it needs to stop.

So if saneist NTs are using unfair definitions of “strong” to refer to behavior and attitude when dealing with mental illness symptoms and grief, what does “strong” mean to the MI community? Well, no community is a monolith, so when I say something along the lines of, say, “The Autistic community prefers identity-first language” (which is true, by the way), I am referring to a majority and I am aware that not every person in the community I’m discussing feels the same way. But I’m not sure I can even say what the majority of the MI community feels about the meaning of the word “strength” in the context of being mentally ill.

As far as I can tell, a common definition of “strength” in the MI community is being able to do things despite one’s mental illness. These aforementioned things can seem small to NTs, like brushing one’s teeth or attending class. They can be bigger, like not committing suicide despite the signals in your brain whispering: “do it. Do it.” “Strength” can also mean being able to face the NT world and say “look, I can’t do this thing right now due to my mental illness. I have to take care of myself instead.”

I personally am cagey about the using the word “strength” or “strong” publicly when it comes to mental illness. Staying alive when it would understandable to die from one’s mental illness is often considered “strong”. But to me, it feels disrespectful to call those who died of their mental illnesses “weak”. I similarly think that many MI people do sometimes feel weak due to their mental illness, and there is no shame in that. Some find comfort in radical vulnerability (a topic I might cover later) or even, paradoxical as it may sound, find strength in weakness.

In my own head, I have often defined “strength” as staying alive in the face of suicidality and when I don’t feel like I even am alive. I have CPTSD and like to refer to trauma as “the kind of murder where nobody dies”, a phrase I stole from an Emilie Autumn lyric. I will never know the person I would have been had I not been traumatized. When I think of how CPTSD has left me an empty shell that mimics her surroundings instead of a real person, I feel like there is no point in living anymore; I’m not even alive in the first place, right? But I tell myself that I should be stronger than those thoughts of not living anymore, and I put down the cup of bleach and continue to breathe. This conquering of suicidal ideation is the definition of “strength” that helps me the most. It is not a definition that I believe is universal.

I think the best definition of “strength” in the context of mental illness that I can present here, in the conclusion of this post, is being like Carrie Fisher: unashamed of being who you are in all of your mentally ill awesomeness. If you can’t be “strong” in other ways—if you can’t get out of bed today, if you can’t take that shower, if you can’t go to work, if you cry over Carrie’s death—that’s okay. There is no shame in that. And there is no shame in struggling with internalized saneism. Most if not all of us have a degree of it, and it can be quite the stumbling block when it comes to advocating for oneself and the MI community. Carrie was unique and special in how she conducted her advocacy. I aspire to be like her, but hell, it may take me a while.

The Carrie Fisher quote I have chosen to accompany this post feels apropos for the topic: “I’m mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”

Definitions and Abbreviations

Well, here I am at my second entry. Looks like I’m really doing this. (For you, Carrie.)

I’m going to be using some abbreviations and terms that many people may not use or be familiar with. So for the sake of making this blog easily comprehensible, I’m making an entry on some of the aforementioned terms and abbreviations.

Terms
Ableism: the oppressive system that privileges abled people over disabled people; bigotry against disabled people

Allistic: not autistic

Autistic (capitalized): autistic and proud; a political identity as well as a neurodevelopmental one

Favorite person: someone who is idolized by a person with BPD; the person with BPD’s happiness and self-worth depend heavily on how their FP treats them

Microaggression: casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, often through language

Neurodivergent: having a mental, neurological, developmental, intellectual, and/or psychological disorder and/or disability

Neurodiversity: a movement dedicated to the acceptance of autism as a natural variant on the human experience and not a disorder 

Neurotypical: not neurodivergent

Neurotypicalism: the oppressive system that privileges neurotypical people over neurodivergent people; bigotry against neurodivergent people

Saneism: the oppressive system that privileges mentally healthy people over mentally ill people; bigotry against mentally ill people

Spoons: units of wherewithal; used by disabled people to describe their ability to accomplish tasks, e.g., “I actually had the spoons to clean the kitchen”; reference to spoon theory, developed by Christine Miserandino

Trigger: stimulus that causes or exacerbates symptoms of an illness or other disabling condition

