Sometimes I Act Crazy and Conflict Is Not Abuse: continuing to reclaim borderline & politicize madness (Part Two)

content notes: examples of anti-Black racism, transmisogyny, self-injury, ableism, eugenics as metaphor (?), the post-suicide-attempt-charcoal (you know the stuff), pathologizing resistance, borderline-shaming, suicide

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[image description: Two book covers side-by-side. The first one is Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus, which is mostly white with colourful lettering. The second one is Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman, which shows reflections of a setting/rising sun colours on clouds in a lake in shades of indigo, deep violet, red, and aqua.]

This is Part Two of a series. Please read Part One here. You’ll also benefit from reading Dreaming New Meanings into Borderline Personality Disorder and Further Notes on Reclaiming Borderline and Resisting the Sane Gaze.

I recently read Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus, who also wrote I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. While the book was nowhere near as disappointing as Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, it did, as usual, leave much to be desired.

Like many books on mental health and mental illness (I choose to use these terms in this moment as opposed to madness because madness, to me, is political, and most books about BPD are woefully apolitical – or, they try to be, but it’s impossible not to read them that way), an analysis, or even brief mentions, of capitalism, misogyny, ableism, harmful societal norms, etc. is missing. However, this is the first “guide” to BPD in which I’ve read terms like: socioeconomic factors, poverty, societal or cultural factors, programs are expensive, autonomy, etc., so I was grateful for those notes, tiny as they were.

So many books still talk about BPD as if it’s an individual problem, not a cultural and political issue, and I’m hoping that my own work on BPD will begin/continue to fill that void. While much of what I’m writing about borderline personality disorder texts is critical, I never want to stop there – I want to provide alternatives. Alternative stories, interpretations, perceptions, ideas, dreams, etc.

As I explore and criticize this book, I’ll also be sharing images of some of the highlights (literal highlights, I love underlining stuff in books!), because while I was disappointed in multiple ways (when am I not?), there was also a lot of valuable information worth sharing, and because I get asked about BPD a whole lot – and even if I didn’t – I wanna pass it on. Each page will be transcribed under the photo, interspersed with notes from me.

Although this book was published in 2004, I didn’t read it until recently. I used to pick it up and flip through it at bookstores and libraries but I was hesitant to read it because much of the content is fictionalized case histories, which tend to focus almost exclusively on white, cis, middle-upper-class lives and provide absolutely no political commentary or insight into motivations for behaviour, and the characters, beyond distress and rage, are often uncomfortably normal – they have careers, educations, straight relationships, children, etc. For many years, I’ve considered writing responses to these accounts with characters who are queer, trans, women of colour, weird, creative, political, etc – like the borderlines I know and love. But I just haven’t had the fortitude or cash or energy to do so. Yet.

Anyway, I finally bought the book, out of my usual feelings of curiosity and desperation. It was far from the worst BPD book I’ve ever read! (Maybe this could be a review quote on the cover someday.) But you know me, I took issue with a lot of problems contained within, and I’m gonna share some of them with you (with notes on the good stuff, too).

First, a brief list of what I appreciated in this book:

– This book contains the clearest definitions and examples I’ve yet to find of how BPD can be comorbid with (and misdiagnosed as) but is distinct from: Depression, Bipolar, PTSD, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders, “Hypochondriosis” (yeah, I’ll get to that, fibro-friends) and Somatic Disorders, Schizophrenia, Dissociative Disorders, Impulsive/Compulsive Disorders, and Other Personality Disorders (including Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder).

– After each chapter devoted to each criterion of BPD, there’s a list of “Action Steps” which are suggestions on how to work with the symptoms yourself, and how to communicate with borderlines in your life to alleviate painful symptoms. When I bought the book, I hadn’t realized it was also for not-borderlines, but I found some of the suggestions useful, although I would (as always) recommend reading them and employing them with an inquisitive and critical mind, because some of them can be infantalizing or condescending.

– The book notes that many borderlines have a history of being exploited. As somebody who has felt exploited, used, and discarded in multiple ways, I would love to see this theme explored more.

– The book notes that hospitals can often do more harm than help.

– The book notes that of all mental illnesses, borderlines are at the highest risk for suicide.

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “BPD is more often associated with the other “Cluster B” PD’s – histrionic personality disorder (HPD), narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). HPD is characterized by excessive emotionality, self-dramatization, seductiveness, attention to physical appearance, and “rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions.” Anger and self-destructiveness distinguish BPD from this PD. NPD and BPD share characteristics of excessive rage, feelings of entitlement, and exquisite sensitivity to criticism. However, the narcissistic personality exhibits a grandiosity and sense of superiority and entitlement that is absent in the borderline.”]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Cure usually requires a longer time, since it involves significantly altering enduring behavior patterns. Personality disorders, especially BPD, have been demonstrated to elicit more severe functional impairment in day-to-day living than some Axis 1 disorders, including major depression. BPD shares several characteristics with other personality dysfunctions, especially histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial, schizotypal, and dependent personality disorders. However, the constellation of self-destructiveness, chronic feelings of emptiness, and desperate fears of abandonment distinguish BPD from these other character disorders. The primary features of BPD are impulsivity and instability in relationships, self-image, and moods. These behavioral patterns are pervasive, usually beginning in adolescence and persisting for extended periods.”]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also observed frequently with BPD and can be confused with it. Both groups of patients may have a history of childhood abuse or trauma. The reckless, impulsive behavior often associated with BPD makes such individuals more vulnerable to dangerous situations, which might ultimately result in trauma. [Emphasis mine because yeah, and it can be difficult to talk about without self-blame / victim-blaming.]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “The borderline often feels caught in a “Groundhog Day” kind of world, in which each morning she must awaken and start all over again – not only to prove once more her own worth and abilities to herself and others but to recalibrate the value of those around her.” Underlined because I relate so damn much, and have been struggling to describe this start-over feeling since I was 19 and noticed it was becoming a major problem for me.]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “It is almost a thousand times the suicide rate in the general population. Although many BPD symptoms ameliorate over time, the risk of suicide persists through the life cycle, even into the sixth decade. A number of factors further heighten the risk of suicide in borderlines. These include:

– Previous suicide attempts
– Prior hospitalizations
– History of persistent depression
– Hopelessness
– Impulsivity and aggression
– Comorbid antisocial characteristics (self-injury is often found in prison populations)
– Alcohol or drug abuse
– Substance abuse by a parent
– Unemployment and frequent job changes
– Higher education
– Young adulthood
– Older age
– History of severe childhood abuse (especially sexual) and/or early loss
– Financial instability
– Lack of stable residence
– Prison sentence
– Inadequate or inconsistent psychiatric care”]

I’ve experienced / am experiencing most of the things on this list, and I know many of my readers have, too.

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Although borderlines are often accused of being overly dramatic in describing symptoms, the congruence between ratings by both the patient and the clinician indicate that the borderline’s pain is not an exaggeration but is measurably as severe as described. Compared to depressed patients, borderlines tend to be more self-critical… BPD is most often associated with a more chronic form of depression called dysthymia…”]

As with previous books I’ve written about, ableist metaphors are used: “lame,” “blinding rage,” “blindly follow,” etc. Tattoos and piercings (a “recent trend”) are used as examples of self-harm (which reminded me of an even more egregious act of naming self-expression as self-harm: in A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain, Marilee Strong uses gender realignment surgery, or the mere desire for it, as an example of self-harm, thus perpetuating transmisogyny, transphobia, and cissexism in one of the first mainstream books on self-injury. This is another book that made me wanna write alternatives). And Sometimes I Act Crazy also, unfortunately, refers to self-harm as manipulative. The authors even mention prisoners’ incidents of self-injurious behaviour as manipulative (“designed to elicit transfer to another facility”), and show no compassion for what an incarcerated person might be feeling and living through.

On page 85, under the heading Social Influences and BPD, the authors write:

“We, along, with other authors, have suggested that rapid social changes in modern societies promote BPD by disrupting integrated social supports. Impulsive behaviors are especially unbridled when the harness of social constraints falls off. Some have suggested that psychiatric patients in more traditional, structured societies are less likely to present for treatment with symptoms of impulsivity but rather seek help for anxiety conflicts…”

This, to me, sounds like a form of pathologizing resistance to patriarchal and conservative norms – especially after reading The Protest Psychosis, an in-depth examination of the ways in which Black people protesting racism were pathologized and incarcerated. I wish the authors had provided examples of which “rapid social changes in modern societies” they’re referring to. Throughout the book, gender and sexuality are pathologized as well (including the usual biphobia that usually shows up in books about mental health). And I find it interesting that resistance has been so consistently pathologized over generations, because conservatism, white supremacy, and yes, nazism, are also pathologized – I’ll be addressing this further in a future entry.

