Sensitivity Reading

Hello, dear readers! I have something different for you today. I am offering my services as a sensitivity reader. As such, the tone of this entry is going to be different than my usual profanity-ridden, plain language snark.

Here we go.

Education

  • B.A., Biological Sciences, Smith College
  • M.S., Biomedical Sciences, Rutgers School of Biomedical and Health Sciences
    • Thesis topic: Use of linear after-the-exponential PCR with finicky molecular beacons to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms in KRAS oncogene

Writing Experience

  • Professional medical writing & editing, 3 years
  • Hobbyist original fiction and fanfiction writing, 25 years
    • Winner, Two Sisters Writing & Publishing “It’s All Dialogue” Contest (2017)
    • Honorable Mention, TulipTree Publishing “Stories That Need to Be Told” Contest (2017)

Sensitivity Reading Topics

I offer sensitivity reading services for the following identities with the caveat that these identities, like human beings, are all multifaceted and complex. My services–indeed, the services of any individual sensitivity reader–do not guarantee that every reader will find portrayals respectful and accurate when viewing the work through their individual lens.

  • LGBTQ+
    • Asexual representation
    • Gray-asexual and demisexual representation
    • Nomaromantic representation
    • Lesbian representation
  • Neurodivergence
    • Major depressive disorder
    • Generalized anxiety disorder
    • Social anxiety
    • Selective mutism
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Dissociative identity disorder
    • Bulimia nervosa
    • Anorexia nervosa
    • Other specified feeding/eating disorder
    • Borderline personality disorder
    • Autisticness
    • Sensory processing disorder
    • Auditory processing disorder
    • Executive dysfunction
    • Chronagnosia
    • Prosopagnosia
  • Abuse
    • Emotional abuse
    • Abusive parents
    • Leaving abusive situations
  • Religion
    • Judaism
    • Religious conversion
    • Ex-Christian issues
    • Religious trauma
  • Feminist and gender issues
    • Being a woman in STEM
    • Mainstream feminism (and its failings)
    • Feminism through disability and neurodivergent lenses
    • Femme identity/presentation

Rates

These rates include a full read-through of your manuscript, after which I will deliver a 1-3 page brief analyzing your representation of the identities for which I am reading and, if necessary, suggesting revisions based on my analysis. You are welcome to email me with follow-up questions afterward. If you wish to book me as a sensitivity reader, please email me at arzinzani90@gmail.com.

Note: Upon booking me, I will send you an invoice for my services. You must send me 50% of the agreed-upon rate at that point. I will not begin my sensitivity read until I have received this payment. The remaining amount will be paid after I complete my services.

Rates are as follows:

  • 5,000 – 10,000 words: $75
  • 10,000 – 15,000 words: $125
  • 15,000 – 30,000 words: $175
  • 30,000 – 60,000 words: $225
  • 60,000 – 100,000 words: $275
  • 100,000+ words: $275 + $0.005 per word

I will read work in the following genres:

  • Young adult
  • New adult
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Suspense/thriller
  • Horror

I will not read the following genres:

  • Romance, including erotica
  • Historical fiction

I look forward to working with you!

-Amaranthe

Emotional Sensitivity and Neurotypicalism

Content/trigger warning: death mention, neurotypicalist slur

Oh, hey! I found this entry in my folder of blog entries and it turns out I wrote it a long time ago and never posted it. So have a real entry!

Today (er, on the day I wrote it, which was January 23), someone took time out of their busy schedule to tell me I was wrong for my feelings about Carrie Fisher’s death. Why would someone do that?

Well, I could speculate until the cows come home, but I have always been befuddled by disrespect and meanness. I don’t understand the motivation and may be neurologically incapable of doing so, because it’s not a motivation I have. (Low intellectual empathy. It makes life interesting.) So instead, I want to talk about sensitivity.

Actually, I want to talk about two kinds of sensitivity: sensitivity as in respect and sensitivity as in being emotionally sensitive and vulnerable. It also would be accurate that I want to talk about being sensitive to sensitivity in the sense of being respectful of vulnerability. Some people are sensitive. In modern society, especially in the US (which is where I live and therefore the place I am most qualified to discuss), sensitivity gets a bad rap. It is actively discouraged. People are told to stop being dramatic, stop crying, stop being sensitive, etc. The usual rationale behind this is that the world is cruel, so sensitivity is maladaptive and should be trained out of people. I find there to be two problems with that: one, many sensitive people can literally not be trained out of being who they are, and two, it is possible to create a world that is more accessible to sensitive people.