Abbreviations
ARFID: Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

ASPD: Antisocial personality disorder

BPD: Borderline personality disorder

CPTSD: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder

CW: Content warning

DID: Dissociative identity disorder

DP/DR: Depersonalization/derealization

ED: Eating disorder

FP: Favorite person

GAD: Generalized anxiety disorder

HPD: Histrionic personality disorder

ID/DD/LD: Intellectually disabled/developmentally disabled/learning disabled

MD: Mood disorder

MDD: Major depressive disorder

MH: Mental health

MHCP: Mental health care provider

MI: Mentally ill

ND: Neurodivergent

NPD: Narcissistic personality disorder

NT: Neurotypical

OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder

OSDD: Otherwise specified dissociative disorder

OSFED: Other specified feeding/eating disorder

PD: Personality disorder

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder

TW: Trigger warning

I also think I’m going to close each of my posts with a Carrie Fisher quote. Some of them will be humorous (since she was hilarious) and some will be more serious and related to mental illness. Today I think we need some levity, so here is what Carrie said when Stephen Colbert asked her about being asked to lose weight for filming Star Wars: “They want to hire part of me, not all of me. They want to hire about three-fourths, so I have to get rid of the fourth. The fourth can’t be with me.”

Something else I’m doing today is donating to the Bipolar International Foundation in Carrie’s honor. I think she would approve.

First Post (Intro?)

Content/trigger warning: death

My (pen) name is Mara Lee, and I loved Carrie Fisher.

I don’t say that lightly. I didn’t know it was possible to care so much about someone I had never met. But Carrie Fisher was that important to me. While I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and I adored Leia Organa, it was Carrie Fisher’s mental health advocacy that I admired most. Well, that’s not exactly it, although I took strength from her stance on mental illness. I loved how unapologetically herself Carrie Fisher was. She was hilarious, witty, brave, a talented actress, a skilled writer, open and honest about her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder, and she embraced her fans calling her “space mom”. I loved her personality.

I’m mentally ill. Not bipolar like Carrie, but about everything but; I have been formally diagnosed with major depression (although I think double depression is more accurate), generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder (added to this list in mid-May when I finally accepted that diagnosis), complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and otherwise specified dissociative disorder. (Note: I’m pro-self-diagnosis; I just happen to have had the good fortune to be properly diagnosed by a professional.) Every word Carrie spoke about mental illness made my brain jump up and down screaming “yes, yes, exactly”. In the absence of someone I knew in person to be my mental illness-related beacon of strength, I needed someone like Carrie. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I resolved to not shut up about it because I hated the stigma surrounding mental illness and wanted to do something about it. Carrie was my confirmation that I wasn’t wrong to be so vocal about my mental illness.

I’m also Autistic. I’m planning to talk mostly about mental illness on this blog–more on that later–but being Autistic is inexorably entwined with who I am. And Autistic people often have special interests. A special interest is something that consumes an Autistic person’s life: we think about it all the time, we want to know everything about it, we won’t shut up about it (verbally if we’re capable, in any other form of communication if we’re not), we can hyperfocus on it for hours, etc. etc. Carrie Fisher became a special interest of mine when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and I watched General Organa walk off of her ship to greet Han Solo, and my tiny lesbian heart could not handle the General’s awesomeness. I had never had a special interest in a person before. For the longest time, I thought it was my first celebrity crush. But it was something more than that.

And it was something more than a special interest. Maybe it’s the shock and sadness talking. Maybe I’m just that nerdy. Maybe my hyperempathy is having a field day after the outpouring of grief I’ve seen on social media over Carrie’s death. But the statement “I loved Carrie Fisher” does not feel inaccurate.

And I want to do something in her memory.

I’m not famous and probably never will be, unless this pen name ends up on any of the sci-fi or fantasy novels I have in the works. But like I mentioned before, Carrie Fisher and her badassery were my confirmation that I was doing the right thing by trying to destigmatize mental illness. So, here’s this blog. I’m going to try to post about once a month on a topic related to mental illness and stigma: neurotypicalism in the medical-industrial complex, mood disorders vs. “scary” mental disorders and the differences in how they’re perceived, the relationship mental illness has with the horror genre…trust me, I have plenty of soapboxes. I’m also prone to blathering about my personal life, so I will probably also post occasionally–okay, maybe a ton–about my collection of mental illnesses and how they affect me.

If I may be frank, I don’t know what I’m doing. I have never set out to destigmatize mental illness in this format before…hell, I’ve never done anything to destigmatize mental illness besides run my mouth to my friends. And this is the Internet, so I’m afraid I’ll do something wrong that will be immortalized, or get tons of hate that my sensitive Autistic ass is not going to be able to handle. But as Carrie Fisher once said about MI people pursuing their dreams, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

So I’m doing it anyway.

This is for you, Carrie.