Toward the end of the book, this theme comes up again. In a section called Economic, Societal, and Political Challenges (perhaps the first time I’ve heard these words used in a book about BPD?!), the authors write, “As entropy continues to trump constancy, we should expect expression of more BPD pathology in our culture.” They continue, “Confronting these social issues [divorced families, moving, lack of consistent support and community in neighbourhoods, churches, and schools], mending the torn social fabric, is one of the greatest challenges of our civilization. When scientists discovered that the spread of bubonic plague could be controlled by the elimination of rats and improved sanitation, they directed the appropriate environmental corrections. If we can identify the heritable and environmental factors [they do not name capitalism, poverty, misogyny, etc. here] that increase the prevalence of BPD and other psychiatric illnesses, we should likewise be able to initiate appropriate “social hygiene” that will minimize this spreading psychiatric plague.”

It sounds like they’re arguing for heteronormativity and bland traditional patriarchal social roles (i.e., the things that make so many of us “crazy” or crazy or Crazy). And the use of the terms “social hygiene” and “spreading psychiatric plague” sound an awful lot like eugenics rhetoric to me – I know the authors aren’t talking about such drastic responses, but the words and metaphors they’ve chosen to use have histories and connotations they must be aware of. (Note the comparison of madness to diseases passed on by rats!)

Back to the topic of composite characters in vignettes in books about BPD. One of the characters in this book is a cynical and sarcastic guy whose voice is written as if he’s talking directly to a psychiatrist. While there’s a whole lot to explore in his story, I’ll leave that to folks who want to read the book themselves, but what I want to note was another example, similar to the one I described in an essay in Beyond Borderline, of anti-Black racism. There’s a moment in this story where “Bobby” says, “In the ER, they stuck this hose down my nose and flooded me with ugly-tasting charcoal that’s supposed to soak up the drugs. It was all over my face. I swear, when I was done, I looked like a performer in a minstrel show.”

…Yeah. This racist, anti-Black “joke” shouldn’t have appeared in the book. And once again, not only was it written, it was approved by editors and publishers, some of whom likely actually laughed. Here’s the thing. Not only is it inappropriate on several levels, it also assumes the reader is white and will also find the joke funny. As a fiction writer, and one who definitely creates cynical and sarcastic teenage and twenty-something characters, I often contemplate the use of problematic language in fiction. I ask myself whether or not it is useful to the story. I ask myself whether or not it teaches the reader something they need to know, if the reader is learning something through it, or if is simply insensitive. Or if the information can be revealed in another way. I like unlikeable characters and problematic language is unavoidable in real life, thus will appear in fiction, too. I’ve written characters who use problematic language and I will continue to do so, but I mostly choose not to because it’s usually not necessary. While language is used to show something about the background and attitude of a character, I think most readers can understand this vignette without the authors employing racist jokes. We’ve already learned that he’s cynical, comedic, crazy, and the stressed the fuck out. Unless racism is an important factor in the story, there’s no need for it to be printed.

Also. I’ve had that same charcoal. I’ve had that charcoal staining my mouth, crunching between my teeth, spilling onto my hospital gown. I’ve been hooked up to those machines. I’ve puked that charcoal directly onto at least one nurse and possibly a psychiatrist, and I’ve shit that charcoal into a portable toilet because I wasn’t capable of walking to the nearby bathroom. I have made tons and tons and tons of jokes about this charcoal because I’ve had to employ humour to survive, and because the smell (and sometimes the mere word, the way I remember the texture and the taste) of charcoal became a real trigger to me, and I had/have to make jokes to keep from dissociating too far. But I literally never once thought of a minstrel show when I had charcoal on my face, or the memories of it. This single sentence could be totally excised from the book and not alter the story at all, but they chose to keep it.

Later, anti-Black racism happens again in another fictional vignette. In this story, a white (this is never named, but obviously presumed, throughout the book(s)) woman with BPD impulsively moves to the big city all alone following a break-up. As she crosses the street and flicks her cigarette into a gutter, she hears somebody calling out to her. The voice is described as “more of a barking command than a question” and attributed to “an old gnarled black woman sitting cross-legged in a doorway. Next to her is a rolled-up sleeping bag and a small cocker spaniel…” She asks for a cigarette. “…She notices that the woman’s right hand is not waving to her at all but inexplicably is handcuffed [emphasis in original] to a door handle! …No cops or police cars are in sight…” The homeless black woman then rambles on claiming to be a famous historical figure she clearly is not. “Arleen can’t help but wince and move backward, as if bouncing off the woman’s insane statement.” And then the nameless black woman says, “You’re in jail, too, ain’tcha! You a prisoner, too, honey, you just too stupid to know it.”

So, the only Black woman who appears in this book is homeless, “insane,” described with dehumanizing language (barked, gnarled), and is employed as a frightening spectre of what might happen if you really went crazy, if you really lost it. We’re supposed to believe it’s a story of a borderline making an impulsive decision and realizing she’s not capable quite yet of doing what she wants to do, but instead it becomes a story of a white woman moving to a big city and feeling frightened of a poor, mentally ill, Black woman. Is it necessary to the story? Could the authors have used a not-racist depiction to give us the same information?

I know that to some, it may seem petty to spend so much time interrogating language in this way, but to me it is everything. It is necessary. It is one of my own many ways of resisting. Some of my biggest fears are complicity and complacency. This is one way I refuse to let those (inevitable?) fears come true.

While I was reading / digesting / thinking / writing about these books, I also bought a copy of Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman. When I heard about it last Winter, also while I was bedbound and attending everything in spirit, I was in another very suicidal and lonely state, feeling very much discarded and abandoned by queers, and the knowledge that I could be holding this book in my hands around my next birthday made me wanna live that much longer. I started reading Sarah Schulman’s work in my early-mid-20’s when I was volunteering at a queer library in Guelph, and found a few of her novels from the late-80’s and early-90’s on the shelves. I’d also just – finally! – read The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to A Lost Imagination and cried the whole way through, and it became an early part of my process of mapping out my own queer, mad, sick, weirdo lineages.

But when my copy arrived in the mail, after I read the intro (twice: once online, once on paper), I went back to the Table of Contents and saw that BPD was mentioned, so of course I flipped to those pages right away (page 172+: “Trigger & Shunning #2: Borderline Episode (Psychiatry and Pop Psychology)”). Since I was already very excited to read and discuss the book, and because I was reading her words through a queer enby borderline lens, I wanted to see what she had to say. I was expecting something totally different. I’d read (and am continuing to read) at least a dozen reviews of the book, as well as countless tweets and quotes and pictures of the pages shared online, and I was expecting something different. Nobody I knew or followed online, nobody whose reviews I’d read, nobody who talked to me about the book, even acknowledged the pages about BPD. (I can’t decide if this feels unusual to me, or… just exactly the usual, I guess.)

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “Dr. Weigert made the connection between personal projection, overstatement of harm, and political injustice. She treated people whose problems were both fascism and neurosis, with the underlying understanding that fascism is an expression of neurosis. Contemporary psychology and its public face, pop psychology, are less inclined towards articulating those relationships politically. Yet they also define the problematic sequencing of being triggered followed by shunning as a denial by one person of the other’s complexity, followed by the object’s transformation into a monster or specter to be silenced and isolated. In this case the psychiatric category of “borderline personality disorder” or the experience of “borderline episodes” closely resembles the trigger + shunning sequencing of “manic flight reaction.”

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “…a kind of “dissociative” state, a level of anxiety about being challenged that is so high that they can’t even remember what the actual conflict is about, and don’t want to be reminded either. All they know is that they feel threatened. What really happened becomes unreachable. In other words, it is a state of being unaccountable. The DSM-5 also points to a compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted or insulted). Lack of empathy, of course, is central to conflating Conflict and Abuse. Inherent in the sequence is the absence of thought as to the consequences of the false accusations on others. This is followed by feelings of shock and rage when others resist their unjust treatment. All this, of course, is in a childish but pervasive expectation that their orders will be followed. And if that obedience is not in place, huge feelings emerge of being threatened by the others who express disagreement. And here is the classic “trigger,” the “manic” according to the DSM-5: Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing or following plans. Close relationships often viewed in extremes of idealization and devaluation and alternating between over-involvement and withdrawal.]

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “These ideas around “borderline” also have a mass-market version. The pop psychology book Stop Walking on Eggshells, by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger, like many of its ilk, can be found in the “Recovery” section of large bookstores and is designed for people who “care about someone who has borderline personality disorder.” Their “checklist” for partners includes the following: Are you blamed and criticized for everything wrong in the relationship – even when it makes no logical sense? Do you feel like the person you care about sees you as either all good or all bad, with nothing in between? Are you accused of doing things you never did or saying things you never said?]

From what I’ve seen and experienced, borderlines are significantly more likely to be referred to as monsters, and to be shunned, silenced, and isolated (isolation has been a major theme of my work for a long time). Fascism as neurosis has been debunked again and again and again – here’s one example – and it’s something I’ll continue to explore in future writing. While I’ve never kept my mental illness a secret – I’ve been noisy about it since forever – I will note that such a celebrated and beloved and imaginative and fucking intelligent queer author equating fascism and neurosis, while elsewhere in the book noting how queer community doesn’t talk about mental illness enough (hello, some queer communities have been talking about mental illness and madness for-fucking-ever, you just maybe weren’t listening and that’s why we get stuck having 101 conversations every damn day) is only making it that much harder to do so. There’s a difference between talking about mental illnesses in queer and trans communities, and talking about eliminating people with mental illnesses from queer and trans communities (or eliminating the problems we supposedly cause).

