How You Does Ally, Part I: Allyship With the Mentally Ill Community

Content/tw: cursing, discussion of saneism

I’m probably going to do at least two of these; one about allyship to the mentally ill community and one about allyship to the Autistic community. I might also do one about allyship to cluster B people. And maybe one for the whole Disabled community, but that’s so huge and diverse, I might have to break it up. We’ll see. But I’m starting with a list of how to be a good ally to mentally ill people in general…well, with a few examples that are specific to certain disorders. Here we go:

  1. This goes for being an ally to any marginalized group: don’t get your knickers in a twist over metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech that uses thing X, which is associated with thing Y, to refer to thing Y; for example, the phrase “America is enacting racist policies” really means “the American government is enacting racist policies”. Similarly, “I fucking hate men” means “I fucking hate systemic misogyny and the fact that men act as oppressors due to systemic misogyny” and “mentally healthy people suck” means “saneism sucks and the fact that mentally healthy people act as oppressors due to saneism also sucks”. If you’re mentally healthy and hear an MI person complaining about mentally healthy people, don’t get all pissy and offended. And if you do get pissy and offended, maybe think about about how much you really care about the rights of mentally ill people.
  2. Remove saneist language, especially insults, from your vocabulary. Don’t call gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses “ins*ne”; call them gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses. Don’t call selfish, violent assholes “p*****paths”; call them selfish, violent assholes. Don’t even call that party you went to last night “cr*zy”; call it “wild”.
  3. Similarly, I’ve touched on this before, but don’t blame violence or bigotry on mental illness. Mental illness is a horrible predictor of whether or not someone will be violent or bigoted.
  4. For that matter, correct your friends and family when they use saneist language (assuming it is safe for you to do so). If you know someone who is MI and uses saneist language, well, internalized saneism is wicked hard to shake, and that should probably be handled by another MI person. Also, they could be reclaiming the terms. But definitely correct other mentally healthy people who are contributing to bigotry against mentally ill people if you can.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, refer to suicide as being “cowardly” or “selfish”. I don’t care if you’ve been suicidal and telling yourself that suicide is cowardly or selfish kept you alive, because a lot of suicidal people believe that their loved ones would be better off with them dead or that they deserve to die. And being shamed for being suicidal may make them feel worse or even push them over the edge. Trying to shame someone into staying alive is…well, I find it morally reprehensible. Don’t do it.
  6. If someone is not a veteran and has PTSD, do not give them shit for it. I mean, sexual assault is approximately as likely to cause PTSD as serving in the military (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56506/). Anyone who experiences trauma can get PTSD; it isn’t just soldiers.
  7. Respect people’s triggers. Triggers can be anything from gunshot-like sounds to the cologne someone’s abuser used to wear. If someone says something is a trigger for them, no matter how silly it may seem to you, respect that and do everything you can not to trigger them.
  8. Use trigger and content warnings. (A content warning is ordinarily for mention/brief discussion of something while a trigger warning is for a vivid description of it/showing it.) Like I mentioned, triggers can be anything, but if you’re producing content for a large audience, the best things to warn for are what I call The Trifecta: abuse (specify the type; sexual, physical, emotional, etc.), murder/death, and bigotry. Other good things to warn for are pedophilia, blood, extreme violence, cruelty to animals, drugs (recreational or medicinal), alcohol, explosions, war, and corpses.
  9. If someone says they can’t eat a certain thing, eat in front of people, or go to a certain restaurant, respect that. Eating disorders are fucking bastards.
  10. Understand that therapy and medication aren’t right for everyone. Some people get side effects worse than their symptoms. Some people have medical trauma and can’t safely go to therapists’ offices. Some people have had such shitty therapists that they are afraid to go back to therapy. Whatever the case, mentally ill people deserve to have autonomy over their treatment.
  11. But on the other side of the coin, don’t fucking med shame. Many MI people need our medication to be healthy. Some of us need it to fucking live. Yes, late-stage capitalism is inherently unethical and pharmaceutical companies profit off of the suffering of mentally ill people who need medication. But in your zeal to take down “Big Pharma”, don’t you fucking dare piss on people who need psychiatric meds. No, we’re not just throwing chemicals at the vagaries of life because we’re “weak” or “lazy”. It’s more along the lines of “if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, getting them from the pharmacy works too”.
  12. If you live in the United States, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE. They don’t know how to deal with us. They’ll probably just kill us. Okay? Okay. This goes double if the MI person in distress is a person of color. The only exception to this is if the person in distress requests that you call the police.
  13. Excommunicate yourself from the Cult of Forced Positivity. Don’t ever tell a depressed person that happiness is a choice. Don’t ever tell a person with anxiety that they just need to relax. Don’t ever tell a borderline person that they just have to decide not to be afraid of abandonment. Don’t ever tell a person with body dysmorphic disorder to choose to love their body. Choosing to not be mentally ill is fucking impossible. Also, putting so much emphasis on how happiness is mandatory shames people who experience not only depression, but many other mood disorders, and makes them feel like it’s not okay for them to discuss or even experience their symptoms.
  14. Similarly, if you don’t have a mental illness, don’t give advice on how to deal with it unless you are asked. Just don’t. We’re fucking sick of hearing how doing pilates in the woods at sunrise will cure our neurotransmitter imbalances.
  15. I have mentioned this before, but don’t claim you’re “a little OCD” if you like things neat or “a little anorexic” because you didn’t have that second donut. If you think you might have that illness, go ahead. If you definitely don’t have an illness, don’t talk about having it. It minimizes the experiences of people who are actually MI.
  16. Do not feel entitled. If a MI person tells you what their triggers are or what they can’t eat or that they need you to reassure them about something, you are not entitled to any further information about their mental illness. Don’t ask why we have the triggers we do or why we can’t eat that food or why we need to hear that you don’t hate us. Just give us the respect we deserve and don’t pry.
  17. Finally, practice “pass the mic” activism. Center and amplify mentally ill voices when it comes to conversations about mental illness. Take the recent conversation about how mental illness is not a predictor of whether or not someone will shoot up a school. Sure, it’s good to cite forensic psychologists who say that mental illness is a terrible predictor of violence. But about every mentally ill person either could have also told you that, and trust me, we are Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging and screaming about it.

I think that’s all I have for now. Go forth and be a not-asshole about mental illness.