Many neurodivergent people are highly emotionally sensitive. (Others are highly emotionally insensitive; I might discuss that later.) It is because of this that the “your feelings are wrong and you should feel bad” attitude toward sensitivity crosses into neurotypicalism. Yes, being crappy in response to someone being more upset than you think they should be is rooted in neurotypicalism. You’re gods damned right I said it.

I want to point out that an exception to the discussion in this entry is the fact that being told one is acting like a bigot tends to hurt feelings. In this case, those hurt feelings are the problem of the person acting like a bigot, because they were perpetuating wide-scale harm and their hurt feelings are less important than the harm they were doing. Also, sometimes bigots will hide behind their hurt feelings by attempting to say “you hurt my feelings, so YOU’RE wrong”. Well, being told you’re acting like a bigot hurts. I’m white and cis, so PoC and trans people have told me I was acting like a bigot because, well, I was. I’ve internalized white supremacy and cissexism, and unlearning them is a process. Yeah, it hurt. But I was in the wrong and it was my responsibility as a moral human being to get over my feeling hurt and unlearn whatever toxic crap I was doing. And ohhh boy do I get neurotypicals pulling the “you hurt my feelings by calling me neurotypicalist, so YOU’RE wrong and I don’t have to change my behavior”. (This is why I have a “neurotypical tears” mug.) So to summarize this paragraph, I am talking about being attentive to the emotional needs of sensitive neurodivergent people in this entry, not those times when it may be necessary to hurt someone’s feelings in order to affect positive change.

Anyway, let me give an example. Well, an intersectional example. “Hysteria” used to be a mental illness. Women were actually diagnosed as “hysterical” for, well, having strong feelings. Specifically, these feelings included anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. Oh, and sexually forward behavior. The term “hysteria” was used because those dishing out the diagnosis literally believed that having a uterus caused the “mental illness”, and hysterectomies were sometimes carried out as treatment. (The idea of hysteria or a similar condition as a disease caused by the uterus was found in several cultures, but I’m mostly referring to what was happening to women in England and the States during the industrial era.) In any case, to this day, women are referred to as “hysterical” when we are upset in order to delegitimize our feelings. This is an example of misogynableism: the intersection between misogyny and ableism. The use of the insult “hysteria” is meant to undercut a woman’s experiences by insinuating that she is mentally ill, therefore her experiences and feelings about them can be ignored.

The idea that mental illness (or at least supposed irrationality related to such) and emotional sensitivity are inexorably related is pervasive. Mentally ill feelings are seen as Wrong, so they can be dismissed; on the flip side, “overly” sensitive emotional responses are seen as mentally ill so they can be categorized as Wrong. “You’re too sensitive” is not only an asshole thing to say in response to someone’s hurt feelings, but it also carries the hidden barb of “you’re crazy”. This is especially true when a woman’s feelings are being delegitimized; misogynableism is likely at play.

In short, everyone’s feelings are legitimate to them and should be respected, even if some might find them too extreme. Yes, that especially includes the feelings of mentally ill people, even if our disorders are causing those feelings; for example, my CPTSD-born belief that I deserve to suffer or die when I’m admonished for a social gaffe is irrational, but it’s certainly real. I can process that feeling much better when the fact that I’m feeling it is respected. High emotional sensitivity, like any other neurodivergent trait, needs to be accommodated, and that accommodation should lead to the curb-cutter effect and make life easier for neurotypical people who are highly sensitive. The world would be a better place for everyone if assholes would stop being assholes. Well, it might not be better for the assholes, but I don’t really care about them.

I might write more about sensitivity and radical softness later, but that might be all I have on the topic.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.'” I’m only picking this quote because I’m so out of spoons I want a depression nap, but I have to job-hunt instead.

Time Won’t Heal This Damage Anymore

Content/trigger warning: disordered eating, self-harm, discussion of suicide

Today’s entry is primarily inspired by Chester Bennington’s death, and as such, I will be covering suicidal ideation and the ableism inherent in mocking music that expresses feelings of angst or anguish.