Queer and trans folks already have a long, messy, and ongoing history of being pathologized and labeled crazy simply for being, so rhetoric like this only makes it that much harder to talk about depression and anxiety, which are serious enough on their own, much less talk about our personality disorders and chronic suicidality. It contributes to further isolation, alienation, and shame. Doctors dispose of us, queers dispose of us. Who wants us? Where do we belong?

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “Interestingly, one issue that the pop psychology approach addresses that the psychiatric DSM-5 version ignores [Perhaps due to lack of evidence? – M.E.] is the act of calling the police unnecessarily, which is common enough to merit its own chapter [I haven’t been able to read the cop-caller chapters yet. – M.E.]. Under the heading “Lies, Rumors, and Accusations,” Mason and Kreger write that some partners of people who had borderline episodes told us they had been falsely accused of harassment and abuse by the Borderline Personalities in their lives, had been the subjects of damaging rumors and even faced legal actions brought against them by borderlines without legitimate cause. Returning to the theme of perfectionism as a tenet of both Supremacy and Traumatized behavior, the authors note that The fragile self-esteem depends on keeping all sense of failure outside the self. So they present themselves with a self-righteous air of angry superiority and entitlement and accuse the ex-spouse of being psychologically and morally inferior. [Continued on next page, which I didn’t take a photo of…] The spouse is viewed as dangerous and aggressive. Having been wronged these people feel justified in seeking retaliation. Or more urgently, they believe in launching a preemptive strike.]

The page then goes on to connect these borderline behaviours to HIV criminalization in Canada and “efforts by the state to encourage people to denounce their lovers to the police.”

Heavy sighs.

Since I’ve been working on articulating the desire for borderlines to become prison abolitionists (many already are, of course, I see you, hi!), these pages seem so discordant with the conversations I have with people living with BPD. And similar to having been shunned and isolated myself, I’ve also been the “subject of damaging rumors,” “blamed and criticized for everything wrong in a relationship,” and “accused of doing things I never did or saying things I never said.”

But the thing about being a borderline criticizing something that has been written about borderlines, is that I’m a borderline. I’ll still be written off as hysterical, overreacting, taking things too personally.

While there are some excellent, thoughtful, and valid points elsewhere in the book (which I haven’t read-fully yet because it’s complicated stuff that I wanna be fully present & alert to digest) (and I’m still excited about the book because I want to be challenged! And there’s still so much more in these short excerpts that I wanna explore, but writing at this length about this stuff is actually really psyche-draining sometimes and I need to take a break now & then!), as usual, in this section, borderlines are also used as examples of the kinds of people who freak out and overreact and fuck up, who call cops, who call cops on our friends and partners, who accuse others of abusing us when we are abusing them, and notes how some of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, such as splitting and loss of emotional memory, “contribute to organizing group bullying, calling the police, or initiating shunning as a form of punishment.”

These words, and others in this chapter, are not exactly new, of course – and many of the quotes come from Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger, widely recognized as an ableist text on BPD, written by somebody who’s also written a book on how-to-divorce-a-borderline – but I found them more upsetting to encounter because they were written by a writer who is usually so, well, radically insightful and compassionate and creative. They were also upsetting to read because I have been shunned as a form of punishment as well, and these experiences exacerbate symptoms of BPD. I picked up this book specifically to be challenged, and I picked it up knowing I wouldn’t agree with all of it – that was another reason I’d been looking forward to it so much. I wanted and want to read something that challenges me. Although I’d been planning on reading it right away and sharing some of my thoughts, after I read those three or four pages, I set the book down and didn’t look at again for nearly another two months. I’m still approaching it slowly.

It is, however, the first book I’ve read that references the DSM-5, the most recent incarnation of the DSM, instead of past versions. But I’ve gotta say, with so many borderlines and other crazy / mad folks having been continually shunned from society as a whole and from radical, queer, cripple, trans, and feminist communities, the ableism and madphobia against us on these pages seems counterintuitive to the whole premise of the book. And I think borderlines are more likely to have the cops called on us, to be called unsafe. (I thankfully haven’t had the cops called on me as an adult, but I’ve been threatened with it, and I’ve been arrested and charged and incarcerated multiple times as a teenager, which were, surprise, contributing factors to my later diagnosis of BPD.) And and and, so many borderlines have multiple, ongoing experiences of being treated like we are disposable. So what does it mean when it (still) feels like nobody wants us? What does it mean when books are (still) being written on how to rid us from your lives?

As I return to it now, I do still feel pissed off about those words, but I also feel like I am capable of managing my own responses, articulating my own feelings around the book, criticizing with empathy & care & curiosity (& desperation, too, that familiar feeling), and I know that Conflict Is Not Abuse is a book that will contain some of the challenges I am often seeking in books about BPD but hardly ever actually find. In fact, I’m hoping it’ll also become a book I can recommend to borderlines (maybe with a print-out of this entry as a personal DIY foreword & extended content note & writing / dreaming prompt). And I know that I can thank Sarah Schulman for writing something that re-energized me to continue attempting to discuss my own desire to see more borderlines as prison abolitionists, more borderlines as activists, more borderlines as politically-aligned with all oppressed people. I hope this book (and not just this book, but each one I’ve reviewed in this series) will be a part of that process.

Part Three, with further explorations of each book in this series, more thoughts on empathy, discussions of white supremacy and resistance both being conflated with mental illnesses, fibromyalgia & comorbidity, and more notes on continuing to politicize borderline, forthcoming!

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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I’m 2,085 days sober & I’m thinking of you.

This time of year can be triggering for recovering alcoholics and others who have issues around alcohol consumption, and for those of my readers who are in recovery from/with alcoholism, &/or having complicated, contradictory, sensitive, and difficult feelings about booze, I want you to know that I’m thinking about you. When I was in the worst of my drunk-days (and not even just the worst, but the uncomfortable, the embarrassing, the ugly, and the lonely, too… Even the fun drunk-days…), I don’t know if anybody was thinking about me or wishing me well. I’m one of those alcoholics who didn’t have any sober friends to encourage me when I quit drinking, and didn’t have any drinking friends either because everybody had learned to stay away from me. So, I want to be for you something I couldn’t have – or be – for myself.

I’m 2,085 days sober today! I write the number in my planner everyday. The last time(s) I wrote in more depth about my sobriety was in Alcohol, I don’t want to drink you anymore, back when I had 159 days, and then again in To be true to my own weirdnesses, when I had 450 days. The first entry covers a bit of my drinking history, alcoholism in my family, multiple attempts to stay sober, and questions for readers; the second entry covers anxiety and loneliness, buying books about BPD as gifts to myself, wanting to drink but choosing not to, being a misfit among misfits, and embracing crazy. Although sobriety is not a topic I address beyond a few passing thoughts now and then, those blog entries get hits nearly every single day, and sobriety is something I think about a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Folks tend to be judgemental about folks who drink, and judgemental about folks who get sober, too. Those are really complicated topics for me to discuss, and I’ve got all kinds of conflicting feelings around booze, much of which I keep to myself.

But today I felt like tweeting to strangers and pals and friends on the internet to let them know that if they were going through tough times (or magical times! or both & then some!) with alcohol and recovery, I had them in my psyche with me and wanted to make a little portal to be with them for just a moment. I wondered (hoped) that those tweets and these messages would arrive on somebody’s screen at just the right moment.

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[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s feet in the snow, with their lavender cane by their side. The snow is fresh and bright and sprinkled around their boots and the tip of their cane. They’re wearing a bright purple coat, black boots, a grey and black vertically-striped skirt, purple tights, and grey socks.]

If you’re sober, I’m thinking of you. If you’ve been sober for 10 days or 10 years, I’m thinking of you. If you’re struggling, I’m thinking of you. If you’re not struggling at all, if you’re feeling totally delighted and excited about sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drinking, whether or not you wanna quit, I’m thinking of you. If you, like me, sometimes wish you could hide all mentions and photos of alcohol from your social media feeds and inboxes, I’m thinking of you. If you’re sober and wish you could have just one drink, or wish you could drink yourself into oblivion, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drunk and wish you could stop at just one drink, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drunk and wanna drink yourself into oblivion, I’m thinking of you. If you’re sober and never ever wanna drink again, I’m thinking of you.

marandaelizabethwintersolsticecandles
[image description: The ends of burning tallow candles that Maranda burned on the Winter Solstice – one is green and one is yellow. There are various crystals around the candles including amethyst, honey calcite, citrine, black tourmaline, rose quartz, and found rocks. There is also a tiny pretend typewriter.]