 

Less Well-Known Ableist Language

Content/trigger warning: ableist language (which you might have guessed :P), cursing

First of all, I want to discuss ableist language that isn’t widely acknowledged as ableist in this entry because I see a lot of people who are attempting to be good allies to the Disabled community or are even Disabled themselves using some of these. I also want to reiterate something that many Disabled activists have said: ableism is not a list of words. It is a violent system of oppression that privileges abled people over Disabled people and harms or even kills Disabled people. Ableist language is commonly discussed in part because it is so pervasive and in part because it is representative of the fact that Disabled people are devalued and dehumanized, so while it isn’t the be-all end-all of ableism, I think it still bears discussing. Examining one’s language can also be an effective way to identify unconscious biases.

I also want to say that not all of these are considered slurs. Some are ableist in the way that saying that all women have vaginas is transmisogynist, but does not involve any slurs. But some of these are slurs, so ye hath been warned. If ableist language is one of your triggers or you find it really upsetting, you may want to skip this one.

So with that out of the way, here we go; a (probably not comprehensive) list of lesser-known ableist language:

 

Autistic screeching/any use of autism as an insult: Please, for the love of stim toys, don’t do this. It’s incredibly ableist against Autistic people.

Blind to/Turn a blind eye to/Blinded by: Any metaphor (or whatever literary device you’re using) that describes disability as negative is ableist. These expressions are, specifically, vidist (vidism is oppression of blind people). “Ignorant” can be a good substitute.

Confined to a wheelchair: Wheelchairs help people be more mobile, not less, so wheelchairs are the opposite of confining. Instead, say “wheelchair user”.

Cr*zy (also ins*ne, m*d): I would think these would be pretty self-explanatory, but apparently they’re not. Don’t use slurs against mental illness. “Outrageous” or “ridiculous” are good alternatives. (Note: these words are often reclaimed.)

Cr*pple: It seems like many people actually do know that this is ableist, but it is ableist against physically Disabled people, and I’m putting this on the lesser-known list because so many able-bodied mentally ill people use “cr*ppling” to describe their mental illness. FUCKING DON’T DO THAT.

Delusional: Often leveled at people who are being illogical (so just say “illogical”), this one is ableist toward mentally ill people who experience delusions.

D*rp/herp-d*rp: Offensive to ID/DD people. Its origins on South Park were surprisingly not terribly shitty, but it has been coopted by shitty people to disparagingly refer to ID/DD people. Whoops.

Differently abled/diffabled: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh I fucking hate this one. It’s so condescending in addition to representing a flagrantly inaccurate understanding of disability. (More on that when I write about models of disability.) “Disabled” is not a bad word. Just say it. Please.

D*mb/D*mbass: This one insults intelligence, and saying that low intelligence is inherently bad is ableist against intellectually Disabled people. Hell, the whole damn concept of intelligence is ableist, and don’t get me started on how many –isms are involved in IQ tests. Actually, get me started on that some other time. There will be an entry on it. Avoid insulting intelligence, okay? Oh, and this one also is ableist against non-speaking Disabled people because of its history of use to mean non-speaking.

Ermahgerd: This one is offensive to Disabled people whose disabilities affect their speech. Yes. Really. I only learned that fairly recently myself.

Fall on deaf ears/tone-deaf: This one is audist, or discriminatory against D/deaf people. Like I said before, don’t use literary devices that present disability as inherently bad.

Fuckt*rd/libt*rd: If you’re reading this, you probably know that r****d is one of the worst ableist slurs. Derivatives of the r-slur are also ableist slurs.

H*ndic*p: The “hand-to-cap” story is reportedly not true, but this one is still a slur. I’ve heard some older Disabled people use it, but…internalized ableism is hard as hell to shake. As with many others on this list, just say Disabled instead.

Hearing impaired: Many D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people don’t like this one. Say D/deaf or HoH instead.

Id*ot/imb*cile/m*ron: Not only do these have a history of use by pro-eugenics asswads to label intellectually Disabled people in order to determine whether or not they should be institutionalized, sterilized, etc., they insult intelligence. I’ve already talked about why that is a No. Don’t insult intelligence; insult poor decisions or moral bankruptcy instead.

L*me: This one specifically targets people with mobility or physical disabilities, especially those affecting the legs. This is usually used as slang to refer to something that is “uncool”. I’m really terrible at argot and colloquialisms, but I’m sure there are other slang terms that aren’t ableist that can be used to mean “bad” or “uncool”.

Ps*cho: This one is offensive to people who experience psychosis. The same goes for use of “psychotic” as an insult.

P*****path/s****path: These are both slurs for people with ASPD that rely on the ableist idea that empathy is what makes us human, a necessary trait to be a good person, etc. Many neurodivergent people have low or no empathy and are still good people and not in any way a threat to society. Oh yeah, that’s what these words mean. That people with low/no empathy are a danger to society. The only people I’m a danger to are (usually ableist) people who are a danger to me. Avoid these and just call someone morally bankrupt. Or an evil fucker. Or whatever.

-phobic (to refer to bigotry): I’ve never liked this one, and it turns out there’s a good reason for that; it conflates bigotry with phobias, which fall under mental illness. Conflating bigotry with mental illness is a towering pile of Don’t Fucking Do That. A good alternative to –phobia is –misia or, if you don’t think that will be recognized/understood, –antagonism.

Short bus/you belong on the short bus/that’s short bus material: Targets ID/DD/LD people. Avoid this one, and, as I said before, any insult to intelligence.

Sp*z: This one specifically targets people with cerebral palsy and other neural issues. “Disorganized” or “incompetent” will suffice.

Special needs/special: The needs of Disabled people aren’t “special”, they’re fucking necessary. And referring to a Disabled person as “special” or “a special” is just…my soul hurts too much to even think about that. Don’t. Stop. No. Just say “Disabled”.

St*pid: Remember what I said about not insulting intelligence? Don’t.

That gave me a flashback/that gave me PTSD: A coworker recently tapped me on the shoulder after lumbering up to me. Seeing as heavy footsteps and being touched without warning are triggers for me, I jumped about a mile and I felt a sensation like my soul shooting out the top of my spine, and suddenly I was fifteen years old again and my abuser was pinning me to a wall. I was dissociated for the rest of the day. That’s a flashback. Your difficult exam or that bad movie you saw did not give you PTSD or flashbacks.

Triggered (when used as an insult): See above. It’s immensely disrespectful and minimizing of the struggles of people with PTSD (and other conditions that can be triggered, like, say, anxiety or epilepsy).