I know about self-harm, self-hatred, and suicidal ideation. I’ve experienced all three thanks to my depression, and I suspect my BPD and CPTSD also have contributed to those. Even now, there are spots on my shirt that are still wet from my Tide To-Go pen, which I fortunately had on hand to clean up after throwing up in a Panera restroom after I felt like I ate too much. (Disordered eating is another fun borderline trait.) And yes, purging or depriving oneself of food can be a form of self-harm. Self-harm isn’t just angsty white teenage girls cutting their wrists. Here’s a list of other forms of self-harm:

-depriving oneself of food or other necessary things like medication
-unsafe participation in extreme sports
-scalding/burning oneself
-banging or hitting body parts
-ingestion of toxic substances
-dermatillomania (skin picking) or trichotillomania (hair pulling) (these aren’t always self-harm, though)

I was angsty white teenage girl who cut her hipbones because she didn’t want anyone seeing her wrists. I also used to scald myself. I haven’t cut in almost a decade, but I still self-harm with disordered eating and purging, and occasionally trichotillomania. But I have coping mechanisms that exorcise my feelings of self-hatred without taking it out on myself. One of those coping mechanisms is music.

I listen to music that is often mocked for being “wangsty”, “emo”, or my personal favorite, “bullshit-sad”. Some groups that have helped me work through self-hatred or desire to self-harm include Evanescence, Smile Empty Soul, A Static Lullaby, The Amity Affliction, Escape the Fate, Beartooth, Papa Roach, and of course, Linkin Park (well, their early work, anyway; I’m lukewarm on Living Things and The Hunting Party, and I don’t care at all for One More Light). “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence (frequently and incorrectly referred to as “Wake Me Up Inside”) has become a meme. Linkin Park and Papa Roach songs (especially “Crawling” by Linkin Park and “Last Resort” by Papa Roach) are also frequently mocked in memes and similar jokes.

Look, I know perfectly well that some of this music may not be technically proficient, may have lyrics that rhyme clumsily or seem cheesy, and may employ overwrought vocal delivery. (Papa Roach’s early work is particularly guilty of cheesy lyrics and hammy delivery; too bad I don’t care.) These are legitimate criticisms of the art form. The mocking for expressing feelings of anguish, especially suicidality (like in “Last Resort”), is ableist.

Don’t think that because depression isn’t a “scary” mental illness (see my last entry) doesn’t mean it’s any less serious. Psychiatric disabilities are serious conditions that can cause suffering. When it comes to depression, I like to refer to it as “my brain is trying to kill me”. “Angsty” music makes me feel less alone, like I’m not the only person whose own mind is betraying them, like I’m not the only person feeling those things. It helps put things in perspective; just like the song will end, so the suicidal or self-harm impulses will pass. Sometimes just listening to—or singing—a particular song over and over is catharsis enough to calm me down.

I used to not understand why the music that helped me so much was met with jeering and mockery by healthy people. I was naïve then. The reason is ableism, specifically saneism. Mentally healthy people don’t understand the suffering mental illness can bring, and our suffering is funny to them. They think less of us because of how our brains work, and they think that makes us acceptable targets. The appropriate response for a mentally healthy person hearing “angsty” lyrics that they can’t relate to shouldn’t be “ha, ha, mentally ill people’s pain is hilarious”, it should be “I’m lucky I’ve never had to deal with this”.

Back to “my brain is trying to kill me”. That’s not an exaggeration. I experience suicidal ideation–hell, I once ended up in a psych ward for it–which is why I want to talk about the saneism surrounding suicide when it is actually carried out, not just sung about. First of all, there is no shame in dying by suicide. Suicidal ideation is a symptom of an illness. People who died by suicide died of their illness. It is no more shameful than dying of an infection. Depression can be a lifelong illness—it is for me, since I have a serotonin imbalance—and for many of us, there is no such thing as recovery from self-harm or suicidal ideation. One of my friends likes to call such symptoms “dormant”. They lie sleeping, lurking, ready to erupt like a volcano with the right provocation. They will never fully go away. I’m having trouble dealing with Chester Bennington’s death for the same reason I had trouble dealing with learning about Carrie’s drug relapse: I’m afraid of dying of my symptoms.

Second of all, dying by suicide is not “selfish”, “cowardly”, or “immoral”. The framing of suicide as being “selfish” burdens people struggling with suicidal ideation with guilt, which may make them hate themselves even more. As someone with trauma from emotional abuse that included guilt tripping, the framing of suicide as “selfish” is actually triggering to me. People who are experiencing suicidal ideation may be incapable of conceptualizing the fact that people will miss them and likely believe that the people in their lives would be better off without them. Adding to their suffering with a guilt trip only makes things worse.

