Further Notes on Reclaiming Borderline and Resisting the Sane Gaze

content notes: very brief mentions of overdose, suicidality, unintentional weight loss

I recently published an essay on The Establishment blog, Reclaiming Borderline: Dreaming New Meanings into Borderline Personality Disorder. As noted in the essay, among my intentions were to write “for the borderlines who are sick of clichés, who are looking for new ways to describe ourselves, to dream ourselves. I’m writing for borderlines who wish to recreate our own meanings.”

A few months earlier, I also wrote How Magic Helps Me Live with Pain and Trauma.

This Summer, I also printed the 40th (!) issue of my perzine, Telegram. I began writing Telegram when I was seventeen, and I’m still writing it as I approach thirty-one. I was diagnosed with BPD in 2011, when I was twenty-five. In October 2012 (on Halloween, two weeks after my 27th birthday), I published an anthology of the first almost-decade of my zines, Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues. Making this book was how I survived joining The 27 Club. I still hold my own copy in my hands sometimes to prove that it is real.

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[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s hand holding onto their zine, Telegram #40. The cover is a black & white photocopied collage made with an image of pill bottles found on a paperbag of prescriptions from the pharmacy, a butterfly wallpaper pattern torn out from inside a handmade dollhouse found on the sidewalk, and a strange, curved surgical implement from the Victorian era. The background of the photo is lavender.]

Telegram #40 is about reclaiming borderline (the ways mad, queer, crip, etc. have been reclaimed; the ways I’m reclaiming crazy and hysteria/hysterical), dreaming of the possibility of borderline lineages & elders, borderline-thought & borderline-imagination, changeability, access to vocabulary and information and dreams, fears and possibilities, books, re-imagining, stories told & untold & re-told, re-examining fear of abandonment, claiming crip & navigating crip-time, madphobia & saneism & resisting the sane gaze, asking, & staying alive. It’s also about the necessity of zines.

When I talk about dreaming new meanings into borderline, I feel like I’m speaking from the future. I also feel like it’s both a culmination of much of my writing over the last few years, as well as a necessary shift, an entry point to somewhere else. One word I wish to emphasize from my essay is: provocation. To me, writing as a form of provocation means: asking unanswerable questions; assigning new meanings to old words; making readers necessarily uncomfortable; writing something that might actually be considered radical; attempting to say something that has not yet been said; making up words; and daring readers to dream.

Although I did not respond to this tweet, when somebody (a stranger, someone I’d never spoken to) told me they would need concrete examples of ableism and invalidation in order for dreaming new meanings to make sense, what I wanted to say was: Please read the last fifteen years of my work. Please read the last thirty-five years of BPD literature. Please click the fucking BPD hashtag. Please re-read the first paragraph of my essay. I cannot squish all my feelings on borderline personality disorder into a single essay, a blog entry, a zine, nor a book – I will die leaving things unsaid. If you want me to give you ‘concrete examples’ of pain, ableism, and madphobia I’ve experienced, give me your money.

When I say provocation, I don’t mean antagonism, but sometimes that is how I feel.

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[image description: A close-up of an orange pill bottle held in Maranda Elizabeth’s hand, with a copy of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Loneliness by Olivia Laing in the background.]

Before I wrote this essay, I wrote about the impossibility of dreaming. I wrote about overdosing (again!) in November 2015 because I felt like I could not financially afford to stay alive, especially as I was losing my ability to walk, and losing weight from not being able to consistently access food. I asked the question: What does it mean to feel suicidal for decades? I didn’t share these pieces because they were too painful. They still are. In not having consistent access to food, I have trained my body to need less, and I drink a glass of cold water to quiet my rumbling stomach. Sometimes I even like the feeling of hunger because I feel like I’m saving a few pennies from my disability cheque by not being able to carry food home. And this reminds me of my nana and poppa, who write down literally every single penny they save from coupons & sales, and tally it up at the end of the year. They also fill their closets with packages of toilet paper and maple crème cookies when they come on sale. We adapt to our circumstances in strange and creative ways; these are some of ours.

A pal asked me about the “sane gaze” – not as a definition, but what it means to me. They also asked me if I had info &/or resources on the sane gaze and saneism, and while I don’t doubt that they are out there, and have maybe been out there for decades without my knowledge, there was nothing that came to mind immediately, except for an academic anthology I had recently read: Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies (although, as I recall, borderline personality disorder is not mentioned once in this book, it is very much worth reading if you can access it). Y’all know I dropped out when I was 14, and it took me until age 30 to read a whole entire academic book and ‘get’ it. This is one of them. I felt particularly drawn to it as there are many stories of mad history and activism in my city and in my neighbourhood. I borrowed my copy from the library. The book costs $60 and I was miffed when somebody asked me if I wanted to buy it at the Mad Pride Mad Market when it was released in 2014. Yes, I want my own copy, no, I can’t pay that much for a book.

I told my pal: At the moment, when I think of the sane gaze, I ask myself: Who am I writing for? Who do I become when I let go of the need to convince others that I am real? Why do I reclaim language, and how do I reclaim language? I told them that reclaiming borderline and resisting the sane gaze are part of my “life’s work” as well as a form of service. I told them I want my words and feelings to have multiple definitions and interpretations, so they become unstable, just like our moods. And, of course, I told them that my questions are meant to be unanswerable (or poly-answerable, actually!) and to provoke more questions, thoughts, and dreams. I also talked to them about why I made up the word madphobia, which was to differentiate it from other forms of ableism, and because I did not know the words saneism or mentalism at the time (despite the fact that I was, essentially, writing about them!).

To me, writing about “stigma” is privileging the sane gaze. It is why I have always tried to avoid using that word. Trying to make my thoughts, feelings, and experiences understandable or comprehensible to sane people has largely been both a waste of my time, as well as crazy-making in itself. Sometimes I read and re-read my own writing in a tone of hysterical-shrieking, which is understandable and comprehensible to me, but does not generally elicit sympathy or empathy from sane people – it merely sounds crazy (I am even reading this very blog entry as hysterical-shrieking). It might get a re-tweet, which might give me about two-seconds of feeling listened to, but it will not get more than the temporary relief of cathartic screaming, nor will it result in ongoing, longer-term change. Writing for the sane gaze is like shouting for help as you’re drowning, while photographers keep their distance and take pictures of the way your skirt shimmers against the tidal waves that are filling your lungs.

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[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s tattooed left hand reaching toward a very, very large rock of amethyst.]

I’ve said this many times before, but: Try replacing the word “stigma” with ableism and oppression, and see what happens. I really, really dare you.

When I think about the word stigma, I think about awareness campaigns, which have always made me feel uncomfortable. For examples of awareness campaigns, which I believe give the illusion of “community” but are in fact created for a sane gaze, see projects like To Write Love On Her Arms, BPD Awareness Month (any “Awareness Month,” for that matter), Bell Let’s Talk, Mental Illness Awareness Week, all those days when you’re encouraged to wear a particular colour of t-shirt signifying awareness of some sort, etc etc etc (and yes, many mental health awareness campaigns have very, um, dubious, records on where the money they raise ends up, on who actually benefits from donations, hashtags, branding, etc – when I tried to write about my own personal discomfort at a TWLOHA event nearly five years ago, as well as their history of funding notoriously anti-gay foundations – which they claim to no longer do, but the past evidence is there – I was harassed to a degree that I first had to review comments before they were posted on my blog, then dismantle the comments, and then delete the blog entry altogether because I could not handle the inundation of harassment I was receiving, even years later; and the never-ending problematics and hypocrisies of Bell Let’s Talk have also been well-documented since its inception). The moment somebody invokes – or outright states – the idea “I’m just like you except ______” (I have a mental illness, I feel depressed, I cut myself, I’m disabled, fill-in-the-blank…) it seems to me to be written for what I’m calling the sane gaze. The “you” in this sentence is a sane person, a non-disabled person, a person who doesn’t cut, a person who hasn’t considered suicide, a person who hasn’t been hospitalized, blah blah blah. The message seems so gentle and kind. It’s not for me.

When acknowledging the history of trauma most borderlines carry, what if we re-cast “stigma” as a form of victim-blaming?

For an excellent breakdown on the limits of awareness, I highly recommend reading The Limits of Destigmatisation: Against Awareness by Rose Lyddon, who makes crucial points about who does or does not benefit from awareness campaigns, who is harmed by them, etc., as well as what happens when we try to diagnose politicians, fascists, and murderers with mental illnesses, and traces these ideas all the way back to Ancient Greece.