 

Like I said, that was not a comprehensive list of ableist language; it was just a list of less common ones because I think there are a lot of well-meaning people who use these not knowing that they come from a place of bigotry. Also, I keep seeing a lot of people on the left using these to tear down right-wing bigots, and for the love of SSRIs, please don’t fight bigotry with bigotry.

I think I’m going to stop with the Carrie Fisher quotes. She said a lot of memorable things, of course, but I’m running out of quotes that are apropos for these entries. I might pick up doing the quotes again when I can finally read one of her books without crying.

“I’m Triggered!”

Content/trigger warning: descriptions of ableism, cursing

No. Actually, I’m not. I’m fucking furious. 

Or maybe I am triggered, as in the symptoms of my illness have been exacerbated by an external stimulus, because unchecked rage is a rare symptom of PTSD, but oh do I have that symptom.

It’s time to talk about ableism in comedy.

I’m typing this because I was just watching SNL (not deliberately; it’s disgustingly saneist, but it was on in the background) and a skit came on that was a fake advertisement mocking people who are aware of social issues and work to improve them. The skit involved clumsily shouting social justice buzzwords, including “I’m triggered!” in response to…oh, I don’t fucking know, some question about the fake product being advertised. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that ableism is rampant in comedy, and that fucking terrifies me.

I’ve been meaning to do this entry for a while because I keep seeing this. A little while back, I was watching America’s Got Talent, and I saw a comedian who described a physically Disabled woman not disclosing her disability prior to a Tinder date as being “catfished”. Then he mockingly mimicked her gait. The crowd, of course, was laughing hysterically. Because insulting Disabled people is fucking hilarious, right? And of course, scads of comedy YouTubers use ableist language like it’s going out of style. I even saw a rock music reviewer use the phrase “trigger warning: I don’t like Twenty-One Pilots all that much”. Dude…really?

Comedy seems to condone or even expect not just ableism, but all forms of bigotry. I used to do open mic nights. I didn’t do stand-up—I sang—but I did prepare a single stand-up routine for a day when my usual open mic night fell on April Fools’ Day. I wasn’t able to attend that open mic due to homework, so I decided to try my hand at a comedy open mic night with that one routine. I got a really good response, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how much bigotry, especially homomisia and ableism, I saw that night. One comedian, who I had seen before at my usual open mic and who I had shouted at for a homomisic joke, had edited his joke to be…almost exactly the same, except he said “homosexual” instead of “gay”. I also couldn’t help but shout at a female comedian who used the r-slur. (At least she apologized afterward, but way to make me feel hated.) The worst part was the conversation after the open mic had closed; several comedians agreed that no topic was off-limits and that “racist” or “homophobic” jokes were actually totally acceptable. Another comic, who perhaps misinterpreted the look of horror on my face, came over to me and told me, “You have the gift”.

I never went back. I don’t go where I’m not safe if I can help it.

Some cockwaffles people argue that comedy is supposed to be “subversive” and that it’s totally fine to joke about horrible things in order to deal with them. As someone who jokes about being a living dead girl in order to deal with the fact that my trauma effectively destroyed my personality and left behind an empty husk, I understand this impulse. But this argument doesn’t hold water when the point of the comedy is just upholding the idea that Disabled people are worth mistreating or mocking us or, worse, that mistreating and mocking us is funny. The idea that reinforcing ableism is totally fine and dandy is because “it’s just a joke” both befuddles and infuriates me. I don’t understand why finding bigotry funny makes it acceptable. It isn’t subversive; it’s the opposite. All it does is reinforce negative stereotypes and bigoted attitudes.

I don’t have much else to say about this topic besides that it needs to fucking stop. Comedy should not be—and I hate to use this phrase—a safe space for bigotry because bigots like to laugh while indulging their shittiness. And I beg of you, if you’re reading this, don’t let bigoted jokes fly, even if it’s just ableist language in a joke. Challenge the shittiness. Challenge the idea that jokes get a free pass from bigotry even though they are capable of reinforcing bigotry.

“But Mara,” you might say, “why would you focus on such a comparatively small issue when there are people out there armchair diagnosing the Las Vegas shooter?” Well, one, because I already did an entry on neurodivergence and gun violence, and two, because it is possible to care about multiple issues at once. All manifestations of ableism need to go, even the smaller ones.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “Sometimes you can only find heaven by slowly backing away from hell.”

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.

Thoughts on Carrie Fisher’s Cause of Death Being Released

Content/trigger warning: death, addition

“My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases. She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom; she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress.” –Billie Lourd

So the coroner’s report is in. Kind of. (Manner of death is still undetermined.) But essentially, Carrie Fisher died of her mental illnesses.

I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about how I’m on an atypical antipsychotic that’s known to cause heart problems, but damn does it help with unreality and mood swings. I don’t want to think about how, considering I have found the idea of suicide comforting since I was 10, there’s still a high chance that I will die of my illnesses too. I don’t want to think about how I have hyperempathy and a master’s in biomedical sciences, so it feels like I know exactly what Carrie was experiencing when she died.

But as long as I am thinking about it–can’t exactly help it; fucking hyperempathy–I’m not wild about how Billie went on to talk about “a cure” for mental illness. I could see that for addiction and bipolar, sure, but some mental illnesses aren’t curable. I will always be borderline. I will never know the person I might have been had I not experienced trauma. But I do think Billie is right that Carrie would want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles.

Well, right now I’m on the struggle bus. Part of me wishes I were dead so I could be with Carrie. (Look, mental illness causes irrational thoughts. Get over it. My brain will latch on to anything that makes me want to die.) I also know that my idolizing of Carrie probably is because I’m borderline, and I genuinely have zero idea how I feel about that. When Carrie first died, I couldn’t help but feel that it was unbelievably unfair that so many disgustingly saneist people were still out there and Carrie, who was so famously open about dismantling saneism, was gone. That’s hitting me again.

I’m also dealing with some residual suicidal ideation because my CPTSD got triggered to hell and back last weekend when someone I was trying to protect myself from told me my attempts to protect myself made her suicidal. I also got gaslit about my sexual orientation and some important personal choices I’ve made. I had hella suicidal ideation on Sunday and Monday, and I’ve been sort of fragile since. I also am going through a career change; I’m going from [redacted because I have a cyberstalker, but it has to do with improving the human condition] to [redacted because I have a cyberstalker, but it isn’t so impactful]. When I was younger, I decided to devote myself to [redacted] because I used to believe that my existence was a cosmic mistake and that I had to contribute to humanity in a major way in order to make up for the fact that I’m alive. So I’m having Feelings about that.