Third, saneism contributes to suicide. How? People who are struggling with their symptoms may not seek help (no, I don’t just mean professional help, I am always quick to say that therapy and medication aren’t right for everyone; sometimes all a depressed person needs is for a friend to listen to their feelings) because of the stigma associated with experiencing mental illness symptoms. They’re afraid of being judged or rejected. Or they have internalized toxic messages such as “you can’t be depressed because there are starving children in Africa; you don’t have any REAL problems” (a line my abuser likes to try to feed me). If you’re doing battle with suicidal thoughts, there is no shame in talking about it. If you know someone who is doing battle with suicidal thoughts, make sure to reassure those people that they are not alone, that they are loved, and that their experiences with psychiatric disability are valid.

Fourth, people whose lives appear easy can experience suicidal ideation. Like I said, this entry came out of Chester Bennington’s death, and he was a successful musician. “But he was famous! What did he have to be depressed about?” is something that I am hearing far too much. Wealth and fame aren’t cures for mental illness. Depression lies. Depression tells you that life isn’t worth living even if your life has a lot of good in it. My serotonin levels would be the same if I were rich and famous, even if I didn’t “have anything to be depressed about”.

Okay, I think that’s about all I have for now. I’m going to go listen to Meteora and wish I had enough extra money to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “It creates community when you talk about private things.”

“Scary” Mental Illnesses

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*)
  • Dissociation
  • Unstable sense of self
  • Impulse control problems
  • Rigid and “extreme” thought patterns
  • A pattern of deviation from cultural/social norms
  • Self-talk
  • “Abnormal” (too close or too distant) attachment to others
  • Unusual body movements
  • (Supposed) tendency toward violence
  • Hypersexuality

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)
  • PTSD

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.

Awareness vs. Acceptance, Revisited

I’m tired.

Mental Illness Awareness Month isn’t as hellish as Autism Bewareness Month. That’s partly because autism awareness and mental illness awareness are two different forms of bullshit. Autism awareness is ableist fearmongering, while mental illness awareness is…a little more complicated than that. But all too frequently, mental illness awareness takes the form of cheesy inspiration porn about people ~overcoming their illnesses and doing ~inspiring things like rock climbing or walking across the country. And putting up with that doesn’t fill me with wrath like autism bewareness does, but damn is it tiring.

An excellent example of this inspo porn—which, much to my chagrin, comes from an actually MI person, but we all know internalized saneism is a thing—is the music video for “Sick of Me” by Beartooth. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCCEhNYOJbk&spfreload=10. Beartooth is a metalcore band fronted by Caleb Shomo, who has, in the past, been locked in a fierce battle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Many of his lyrics ring true to me, and Beartooth is one of my go-to bands for when my brain is being a douchebag. But unfortunately, Caleb doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that every MI person deals with their illness differently, and that presenting only one narrative on dealing with mental illness isn’t all that helpful. In fact, it can hurt.

The video for “Sick of Me” details the experiences of three people with depression. All three of them “overcame” their depression through hobbies. One took up rock climbing, one walked across the United States to raise awareness of mental illness in war veterans, and one took up cosplay. Although I will admit it was cool to see cosplay presented in such a positive light, there’s a major problem with this: depression frequently saps people of the ability to enjoy hobbies. The message that getting into a new hobby is the best coping mechanism for depression flies in the face of how depression actually works. Did certain extracurricular activities, especially music, keep me alive when I was undiagnosed and suicidal? Yes, but I also don’t go around claiming that getting into music or any other hobby is definitely going to help a person deal with depression.

And the “get a hobby” message isn’t the worst part of the “Sick of Me” mental illness ~awareness video. No, the worst part is that Caleb Shomo said “If you can choose, like really choose, to not let anxiety and depression run your life, you’re gonna make it…it’s your body, it’s your life, it’s your choice.”

Fucking excuse me, Caleb? 

Yeah, it’s my body and my life, but it’s also my serotonin imbalance. I can’t choose to change my neurotransmitter levels. I can choose to seek help and support, and to engage in healthy coping mechanisms. But I can’t snap my fingers and say “depression and anxiety can get fucked; they won’t affect me anymore”. Simply saying that a mentally ill person can choose how their mental illness affect them is reductive at best and saneist at worst. I know Caleb’s heart was in the right place, but way the message was transmitted? Yeah, it left a lot to be desired.