If you get triggered on New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking of you. If you get triggered on the Summer Solstice or the Winter Solstice, I’m thinking of you. If you’re wearing amethyst for sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If you dream of drinking non-alcoholic or alcoholic drinks from amethyst goblets, I’m thinking of you. If you’re in line at the liquor store and you wanna smash all the bottles and run away, I’m thinking of you. If you’re wandering the aisles of the liquor store and you wanna steal everything and run away, I’m thinking of you.

If you’re pre-pre-drinking alone before pre-drinking with your pals before public-drinking before post-drinking at home alone, I’m thinking of you. If you’re at home snuggling with your cat(s) and staying sober – or feeling tipsy, or getting drunk – I’m thinking of you. If you’re having complicated and conflicting feelings about your alcoholic parents, I’m thinking of you. If you’re contemplating drinking/not-drinking or can’t figure out the differences between your drinking habits and your mental illnesses and your madness, I’m thinking of you. If you’re contemplating sobriety I’m thinking of you. If you’re blacking out because you’re mixing alcohol and psych meds again, I am very much thinking of you.

marandaelizabethamethystpinkcandles
[image description: A pink chime candle burning behind a large rock of amethyst. There is more amethyst in the background, as well as a yellow tallow candle in a golden candleholder, and a green Saint Martha prayer candle with her image on the glass. Saint Martha is the Patron Saint of homemakers and homeowners, servants, maids, house- and inn-keepers, travelers, single laywomen, etc…]

If you’re at home alone blogging about sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If thinking about others thinking about alcohol and sobriety makes you feel less lonely – or closer to the good kind of lonely – I’m thinking of you. If you’re burning candles for your pals who are drinking and your pals who are sober, I’m thinking of you, and I’m burning candles for you, too.

marandaelizabethsoberqueerlineages
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s left hand holds onto a book with a lavender cover and floral illustration. The book is called Out From Under: Sober Dykes & Our Friends edited by Jean Swallow. Their nails are shiny purple, and there’s a Hello Kitty keychain and some scrap paper in the background.]

Although I’m mostly housebound during Winter (and am getting pretty okay with it, to be honest, even cultivating the Joy of Missing Out), a few days ago I ventured out to wander along Bloor West to see if there were any holiday sales at the used bookstores. To my surprise and delight, yes, there were! One of my lucky finds was a book called Out From Under: Sober Dykes & Our Friends edited by Jean Swallow. Without my cripple-body, I might not have seen it, as it was on the lowest bookshelf in a dark, crooked corner, a spot where I like to give my sore bones a rest. It was published by Spinsters, Ink in 1983, and I knew the moment I pulled it out from the shelf, curious about what was beyond the simple spine, it would become a part of my own (forever-in-process-of-finding) queer, sober, mad lineage.

The back of the book reads:

Out From Under is a road-map, a sharing, and a song. It details recovery from substance abuse in a way never before collected or published. From personal and professional perspectives, this anthology looks at many aspects of recovery: relationships, sexuality, ethnic culture, physiology; and includes the recovery experiences of lesbian co-alcoholics and adult children of alcoholics, as well as lesbians who were chemically dependent.

“This book is about recovery. This is a book about how we live after that cold day in hell when we finally said, that’s enough, that’s enough, oh my god, that’s enough.

It’s a book about how we go on living. These aren’t stories about how it was, because I think there is already enough of that… No, this is not about drinking. And it’s not about dying. This is a book about living and recovery. It is about how we do that and what happens when we try…

Recovery from substance abuse is about recovering memory and reality and vision. It is about recovering the balance we always should have been able to have. It is about discovering emotions. And then what you do with those emotions once you know what they are. In some sense, recovery isn’t just getting something back so much as it is beginnings; it is about learning how to grow up. It is about learning how to love each other and ourselves. Recovery is about making community, and so is this book.”

– from the Introduction

It heartens me to see that queers were writing about sobriety and recovery before I was born, and it feels like magic to be able to hold it in my hands. Many queer and trans folks struggle with alcohol and other substances, and we very rarely have possibility models or tangible texts to help us out. Many of us grew up with parents who abused us when they drank, or parents who disappeared when they drank. Many of us grew up needing to drink to be social, to be okay, to want to live for a few more hours. I haven’t read this book yet, but I plan on spending some time with it this evening while I do my New Year’s rituals of reading my cards, journaling, imagining resolutions and changes, and thinking about how much has changed in the last year – how much I survived, and what I feel capable of now.

If you’re reading this after your celebrations, if you’re hungover, if you’re sick, if you’re housebound, if you’re alone, if you’re in somebody else’s bed, if you’re trying to remember everybody you need to apologize to &/or everybody you need to thank, if you’re waking up feeling strangely calm and refreshed, if you’re waking up anxious and sad, if you’ve got the coffee-jitters, I am very much thinking of you!

Soberly 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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Beyond Borderline and The Protest Psychosis: black & white protest diseases & politicizing madness (Part One)

content notes: ableism, madphobia, borderline-shaming, racism, racist language

Much writing about Borderline Personality Disorder is mediocre and redundant. It is bland and it says nothing new. Much of it is self-absorbed (I include some of my own work here). Let me just say that first (and again). I stumbled into Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder edited by John G. Gunderson, MD and Perry D. Hoffman, PhD while looking for something else on Amazon – it was coming out in a week, so I pre-ordered it. I hoped it would be different. As you may already know, I’m always searching for challenging and complex writing on BPD, and more especially so since the DSM diagnostic criteria changed a couple years ago.

The description of the book reads:

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you probably struggle to manage your intense emotions on a daily basis. Feelings of anger, insecurity, sadness, and fear may cause lasting damage to your relationships and leave you feeling raw, hurt, lonely, and abandoned. But it’s important for you to know that you are not alone, and you are so much more than a simple diagnosis.

Well, yeah.

This book is published by New Harbinger Publications, who also published The Buddha and The Borderline, The Borderline Personality Survival Guide, Coping with BPD, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life (which I keep typo-ing as …Ruin Your Life!), The Mindfulness Solution for Intense Emotions, and, um… Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder.

The introduction says, “Seldom does an illness, medical or psychiatric, carry such intense stigma and deep shame that its name is whispered, or a euphemism coined, and its sufferers despised and even feared. Perhaps leprosy or syphilis or AIDS fits this category. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is such an illness… It may actually be the most misunderstood psychiatric disorder of our age.

Since the book makes very, very little note of how one’s social location might put one in greater proximity to (at greater risk of?) a diagnosis of BPD, makes no mention of the political dimensions of diagnosis and potential for recovery, and notes that more women than men are diagnosed with BPD but attempts no analysis of why, the comparisons to leprosy, syphilis, and especially AIDS seem completely out of place/context and written for mere shock value. Had the author taken the time to discuss, even very briefly, the three very different illness being compared to BPD, and their own political contexts and histories as well, it might have made more sense. Instead, the comparison feels incomplete and unnecessary.

Next, it is stated, “Perhaps the greatest instigators of BPD’s stigma have been psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. For many years, clinicians spoke and wrote in pejorative terms about patients diagnosed with the disorder as “the bane of my existence,” “a run for my money,” “exhausting,” or “treatment rejecting.” In fact, professionals have often declined to work with people diagnosed with BPD. This rejection by professionals, which has seemed at times almost phobic [I would name this as ableism, madphobia, and invalidation, says Maranda!], has spanned many decades. Patients with tendencies toward self-injury, suicide threats, and suicide attempts have been described in the literature as manipulative, treatment resistant, raging, or malignant. A casual connection between too much exposure to BPD patients and professional burnout has been commonly assumed.

Yep. All true. And since borderlines know this, we often resist seeking treatment, or give up the long and arduous search for meaningful and competent care, because we too are burned out on the system; many of us have been traumatized, multiply traumatized, in our attempts to access care. And I totally remember searching online for BPD care in Toronto last year, and the first link that came up was for a fucking retreat in the Muskokas for professionals who were burned out specifically on borderlines.

Is patient burnout a thing? I’m naming it as a thing. Patient Burnout.

marandaelizabethamethysthands
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s left hand reaching toward an enormous chunk of deep violet amethyst that extends beyond the frame of the photo. They have C-A-R-E tattooed on their knuckles, and a sprig of lavender with a tiny Ouija planchette tattooed on their thumb. Their fingernails are very long and painted in various shades of purple.]

I find myself wondering if continuing to create borderline communities would counteract the traumas of the medical / mental health industrial complex (sorry for using “industrial complex” language, which often feels too confusing and academic to me, but also feels like a useful umbrella term right now), and if the attitudes and assumptions of mental health professionals and social workers would change if they knew that borderline communities could even be a thing.

While most books about BPD take a moment to name a few negative media portrayals of borderlines, this book included Winona Ryder / Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted as a portrayal that has “nurtured the popular conception of those with BPD as evil, dangerous, and destructive or as selfish, manipulative, and non-compliant.” This surprised me as Girl, Interrupted, a classic now, is so radically different from everything that came before it, not to mention, written by somebody who recovered from BPD. (As a sidenote, I would love to see more writing about BPD that moves on from Girl, Interrupted (and more writing about Susanna Kaysen’s other books, which are wonderful!) and continues more complicated conversations, but I still find it being referenced again and again and again and it was indeed one of my favourite books and movies long before I was diagnosed).