So for the most part, I agree with Billie. Be open about your struggles. Find coping mechanisms that work for you. Donate to mental illness advocacy organizations. Take care of yourself.

Especially if you think you might relapse.

Yes, I heard about the drugs found in Carrie’s system after her death. I think she would be okay with me saying that that means it’s important to know that with many illnesses, relapse is always possible. Recovery is a lifelong process. There will never not be a possibility of relapse. In this case, it looks like Carrie may have paid the ultimate price for her relapse (even though it looks like she was sober when she died). It’s not fair. And it hurts. But it happens. And I think she’d be okay with me saying to my fellow MI people that there is no shame in relapsing, but if you think you might, seek help. I may be reaching, but I would think she would want other to learn from her death, and to know that while relapses do happen, it is always best to try to prevent them with every resource available to you.

I miss you so much, Carrie. It hurts so badly that you died of the illnesses you fought so hard against. I’m trying to keep my head up. For you, Carrie. I miss you. And I swear I will smack the living shit out of anyone who shames you for relapsing.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “The only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.” (To me, that doesn’t necessarily mean therapy and meds; it means whatever works for you. But yeah, it doesn’t go away.)

30 Days of Autism Acceptance

Let’s do something a little different for this entry.

This is from a Tumblr called, well, “30 Days of Autism Acceptance”. They did a 30-day Tumblr challenge that I participated in for Autism Acceptance Month (April).

***

Day 1. Make yourself known.  Tell the world your name and age.  Talk about your diagnosis.  Are you self or professionally diagnosed?  Do you think self-diagnosis is valid?  When did you realize/find out you were autistic?  Post a photo of yourself if you’d like.

I’m Mara Lee, and I’m not comfortable giving my exact age.

I was self-diagnosed circa middle school and professionally diagnosed at 23.

I absolutely think self-diagnosis as autistic is valid, especially because there are so many barriers to paper diagnosis: race, socioeconomic class, disability, and hell, even gender. Autistic women are so underdiagnosed that even the World Health Organization still believes autistic men are five times as common as Autistic women. For all their training, doctors will never know our brains as well as we do. And sometimes they’re wrong! I have an Autistic friend who was misdiagnosed as ADHD! The real experts on autism are Autistic people. That means sometimes we can’t rely on doctors for diagnosis. Especially if they were taught bullshit like the “extreme male brain” theory (gag me).

I realized I was Autistic almost as soon as I found out what Asperger’s was (back when that was still in the DSM). It described me perfectly, although I pass as allistic very well because my mom devoted herself to making me not autistic and forced me to learn allistic social skills.

I’m not posting a photo because I have a cyberstalker.

 

Day 2. Talk about passing and/or being out. Are you out as autistic? How have people reacted? Do they treat you differently after they found out? Do you attempt to pass? If you do try to pass have you experienced autistic burnout from trying to pass?

I’m out as Autistic to almost everyone. Most people are surprised because I am hyperverbal and female, and they don’t see my stims as, well, stims. When I give the example of happy- or stress-flapping as one of my main stims, I usually get “but a lot of people do that”. (UUUUUUUGH.)

I mostly haven’t noticed people treating me differently after I disclose that I am Autistic. If they had in any way besides being openly ableist, though, I probably wouldn’t notice. I think most people don’t believe me or don’t “see me” as Autistic because I’m not a young nonverbal math genius boy who’s obsessed with trains. (This is also ableist, btw.)

I pass, much to my chagrin. I was trained from a young age to act allistic, especially with “social skills” that still make no sense to me. I don’t think I’ve ever burned out from trying to pass, but I am constantly fighting the impulse to elope when allistic social interaction is too much for me. I honestly don’t know how I have the self control to not constantly bolt from interactions at work; on Friday, I had to talk to several coworkers in a row about a work-related issue and nearly went nonverbal and came about this close to bolting three times. It was exhausting.

 

Day 3. Talk about relationships, both platonic and romantic. Have your relationships been affected by your being autistic? Have you found it hard to make and maintain friendships? Do you have a lot of friends or very few?

My relationships have definitely been affected by my being Autistic because pretty much all my interactions with people are affected by my being Autistic. It means I frequently don’t understand certain types of humor, take almost everything literally, and have next to no intellectual empathy. I do find it hard to make and maintain friendships because ableism is so prevalent. It’s rare that I find people I feel safe around. But I do have a few close friends who I absolutely love.

 

Day 4. Talk about your family and support. Who in your life has helped you? Have medical and mental health providers served your needs? Do you feel like your family is supportive of you being autistic?

My friends have been wonderful. They are always open to hearing me talk about ableism, how harmful Autism $peaks is, and what accommodations I need. I have some genuinely great friends ❤

 

Day 5. Talk about employment and your career. What do you do to support yourself? Are you on disability? Was it hard to get?

I work full-time, but do something unique enough that I don’t want to say lest my cyberstalker see this. I often am out of spoons before the workday ends and am sort of useless for the last few hours, but I still wouldn’t trade being Autistic for anything.

 

Day 6. Talk about music, art, writing, and other forms of creativity. Are you a creative person? What do you create? Do you include autistic themes in your creations? Does your creativity help you to deal with your autism?

First of all, I don’t have to “deal with [my] autism” and I do not appreciate that phrasing. But I do a lot a lot a loooooot of creative stuff.

I write constantly. I churn out fanfiction at a rate that I’m not sure is impressive or embarrassing, and many of my fics involve characters I headcanon as Autistic. I have three novels in progress, one of which is on draft four. And the main character in that one is Autistic, as is her best friend. I also have an Autistic character who starts out as a side character and then ends up saving all the “main” characters’ asses at the end of a different novel. My third novel…I’m sure somebody or (multiple somebodies) in there is/are Autistic and it hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t really get allistics, so I probably write plenty of Autistic characters without even realizing it. And very few of my characters are neurotypical. Oh, and I’m also writing a rock opera in which the main character is undiagnosed Autistic.

I have been writing lyrics since I was about 13. I have written several songs lambasting ableism. I wrote one in particular about how Autism $peaks is the devil and that’s an insult to the devil.

As for art…well…I’ll let my Redbubble speak for itself http://www.redbubble.com/people/autisticbanshee?asc=u

 

Day 7. Talk about community. How are you treated by your local community? Do you participate in any online communities? How have they reacted to you being autistic?