“Oh, Mara,” you might be saying, “that’s just one music video! What about organizations like To Write Love on Her Arms?” To which I would reply, “TWLOHA is bullshit and The Semicolon Project can kiss my borderline ass”. Harsh? Especially in light of the fact that the person who started The Semicolon Project just died by suicide? I don’t think so.

TWLOHA claims not to be a Christian organization, but the “story” of TWLOHA, about a girl named Renee who had carved the phrase “fuck up” into her arm, includes the line “[we would be] her body of Christ, to write love on her arms”. The founder of TWLOHA and writer of this story—Jamie Tworkowski—gives all the credit to God instead of the actual members of the church community who helped Renee with her recovery. Why do I have a problem with an anti-suicide organization being Christian? Because pushing religious conversion on mentally ill teens isn’t healthy, and I have a major problem with the evangelizing tendency from Christian orgs even when they aren’t targeting vulnerable young people. In its early days, TWLOHA was also promoted by Christian bands, which…yeah, I’m all for bands using their fame to promote important causes, but not only were these all Christian bands, TWLOHA ended up smacking of a desire to get famous and sell T-shirts as opposed to actually helping anyone. Speaking of which, TWLOHA commercializes the issues of self-harm and suicidality. It makes money because neurotypicals want to sport apparel that makes them feel like they helped when they didn’t actually do shit. Writing “love” on one’s arm doesn’t help one learn how to care for a loved one with depression. A rubber bracelet with a so-called charity’s name on it doesn’t make one more aware of the warning signs that a friend is suicidal. It’s pointless, money-making ego-stroking.

The Semicolon Project isn’t a scam, but it is faith-based, which makes my skin crawl a little, as I mentioned above. And the reason I say The Semicolon Project can kiss my borderline ass is because while the Project claims expertise in all (or at least most) mental illnesses, their information section on personality disorders on their Web site? Yeah, it leaves something to be desired. When I first read it, I thought it was vaguely stigma-enforcing, and then I got to the end of the section and nearly put my fist through the computer screen. The Semicolon Project suggests that people with family members with PDs get therapy because living with someone with a personality disorder is that harmful. Talk about lateral saneism.

Mental illness awareness: usually useless, money-making ego-stroking, occasionally lateral saneism, and very, very frequently bullshit. And I think that’s all I have to say on the subject.

“Wait, Mara, you can’t end the entry there!” you might be saying. “What about acceptance? What would contribute to mental illness acceptance?

Sigh. Fine.

Honesty. Honesty and openness.

Mentally ill people sharing their numerous and varied experiences, acknowledging that different coping mechanisms work for different people, and that no two MI people—even those who share illnesses—are the same. Mentally ill people speaking out against saneist stereotypes. Mentally ill people talking about the ugly realities of mental illness, no matter how much it might scare mentally healthy people, because being aware that a mental illness exists doesn’t mean knowing anything about what it’s like to have that illness. Mentally ill people discussing how therapy and medication helped them. Mentally ill people discussing how therapy and medication weren’t right for them.

Mentally ill people, speaking. Speaking for ourselves. Not mentally healthy people speaking for us or selling T-shirts and bracelets to make themselves feel like they did something good. Knowing mental illness exists is a poor, poor substitute for accepting mentally ill people’s lives and experiences as deserving of respect.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic—not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”

 

May the 4th Be With You

Well, it’s Star Wars Day, and here I am writing without knowing what I’m doing. Again. Hi.

My second entry on why acceptance > awareness is still in progress, so I’m going to use this (short) entry to say I hope all my fellow neurodivergent people are having a good Star Wars Day. Make sure to practice self-care, take your meds if you are consensually on meds, speak your mind despite the haters, and wear glitter (or whatever serves as psychological armor for you). For Carrie.

RIP, Carrie. You were irreplaceable and we still miss you. And May the Fourth be with you, readers.

You Are Not a Little Neurodivergent

Content/trigger warning: discussion of saneism

Let’s talk about what it doesn’t mean to normalize mental illness. Or rather, let’s talk about one thing I see from neurotypicals that seems aimed at normalizing mental illness, or at least familiarizing themselves with mental illness, but is actually misguided and neurotypicalist.