I also strongly recommend reading The Unthinkable Thought of Borderline Pride, something I wish I had known about at the time it was first published in 2012.

When I talk about access to languages, vocabularies, histories, criticisms, and dreams, I think about this quote from Merri Lisa Johnson (who authored the blog entry above), which I copied into my diary as I read her memoir, Girl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality, last Fall:

“Maybe I would not have gone crazy for the next fifteen years if ideas produced in ivory towers found their way more steadily and with less anti-intellectual distortion into the mainstream.”

Each time I re-read this single sentence, I feel such immense grief and rage. You know me, all pain eventually becomes material, but this particular grief and rage is so all-consuming that I will not try to elaborate upon it here, I will just let you sit with this quote and see how it applies to your own life and psyche.

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[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s left hand holding onto a large chunk of concrete they found on the ground and brought home. In the background is their purple writing desk, with many scattered pills and prescription bottles on top, as well as a chunk of amethyst, and three pocket-sized Tarot cards: Strength, The High Priestess, and Seven of Swords. A salt lamp glows in the background.]

This is something I’ve been writing for many years, but the trouble with writing about crazy for years & years & years is the fact that not enough change occurs in this time (there are internal shifts, of course, and revelations & insights, as well as self-awareness, coping skills, a critique of isms and institutions, and the creation of a large body of work, yes, and that’s not small, but it is also not enough), and many of us continue to suffer, continue to be isolated, continue to attempt to render ourselves comprehensible even as we’re experiencing the impossibility of doing so.

When I talk about mad lineages and borderline elders, I am speaking of moving beyond 101 (“this is what bpd is / this is how I was diagnosed / this is how my family and friends feel about it / this is the treatment I have access to…”) and understanding the contexts in which mental illnesses happen (in my view, a complex concoction involving but not limited to: ableism, madphobia, early childhood & ongoing & current & intergenerational & cumulative trauma, racism, poverty, capitalism, chemical imbalances, invalidating environments, sexism, transphobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, gentrification and displacement, white supremacy, & on & on & on… Some of which, like ableism and poverty, harm me, others of which, like racism and white supremacy, I benefit from; all of which I name without citing specific examples BECAUSE I AM DARING MYSELF TO TRUST YOU TO BELIEVE ME), as well as asking questions about who gets diagnosed and how, who gets access to the adequate and competent care they wish to receive, and what possibilities exist (or what possibilities we can create) after diagnosis.

I am also talking about the very, very impossible dream of “borderline” being a desirable place to be, a desirable person to be. I have sometimes asked myself if I would have developed BPD had I grown up in a culture where poverty no longer happened, where single mothers were supported financially and emotionally without judgement or shame, if addictions & lower-incomes & chronic illnesses didn’t run in the family, if we grew up in a culture with healthier communication skills, and other more personal questions I don’t wish to write about here today. These are impossible questions, and I am hoping for them to provoke within me (and you, maybe!) impossible dreams, instead of hopeless futility.

Now I am thinking of a quote from Cindy Crabb’s The Encyclopedia of Doris, the second anthology of her long-running zine. I believe this is from a page where she’s writing about becoming an anarcha-feminist.

“I had to ask new questions like – why did I write. And then hold myself accountable to my own reasons and standards.”

When I discuss lineages and elders, I do so to draw attention to the ways in which mad histories do not get passed down, so when one has a breakdown or receives a new diagnosis, navigating these new realms of madness, as well as contextualizing them and making art about them and connecting through them is like starting from scratch – it’s why we write for the sane gaze again and again, instead of for each other. It’s why you may not be able to tell me the names of the people who sparked mad pride movements, who fought against institutionalization and forced treatments, and continue to fight for affordable housing and liveable incomes and physical / financial / emotional accessibility, and and and… I feel disconnected from these histories, too, and that is why I’m naming them.

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[image description: a pair of fuchsia scissors lying on a blanket by a stack of papers of cut & paste fliers Maranda is making for their zines. There are pictures of flowers and pills on the fliers, and text describing their zines and providing contact information. Everything is black & white or various shades of purple.]

To put the words “borderline” and “elder” together – to dream of meeting or becoming a borderline elder – sounds fucking crazy! It’s supposed to!

I didn’t address specific incidents of ableism and madphobia in my essay, either personally or indirectly, because I want you to believe me without my explicit examples, and because if I even began, there would be no room left for dreaming, either within the essay itself or here, within me – it would also negate the aforementioned desire to skip the origin story and resist the sane gaze. It is generally not borderlines who want me to send them a list of everything that’s hurt me. They already know. If they don’t, they are learning.

My first blog entry was published on January 1st, 2011, a few months before I was diagnosed with BPD, and eight years after I began write Telegram zine. I named it The Most Popular Adjective in the World, and I wrote about the word CRAZY. I briefly discussed ableist language, and offered multiple lists of words to use instead. When I talk about how mad history and activism often does not get passed on between generations, this is an example of what I mean: in 2010 and 2011, the idea of replacing the word crazy with non-ableist terms seemed brand new and radical to me, even though it had likely already been written about in the early 2000’s, in the 90’s, in the 80’s, in the 70’s, and other colloquial terms for ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’ had already been reclaimed (and re-reclaimed, etc) by activists and writers and artists… And now, in 2016, it is still a brand new and radical idea to many people. This is what happens to all kinds of activism and writing and art, because we continue to grow up in oppressive, ableist, colonialist, madphobic, capitalist societies and to be educated (or not) by their institutions. We find ourselves harmed by problematic and destructive and unimaginative ideologies, &/or becoming complacent or complicit in the oppression of others, and we fucking suffer and make others suffer.

It’s why I still love and need zines and why I prioritize self-publishing, smaller presses, DIY cultures, and even obscurity. While mainstream narratives are still meaningful to me, they are simply not enough. And while I talk about resisting the mainstream, I am also painfully and conflictingly aware that much of what this blog entry is about is how we suffer when we cannot find ourselves in the mainstream. This issue will remain unreconciled within me, for now. Unfortunately, in resisting mainstream narratives of madness as well as refusing to attempt to participate in or be accepted by mainstream media, we also risk many of our words and art-work being lost. It is tragic and frustrating, but it is where I feel a greater sense of belonging, and where I don’t need to ask for permission to create, to share, to exist.

Since writing my piece about ‘crazy’ five and a half years ago, many of my thoughts have changed, but what I especially want to note is shifting from person-first language to identity-based language. For me, this shift happened during my process of embracing borderline, as well as becoming physically disabled with fibromyalgia. In my zine, I write much more about some of these terms, but what I’ve noticed since acquiring a cane two and a half years ago is that people who don’t use mobility aids often refer to me as a ‘person with a disability’ while folks who do use mobility aids will refer to me as disabled. I prefer disabled. It is with those feelings and experiences that I am beginning to prefer borderline.

marandaelizabethcrippletarot
[image description: four Tarot cards held in Maranda’s left hand. They are the Three of Swords and Five of Pentacles as imagined by the Radiant Pixie Deck and Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot. Among other things, Maranda likes to interpret the Three of Swords as crying in public as resistance, and the Five of Pentacles as crip-love and disabled folks supporting one another.]

(For more of my weirdo feelings on Tarot, please consider beginning with this piece: Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, and Disability with Tarot: Part One, as well as Friendship, Jealousy, and Fear of Being Forgotten.)

I imagine finding lineages and elders, as well as creating and becoming them. I use the word ‘elder’ very intentionally because it is discordant with many BPD narratives: we either recover and no longer qualify for diagnosis, or we kill ourselves; in between those spaces, we often keep it a secret. I want to create more options. Words like elder, lineage, and history interrupt these narratives and create other stories. The photographers abandon their shoot – some of them even fall into the water with us; others call for help, throw in a life preserver, swim us to shore, and teach us how to swim. Still, some will drown.