Almost nobody in any community reacts well to me being Autistic unless it’s an Autistic community. I’m not in any LGBTQIA+/DSGROI/MOGAI or feminist communities because of how ableist they tend to be. A lot of social justice communities are ableist as hell and are convinced they can’t be ableist because they’re “woke”. It disgusts and disheartens me. And gaming communities? Writing communities? Music communities? Don’t make me laugh. Academic communities? I could write an essay on ableism in academia. A long one.

This is why I don’t have many friends. Finding groups of people willing to see me as Autistic AND a human being? Not easy. People tend to pick seeing me as one or the other.

 

Day 8. Talk about traditional media. Have you been influenced by autism themes in the media? Have you had to correct misinformation about autistic people that others got from the media?

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

Autism is basically never done right. There are a few stereotypes I’ve seen:

-Impossible hell-child (an episode of House M.D. had parents of an Autistic kid be indifferent to their child not dying because he was Autistic)
-Social awkwardness presenting as raving assholery (Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory)
-Quirky savant (Rain Man)
-Mysterious innocent angel (I can’t think of an example, but trust me, it happens)

I wouldn’t say I’ve been influenced at all by autism themes in the media aside from being blisteringly angry at the terrible representation. I am constantly correcting misinformation about autistic people, some of which i’m sure comes from the stereotypes shown in the media.

And while we’re talking about autism themes in the media, fuck The Big Bang Theory. Fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck The Big Bang Theory in the ear.

 

Day 9. Talk about Autism Speaks. Do you support them? What’s your opinion about their policies? And/or Talk about special interests. Do you have a special interest? What is it? Feel free to infodump.

Ohhhhhh boy.

Autism Speaks is an ableist hate group that needs to burn to the ground. They support eugenics, ABA, and shocking disabled children as an aversive. They are the worst kind of insidious, evil scum.

 

Day 10. Talk about a cure. What is your opinion about seeking a cure for autism? Do you want a cure? Why or why not? And/Or Talk about stimming. Do you stim? How? What are your favorite stims? Do you have different stims for when you are happy or agitated?

A “cure” = eugenics. Being Autistic is an inherent part of who Autistic people are. If we weren’t Autistic, we wouldn’t be ourselves. “Curing” us would kill who we are. Jim Sinclair said it best: “This is what we hear when you pray for a cure: that your fondest wish is that we will cease to be and that strangers you will love will move in behind our faces.”

Not a happy topic, but something I feel is important. And it made grad school awkward because I knew professors who researched autism, so…yeah, being taught by someone who doesn’t want you to exist? Kind of uncomfortable. I actually put a poster about how A$ is The Worst on one of my professors’ doors when I found out he supported them. I still don’t know if he ever saw it…but how could I not do something?

 

Day 11. Talk about sensory issues. Do you also have sensory processing disorder? What kind of clothes do you wear? What foods do you eat? Are you sensitive to light or sounds? How do you deal with overstimulation?

I do have SPD.

Clothes alone don’t usually bother me, but seams on socks are the devil–actually, fuck socks in general–and itchy tags are also the devil. My SPD makes itself very known when it comes to food. Anything slimy or anything that smells even remotely of fish is a giant pile of not gonna happen. I also hate the texture of kidney beans and anything with a similar texture. I’m not sure what you call that kidney bean-esque texture, but it’s prime nope for me.

As for light and sounds, sudden loud sounds have been known to startle me into shutting down. Being unable to stand loud noises was probably my most obvious Autistic trait as a kid. Loud music is different, but you still won’t find me and my sensitive ears at Warped without earplugs. People noises are also The Worst. Loud cafeterias or restaurants? Oh man I am so out of there. Once in grad school, I eloped the hell out of a noisy cafeteria when the last straw was not being able to hear a pissed-off cashier over the people noises. I’m also hella sensitive to bright light. I have literally said “I can’t hear you; it’s too bright” because my senses were overwhelmed by the light. I see best in low light.

How do I deal with overstimulation? I wear my sunglasses a lot, usually carry earplugs, and if neither of those are available or helping, I get the hell out of there.

 

Day 12. Talk about ableism. Have you experienced discrimination? Have you been the target of hate speech or slurs? Have you been a victim of abuse or violence? What’s the rudest thing someone has said to you about autism or you being autistic?

I have experienced discrimination, mostly from academic professionals who were supposed to be helping me. I have also survived abuse aimed at making me less Autistic, which gave me CPTSD, but I’ve been in therapy for that and am handling it pretty well.

The rudest thing anyone ever said to me about being Autistic was “you’re not r*****ed, you have Asperger’s” when I tried to explain that the r-slur is a slur. I also pretty frequently get the stunned “I never would have guessed”, which is hella insulting.

 

Day 13. Talk about something funny. Has anything humorous or ironic ever happened to you because you were autistic?

*crickets*

Um. Not that I know of. You’d think my brain would be good for a hilarious misunderstanding or two, but I can’t think of anything.

 

Day 14. Talk about role models. Who are your role models? How have they influenced you?

Well, if you’re reading this, you already know.

Carrie. Carrie Fisher. She was my everything.

She was so open and honest about her bipolar disorder. She advocated for everyone getting the treatment that was right for them and removing the stigma around mental illness. Hell, she was even buried in a ceramic Prozac pill.

RIP, Carrie. I miss you.

 

Day 15. Talk about identity. How do you identify? Autistic? Asperger’s? Person with Autism? What’s your take on person/identity first language?

I am Autistic. I was diagnosed Asperger’s at 23, but that is no longer and should never have been a separate diagnosis from Classic/Kanner’s. I support identity first language because being Autistic is an inherent part of who Autistic people are, so saying “person with autism” like it’s a disease or separate from the person is inaccurate and dehumanizing.

 

Day 16. Talk about treatment. Have you been through any therapies? What ones did you like? Which ones didn’t you like? Do you think autistic people need therapy for their autism?

I have had a number of therapists in the double digits, but have never had therapy specifically for being Autistic. I think whether or not any individual needs therapy for any condition that affects them will depend on the individual, and that therapy for Autistic people should focus on getting accommodations and dealing with ableism, not forcing us to act allistic.

 

Day 17. Talk about empathy. Many people think autistics do not have empathy. What’s your experience with empathy? Are you hyper empathic or not empathic at all?

Ooookay.