This is going to be a short entry because I can only keep up unbridled rage and disgust for so long.

I am so fucking fucking sick of neurotypicals* saying they are “a little [psychiatric or neurological disability]” in reference to one trait or mindset.

You might be saying: Sheesh, Mara. Isn’t that an overreaction? No. Not to me. Because it is a sign of an underlying issue: neurotypicalism due to the lack of understanding of psychiatric and neurological disabilities. Yes, mental illnesses are constellations of traits, and some people without the illnesses can have those traits. The same is true for neurodevelopmental disabilities like ADHD and autism. However, a mental illness is an ILLNESS, not a name for one trait or mood. A neurodevelopmental disability is a DISABILITY, not a descriptor for being awkward or flighty. No one says “I’m feeling a little pneumonia-ish”; they either have pneumonia or they don’t. So why do neurodivergent conditions get the “I’m a little [blank]” treatment?

Because, again, neurotypicals don’t understand. Specifically, they don’t understand the difference between variations in experiences among those with neurodivergent conditions and the fact that ND and NT people can share traits. Worse, NTs think of these traits in themselves—perfectionism (“I’m a little OCD”), flightiness (“I’m a little ADHD”), social awkwardness (“I’m a little Autistic”)—and they often think of how they can deal with those traits or how they can be trained out of those traits to the degree that they don’t cause serious difficulty. This is not the case for neurodivergent people. Oh, neurodivergent people can learn coping mechanisms. We can recover from some disorders and lessen our symptoms of other disorders. But we wouldn’t be ill or disabled if we didn’t have serious negative impacts on our lives either from our brains malfunctioning or society not being set up to accommodate us. (I specifically mention the latter because I don’t suffer from autism, I suffer from allistics and allistic society.)

Oh, and there are also the people who think being mentally ill is cute and quirky, which is why they refer to themselves as using saneist slurs or as having certain mental illnesses. This is so beyond the realm of making sense to me that I have nothing more to say about besides the fact that these people clearly also don’t understand mental illness. There are probably also people who think having certain neurodevelopmental disabilities is cute or quirky too—I’ve seen “lol I’m so ADD” way too many times—and that similarly befuddles me. Just. Just stop, people. (I think this is fetishization, which is not entirely the same as believing oneself to be “a little [ND condition]”, but it’s similar enough that I wanted to bring it up. I will probably tackle fetishization of mental illness in depth some other time, if I can summon any thoughts on the topic beyond incoherent keyboard-smashing.)

So why it so insulting for a neurotypical to say things like “I’m a little schizophrenic” or, worse, “I’m a little cr*zy”? Because like I mentioned, being neurodivergent comes with suffering. This suffering may come exclusively or almost exclusively from being marginalized by society—as a proud Autistic person, I could never say that being neurodivergent in and of itself causes suffering—or it may come from our brains doing horrible things that have a profound negative effect on our lives. Saying you’re “a little” neurodivergent is saying that you have experience with being neurodivergent, thereby appropriating how we live with society’s boot on our necks and are thrown under the proverbial bus even by progressives. It is not only appropriating our suffering from neurotypicalism, but our difficulties existing with our disabilities. If you’re “a little PTSD” after seeing a terrible film, will you have flashbacks that reduce you to a shaking, weeping wreck when you’re reminded of the film? If you’re “a little Autistic” because you’re not particularly socially adept, will you be unable to accomplish anything for the rest of the day after a difficult social interaction? (Not that all PTSD sufferers have murderous flashbacks or all Autistic people have no spoons after a difficult social situation, but I’m trying to make a point here: ND people have experiences that NTs do not.)

So when an allistic who is a little shy says they’re “a little Autistic” or a neurotypical who had an unpleasant experience says they’re “a little PTSD”, how my reaction be anything but “How dare you”?

The Carrie Fisher quote of the day has to do with how damn hard it can be to function while neurodivergent. This quote is specifically about bipolar disorder, but I think she would be okay with some of us other ND people taking inspiration from it too: “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

 

*I am not referring to ND people with internalized neurotypicalism who say they’re “a little [condition]” as part of their path to accepting who they are. I’m referring to neurotypicals who think it’s completely acceptable to describe themselves as “a little [condition]”.