I have always written with a sense of urgency. I am beginning to wonder if the dearth of quality, complex, nuanced writing about BPD (by borderlines!) might be because we’re struggling, suffering, and unable to work on sustaining long-term anything, let alone fighting our way past gatekeepers of various sorts and, of course, our difficulty with maintaining friends, connections, and networks. I have experienced burn out and exhaustion and quitting again and again, as well as feeling like I will never have the time or the emotional or vocabulary capacity to say everything I need to say. I’ve written 4,000 words this afternoon, and it feels incomplete. It will always be incomplete. It’s easier to write a few sarcastic tweets about BPD than it is to attempt to write an essay saying something that has not yet been said, and it is especially difficult to write an entire book, or work on other forms of art that take considerable time, skill, and patience. I am not interested in normalizing borderline personality disorder. My work is about (re-)developing imagination after it has been injured by trauma.

We have heard the statistic that 10% of borderlines die by suicide. Once I realized that I’d been reading that same statistic for a very long time, and that it originally appeared at least twenty years ago, I looked it up to see if it remained the same. For my own sake, and for the sake of other borderlines, I wanted to find the statistic in single digits. There was another part of me who wanted it to remain the same, just so I could point at it and say, See, it’s real. But like drawing the right Tarot card at just the right moment, the statistic, in fact, has recently changed. Now 3-9% of borderlines will die by suicide. That is still a sizeable number, but it also shows that we are living, that changes are happening.

I hope my work, and my dreams, will contribute to this change.

Borderliningly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot: Part Three

In Part Three (of who knows how many?!) of Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot, I’ll be writing about the Nine of Wands and Three of Pentacles, and I’ll be using Pixie’s Tarot, The Collective Tarot, Thea’s Tarot, and Kitty Kahane’s Magic Mirrors.

Read Part One, where I wrote about the Five of Pentacles and Three of Swords, here, and Part Two, where I wrote about the Two of Pentacles and Eight of Cups, here.

I chose these particular cards for this entry because I feel they both communicate using our wounds to create a spiritual purpose in our lives, and cultivating magic and art through loneliness and pain. I have lately thought about things like what I’m gonna call “cripping Tarot” (& cripping astrology & cripping witchcraft, etc!) and about the necessity of Tarot and witchcraft for crazy people, obviously, but especially those on the margins, and especially poor people.

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In my interpretations of the Nine of Wands, I address migraines & sickness, feelings of futility, sleep paralysis, euphoria, faith, and the possibilities of mad lineages; and in my interpretations of the Three of Pentacles, I discuss misfit spirituality, the illusion of community, borderline-imagination, valuing obscurity, not-belonging, privacy, and meaning-making.

As always, the way I’m choosing to read the cards is not definitive, absolute, or static. They’re definitely not permanent or fixed. And they’re certainly not exhaustive or prescriptive. I’ve seen enough generic, and often ableist, madphobic, and frankly, boring interpretations of the cards to know I need to make my own. I focus much more on the imagery of Pixie’s Tarot in this entry, but I encourage you to look at the other cards and create your own meanings and connections with the images, patterns, and stories.

As a reminder, I also offer Tarot readings online and offline, prioritizing mad folks, crazy people, disabled queers, misfits, and outcasts. You can book a reading with me here.

Nine of Wands / Nine of Keys

The Nine of Wands developed a deeper meaning for me last Winter (and so did the emoji of the little face with the bandage wrapped around their head!), when I drew it as my daily card as I was recovering from another migraine. It was a particularly strange migraine, one in which I had a visceral out-of-body experience. I’ve written a bit about sleep paralysis in the past; this time, I was paralyzed while nauseous with a migraine, too. If you’ve never experienced sleep paralysis, it’s something like accidentally waking up from a dream (but more often for me, nightmare) state, in which your body isn’t keeping up with your brain, and no matter how hard you’re trying to scream and scream, or roll over, or open your eyes, or protect yourself, absolutely nothing will move. My sleep paralysis nightmares often involve men breaking into my apartment, and I can’t speak, move, fight, blink, open my eyes, anything. But because I’m partly awake, it feels like the intrusion is happening in real life, not dreamland. It’s completely terrifying, and years and years of this have contributed to insomnia, fatigue, and chronic pain.

On this particular night, I was lying on my back, listening to voices around me, unable to move, and I began to feel one form of my body begin to detach itself from another. Although my eyes were closed, I could see it happening, too. Something about one body and the other felt as though they were trying to uncling themselves through layers of velcro and glue and weird viscuous flesh-slime. There was a kind of snap when not-quite-flesh, more-like-ghost body detached, and floated up, remaining in the same position as my sleeping body. I remember distinctly thinking, “Will I find a revelation up here? Is that what’s supposed to happen?” But I didn’t. I floated up, searched and waited, and then returned.

When my bodies were inside one another once again, I woke up with the ability to move my limbs and eyelids. I don’t remember if I took more meds, but I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I was still sick, and I puked water and spit onto the floor. After a while, I made coffee, took another Tylenol 3, and drew my daily card.

Wands, of course, represent the element of Fire, creative energy, and as most Tarot readers will be quick to remind you, fire is both creative and destructive, depending on how well it is cared for and maintained. I associate it also with cycles of mania and burnout. The bandage on the Nine of Wands reminded me of eyemasks, ice packs, cold cloths across my eyes and forehead. The bandage can also represent craziness, sadness, madness, fear and worry, anxiety, self-protection, self-consciousness, and past harm. The wand the figure is holding onto might represent a material object, like a pen or a cane, or it might symbolize just trying to hold on, be steady, keep it together; it can also symbolize increased awakeness, awareness, and amplified creative energy.

The wands rising up behind the figures became all those creative projects set aside while sick. Not just deadlines, not just ideas, but all the new dreams that always come to me as I’m emerging from a migraine. And when I’m migraine-sick, I don’t just “take a break,” I don’t just “rest.” No. I decide that nothing is worthwhile, everything I’ve ever written is worthless garbage, I don’t want to live and I don’t want to write and I don’t want to talk to anybody ever again. I cannot function, I cannot think. I almost always feel suicidal when I have a migraine.

But when I begin coming out of yet another one (and they’re chronic – this is a frequent and predictable experience for me, but it still feels like death every time), I am overwhelmed at everything I need to write, everything I need to do, everything I need to share, and everything I need to change. There is a brief state of euphoria I find myself in where I am suddenly overwhelmed at all the possibilities and connections. Sickness prevents me from doing a lot of things I want to do, but it’s also how I’ve become so prolific with writing. (Incidentally, I lived through two more migraines while writing this.)

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In The Collective Tarot, one of the main themes in the Nine of Keys is faith. It shows somebody jumping through a ring of fire inside a circus tent, not knowing where they’re gonna land. They write, “Faith is not a passive belief… Leaps of faith require trusting what you know and accepting what you don’t when facing the mysteries, doubts, and paradoxes that come with being alive.” The Nine of Keys/Wands is about distinguishing between real and imagined danger. The keys on fire, like the wall of wands, might hurt us or it might protect us; it might be a bit of both. But we can’t know until we do something with them. In many imaginings of this card, the figure looks worried, hinting at anxiety or paranoia. They are unsure of themselves, unsure of their surroundings.

I also see this card as a reminder of our innate ability to create our own path. With madness in particular, although we’ve had all kinds of mad pride and survivor movements, all kinds of options for understanding and exploring psychology and trauma and depression and mania and intuition and oppression, all kinds of insights found in books and psych wards and relationships with other crazy people, all kinds of activism and art and advocacy, it can still feel very difficult to connect with any kind of mad or crazy or disabled lineage, find and communicate with mad and disabled elders (because many have died, because friendship is difficult while crazy, because our nervous breakdowns don’t always bring us to places where crazy people can support us, etc etc etc…), or feel a connected sense of community, which can lead to feeling more alone, more confused, more indecisive, more lost. “Intuition” is a complex topic for me as a crazy person (my gut instincts are not always “healthy,” and I frequently predict “negative” events in my own life), but the card does encourage us listen to the weirder instincts, to not try to live exactly the same way somebody else is living, to not try to do the same thing somebody else is doing. This card is about learning to cope with the stories we must carry, doing something different with them this time, and using our creative energy to resist normality, sanity, and to consider prioritizing the so-called irrational.

Questions to Explore

– Do I feel lonely? How can I transmute loneliness and sadness to creative energy? Can I re-imagine myself as connected to movements and communities and histories, albeit disparate and difficult to access?
– Have I become too determined in attempting to be self-sufficient? Do I need to ask for external support? What does it mean to consider and imagine lineages and histories of madness? What does it mean to queer or crip those lineages?
– Do I feel as though I participate in life, or observe? What are the positive and negative qualities of each of these positions, and where do I wish to be?
– Is the situation as dire as it feels, or do I have more options than I am currently aware of? Does this situation feel too chaotic? Where can I redirect my energy?
– Have I become bored with the creative projects I’ve been working on? Do I need to try something else?
– Do I worry about being forgotten or underappreciated? Do I worry about missing out? How do I feel about external limitations preventing me from doing what I want to do, making what I want to make, going where I want to go, and writing what I want to write?