First of all, unusual empathy is very common with Autistic people. This refers to multiple kinds of empathy as well as being hyperempathic or hypoempathic. There are two main kinds of empathy: affective empathy, the ability to feel what other people are feeling, and intellectual empathy, the ability to think what other people are thinking. Some Autistic people have empathy of any kind, which is okay. Some Autistic people are hyperempathic at one or both, which is also okay. There’s this really unfortunate tendency of hyperempathic Autistic people to be all “Autistic people have empathy! we have too much empathy!” which…A+ lateral ableism, there my guy.

I have absolutely trash intellectual empathy and am hyperempathic when it comes to affective empathy. I feel what other people are feeling way too easily, and it can actually be really debilitating when I take on other people’s negative emotions to such a degree.

 

Day 18. Talk about functioning labels. What is your opinion about functioning labels? Where are you on the spectrum? If you don’t like functioning labels how would you describe your functioning ability?

UGH, functioning labels. They are inaccurate at best, dehumanizing at worst. I don’t like support labels either. I mean, I think they’re better than functioning labels, but I prefer to just be specific. Instead of saying “low-functioning” about a person, say what trait is debilitating to them that causes you to think “low-functioning”. Are they nonverbal? Incontinent? Do they have frequent meltdowns when they leave the house? Do they have zero interest in interacting with other people? Instead of saying “high-functioning” about, say, me, people usually mean “hyperverbal”, “having a high IQ”, or “has a job at a prestigious university”. I once had such a hell of a meltdown on public transit that someone else on the bus asked me if I lived in a halfway house. I was a graduate student living independently and caring for a pet at the time. Functioning labels need to die. They’re useless garbage.

 

TW: suicidal ideation

Day 19. Talk about your struggles and strengths. What things are difficult for you because you are autistic? What are the positives of being autistic? Do you have a special skill or talent?

Oh fuck me upside down, my struggles. Well, right now I’m fighting with suicidal ideation that cropped up over my CPTSD-born sensitivity, and my CPTSD is from someone trying to abuse the autism out of me, so there’s that. I’m also feeling suicidal right now because I feel completely hopeless about the state of the world in that it will never be safe for me as an Autistic person, so I might as well just remove myself from it.

Aside from that sunny thought, my executive function is shit sometimes–I especially can’t keep a living space clean for anything–and grocery shopping is sensory hell and I need Xanax to do it. I also go nonverbal under times of high stress, especially when talking on the phone. That is super inconvenient, mostly because I have been dragging ass when it comes to learning sign, and I don’t use AAC.

As far as positives, my favorite positive is stimming. I also love how much I can enjoy a special interest and how much I can enjoy repeated stimuli that allistics would get tired of. I can usually rhapsodize about how awesome being Autistic is, but right now I’m trying to talk myself out of jumping in front of my train to work tomorrow, so I’m not in the best mood.

 

Day 20. Talk about communication. Are you verbal? Nonverbal? Partially verbal? How do you usually communicate?

I am hyperverbal in most situations. In stressful social situations, I have trouble finding the right words, and if the stress gets bad enough, I become nonverbal. The easiest way to make me go nonverbal is to make me talk on the phone. I started learning ASL to communicate when I’m nonverbal or partially verbal, but I didn’t keep up with it. Bad me.

 

Day 21. Talk about comorbid conditions. Do you have any other disorders commonly related to autism? Were you misdiagnosed as something else first?

I have prosopagnosia, auditory processing disorder, and sensory processing disorder, which I’m not even sure I’d consider comorbid conditions as much as Autistic traits. (Some people consider them comorbid conditions, though.) I also have anxiety and depression, which seem to be fairly common in Autistic people. I also really wish there were more studies about PTSD in Autistic people because it seems like a ton of us get abused for being Autistic and end up with PTSD from it, not to mention we are more susceptible to trauma because we’re sensitive. I have CPTSD, which makes me particularly curious about this.

 

Day 22. Talk about autism parents. How do you feel about this section of the community? Do you feel as if they speak over you? Do you find the term ‘autism parent’ rude or offensive?

Autism parents, a.k.a. allistic parents of Autistic people, do not belong in the autism community. They need to shut up forever. The term “autism parent” is only offensive in that it implies that being the parent of an Autistic person gives you expertise on autism. Which it doesn’t, seeing as autism parents™ (also referred to as paaaaaaaaarents, by the way) are so frequently full of ableist shit.

 

Day 23. Talk about your living situation. Where do you live? Do you live alone or with other people? Are you happy with your current living arrangements?

I am not comfortable answering this.

 

Day 24. Talk about the stereotypes and misconceptions that neurotypicals and allistics have. What stereotypes have you heard about autism? How do you respond to people who have incorrect stereotypes about autism? What kind of things should people not say to autistic people? What’s something you wish NTs/allistics knew about autism?

Ooooooh boy.

I feel like allistics think of Autistic people as “screaming nightmare child” white boys, hyperverbal white boys who are obsessed with trains and excellent at math, or quiet, pure, angelic white boys. They also might think of Sheldon Cooper (as I have said before and will say again, fuck The Big Bang Theory in the ear). here are some other misconceptions I’ve heard about Autistic people:

-We can’t lie (I am an animate coffee cup)
-We have no empathy (true for some of us, and some of have low cognitive or low affective empathy, but it isn’t true that none of us have empathy)
-None of us can learn social skills (I have none naturally, but oh seven hells were they trained into me)
-Our behavior is mysterious and inexplicable (it has reasons, but allistics don’t bother to try to understand what they are)
-There are no Autistic adults/it is possible to grow out of being Autistic (dude…I’m almost 30)
-We’re all white and male (PoC and non-male people are underdiagnosed, and non-male PoC are REALLY underdiagnosed)
-Stimming is something that should be stopped (stopping stimming is abusive)
-It’s always obvious that we’re Autistic

Here’s a list of common things that are said to Autistic people that should never be said:

-”So are you high-functioning or low-functioning?” or any use of functioning labels
-”So I bet you’re great at math, huh?”
-”I never would have known!”
-”So you’re r****ded?”
-”A lot of people are like that” in response to someone explaining an Autistic trait
-Any use of ”handicapable” or “differently abled”
-”Have you been professionally diagnosed?”
-“Your poor parents”
-”You’re too sensitive”/”you’re overreacting”
-”Are you special needs?”

One thing I wish all allistic people knew is that society is set up to oppress Autistic people and that the least they could to is be accommodating and listen to us about our needs.

 

Day 25. Talk about meltdowns/shutdowns. Do you have them? How often? What are your triggers?