No, Neurodivergent People Are Not More Likely to Shoot Up Schools

Content/trigger warning: discussion of mass murder, slurs (censored), violent neurotypicalism

Every time a (white) person commits mass murder, a collective thought bubble appears over the neurodivergent community, or at least over the heads of those of us with “scary” ND conditions. The thought bubble reads: “oh, shit”. (No, I’m not saying we don’t care about the victims. We do. We just also think “oh, shit”.) We plan to lay low, stay inside, and/or try to pass for neurotypical as much as possible for the next few weeks. Because we know that, despite the fact that Murderous Bastard Syndrome is not in the DSM, brains like ours will be blamed for the tragic, violent act that took place.

We dread news reports that use neurotypicalist insults and slurs—“l*natic” seemed to be a favorite for the UCSB shooter—to refer to the murderer. We hear our friends and family members repeat those words when discussing the tragedy and feel that we can no longer trust those people. We glance around us in public, thinking about strangers “Does he know? Does she? Do they? Am I safe from these people?” because someone might figure out we’re neurodivergent and we will be labeled as dangerous. But we’re not dangerous. Our brains do not predispose us to cruelty toward others.

“But Mara, what about ASPD?” you might be asking. Well, sorry, but I’m not going to throw ASPD under the bus. (Actually, no, I’m not sorry. People with ASPD are my ND siblings. Oh, and “s****path” and “p*****path” are slurs, by the way.) If a person who happens to have ASPD commits murder, they didn’t do it because they were neurodivergent, they did it because they were an evil person. A diagnosis of ASPD does not mark a person as evil. No diagnosis marks a person as evil.

In fact, most mass shooters are neurotypical, and neurodivergent people are far more likely to be the victims of neurotypicalist hate crimes than we are likely to be violent criminals. (Not-so-fun fact: the rate of sexual violence against developmentally disabled women is over 80%. Is it any wonder I’m an angry disabled bitch? No, I’m not exaggerating. http://www.uwosh.edu/ccdet/caregiver/Documents/Pinkston/Handouts/pamelastatcssex.pdf) I know that the prevalent neurotypicalist idea that someone has to be [slur of choice] in order to commit a violent crime dictates the opposite, so here are some more links.

https://news.ncsu.edu/2014/02/wms-desmarais-violence2014/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525086/pdf/wpa020121.pdf

https://autistichoya.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/crime-victimization-in-adults-with-severe-mental-illness-lina-a-teplin-et-al.pdf

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/05/1375335/-American-tragedy-A-staggering-percentage-of-police-shooting-victims-struggled-with-mental-illness

Those links are about mental illness, but you may notice I have been saying “neurodivergent” and not “mentally ill” in this entry. You might be wondering why. Well, because autism is not a mental illness, and Autistic people are also subject to the neurotypicalist belief that we are more violent than allistics. After the Sandy Hook shooting, suddenly everyone and their dog wanted to know how many murders were committed by Autistic people. To my abject horror, one of my favorite TV shows, Law and Order: SVU, even ran an episode based on the UCSB shooter featuring a killer with a (terrible, unrealistic, no seriously what was the director thinking) neurodivergent affect and whose father said he was Autistic. But like mentally ill people, Autistic people are actually less likely than neurotypicals to be violent; in fact, we are more likely to be targeted for violence than the rest of the population. Here:

http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/16/1/37.short

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/325971/crime-victims-with-dd.pdf

This was a hard entry to write. But I can’t very well have a blog about destigmatizing mental illness (and other ND conditions, considering how incredibly Autistic I am) and neglect that we’re blamed for horrific violent crimes. Why am I bringing this up now? Barron Trump.

Twitter and other social media networks are littered with jokes about how Barron Trump is Autistic and going to be the next school shooter. First of all, he’s fucking TEN. Let up on the kid. He didn’t ask to be born into that family. Second of all, there’s nothing wrong with being Autistic and implying such is incredibly ableist. Third of all, Autistic people are less likely to commit violent crimes than allistic people. I think the neurotypicalist cockcheeses making these jokes are also thinking of Barron’s boredom during political proceedings as flat or blunted affect, which is associated not just with autism but several “scary” mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, ASPD, and bipolar disorder. So I’m not concerned only about anti-Autistic neurotypicalism when it comes to this issue.

I’m tired. I’m so damn tired. I’m so sick of my brain being blamed for horrific violent crimes. It needs to stop.

I would like to acknowledge Autistic Hoya for providing many of the links used in this entry.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “Shame is not something I aspire to”.

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.

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.