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Three of Pentacles / Three of Bones

For me, this card is about using madness and creativity toward a spiritual purpose, even if that purpose feels entirely unclear and undefined. There’s a community element in this card, and it won’t surprise you when I say that I have always and continue to not felt/feel connected to any kind of community, collective, or support system – when I write about community, I am often describing the illusion of community, the perpetual disappointment in the countless searches for community – at the same time, I feel this card asks us to trust that something like community might exist, but/and it will necessarily be imperfect. I also think it points toward finding the value of loneliness.

I often ask myself what the purpose(s) of my own writing is/are, and the answers always vary. Sometimes it’s survival. Sometimes it’s friendship. Sometimes it’s documentation, evidence, anger. In one of the zines I’m currently working on, I talk about my writing as contributing to what I’ve named “borderline-thought” and “borderline-imagination.” I’ve been contemplating what it means to value obscurity, what it means to self-publish, what it means to be affiliated with nobody but myself (no institution, no diplomas or certificates, no academy, no awards, no collective, and often no – or very little – credit or compensation or recognition or invitations, etc…), which has led me to contemplating how / what / where / why / I contribute, i.e. write.

Many descriptions of the Pentacles suit will mention “work ethic,” a phrase that makes me cringe for so many reasons. With sickness and madness, I’ve been learning to value non-productivity and non-work, and I so strongly believe that none of us should be forced to earn a living that it breaks me just to think about it. I have often defined what I do as work and labour, but I have resisted those terms as well because they don’t feel like enough, and because I don’t feel like a worker or a labourer. I feel like Maranda. But I do feel under-valued and under-recognized sometimes (these feelings are intermittent, not constant – I do have supportive friends & readers). The Three of Pentacles encourages me to make my own meanings. I’m much more of a loner than collaborator, so I imagine this card as collaborating with each of my selves, and to think of my art as a collaboration with spirits or with a Higher Power, or as a contribution to crazy & crip & traumatized lineages.

As I was working on this piece, I had a dream that I forgot until I was walking by a nearby church to go to the laundromat. In my dream, I was inside the church, and it was as if I had come upstairs from the basement depicted in the card, and was looking for a seat. The church was crowded – everybody was contained within small groups of friends and family, and I looked and felt distinctly alone. I worried that my not-belonging was very visible, and that the wooden pews would hurt my bones. I worried about having to introduce myself and make small talk when I didn’t want to. The service was open to the public, and I wanted to be inside but remain unnoticed. I wanted to look at the stories on the stained glass windows, but church-goers’ shifting bodies obscured my view.

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I’ve written plenty about not-belonging. The dream helped me to find more in this particular card about a kind of misfit spirituality, a true embracing of weirdnesses, and the necessity of having private practices, as well as finding magic and purpose through discomfort and loneliness. I think it means something about being okay with the very weirdest parts of yourself that others can’t or won’t see.

I have also written about writing as a form of contribution, a form of being of service. The Three of Pentacles involves foundations and plans, and I think it involves necessary invisibility, too, as the figures are in the basement, unseen – this could also refer to the underground and subcultures. In Pixie’s Tarot, this is the only card with black Pentacles – the others are golden. To me, this conveys more about privacy, invisibility, protection, and spirit communication. I think also about creating our own meanings for terms like renunciation, reverence, art, and oddness. I think the card says something about trusting in the value of your labour and your visions. I think it has something to say about knowing your spoons, gathering your reserves, and seeking information. It also seems to me to hint at the idea of building a world, which is useful to me as a fiction writer and as someone who dreams of new worlds everyday.

There’s no boredom in this card, as there can be in others. Organizers might see themselves in this card, as well as writers working with editors or editors working with writers. It might also represent a kind of care team or spiritual resources, space, coven, or group. Three, of course, represents harmony, and you might connect it to body-mind-spirit, past-present-future, or the Threefold Law.

In The Collective Tarot, this card also shows a visibly wounded creature, but the figure is alone, rather than interacting with others. In Thea’s Tarot, the figure again is alone. Yet they each seem to embody a kind of strange, divine purpose.

Questions to Explore

– What aspects of my creative processes feel meaningful to me? Which parts are no longer feeling meaningful to me? Am I ready to discard them? Am I ready to re-dedicate and re-devote myself to art and recovery when I don’t know what the rewards will be?
– What are my roles or purposes with my art/work and spiritual practices? Do I tend to create alone or with others? How do I feel about collaborations and shared energies? To where and to whom am I contributing?
– Can I practice my art/work as a form of prayer? Who is my art/work in service to, what is it in service of? Does this service feel effective, worthwhile, and appreciated?
– What are the spiritual purposes and lessons of madness, disability, illness, and/or trauma in my daily life? What happens when I shift my perspective from achieving productivity to being of service?
– Do the ideas of not-belonging &/or misfit spirituality resonate with me? How? Why? Is there anywhere I feel I belong? Do I feel a sense of community in my days? How do I alleviate the feeling of loneliness, or what do I learn through it?

Tarotingly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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oh my heart it breaks every step that i take

I got a letter in the mail. It said I “meet the program’s definition of disability,” and “We have not scheduled another review of your disability at this time.” No apologies, no thank you for your time, no sorry if we led you to believe you might die this Summer. No award, no medal. I’d barely been breathing for months. I thought the worst things were going to happen. The review process in itself is traumatizing. (It’ll be a zine one day. It’s a long, fucking complicated story.)

During the second 90-day review process, I thought I’d get this letter at the last minute, the end of Summer; I thought I’d be denied. I thought I’d be in court. I thought I’d be evicted again. But the letter arrived within three weeks of my forms being received. I think it was delivered that day because I was wearing my dollar-sign tights, trying to conjure luck.

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[image: my legs in the grass, dollar-signs printed on my black tights, cane resting by my side, purple lipstick smeared on the lid of the first Starbucks drink I’ve had for nearly a year.]

The next day, I took a long walk along Queen West. I could only walk – with breaks – for this length of time because of a painkiller prescribed to somebody else, kindly shared with me. I hadn’t been inside a thrift store since last Summer, and it was one of the little things I’d missed the most. Searching for dresses with pockets, dresses that fit my flat chest and wide hips. I ambled slowly, but less grouchy than usual.

At Black Market, T. Rex was playing. Always a good sign. I named my zine after a T. Rex song when I was seventeen. Black Market was one of the first places I went to when I visited the city as a “grown-up.” If ever I fell down their dark staircase and smashed my skull against the concrete floor, I’d probably die happy. I stole a lot of clothes that day, but I paid for my Black Market finds. When I left, I think I had one of my first experiences of someone getting out of my way on the stairs and telling their friends to do the same.

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[image: my hand holding onto a paperbag full o’ meds. The bag says, “Talk with your pharmacist about your care!” And has an illustration of bottles and bottles of spilled pills.]

On my way home, a man approached me and asked if I’d like to buy comics from him for $1. He was carrying a bundle of zines. I bought a zine. I wasn’t sure if it’d be anything I was into (I was afraid I was being tricked into buying something misogynist and creepy and gross), but I want to live in a world where somebody can bring their zines to Queen West and sell them for $1 on a Tuesday afternoon, so I bought one.

When I googled his name at home, the first (and second and third and…) link that came up was not for a comic artist, but for Lana Del Rey. I have a limited data plan, so after having temporarily uninstalled my Twitter app yet again (this is something I do semi-regularly), I was able to allow myself to get sucked into a Lana Del Rey YouTube vortex for a couple hours. I am notoriously behind on music. Somehow, for lotsa reasons, I stopped getting interested in new music before I quit drinking half a decade ago, stopped going to many shows, stopped buying albums, blah blah, and it has often made me sad to think that I might never find another artist whose songs make me cry, or make me wanna listen to a song on repeat, or make me feel anything at all. But Lana Del Rey! My wish came true.

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[image: beach sand, a tree, a swan swimming by, lake stretching out beyond the horizon / on another unplanned city magic walk, I went to the beach and saw my first swans of the season. I sat in the sand for six hours and read an entire book (I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane).]