I will shut down in response to extreme stress, usually related to social situations. I melt down very, very rarely—about once a year, and I’ve already had one this year and hope that’s it—and I almost never have meltdowns that aren’t set off by the intensity of a post-traumatic flashback. (Ain’t comorbidity fun?)

 

Day 26. Talk about echolalia and scripting. Do you use echolalia? What about scripting?

Oh man, I thrive on scripts. If you hang out around me long enough, you will hear me say the exact same thing multiple times, sometimes in terms of entire anecdotes. The only reason my Autistic ass was good at cashiering was because I was able to rely so heavily on scripts.

I do use echolalia, mostly when I’m really happy and want to verbally stim with a phrase that I find gratifying. Usually it’s a phrase from a movie or a lyric from a song I like. Sometimes when I’m barely verbal, I use echolalia to communicate, but only under stress. My favorite echolalia for a while has been a phrase I saw on Tumblr to describe a pile of kittens: “writhing pile of cat children”. I have to roll the r’s.

 

Day 27. Talk about eye-contact. Do you make eye-contact? Why or why not? Does it make you uncomfortable?

Eye contact is uncomfortable verging on scary for me, but I am a champion at faking it. I try to look at eyebrows or the face as a whole.

 

Day 28. Talk about autism as a disability. Do you think autism is a disability or a difference? Or both? Do you feel more disabled by society than by your autism?

Being Autistic is 100% a disability, and I have never encountered anyone who believes otherwise for any reason besides internalized ableism. (Well, anyone Autistic, anyway; I’m not including allistic people in that because their opinions don’t matter.) Autism is certainly a neurodevelopmental difference, but as an Autistic person, I am disabled by the way society treats me and, yes, by the way my brain works. Society isn’t responsible for me having a meltdown because I heard a sudden loud noise.

The social model holds that disability is due only to the way society treats Disabled people, and as a person with multiple psychiatric disabilities, I VEHEMENTLY disagree. Society does not cause my brain to malfunction catastrophically. Even if there were no ableism, my brain would still malfunction catastrophically, and I would still be Disabled. This is why I favor the complex embodiment model over the social model.

 

Day 29. Talk about executive functioning. Do you experience executive dysfunction? How do you deal with it?

I do experience executive dysfunction, or, as abled people call it, “laziness” or “excuses”. Executive dysfunction can be best described as being a video game character whose abilities are on cooldown. You still know how to do productive things, and you may want to, but the ability is still recharging.

How do I deal with it? Not very well, to be honest. It’s really hard for me to keep a living space clean/organized, and I still haven’t figured out a good way to get that under control. A lot of ~adult responsibilities don’t happen due to my executive dysfunction; I recently cost myself about $400 because my mail-opening ability wasn’t happening. (I have managed to deal with this by always opening my mail right when I get it, because waiting until I have more EF doesn’t work. This will probably push me into a meltdown or shutdown one day, but oh well.)

 

Day 30. Talk with pride. Are you proud to be autistic? How do you show the world your pride?

Yes. Yes, I am. I find pride in one’s identity when it’s a marginalized identity can be pretty damn necessary. Or you’ll end up listening to society too much. I show the world my pride by making Autistic pride designs on Redbubble (mentioned earlier). And doing activities like this 30-day autism acceptance challenge! Oh, and I sang some good outsider anthems for open mic night last year. If there were any convenient open mics, I’d have done that this year.

I’m going to tell you a story

Content/trigger warning: brief mention of suicide attempt

So I’m the lead singer for a metal band.

Yeah. It’s pretty cool. (Well, it was until they posted on Craigslist about looking for a new singer behind my back. I left.)

I recently wrote a song about anxiety. I called it “Stay Afraid, But Do It Anyway” after Carrie Fisher’s quote about following one’s dreams while mentally ill. The lead guitarist, who is really the creative force behind the group (although I hope to have more input on the lyrics soon), asked me what the title of the song was after I sang it for the first time. I told him, and I said it was a Carrie quote.

And the drummer–let’s call him Jimmy–said he didn’t like Carrie Fisher.

Fucking excuse me, dude!?

He proceeded to insult her for sleeping with Harrison Ford (yeah, if you were a 19-year-old undiagnosed, mentally ill, insecure young woman who had been drinking when a movie star fifteen years older than you came onto you, I bet you would have said no, right, dude? And don’t we all do ill-advised shit at 19? Especially MI people? I mean, I tried to drink bleach), not aging well (you better pray you still look as good as she did at 60, not that it fucking matters), and, to top it off, he said some bullshit about her being “bitter and angry” and “hating Star Wars“. Um…what? She had every right to be bitter about the shit that her brain and Hollywood put her through, and the thing was, she wasn’t. She had an amazing sense of humor about it. She didn’t only have an adaptive attitude, she made the rest of us laugh with her. And she didn’t hate Star Wars; her home was decorated with tons of Princess Leia paraphernalia. Harrison Ford hates Star Wars.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the saneism. He said his reaction to Carrie’s books was “stop bitching”. M O T H E R F U C K E R have you ever been bipolar?? No? Then you stop bitching about someone whose experiences you can’t begin to understand. I have four and a half mental illnesses, and I still don’t know what it’s like to be bipolar (although I do understand what it’s like to have your brain betray you, and to resort to wry humor and glitter to deal with it). And as for her relationship with her parents (touched on in Postcards From the Edge), she had every right to bitch about her dad, and she ended up having a good relationship with her mom. (Let me guess, Jimmy, you haven’t seen Bright Lights.) And trust me, having a good relationship with your parents when you’re mentally ill? PFFFF. Yeah, right.

I. Went. Off.

Politely.

The lead guitarist backed me up, fortunately, but Jimmy was still being a dick, so I said “if we’re done pissing on one of my favorite human beings ever, can we rehearse?”

So we started up the song I wrote inspired by Carrie. I mentally said to myself “fuck you, Jimmy; this is for you, Carrie” as the first notes played. I proceeded to sing the ever-loving crap out of the song. I actually wrote a pretty difficult piece (apparently I hate myself…well, actually, we know I hate myself…depression and all that), but I did it perfectly.

When we were done playing, the lead guitarist said I sounded the most confident on that song, as opposed to the three others we had rehearsed that night. I mentally laughed and verbally said some only half-untrue crap about how that song was the easiest for me because I wrote the lyrics and melody, which I hadn’t done for the other three songs. But I wasn’t singing with confidence.

I was singing with “fuck you, Jimmy”.