While the book thankfully names borderlines as “experts” on our own conditions, I found it bizarre that although the focus seems to be on “reducing stigma” (ew), all but one of the essays featured are anonymous, which to some readers, may indicate shame and embarrassment and the need for secrecy after all. As someone who has been asked multiple times to write anonymously about mental illnesses, and always turned down the opportunity (because it felt icky and invalidating, also because I was expected to do this labour & vulnerability for free), I found this particularly disappointing. While the book contains twenty-four chapters by twenty-four different people, most of the voices sound lamentably similar, as if the editors took care in excising quirks and originality to create a collection that is woefully homogeneous.

The foreword (written by Brandon Marshall, a Black man and professional football player, of which I will write about in Part Two), introduction, and many of the essays name “stigma” again and again. I’ve said this a million times and I’ll keep saying it: I desperately wish folks would consider replacing the word stigma with ableism, saneism, madphobia, and oppression (I also read the words madist/madism recently in Changing Our Minds, a Jenny Diski essay in her book The Sixties, yet another example of mad languages and lineages that have not been passed on to us crazy folks often or effectively enough). A lot of change can happen when we choose to use more direct, even confrontational, words.

When I talk about resisting the sane gaze, creating borderline communities, and politicizing recovery, I make special note of excising the word “stigma” from our language in an effort to shift focus to the political dimensions of madness, illness, and recovery. To me, stigma seems to be a word that comes up when crazy people are writing for a non-crazy audience (something I’ve otherwise referred as the “sane gaze”), obscures the possibility of developing more complex ideas about madness, and the writing/work consistently sounds unbearably redundant and mediocre. It also assumes we were once sane, and have the secret of mental illness to “come out” about. I was never mistaken for sane, my mental illnesses were never a secret, they were visible since childhood, and I don’t relate to this common, popular narrative.

I took a lot of notes while reading Beyond Borderline, including a reminder to myself to write down how many pages I have to read before words like race, poverty, feminism, queerness, etc. are mentioned (or if they are). Race is not mentioned until page 70, in an essay written by a Mexican American student at Harvard. Lack of post-secondary education is mentioned on page 81, but no mention of class. Rape culture and victim-blaming are mentioned on page 93, but not in those words. Sexism, racism, and politics are mentioned very briefly on page 99 as one writer recounts struggling with her mental health through the 2008 U.S. election, and feminism is mentioned as she applies for an unpaid internship at a feminist small press (this essay, How to Build and Bust a Life (despite ableist language) was my favourite in the book, but it could have been sooo much better). Fibromyalgia, a common chronic pain/illness condition among folks with BPD &/or PTSD &/or complex-(p)TSD, is mentioned once.

Ableist metaphors were used casually throughout the book: “falling on deaf ears,” “crippling fear,” “emotional invalid,” “turned a blind eye,” etc. War metaphors are also used throughout the text; I’ve always cringed at least a little (and often a lot) with war metaphors being used to describe mental (or physical) illnesses, as it feels appropriative and lazy to me. I found the clichés and problematic metaphors throughout the essays disappointing and distracting – I wish for more borderlines (and editors! and publishers!) to be more cognizant and critical of language so we can move into more complex and interesting writing, as well as for more borderlines to understand ourselves as politically and emotionally aligned with all disabled people. (Let’s all learn how to a) create better metaphors, and b) quit using illnesses, disabilities, and wars as metaphors!)

In the Afterword, although references are made to the extremely limited availability of treatments for BPD, there’s no mention of capitalism or poverty. I don’t recall finding mentions of queerness, and certainly not transness.

It won’t surprise you to learn that throughout Beyond Borderline, recovery is often defined as going to school, getting a job, falling in love, getting married, having kids, “contributing to society.” Not doing these things, by the way, is one of the (multiple) reasons I’ve got “treatment-resistant” on my own medical records. “Non-compliant” often means not conforming to boring societal expectations under capitalism. Please take some time think about that.

I read compulsively and I read multiple books at once. I’ve already read more than 111 books in 2016. While I was reading Beyond Borderline, I was also reading The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease by Jonathan M. Metzl.

The description of this book reads:

“The civil rights [and Black Power / Black liberation] era is largely remembered as a time of sit-ins, boycotts, and riots. But a very different civil rights history evolved at the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan. In The Protest Psychosis, psychiatrist and cultural critic Jonathan Metzl tells the shocking story of how schizophrenia became the diagnostic term overwhelmingly applied to African-American protesters at Ionia – for political reasons as well as clinical ones. Expertly sifting through a vast array of cultural documents, Metzl shows how associations between schizophrenia and blackness emerged during the tumultuous decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s – and he provides a cautionary tale of how anxieties about race continue to impact doctor-patient interactions in our seemingly postracial [sic] America.”

In The Protest Psychosis, the author documents how schizophrenia, once assigned to depressed and fatigued middle-class white housewives came to be associated with Black men protesting racism. As I read The Protest Psychosis, the whiteness – which is never named – of Beyond Borderline became more and more glaringly visible, and the lack of analysis became more and more disappointing. Because I know borderlines are so much more capable. Borderlines, we are capable of so much more than this.

Reading both of these books at the same time had me continuing to think about how different bodies are pathologized in different ways, and how resistance – to racism, to colonialism, to misogyny, to ableism – is almost always pathologized. I remember seeing a poster/flier being shared years ago that said something like, “ARE YOU DEPRESSED OR ANXIOUS? IT MUST BE CAPITALISM!” And I felt a little iffy about it for a long time because I felt it oversimplified so many experiences of madness, mental illnesses, and depression.

Another reason the poster/slogan didn’t feel so meaningful to me for quite some time was that I had unfortunately come to associate nearly every rant about depression and capitalism with white cis anti-psych (and green) anarchists who grew up with enough money to eat & live and who were thus able to romanticize poverty (and sometimes madness) as teens & adults, so I took this simple (but actually unendingly complex!) message as a personal affront to my own experiences with poverty, mental illnesses, ableism, trauma, chronic pain, and inaccessibility

But as my own desires and politics grow and develop and change, become more complicated, and the more I learn about and feel and experience the complexities and entanglements of endless branches of capitalism, like the prison-industrial-complex & police brutality & racism & poor-shaming etc etc etc, I find myself returning to this expression again and again, and finding both solace and a renewed energy to keep fighting.

I’ve also been noticing how most of my so-called negative thoughts begin when I mistake so many of my problems as personal and pathetic flaws and failings and fuck-ups, rather than as structural, systemic, and political. I’ve been continuing to learn how oppression, how responses to oppression, are medicalized and pathologized, and thinking more and more of illness itself as resistance.

Last March, when Black Lives Matter Toronto held #TentCity protests and sit-ins outside of Toronto Police Service Headquarters, as written about here, here, here, and elsewhere, I was bedbound but attending in spirit through Twitter. Although I’m having trouble finding images at the moment, there were photos of posters taped to walls and hydro poles with this message: “_________ in SOLIDARITY WITH #BLACKLIVESMATTER,” which folks in attendance could fill out with ink. The first thing I imagined / wished for was the possibility to be there with my Sharpie in one hand, my cane in the other, and to fill in the blanks. BORDERLINES IN SOLIDARITY WITH #BLACKLIVESMATTER. This became a mantra to me as I spent more time contemplating and trying to write about politicizing recovery, creating borderline-cultures, and using borderline-identity as a form of resistance, solidarity, and magic. (This mantra becomes yet more complicated as I acknowledge that some borderlines are Black, rendering my mantra imperfect; this is something I think about a lot, as well as the possibility that my diagnosis – if I were able to access one – would likely be different if I were not white, and that many Black folks and people of colour could have BPD but are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses with “symptoms” of so-called paranoia and psychotic features. Black people in distress are more often than not treated much differently than white people in distress. It’s complicated!)

To return to Beyond Borderline, especially my disappointment on ableist and problematic language found throughout the book, I also wanted to highlight one of the most unfortunate – actually abhorrent – lines in the book, which is a reference to Stop Walking on Eggshells, a much-disliked yet seemingly-popular book about BPD, written by someone who’s also published a how-to-divorce-a-borderline book. In a chapter called Walking, the author begins her story with this: “Eggshells. That word makes me wince. It’s like my N-word. It hurts to hear it, so I try not to use it. Even within the boundaries of its literal definition, I abandon the two-syllabled plural noun in favor of roundabout circumlocutions.