Later, of course, all the stolen clothes made me sad when I realized that they will mostly only be seen by medical professionals, who often imply that I am too well-dressed to be as sick as I say I am. And the I-still-have-an-income-&-a-home high wore off, and the I’m-still-sick low returned. I started going to AA again. I usually can’t go because I get sick, because the metal folding chairs hurt too much, because I can’t breathe through cigarette smoke to get through the door, because transit is a mess. But I’ve felt lonely and restless, and I really really really want(ed) to drink. It happens every late-Spring / early-Summer. Because I can’t go as often as I’d like to, people often mistake me for a newcomer. I celebrated five years sober in April.

Last night, I had plans to go to another meeting. I booked WheelTrans a week in advance. They were supposed to pick me up at 7:20. I went outside at 7PM and sat by my door, waiting, reading (A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett). Sometimes they show up early. Sometimes they show up late. You never know. They were late. The last time a ride was twenty minutes late, I called four different numbers but couldn’t get through to a human. Last night’s ride arrived at 7:55. Thirty-five minutes late. The meeting began at 8. There was no point in going anymore.

This is one of the many ways disabled and chronically ill people are prevented from participating in our own communities. When the driver showed up, I added him to my long list of strangers I’ve cried in front of recently. I told him I didn’t need the ride anymore. (I also shouted, “FUCK. FUCK,” in the middle of the road and kicked my toes into the pavement because this is sometimes how I respond to trying to exist, to plans thwarted once again. I also bashed my wrist against my brick wall again and again.)

I canceled the ride home, too, of course. I don’t know if WheelTrans keeps a record of how many times they arrive too late to get somebody to their destination at all, but what they do keep a record of is how many rides a passenger misses, how many rides a passenger cancels. You can only do this a small amount of times each month before you’re cut off. So these two rides are on my file, points against me. After I canceled my ride home, I regretted it. Sometimes, for no-shows, the driver goes into the building and calls your name to see if anybody has seen you. The moment I pressed the ‘cancel’ button, I thought, No. I want you to go into that fucking church and shout my name so that anybody who’s still there has to know I still exist, has to know I tried to get to that fucking meeting in that fucking basement and was thwarted by inaccessibility once again. I want my lack of presence to fucking haunt them.

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[image: A square-shaped bottle of Saint Dymphna oil in my hand.]

When I came back inside, I received an automated phone call from a hospital, reminding me of an MRI I’m supposed to have this weekend. I didn’t know I had an appointment, but I did know I was placed on a waitlist last Winter. I called them this morning. They said they mailed me a letter in March but I never received it. MRI’s are performed 24/7, and my appointment is at 11:45 at night. So I burst into tears again! If I don’t take my meds, which knock me out, by 10:30, I get fucking sick. But if I rescheduled, they wouldn’t be able to get me in ‘til October or November. So I’ll be at the hospital on Saturday night. And my doctor says, if it’s “just fibromyalgia,” like all the other ultrasounds and x-rays and everything, it’s not gonna show anything. I’m on five or six waitlists for headaches, chronic pain, and trauma, but my name won’t come up on any of them ‘til at least next year.

And today I woke up in too much pain to walk to the bathroom without crying.

Hauntingly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Lilac season, disability, & staying home

It’s lilac season (well, the very end of it). I have survived many disasters in lilac seasons, and seem to be surviving another one. I keep scissors in my backpack so I can steal lilacs from the park, and I fill my backpack up with them, drape them over everything in my apartment, and press them between the pages of books and underneath my pillows.

I’ve been spending most of my time in bed, and have transformed my pillow into a desk. I am lucky to have what I call a “fancy mattress” – it is made of memory foam with layers of squishy gel, thick and deep, created to ease chronic pain (or at least not exacerbate it too much) and seems to hug and massage my body, unlike the spring mattress I had before, the cheapest mattress available, one which eventually grew mold and poisoned me and which I had to sleep on anyway because I could not afford anything else. Moldy or not, my body can no longer rest on ordinary mattresses, and this is one of the (many!) reasons I can no longer travel, or stay at a friend’s place, or be anywhere beyond my own bed. (Also, yes, sometimes anything that isn’t literal garbage is something I refer to as “fancy.”) Sometimes I can’t believe the things I made my body do (24-hour bus rides, couchsurfing, wandering unknown cities…) before my body quit. Even most chairs have become a problem for me, and I definitely can’t use a meditation cushion these days.

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[image: My bed. Purple curtains, purple pillow, and a purple netbook with Saint Dymphna on the screen. A butterfly lavender plant in the window. A notebook on my nightstand. Bottles of pills, a lamp, a large window with plenty of green outside.]

Despite everything I’m doing to adapt to such difficult circumstances, to be as comfortable as possible, I still wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. My chronic pain condition seems to have begun developing seven years ago (with migraines and insomnia, etc. before the pain spread to different parts of my body) – I can trace back to particular moments in my illness when there was a perceptible shift, where something happened that I did not recuperate from; it accumulates. The last time I went to a social event – a zine reading & fair in one weekend, and another reading a week later – was eight months ago, and I have not recovered. I have not been able to go to another event where my friends are.

This Spring, I applied for WheelTrans, an alternative form of public transit for disabled folks in the city, as regular public transit is no longer accessible to me. It was a stressful process, and when I was accepted, I cried. When they gave me my registration number, I felt almost the way I did when I got my first ISBN, the way I had imagined having it tattooed on me. I thought WheelTrans would make it easier to see my friends, to attend events, to attempt to have some kind of “social life” again – but it hasn’t. Because my illness is with me always, and no matter what kinds of transit are or are not available to me, I am usually too sick to get to and from anywhere anyway. So I use it to get to medical appointments, and I use it to get to the post office, but that’s about it. I’m grateful of course because I wouldn’t be able to get to these places without it, but I am sad, also, because each time I hope for my body to return to some previous state, it refuses.

marandaelizabethlilacsaccessiblepermit

[Image: My tattooed hands holding onto lilacs and my accessible parking permit. I’m wearing an amethyst necklace other crystals on my wrist.]

So, this is my bed. My best friend. The one who supports me the most. I stay still but my moods continue to fluctuate rapidly – at 1 o’ clock I want to write nine essays and three books and ten zines, at 3 o’ clock I want to die, at 4 o’clock I’m crying again, at 7 o’clock I am enraged and bitter, at 9 o’clock I write some more, and at 10 o’clock I take my meds and go to bed. (Or, not really – I often don’t know what time it is despite looking at the clock, and am shocked to realize that when I think it’s 11 o’clock in the morning it’s actually 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I’m not sure what happened.) I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept. But I’m lucky to have such a big window – I watch the weather all day, I overhear funny strange gross ugly ridiculous conversations… And despite having not gone outside last weekend, I still got a sunburn.

marandaelizabethbutterflylavenderwindowsill

[Image: Close-up of the butterfly lavender plant on my windowsill. It’s the only spot I can keep a plant without my cat ruining it – otherwise, I’d have plants everywhere.]

Being inside so often, or only being outside to see medical professionals, and having all my rides organized and booked in advance, is a strange feeling. I’ve noticed that on those rare times when friends come over, I feel like I’m being visited at the hospital. And when I have brief moments in which I can wander between appointments and WheelTrans rides, I feel like I’m on an afternoon pass from the psych ward. I feel like all those hospitalizations I’ve had will reside in my bones-guts-brain forever, but this doesn’t bother me so much as long as the memories and consequences and repercussions and stories and feelings don’t become too much for me to carry.

Alivingly Yours,
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P.S.: As a follow-up to my recent request for financial support, please note that I have since paid my rent, and written an update at the bottom of the entry. I am physically and emotionally exhausted, and it’s an extremely difficult situation for me to discuss (I have so much I want to say, but haven’t been able to without debilitating panic attacks and other unfun and barely manageable “symptoms”), but what I can say is that I am so, so grateful for all the support/$upport I’ve received from friends, from readers, and from strangers. For all kinds of reasons, especially those around being diagnosed & psychiatrized & pathologized for so fucking long, I have a hard time asking for and accepting help and support, and still feel surprised and confused when people are kind or generous with me with no strings attached – that’s another story, or a more complex part of the current story, that I won’t get into right now. But, thank you.