Carrie used to say “resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. I know, Carrie, but the difference between poison and medicine can be the dose. From now on, if I’m having trouble getting into a song for the band, I’m not going to sing with confidence; I’m going to sing with “fuck you, Jimmy”.

For you, Carrie.

And fuck you, Jimmy.

Acceptance vs. Awareness

Content/trigger warning: Autism $peaks, eugenics, violent ableism

I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like every other neurodivergent activist who writes as part of their activism knows what they’re doing. But I still feel like I have to try. “Stay afraid, but do it anyway,” right?

And yeah, I know, I know, I started this blog to work on destigmatizing mental illness. And being Autistic is not a mental illness, it’s a neurodevelopmental disability. But I’ve been talking about being Autistic a lot, right? It kind of follows that I might do an autism-related entry. And you know what? It’s my blog, and I’m officially calling it: This Is for You, Carrie is dedicated to destigmatizing neurodivergent conditions including but not limited to mental illness. It doesn’t sound as snappy, but it’s true. (Side note: “stigma” is really a manifestation of neurotypicalism. It’s a system of oppression, not just an unfortunate opinion. That’s important to keep in mind.)

Today I’m going to talk about awareness versus acceptance. And I’m going to talk mostly about autism, but mental illness too. Let’s start with autism.

April 2 was “Autism Awareness Day”. Some in the Autistic community call it “autism bewareness day”. (Note: you’ll always find an Autistic person with internalized ableism who is into awareness and says “person with autism” and believes autism is a tragedy. There will always be token minorities who are lickspittle to the kyriarchy because resisting is hard. That’s part of their journey, but it doesn’t mean they’re right.) Autism awareness campaigns are usually spearheaded by an organization called Autism Speaks, known to the Autistic community as “Autism $peaks” or “Voldemort Speaks”. Aside from promoting stigma, here is a brief list of shit that Autism Speaks has pulled:

  1. Misusing their funds. They have a very low score on Charity Navigator. Only 4% of their funding goes to supporting families with an Autistic family member. 44% of their funding goes to research, which…
  2. ..is pro-eugenics. Their research goal is selective abortion of fetuses that may turn into Autistic people. Not only is this, again, eugenics, but it doesn’t help Autistic people and promotes the idea that it’s better to not exist than to be Autistic. Read that last sentence a few times until you get it.
  3. They chased John Elder Robison, their only Autistic board member, off of their Science advisory board by being unresponsive to his feedback. For most of their existence, they haven’t had any Autistic people on their board of directors. I think they have a few now, but that’s still basically like having a women’s rights organization run almost entirely by men. Think about that.
  4. They use functioning labels and person-first language, which are inaccurate at best and dehumanizing at worst.
  5. They violated copyright and profited off an Autistic self-advocate’s writing for three years. Source: http://yesthattoo.blogspot.com/2014/01/autism-speaks-are-work-stealing-white.html
  6. -They don’t talk about Autistic adults. Apparently we don’t exist.
  7. They misrepresent Autistic people. They show the “quiet angel” stereotype and the “self-injurious, unpredictable screeching and rocking in the corner” Autistic.

Now let’s talk a little about Autism $peaks and my favorite topic: stigma.

  1. Their advertisements and films are about what a burden Autistic people are to society and the people around us.
  2. You know what? Let’s talk about those films. “Autism Every Day” featured a member of their board—their former vice president—talking about how she wished she could kill herself and her Autistic daughter. She also said that the only reason she didn’t do this was because she had an allistic child. Oh, and she said this in front of her Autistic daughter.
  3. “I Am Autism” is a short film that includes an ominous voice, meant to be the voice of disembodied autism swanning about the cosmos, saying things like “I am autism…I know where you live…I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined…I will make sure your marriage fails”. Yeah, you heard me. They compared my fucking brain to cancer, the thing I research for a living.

Credit to the amazing goldenheartedrose for providing a lot of this information here: http://goldenheartedrose.tumblr.com/post/17644810872/so-whats-the-problem-with-autism-speaks. The inimitable Autistic Hoya, who is a better writer than I could ever hope to be, also writes a lot of great stuff about Autism $peaks. http://www.autistichoya.com/2012/07/georgetown-say-no-to-autism-speaks.html

So I hope it’s clear why anything run by Autism $peaks is going to be shit. I’m not cursing just to curse here either. I mean reproachable, irredeemable, vile, evil shit.

Let’s talk more about their autism “awareness”. It seeks to make people aware, not of how Autistic people are disabled by society or of how we deserve accommodations, but of how our existence is tragic and how we need to be fixed. Their logo is a puzzle piece to represent how we are a puzzle that needs solving, and they have used the slogan “until the pieces fit” and the Twitter hashtag “MSSNG” to reinforce this. (They took this image from the National Autistic Society in London, which used a puzzle piece to represent how ~puzzling and ~mysterious autism is, and they included a crying child on the puzzle piece to represent how much Autistic people ~suffer from being Autistic.) They also bought into Simon Baron-Cohen’s bullshit “extreme male brain” theory to the degree that their logo is blue for boys, contributing to the idea that more boys are Autistic than girls. (Yeah, yeah, I know, the WHO says that too, but that’s because women and girls are underdiagnosed. I wasn’t diagnosed til I was 23 in part because I am a woman.) In short, autism awareness campaigns are bigoted and harmful to Autistic people.

Needless to say, I don’t like awareness campaigns. This makes me nervous when I see awareness campaigns for mental illnesses. “Awareness”, to me, will always have the connotation of “be aware, these people are Other”. It matters quite a bit, though, who runs the campaigns. Autism $peaks’ flavor of “bewareness” is motivated by allistics who hold an inherently bigoted view of Autistic people. Many mental illness awareness campaigns are actually run by people with the illness. That makes a huge difference. I would still prefer to see acceptance campaigns because I don’t like the connotation of “awareness”, but that might be me.

Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need awareness or acceptance campaigns. But in terms of what the mentally ill community currently needs, I would like to see more of an emphasis on understanding symptoms and what kind of support mentally ill people need. A lot of awareness campaigns do things like list statistics about how many people commit suicide every year or how many people have a particular mental illness. That is useful information, of course, but I would like to see it go a step further and give more information that humanizes those of us who are mentally ill. Numbers alone don’t give us faces.

I think that’s all I have for now. I meant to write more about acceptance vs. awareness for mental illness, but April is hard for me. I only have so many spoons to write about activism.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day, which feels pretty apropos: “I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplussed by the event that is my life.”