While she goes on to note her boredom with redundant analogies in BPD literature (me too!), I was so startled and upset when I read this line that I had to pause for some time to catch my breath. Why did the author feel compelled to compare the word “eggshells” to “the N-word”? Why did this comparison seem acceptable, and how did it get approved by multiple editors and publishers? Did anybody try to talk to the authors and editors about it? When I talk about the visible but unnamed whiteness of this book (and most BPD literature as a whole), this is perhaps the most egregious example. And while I appreciated seeing another borderline mention what a crummy book Stop Walking On Eggshells is, even though / especially because it’s published by the same people who published this collection, and I appreciated that another contributor to this book talked about being the yolk, not just the eggshells, this particular line was incredibly unnecessary, and really hindered my ability to find much of meaning or value in the words that followed.

I would be doing a disservice to each and every one of my readers, as well as mad and disabled and crazy and cripple communities, if I did not talk about whiteness, white privilege, and white supremacy. I know a lot of folks with BPD are not gonna feel happy or satisfied with my review-ish and my feelings about Beyond Borderline, but I believe all of this stuff needs to be discussed, critiqued, and unlearned. I know white folks who have used their mental illnesses, depression, and fatigue as excuses to not talk about white supremacy, to not talk about white privilege, to remove themselves from potentially (almost certainly!) uncomfortable conversations about privilege and oppression, as if being mad &/or disabled cancels out white privilege, and I can also admit to occasions when I have done these very same things myself. We are all learning. We have all been complicit in one another’s pains and traumas and we need to talk about it.

I am writing this in the hopes that if my fellow white borderline readers have not been listening, or not been listening enough, to people of colour, to Black folks including trans and cis women, enbies, and queers, that they will listen to me, a white non-binary borderline, and begin/continue to shift borderline into a deeper political context of solidarity.

I believe that political identities and movements etc. like Mad Pride, Black liberation and Black Lives Matter, Palestine solidarity, trans liberation, decolonization and reconciliation, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls & Two-Spirit People, etc etc etc are all intertwined, interconnected, interrelated in ways that may yet be difficult to define but are necessary to feel and to acknowledge. The continuation of one form of injustice or invalidation depends upon the continuation of the others, and the abolition of one form of injustice or invalidation depends upon the abolition of the others… We can’t fully listen to one without listening to the others, support one without supporting the others, liberate one without liberating the others.

In The Protest Psychosis, the author notes how before the DSM, there was the Statistical Manual for the Use of Institution for the Insane, published in 1918. While some pushed for the institutionalization of schizophrenics, others recommended that clinicians treat them as if they were “underdeveloped children.” The same questions that were asked of “mental patients” to determine whether or not they should be locked up were the same questions asked of immigrants to decide whether or not they could cross the border. Madness, racism, and xenophobia, etc. are more deeply entwined than many of us are aware of.

Early descriptions of schizophrenia sound remarkably similar to current descriptions of borderline personality disorder, and reading these two books together made me wonder if, just as schizophrenia was rebranded (literally) as a “black protest disease,” if borderline personality disorder has subsequently been rebranded as a “white protest disease.” And quite often, the “feminine” equivalent to what was re-written as a “masculine” disease was/is, of course, hysteria. Mental health professionals, as well, have a long and absurd history of conflating social and political issues and feelings with psychiatric illnesses.

The official definitions of both of these states of madness both sound to me like bodies – minds – psyches responding to and resisting sexism, racism, trauma, and neglectful or abusive childhoods, as well as all forms of systemic oppression. Mental illnesses have historically been and continue to be diagnosed in people who refuse to or simply cannot conform to what white supremacist capitalist colonialist society wants of them/us. And the all-too-pervasive idea, which I’ve discussed here and elsewhere, that “recovery” means contributing to a capitalist society, literally kills people.

When I talk about mad lineages, the Black men and women who were institutionalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia are a part of my lineage; people of colour who were and are refused entry across borders are a part of my lineage; mad activists in my own city in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now and onward and back through all time, are a part of my lineage; every woman diagnosed as hysterical is a part of my lineage; each person who has “borderline” written on their file without their knowledge is a part of my lineage; everybody burned in the witch trials is a part of my lineage; these lineages and histories and resistances to oppression reside within me, deep in my bones and psyche, refusing to be ignored.

If being beyond borderline means acting normal, getting a job, and having a conventional, monogamous relationship… If being beyond borderline means refusing to name racism, misogyny, capitalism, and white supremacy… If being beyond borderline means adhering to the most proper and sane and boring and unimaginative definitions of recovery… I don’t wanna go beyond borderline. I’ll stay right here.

Borderlineingly 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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making art & magic on the outside, valuing & supporting marginalized voices

If you’ve been following my work for more than a few weeks (um, or minutes), you’re familiar with my years-long desire to move away from hospitals and into a sense of belonging within myself, as well as my attempts at defining what exactly it is I am looking for in hospitals that I have not been able to find on the outside. And, of course, creating days of self-care, creativity, and contemplation.

After my recent attempt to participate in an 8-week group therapy program for complex-(p)TSD was foiled (again!) by participants’ lack of adherence to the scent-free policy, as well as my own feelings of being stuck in a remedial class of lessons in how-to-breathe and how-to-self-soothe and how-to-recognize-fight-flight-freeze and how-to-dear-man (I also refer to this as ‘effective manipulation’), I had to dig even deeper, once again, to figure out what I was/am looking for in these spaces. I survived four interviews and a 9-month waitlist just to storm out in a rage. Again. And when I spoke to one of the facilitators of the group over the phone, she told me to ‘try writing’. And when I told her about my last fifteen-plus-fucking-years of writing, we had a discussion about how, clearly, this is not enough. Writing alone is not giving me what I need. Hospitals are not giving me what I need. What else is there?

marandaelizabethlilacink
[image description: A bottle of lilac-scented purple ink on a purple desk, with a black dip pen resting upon a sheet of lilac legal paper. Written in purple ink are the words: What do I want to feel today? What do I need to do to feel that way?]

I stumbled upon Oliver Bendorf’s How to Make It online creativity workshop when Kay Ulanday Barrett RT’ed it into my timeline. I had recently been talking to pals (and yelling at the internet) about various forms of inaccessibility for creative/writing workshops/classes etc, especially for broke-as-fuck queer crips (hi!), as well as my difficulty in having the guts to contact folks and ask about the possibility of pay-what-you-can options or scholarships or or or because, you know, no matter how much I talk about things like poverty and poor-shaming and and and, it still feels uncomfortably-vulnerable and scary to bring it up again & again and ask for permission to access spaces I typically cannot afford to access. I dream about little things like folks on social assistance being given – at least – the same discounts as students and seniors, for example, like that’s a piece of my imagination for a more equitable world, but I just don’t know how to go about making it happen.

marandaelizabethresources1
[image description: An open Moleskine notebook held against a lavender background where Maranda has drawn images with black india ink and painted over them with watercolours in various shades of purples and oranges. The images they have drawn are: a pen, their cane (also referred to as wand / sword / broomstick), their library card, and their backpack, with close-ups of the enamel pins on their backpack. There are three pins. One if them is a classic tattoo-style heart with a banner that says ‘disabled’. Another is a white squirrel. And another says ‘Weirdo forever’.]

(The pins are from: NormalLand on Etsy, All Day Club on Etsy, and Louise Androlia!)

So, I signed up for another 8-week group, this time not in a fucking hospital! Friends had been encouraging me to dare myself to ask for things like pay-what-you-can options, so when I found the How to Make It workshop and read a) “This workshop encourages and prioritizes marginalized people’s safety and participation,” and b) “He loves working with diverse creative people and particularly encourages registration from women, queer and trans folks, people of color, and people with disabilities,” and saw that there was contact information to ask about different payment options, I dared myself to give it a try.

Without a pay-what-you-can option, I wouldn’t have been able to participate, and without the little bits of cash that come to me through my zines and through donations, I would not have been able to send even the small amount I was able to gather. One of the reasons I prefer the term pay-what-you-can to “pay-what-you-want” or “pay-what-you-feel-like” is that I can only pay what I can; I almost always wanna give more cash than I actually have, and I always wish I had the ability to pay the very highest rate (hell, and leave a tip, too!), but I can’t. If you can, you should, because it helps create real space and opportunities for those who cannot.

Like Oliver says, Creativity Is Not A Luxury. CREATIVITY IS NOT A LUXURY. I’m writing this not only to show off some of the art I made and thoughts I thought throughout the How to Make It workshop, but also to remind you, if you don’t already know, how important it is to make sure projects like these are funded and available to the people who need them the most. Right now, Oliver has the Winter session of How to Make It scheduled, and is actively seeking donations to open up spaces for marginalized folks who cannot afford it, and he’s specifically prioritizing trans / POC / Muslim / immigrant / disabled artists & writers who are interested in the workshop and in need of financial assistance. If that’s you, consider joining, and if that’s not you, please consider offering a donation!

marandaelizabethritual1
[image description: A Moleskine notebook with Maranda’s left hand holding the pages open, and notes written in various shades of purple ink. The top of the page says: “RITUAL. What words do you think of?” And there is a list of words, which are typed below.”