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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support support again & again

I’m in need of support. I’m in an extremely difficult and stressful situation, and seeking immediate financial help. As you know, I’m on disability. I recently received news that my file is under review. I told very few people because I wanted this situation to pass as quietly as possible, and I instead struggled at home, alone. In case you’re unfamiliar with the review process, it basically involves a lot of complicated paperwork, deadlines, appointments, rules, regulations, phone calls, unpredictability, etc. The review process for ODSP (Ontario Disability Support (but I call it Suffering) Program) is notoriously stressful to such a degree that workers have been advised not to perform them as often as they used to because suicide rates go up significantly. The rate of suicide for folks on social assistance is 18% higher than the general population. (I know that talking about money and suicide in the same sentence might make folks call me “manipulative” and I don’t care – I’m being honest about my circumstances.) I don’t like to talk about social assistance much, for lotsa reasons, one of them being that the whole thing makes me feel fucking hysterical. Being on disability means being forced to cope through inescapable poverty with the knowledge that your entire livelihood could be taken away on a whim, or a computer glitch, or a high volume of mail, or any manner of bureaucratic bullshit – and you often can’t access the care that you need to survive and heal and connect because you can’t fucking afford it.

marandaelizabethpinkflamingos

Holding onto my request for an internal review letter in one hand, and my cane in the other. The photocopy shop has a graffiti mural dedicated to John Waters. Sometimes when I am doing strange stretches in public and clutching my cane, I feel like I look like a flamingo.

I have not been coping well. But I’m alive. However, a couple days ago I received a letter in the mail stating that my income and benefits are gonna be canceled on June 1st. That’s rent, transportation, food, meds, dental, everything. Although I sent my review forms in on time, there’s been a filing error and the letter claims that my forms were not received on time. Generally, when one’s income support is up for review, if they decide to cancel it, there is a three-month period in which one will continue to receive their income as usual as they prepare to file an appeal, after which a decision will be made. However, I’ve been given a mere two weeks notice.

I don’t have savings. I don’t have a credit card. I don’t have a back-up plan. I’ve been losing my ability to walk. I am often housebound. I have extremely precarious access to healthy food. I frankly don’t have the kind of support system I dream of having. This situation is literally one of my worst fears come true.

My doctor and I spent a lot of time filling out about 50 pages of forms together, detailing my long list of diagnoses, the very particulars of how mental illnesses and chronic pain and limited mobility affect my daily life. Etc etc etc. It is a daunting stack of paper with very careful and specific instructions that are extremely overwhelming. I spoke to an ODSP worker on the phone the same day my notice arrived, who admitted that their offices are simply overwhelmed at the volume of mail they’re receiving, and it’s quite likely that my forms are stacked up on somebody’s desk somewhere, waiting to be counted and filed and responded to. They also admitted to being just as confused by the process as I am. I spoke to another worker a few days later. They also said it sounds like this is an error on their behalf. I’ve spoken to my doctor, who has agreed to talk to my caseworker and advocate on my behalf, because I am not emotionally or physically capable of doing this on my own.

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Forms! Is your condition gonna get better or worse or stay the same? It’s probably gonna get worse, thanks for asking!

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What’s your diagnonsense?

This is happening during BPD Awareness Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and, of course, Mercury Retrograde in Taurus Season. May is also the month with the highest suicide rate. All this fuckedupness is not lost on me.

You know where this is going. I need money. I need to pay my rent, I need to eat. There are a few ways to support me: Firstly, this is my Support/$upport page, where you can send donations through PayPal. Also, I recently printed a new zine, which, as luck would have it, is about how poverty (and trauma, and the trauma of poverty) and the precarity of stable housing and access to basic needs harms one’s psyche and body. You can buy my new zine, Telegram #39, as well as past zines, my zine anthology, and my first novel, at schoolformaps.etsy.com. It’s actually my first novel’s third birthday, so if you haven’t read it yet, now might be a good time. Although I also offer Tarot readings for weirdos, misfits, and outcasts, I can only do them sporadically due to chronic illness, so you may see those listings come and go from my shop – thanks for being patient with the inherently unstable nature of disability and craziness. As well, I can accept well-concealed Canadian or U.S. cash in the mail to Maranda Elizabeth / P.O. Box 33 Stn. P / Toronto, Ontario / M5S 2S6 Canada. Whether or not you can send money, sharing this is also a form of support.

I have a lot more to say about what it means to survive on disability. I don’t like doing this. It’s not fun. I feel a lot of pressure to make myself coherent, to find the perfect vocabulary, to examine this situation as if from a detached distance, to convince readers I am real… But the conversation and the painful realities are far too close to me at this point to feel safe or okay sharing my stories. I hope to be able to do so later. At the same time, I don’t know how long this particular situation is gonna last. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to sort out my papers and re-instate my income. I don’t know if I’ll be fighting all summer, or if it’ll be sorted out next week, or if the very worst will happen, or…? I’ve filed for an internal review, and I don’t know what their response will be, or if I’ll have to go through the tribunal process, or what. I just totally don’t know what’s happening, except that I need rent and food. I hope it’ll all eventually become material someday.

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I’m bedridden frequently, and my MCS – like everything else – has been getting worse. Wearing masks has been helpful. They make them in lavender! I have not had the guts to wear them in public yet, but I think that when I do, it will be a matter of mere survival, not guts. That’s Lily in the background, taking care of me.

In the meantime, I’m worn out. I’m sick. I am working on about ten thousand writing projects at once (my next novel! my series about navigating Tarot with madness & disability! zines about surviving poverty! examining BPD & c-PTSD! chronic pain and my body as a protest! Etc etc etc!). But continuing to find the spoons and courage and vocabulary and time and sense-of-worthwhileness for these projects is so unspeakably difficult when getting basic needs met is something I can barely do. And I am frankly sick and self-conscious about having to ask my readers & pals to $upport me again and again. But here we are.

Askingly Yours,
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UPDATE: RENT PAID. Thank you thank you thank to my friends & readers for being so generous with your support & $upport. This is still an ongoing situation, it’s messy & stressful, but I have paid my rent for June, and I’ve been in touch with my doctor, my caseworker, & other folks at ODSP & their Adjudication Unit. I’ve cried a whole lot. I’m now within another 90-day review process, during which I’m anxiously checking my mail every damn day to hear their decision. It’s gonna be a strange and stressful Summer. I’ve been sharing small updates about the process on Twitter, and trying to cope. I want to live through this so I can tell the story of how I survived one of my worst fears come true. I have a lot more to say about how being on disability, being forced to barely scrape by on an impossible income while sick & crazy & disabled, can make friendship & other forms of affection & connection impossible; I want to write about all the limits imposed upon folks on social assistance, about how it feels criminal to stay alive; I want to write about the paradox of writing because I’m sick and being too sick to write; I want to write about how I would not have had anyone to ask to $upport me if I hadn’t been writing about mental illness for ten years, how there’d be no crowd through which to fund; I want to write about how being on disability means the inevitability of crisis after crisis after crisis, and how this is not a crisis averted, but one thoroughly experienced and then delayed, with the potential for either relief or another fight later this season… I’ll have to wait. But thank you again. <3

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Dear Borderlines: Love Letters & Mad Dreams

content notes: brief mentions of self-harm, alcoholism, death

May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. I am generally both wary and weary of any and all awareness campaigns, particularly those centering on mental health and illness, as well as disability, and physical illness, but, as I often joke, there must be a way for me to capitalize on my trauma and survival, a way to trick the world into letting me live another day, and so, here I am, using my so-called attention-seeking behaviour to manipulate you into listening to me for a few minutes. Hi!

I was diagnosed with BPD in May 2011, although I was unaware of any sort of awareness campaigns, and it was five years ago, around the same time that Marsha Linehan, who created Dialectical Behaviour Therapy came out as a borderline (or a post-borderline?) herself. (I will never know if the psychologist on the inpatient unit who diagnosed me was aware of either of these things, but it’s interesting to wonder about.) There is much contention around the word borderline, of course; I wish to note that I use the term affectionately, with love & care & rage & hope, for myself and for my pals. Words hold different meanings for different people, and while many would wish to distance themself from either the word “borderline” or the diagnosis itself, I choose to hold onto it, to dream new meanings, understand old meanings, to use it when I need or want to, to connect with and through it, as well as to question and interrogate it, move around and beyond it, to share it, to learn from it.

Sometimes, while story-telling or attempting to name my feelings, I will interrupt myself and say, “Classic borderline,” “textbook case,” “caricature of the DSM,” etc. etc., and I do so with sarcasm, yes, and self-consciousness and shame, but also with a sense of self-love, compassion, and imagination (when possible). I could show you pictures of previous incarnations of myself that embody the stereotype of the borderline: a sad lonely girl, a messy alcoholic, a cutter from childhood to adulthood, an angry femme, a runaway, a queer with a history of trauma, a jealous artist, an impulsive and (self-)destructive (and yes, sometimes violent) person, a victim who refused to use the word survivor because they felt they could not survive, someone who identified as a slut and then was celibate for years at a time, an unemployed fuck-up, a weirdo who has tried on countless aesthetics and identities, a regular at multiple hospitals (the last time I was admitted to the ER, the receptionist complimented my new hairstyle), a bridge-burner, a bad daughter, a black-and-white-thinker existing in extremes, a disaster. I’ve been all of those things. I am okay with having contained (and overflowed with) all these stories and feelings and beings, I am able to write these words (sometimes) without judging myself or blaming myself or crying or feeling triggered. And I’m living beyond them, too.

I have also been a dreamer, a writer, an artist, an accidental activist, and a friend.

And who might I become? I don’t know! That’s what’s so fascinating about the borderline process!

Almost anyone who has searched for information about BPD is familiar with the image of a girl (generally a thin, white, cis girl) pulling her hair and crying in front of a broken mirror. I know this girl. I’ve been her. I cringe every time I see this image, but she is within me, a sad clichè, but struggling and falling apart nonetheless. She appears on the covers of books, on blogs, on guides for how-to-spot- (and often, eliminate) the-borderline-in-your-life (or therapy practice, or family, or ER, or or or…), the covers of psychology magazines, self-help books, memoirs, etc etc etc. As BPD is understood more, studied more, listened to more, her image is slowing being replaced with dandelion wishes, daffodils, cherry blossoms, soft pastels, waiting room shades of green and blue, reminders of choosing mindfulness over drama.

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A tall stack of books about borderline personality disorder, trauma, self-harm, & staying alive!

I keep both of these images within me, and so much more, too. I dream of the zillion borderlines living their lives, those I’ll know and those I’ll never know, I dream of borderlines with and without access to diagnoses, with and without access to meaningful, competent treatment. I dream of borderlines who feel unsure of the word borderline, borderlines unseen, borderlines on their own, borderlines living with their parents, borderlines abandoned again and again, queer borderlines, disabled borderlines, lonely borderlines, crip borderlines, chronically ill borderlines, slutty borderlines, celibate borderlines, femme borderlines, feminist borderlines, trans borderlines, non-binary borderlines, borderlines who’ve died and who will die, borderlines who make a tough and conscious effort to stay alive each day, traumatized borderlines and untraumatized borderlines, suicidal borderlines, artist borderlines, borderlines who don’t make art, borderline witches, borderline weirdos, borderlines normos, high school dropout borderlines and borderlines with PhD’s and MFA’s, borderlines who write and borderlines who don’t, borderlines who are out and borderlines who are not, alcoholic borderlines and sober borderlines, angry borderlines, grateful borderlines, sensitive borderlines, crazy borderlines, shy borderlines, healing borderlines, borderlines who work and borderlines who can’t, borderlines on social assistance, medicated borderlines, unmedicated borderlines, neurotic borderlines, psychotic borderlines, uncool borderlines, unpopular borderlines, survivor borderlines, borderlines in precarious situations, borderlines who can’t shut up about it, borderlines who are sick of talking about it, borderlines borderlines borderlines…!

Who has access to a diagnosis? How do race, disability, income, misogyny, sexism, cissexism, ableism, madphobia, capitalism, transphobia, transmisogynoir, queerphobia, etc. affect who is diagnosed, and when, and how, and where, and why, and by whom? How do these intersections and in/accessibilities affect how we perceive or interpret or misinterpret our diagnosis, how we cope with it, how we respond? What information do histories of “hysteria,” witchcraft, and (anti-)oppression have to offer me in my own understanding of BPD? How do chronic pain and illness contribute to my understanding of and recovery with BPD? What do compliance and non-compliance mean in my daily life? What does it mean to take on “borderline” as an identity when the “goal” of “recovery” is (supposedly) to no longer qualify for the diagnosis? In what ways has your diagnosis helped you and in what ways has it harmed you? What are your feelings about self-diagnosis? Who has access to language, to dreams, to community, to conversations, to re-imaginings, to resistance?

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A picture I drew of Saint Dymphna, Patron Saint of Mental Illness, Crazy People, Runaways, etc etc, re-imagined as a zinester with a microphone.

My aim is not (or maybe not only) to provide hope – although sometimes I accidentally do – but to re-imagine, re-interpret, re-define recovery, healing, coping, creating; to re-negotiate diagnostic language, and the inherent isms and stigma contained within medical and diagnostic terms and descriptions; to resist narratives of battling and overcoming and transcending and triumphing; and to share my process. I want to claim borderline again and again, to move through my own (pre-)conceptions of what it means to be a borderline, of what I might be capable of, of how I interact (or don’t) with other borderlines and not-borderlines and maybe-borderlines.

I’m curious about the borderline stories untold, about being grateful for the borderline stories I know thus far and wanting more, I’m ever-thinking about who has access to competent, meaningful treatment, about why I hold onto this word so hard, curious about the stories of those who’ve died and those I’ll never know and those yet to be, I’m curious about the words borderlines use to describe themselves/ourselves, the metaphors, the wordless, I’m curious about how to unlearn my own internalized and externalized isms and discomforts with BPD, I wonder how to keep telling and re-telling stories, I wonder who’s listening, I wonder what’s next.

Borderliningly Yours,
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P.S.: I have a new zine! Telegram #39 is about examining the ways poverty, trauma, and chronic pain shape & alter & distort my perceptions of myself, my body, and my imagination. It’s about being okay with not-belonging; chronic instability of home and health and communication; coping, caring, dreaming. Making connections. This is a zine about sickness, pain, and isolation, the damage poverty does to one’s psyche & body & soul, and surviving under capitalism. It’s a zine about falling & praying & breathing. Cards & candles & the irrational. Affirmations for crazy & sick & disabled weirdos. Magic as coping skills. Story-telling, story-exploring, storying. Asking questions.

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot: Part Two

So, I’m pretty enthusiastic about reading Tarot as crazy people, and Tarot as a reliable*, spiritual, and fun source for self-exploration, coping, and (re-)imagining. As I mentioned in Part One, where I wrote about Five of Pentacles/Bones & Three of Swords/Feathers, reading Tarot through a lens of madness, chronic illness and pain, trauma, and disability (and thus, poverty, too) comes naturally to me, as these are my daily life experiences, and it’s important to me to work toward ensuring that Tarot is as accessible as possible to folks with similar experiences.

You can also read Part Three here.

(* “Reliable” as in, it might be easier to sit down and pick up a pack of cards, than to call a friend, or go out, or write, or tweet, or all the other things we do to stay alive… “Reliable” as in feeling seen by the images in the cards, feeling heard, feeling encouraged… “Reliable” as in being a physical object you can hold in your hands…)

I think Tarot can give us different options for coping, for creating, and for understanding, as well as encourage us to ask questions, develop self-awareness, and dare us to unlearn our multiple internalized isms, as well as self-hate & self-loathing, and lack of trust in ourselves (among other things!).

The Tarot invites us to (re-)write out stories, again and again.

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As I watch my disabilities change, witness the spaces/places and activities I have access to change, and surrender to my illnesses in some way, it’s becoming more crucial for me to practice my own weirdo spirituality, to be connected to something beyond the material world and ableist capitalist culture that injures my soul everyday, to trust in the strangeness of the universe and my own capacity to make meaning despite-and-because-of the damage done. This is part of that process, and I offer my thoughts to you in the hopes that you’ll find something meaningful to you here, some kind of affirmation or encouragement, some kind of connection or revelation.