This is one of the (many!) pages I made during the workshop, as we were discussing rituals. I decided that before doing the assignment, I wanted to write a list of words that comes to me when I think about the word ritual. I wrote:

time, slow, ghosts, ancestors, spirits, mindfulness, repetition, compulsion, obsession, candle, magic, signs, awake, prayer, psyche, soft, listening, lineage, senses, hands, devotion, affirmations, schedule, routine, list, sky, earth, presence, gifts, art, words, creativity, growth, change, transformation, silence, altars, saints, sacred objects, gratitude, beauty, burning, protection, survival, reclaiming, haunting, messages, wishes, time-travel, stars, planets, the moon, circles, shapes, sigils, cauldron, potions, self-care, breathing, imagination, dreams, warmth, daydreaming, drawing, metaphors, analogies, values, reminders, memories, connecting, invoking, calling, skin, tattoos, femme, violet, amethyst, witch, elder, young, revival, sacred, hold, container, feeling, emotions, navigation, float, fly, stillness, home, safe, body, stay – HERE.

marandaelizabethritualps1
[image description: A self-portrait of Maranda walking, drawn with black india ink and painted with watercolours in various shades of purples. They’re wearing a deep violet blazer, a t-shirt of The Bell Jar, a black & grey vertically-striped skirt, and they’re using their magical lavender cane. They’ve written notes about being an amethyst-femme-cripple-goth.]

When I introduced myself to the group, these are the pieces of my selves I chose to share:

“I’ve been writing zines for over a decade. In 2012, I published an anthology of the first decade of my zines, Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues, and in 2013, I self-published a novel, Ragdoll House. Right now, I’m working on my second novel, a non-fiction work, a collection of short stories, and a piece about twin-feelings and the ways in which twins are portrayed in fiction. Plus a few more zines.

I’m a professional nothing, on permanent disability due to complex-trauma and chronic pain. I left school when I was 14.

I came to this group because I felt/feel a strong desire to participate in writing/creativity groups, but school is 10,000 kinds of inaccessible to me, and many other groups are either not affordable, not offering scholarships, only open to youth between ages 18-29, or are only for “emerging” or “established” writers/artists, or beginners or or or… none of which I technically qualify as/for. Writing-wise, I am actually productive to a ridiculous and dangerous degree (and tend to read about 80 – 100 books a year – I’d be dead without libraries!), but I do most of my work in either physical or emotional (or both) isolation, which is another reason I wanted to participate in a group. Also, I want to feel both challenged and inspired, but I don’t want to be graded or compared. I’m also very drawn to themes of Ghosts and Harvest.

While I mostly write creative non-fiction, sometimes essays, as well as fiction, I also often find myself wanting to draw (illustrations and comix and typography), and maybe even write poetry. I just want to do everything.

I, too, have spent time in hospitals (at least a dozen times over the last decade, but I lost count a while back), and am very medicated. I’m a survivor of multiple suicide attempts. Many of my days continue to be spent in outpatient treatments, both for mental illnesses and chronic pain. Yay! Also, I have a pattern of recognizing that sometimes when I’m in hospitals, I was actually wanting to be at an isolated writing retreat, but, well, hospitals are free here.”

The How to Make It workshop turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I also very much want to note that Oliver has been very generous with his time, encouragement, thoughtful notes, questions, ponderings, etc., and comes to the workshop with a million different resources for creativity and staying alive, so not only will be you be making good art from all the assignments and prompts provided, you’ll also being reading a whole lot of excellent essays and stories, seeing different art-forms take shape, and probably adding a few more titles to you to-read list. And the timing makes it a perfect winter survival project because you can interact with a community of queerdo artists while staying cozy at home.

Now I’m feeling gushy. This is totally not a sponsored blog entry, just an enthusiastic response to an excellent artist and a nudge to my readers to consider participating or donating or sharing or all of the above and then some.

I just wanna live in a world where queer and trans art and art by marginalized people is prioritized and valued and shared and compensated and appreciated. Maybe you do, too?

Gushingly Yours,
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P.S.: In case you missed it, throughout the month of November, all the cash I make through my zines I’ve been giving to my friend mel, a Black non-binary chronically ill poet and fibre artist who makes zines, poetry, patchwork quilt art, etc., and has been having some tough times traveling to Oakland, California from Toronto, Ontario to work with their mentor, when a much-needed cheque could not be cashed. You can follow them directly on Twitter as patchworkpoetix, and there’s a few days left to offer your support and solidarity, and you can get my zines 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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chalice of the hopeless: new zines & cripple-goth feelings

Being alive today feels like living in an alternate reality. I am astounded to still be on this planet, to still be breathing, to still be writing. I’ve been having my tough times as the colder weather inevitably interferes with the (semi-)remission I was experiencing this Summer, but I have done a lot of work to love my cripple-goth life, and I am hanging on. Yesterday, I had another almost-fall as I stepped out of the WheelTrans van at another appointment, but instead of freaking out, I spent some time in the waiting room resting in a comfy chair and writing about accessibility.

I recently left an 8-week group therapy program for c-(p)tsd after another one of the clients, more than once, refused to adhere to the scent-free policy, and I became too ill to stay in the space (one of those unfortunately beige boardrooms with no windows). I’m pretty disappointed by this, of course – disappointed, but unsurprised. So, there’s another crip-grief thing happening, and I also had to give up my free tickets to go to the opera – the opera! the first place I was gonna go with a dress code since my juvenile detention centre days! – due to being too sick. I’d really been looking forward to it, and I hope I’ll have another chance.

marandaelizabethplacebohospitalselfie
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth taking their photo is a hospital bathroom. Their body is reflected in a mirror above a sink. There is a dispenser of fragrance-free hand soap affixed to the wall. They’re wearing a black Placebo t-shirt that says, Someone call the ambulance / there’s gonna be an accident, which they got at a concert nearly a decade ago. They’re also wearing a very tight knee-length skirt with black & grey horizontal stripes, a purple leopard-print cardigan, a grey pinstripe blazer, an amethyst necklace, and a purple backpack. They’re leaning on their lavender cane.]

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing. Obviously! I just finished making two zines this week, Telegram #’s 41 and 42. You can buy them online, or send cash via snail mail, or come hang out with me at the Toronto Queer Zine Fair this Saturday. At the zine fair, all my work will be pay-what-you-can with suggested donations of $2 – $5 for my zines, and $15 – $25 for my books. I will probably be crying because I haven’t talked to anybody without crying for a long time, but it’s okay, I like crying. Maybe you’ll be crying, too.

marandaelizabethmadlilycat
[image description: Lily, a pale ginger tabby cat, rests upon a stack of books and looks at the camera with a funny little mix of seriousness, confidence and discernment. The books are: Anne Sexton: A Biography By Diane Wood Middlebrook, Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton, Women and Madness by Phyllis Chesler, and Minor Characters: The Romantic Odyssey of a Woman in the Beat Generation by Joyce Johnson.]

The next day will be my 31st birthday! I’ll be outliving Sylvia Plath. Too strange. I made a coupon code on my Etsy and you can use it to celebrate my birthday with me (I’ll be in bed! My favourite thing to do on my birthday is write in my diary, read my Tarot, do my usual weirdo loner things, etc…). You can type ‘beyondsylvia’ at checkout to save 16% on zines, books, and Tarot readings throughout October. Yay!

marandaelizabethchaliceofthehopeless
[image description: A Starbucks coffee cup with deep violet (actually this shade is called ‘under my spell’) lipstick on the lid, and the name Edith written on the label – this is the name Maranda uses because they don’t like to see their own name spelled wrong. Their left hand is holding onto the cup and their lavender cane is visible in the background. They call these cups Chalice of the Hopeless, a reference to The Buddha & the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, & Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder.]

Also, I’d like to note that I worry about appearing rude or uninterested when I don’t stroll around zine fairs, pick things up & flip through them & buy them, talk to everybody, linger at my pals’ tables, etc., but the ordinary truth is that my body is in far too much pain to do so. When I’m having trouble standing and walking, and I’m balancing my weight on my cane, hand holding onto to this sword/wand/broomstick, I can’t get through crowds, I can’t hold onto a zine/book, I can’t do these basic things. So, if you wanna talk to me, or read my work, or trade zines, or whatever, please come to my table and please don’t be miffed if I don’t come to yours. This is crip-zinester-life.

telegram4142
[image description: Maranda’s left hand, with absurdly long fingernails painted various shades of purple, holding onto two zines of which the covers are visible. The cover of Telegram #41 is a photocopy cut & paste of the ‘Baby Doll House’ art installation by Tyree Guyton in Detroit in the late-80’s, and the cover of Telegram #42 is a dark, scribbly drawing of a bunch of eyes that Maranda made.]

Telegram #41 is about revelations, expectations, support and artivism, living through my fears, filling out forms, Mercury Retrograde, reminders, resistance, waitlists, crip-feelings, and a green candle.