In this entry, I’ll be writing about the Two of Pentacles/Bones, and the Eight of Cups/Bottles, using Pixie’s Tarot, The Collective Tarot, and Thea’s Tarot.

content note: brief mention of chronic suicidal ideation

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Two of Pentacles / Two of Bones

The Two of Pentacles shows the delicate balance of clock-time and memory-time, and the struggle to stay present with our bodies and the space around us day-to-day. I’m not sure I believe there’s a perfect balance to be found, nor do I believe that I’ll reach a certain point in recovery where I am genuinely, fully present. Also, I feel like “being present” is often portrayed as inherently joyful or calm, but I think being present also means staying here when I’m feeling sick, when I’m feeling afraid, when I’m feeling rage.

I used to not be able to cry without feeling suicidal. I turned thirty last Fall, and the first time I remember crying without wanting to die was a few months before that. I’ve still been struggling with chronic suicidal ideation since then, of course (and since childhood), but I’ve also had times when I could cry, and be okay with it, and not think that crying meant I needed to make any decisions in that moment, or to move toward an action that might hurt myself or somebody else.

The Two of Pentacles is the feeling of having so much to say and not knowing where to begin. It’s being caught between trying to translate your physical and emotional pain to the people around you, versus staying with yourself, and knowing that despite the impossibility of getting them to “get it,” your pain is real, and you’re doing your best in each moment, regardless if anyone else can see it. The Two of Pentacles feels like a kind of performance to me as well. Like, when you appear to others to be keeping your shit together pretty impressively, but inside, you feel like you’re falling apart again. And you’re sick of falling apart, but it seems inevitable. It’s your current material reality and physicality, versus the other spaces and places your mind and memory are wandering.

One thing I love about the Two of Pentacles in Pixie’s Tarot is the two ships in the background, somehow staying afloat through tremendous waves. We all know the element of water represents emotions, and the suit of Pentacles represents earth, but somehow this card has always felt a little airy to me. The figure in this card seems to be dancing around so many possibilities, yet stuck in one place. Managing, coping… maybe even having a bit of fun as they do so.

If you, like me, are a borderline, and have become familiar (whether gratefully or begrudgingly – maybe both) with DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, a form of treatment often used with folks who’ve been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, complex-trauma, chronic suicidal ideation, etc…), this card might be a visual representation of the necessity – and difficulty – of holding two seemingly opposing ideas / thoughts / feelings at once, of embracing complexities and dualities, of re-imagining binaries and opposites. Of being okay with not knowing everything.

It’s hard! It’s an excruciating daily process! Sometimes, when I’m having paranoid thoughts, or just plain old worried thoughts, or fears about the future, or regrets about the past, it feels so much easier to curl up in a ball on the floor (which is totally allowed!) than to think an opposite thought, than to admit that I don’t have a whole lot of evidence for my paranoid thoughts except for my crazy brain, which I am frankly bored of, and it’s hard to devote myself to change, yet I do it again and again, everyday, because there is no other option, really.

In more simple terms, it can represent indecisiveness, stress, and worry. It can be the moment before a breakdown or a breakthrough. Change is inevitable – and while we might not be able to control the less-than-ideal structures we are operating within, we can adapt to our circumstances and choose to be guided by hope and magic rather than cynicism and despondency – as alluring as those feelings can be. We can also choose to have a sense of humour about our pain, and to redirect our focus to imagination, creativity, and play. (Tarot can be very playful & fun!)

The Collective Tarot illustrates this hope and luck with a wishbone in the sky, and all the trepidation before breaking it in half. A two-headed snake insists upon change, death, rebirth, but is unsure which direction to choose. For me, it serves as a reminder that not knowing the future is better than assuming it’s gonna be awful. And in Thea’s Tarot, the figure balances upon Pentacles like wheels, as though performing in a circus act or burlesque, a reminder of perseverance through discomfort and challenges.

Some questions you may wish to explore when you draw the Two of Pentacles/Bones:

– What’s holding me back from making a decision?
– What stories of my past continue to draw me back? Is it time to re-write / re-examine them? Let them go? Make art out of them?
– What dualities or conflicts are at play in this situation, and how can I work toward understanding them?
– Am I getting stuck in black-&-white, all-or-nothing thinking? Can I take another path?
– How can I take care of myself and practice staying present during difficult situations?
– Is it time to re-evaluate some of my priorities?
– What can I learn from the things that make me uncomfortable?
– How can I practice being more curious?
– How can I make the best of my current living situation?
– Can I have a sense of humour about where I’m at?

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Eight of Cups / Eight of Bottles

First off, one thing I love about the Eight of Cups is that the figure in this card is using a cane! Although sick and disabled queers may not have been of foremost priority when designing this particular deck, Pixie (Pamela Colman Smith, who illustrated the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which is often referred to as Pixie’s Tarot – if you don’t know her story, look her up) has inadvertently drawn us in, and offered us new ways of seeing ourselves (I like to believe she did this intentionally). A fun thing about this card is that it reminds me of the value of non-productivity.

In daily life, the Eight of Cups can be that feeling of leaving the party early because you’re tired and sick and are no longer invested in the myth that every event or party or gathering is gonna give you some kind of life-transforming insight, or once in a lifetime opportunity, or the true kindred spirit connection you’ve been dreaming of. It’s feeling the fear of missing out and leaving anyway.

As folks with chronic illnesses, crazy brains, and disabilities, we know what it’s like to miss out. We know what it’s like to contort ourselves in an attempt to fit in within inaccessible spaces, to have only the most convenient or cute parts of us seen while the messiness is ignored, and to stay home and wonder if we’re being forgotten. We also know what it’s like to balance our desire to go to a show or a conference vs. the reality that we’ll be stuck in bed for a few days (or weeks) afterward, recuperating with rest, meds, the joy of what we’ve learned, and the resentment of the tradeoffs made to access connection.

If we continue to imagine this figure as a sick and disabled queer, the story continues in Thea’s Tarot, as we climb a staircase, holding our cane for support, and accompanied by a cat – perhaps even being guided by our familiar, not knowing if we’ll make it to the top, or what we’ll find there. The Eight of Cups is all about the unknowns, of spending some serious time with your whole self, all by yourself, of allowing yourself to name some of the magic and joy that can be found in your experiences of madness and disability, and of leaving certain places, spaces, and situations behind when they are no longer enough, when they no longer nurture or inspire you.

(As for that staircase, it can be re-imagined as something internal, obviously – or as a representation of what we don’t have access to, or what we’re fighting. Maybe you can’t use stairs, or maybe they scare you, or maybe they piss you off. For the most part, I can still use stairs, but I hate them, and I’m terrified of falling on them and injuring myself further.)

There’s a sense of quiet and calm. It’s an introspective card, a withdrawal from your usual activities, an attempt to re-establish what your priorities are, what kind of art you want to make and why, what kinds of people you want to surround yourself with, to trust and to care for and to be vulnerable with. Although the figure is walking away, it’s not with resignation, but determination. It’s recognizing a need for change in your life and your psyche before disaster happens, before another breakdown, before feelings of alienation and confusion take up too much space in your mind. It’s the deep necessity of self-care, no matter how sick you are of that word, and of doing the things you need to do to survive in a world that was not created for you, your sore, crooked, fatigued body, your strange brain with all its visions and daydreams and stories and hopes.

In The Collective Tarot, the heavy anchor is on the move, and the boat that once resided in these waters is out of view, gone, onto something new. What remains are empty bottles floating in stagnant water. Something is missing here, and the folks in the boat, dragging their heavy anchor, are off to find it.

Some questions you may wish to explore when you draw the Eight of Cups / Bottles:

– What do I love about being disabled and sick and crazy?
– What modifications & adjustments can I make to my self-care strategies, as well as my friendships?
– How will I know when it’s time to leave a certain situation behind?
– What might courage look like in this particular situation?
– How can I love and value myself and my pals as we struggle to survive impossible circumstances?
– How can I mourn what I’ve never had, or no longer have access to?
– How can my pals & I support one another when we cannot be physically present?
– Can I find pleasure in loneliness, not just aloneness?
– What insights have come to me through my experiences with mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, and trauma recovery that I could not have discovered otherwise?
– In what ways can I re-organize my days around the spoons available to me?

As always, these are only glimpses into potential interpretations, based on my own experiences of madness and chronic illness – the story remains incomplete until you write your own visions, and see what fits for you, discard what does not. Your feelings of madness, pain, trauma, and illness, are valid whether or not they are aligned with mine, and your own interpretations of the cards are equally valid, too. Make your own meanings!

Tarotingly Yours,
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P.S.: As you may or may not know, as well as writing zines, I offer Tarot readings, too, at schoolformaps.etsy.com.

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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