More specifically, this zine is a text-heavy exploration of what happened with my body & psyche when my disability benefits came up for review and were threatened with being cut off, how it felt to be forced to crowdfund rent & food, casting spells to cope, applying for access to alternative transit for disabled folks when I could no longer use public transit, trying to make myself at least semi-comprehensible to social workers, hysteria, sickness, & haunting spaces while I’m still living.

Telegram #42 is about city magic, befriending loneliness, borderline feelings, crip-days & crip-grief & crip-love, crying, un/dereducated writers & crazy people, connecting my high school dropout lineage to creativity & survival, ableism & loss, discussing chronic suicidality, asking whose stories are valued & why, imagining freaking out as leading to (re-)invitations rather than isolation & shame & gossip, politicizing recovery, &&&…

marandaelizabethwritingathelibrary
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth at the Toronto Reference Library, sitting at a table and typin’ away on their magenta netbook with a full moon sticker visible on it. Their cane is resting beside them and a tall coffee cup is near their hands. They’re wearing dark lipstick and have a cute haircut inspired by Anaïs Nin and Louise Brooks. They’re wearing purple glasses, a black glitter hoodie, and a black Kurt Cobain t-shirt.]

Also! These are probably gonna be my last zines for a while! I’ve been working on my next novel for a few years, and I’m feeling determined to finish the fucking thing this Winter, and then make it exist somehow. I’ve got 82,000 words so far, I workshopped it in an incredible online class with Francesca Lia Block last year, and holy hell, I just wanna focus on it every damn day and make it the best book it can be. My zines will still be available, but I’ll be kinda hibernatin’ again to write this thing.

With another zine fair approaching, you might wish to read and share these two pieces of mine: Making Spaces Accessible and Scent-Free to Create Opportunities for Friendship, Connection, and Support, and Self-Care for Zinesters (an oldie but a goodie).

Ziningly 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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bruises self-heal: the body in retrograde

content notes: overdose, emergency rooms, ambulances, vomit, brief mention of weight loss

There’s something about being in emergency rooms that always feels experimental to me. I don’t know how long I’ll be there. I don’t know how they’ll treat me. I don’t know how many other people will be there, or what I’ll be witness to, or if I’ll have an allergic reaction to somebody else’s perfume. I don’t know if I’ll cry or if somebody else will cry. I don’t know if I’ll have a panic attack.

Last week, I went to Toronto Island. I hadn’t been there since last Summer, and my day felt cut short when my hip joints spasmed and I fell again. I spent three hours sitting in the grass, reading, taking pills and more pills, unable to stand. I felt angry when people asked me if I wanted to go back. “I can’t.”

marandaelizabethhospitallegs
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s legs dangling over the edge of a blue-sheeted hospital bed. They’re wearing a black dress, purple- & black-striped footless tights, and a hospital bracelet. Their lavender cane is resting beside them, along with their purple backpack.]

But this Summer, after being given prescriptions for Cymbalta and Oxy-Codone, I began to experience a remission. It took me three weeks to even think of the word remission – it was that far away as a possibility, not even a part of my dreamscape. I’m still in pain, but I can walk more, I’ve had less headaches, less nightmares, and less sleep paralysis, and I have less anxiety and depression, too.

I don’t make a lot of impulsive decisions these days – booking a WheelTrans ride the day before going somewhere is about as impulsive as it gets. After booking my ride, I realized it would be the first day of Mercury Retrograde, but I decided to go for it anyway, to rebel against common astrological knowledge and go somewhere. I often feel like my body is in retrograde, but that day, I was playing with the boundaries of my body as well as the boundaries of Mercury.

marandaelizabetherfire
[image description: a burned out, empty firepit with bits of charcoal and a found piece of paper that says, “ER” in bold black letters. There are two pinecones nearby.]

Sometimes WheelTrans drivers are talkative, other times they are silent (you can guess which one I prefer). Sometimes they show up twenty minutes early, sometimes they show up forty minutes late. I keep a chair outside by my door, somewhere to sit and read while I wait for another unpredictable ride. The week before, my chair had been stolen. I’d written my initials, my address, and DON’T TOUCH ME in purple Sharpie on it, but I know nothing is ever enough.

On the way to the Island, the driver told me that his friends advised him not to take the job with WheelTrans because “disabled people are miserable.” Sometimes when drivers talk to me, I think they’re just trying to be kind, and I smile but offer short answers; other times, I think, emotional labour emotional labour emotional labour boundaries boundaries gimme back my token shut up stop looking at me. Once, a driver started a fight with another driver while I was stuck inside. Often, they try to buckle my seatbelt for me without asking first. One driver spent fifteen minutes stuck in a traffic jam, staring at my tattoos (and scars) and asking if they were permanent and how much money I’d spent on them.

The man who drove me to the ferry docks was delighted to find out that not all disabled people are miserable, and that he actually likes his job, and prefers driving a WheelTrans bus to driving a streetcar. He told me the streetcars on my street will be accessible soon, and I didn’t have it in me to explain to him that, no, they won’t be accessible to everybody, and they won’t be accessible to me, because some of us need more than a ground-level, stairs/barrier-free entrance to enter a space, to use a service. I also wanted to say that it’s totally okay to be disabled and miserable because we’ve got lotsa reasons to be miserable (inaccessible transit among them). But also, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to be outside, alone.

He brought me to a private entrance at the docks, where I was able to enter the ferry without paying the $7.50 fare! Mercury Retrograde was working in my favour. So I looked out the window for the ten minute ride, let my hair blow messy in the wind, and after stepping onto the Island, took an obligatory selfie with the CN Tower and city skyline behind me. Then I wandered off.

marandaelizabethfarawayrock
[image description: Maranda’s hand holding onto a rock from the furthest place they’ve walked this year. The rock is pale pinkish-coral with a translucent salty stripe through it. Their nails are painted deep violet. The shore and the beach are visible in the background. Black pen ink is smeared on their thumb.]

Wandering is not something I’ve been able to do for a long time. Before my chronic pain condition became what it became, walking and wandering, either to bookstores or with no destination in mind, were my favourite activity. But eventually, I couldn’t carry books, and then I couldn’t walk at all. I spent Winter housebound, and most of Spring, too. I lost twenty pounds. When I started taking new meds, I wasn’t expecting much of them. I was so desperate, I started taking flower remedies on the same day. I bought them at a witchcraft store around the corner from a hospital after crying in another doctor’s office as she told me there was nothing she could do for me.

On the same day, I canceled my WheelTrans ride home because I felt like trying to walk. And although it took a long time, and several breaks to rest, and several pills, I did walk home – it was the furthest distance I’d walked all year, a distance that was no big deal when I first moved to the city, but was an impossibility within a couple years. For most of Spring, I hadn’t even been able to cross the street to go to the park. I wanted a wheelchair, but I don’t live in an accessible building. I stayed in bed.

*

The first place I went to on the Island was the haunted lighthouse. The first light-keeper, John Paul Rademuller disappeared in 1815, and later, part of a human skeleton was found nearby. There’s a small altar devoted to him at the base of the lighthouse, to which I added a burning hot pink candle and some found stones. Self-heal, one of my favourite plants, grows in abundance on the Island, and circles the lighthouse – I picked quite a bit, pressed it in my diary, and will use some of it in future art projects (I’ve been painting!).

marandaelizabethlighthousealtar
[image description: an altar on the ground, with charred pieces of driftwood, the name and dates of the lightkeeper, scattered rocks, an empty bottle, and a burning hot pink candle.]

I brought crystals with me, of course: a fluorite worry-stone from my longest inpatient hospitalization, a citrine point, an amethyst point, a witch’s finger, a honey calcite teardrop, a rose quartz point, and a squirrel-shaped amethyst. I sat under the lighthouse for two hours before daring myself to walk to the beach.

marandaelizabethcrystalshand
[image description: Maranda’s left hand filled with the aforementioned crystals, a sprig of self-heal, a purple flower, on the ground below.]

As I headed onward, I found a $10 bill on the ground. More strange luck!

I played on the edge of the water, gathering stones, rinsing the sand from them, and placing them on a ledge to dry. The first rock I picked up marks the furthest I’ve been able to walk this year. I took the rock home and placed it on a newly installed floating shelf, which I found on the sidewalk up the road, more good luck, more city magic. On my way back to the ferry docks, I found a bushel of self-heal tied with aquamarine yarn, vintage images of the Island, and a bird’s wing.

marandaelizabethfloatingshelfartetc
<image description: A floating shelf on the wall. The walls are painted multiple shades of purple. On the shelf are a bunch of paintings, crystals, rocks, art supplies, a tiny blue vase with sprigs of rosemary, a plastic Care Bears cloud car, etc. On the wall above are pictures of Hello Kitty, Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, art prints by pals, etc.]

Last Winter, I went to the emergency room. It was late-November. I’d swallowed 20 Seroquel around noon. I swallowed them so I could make a decision. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to live or wanted to die, so I told myself that if I swallowed a bunch of pills, I’d find out – either my body would want more, and I’d take them and go to bed, or my body would reject them, and I’d go to the hospital and get my stomach pumped. My body accepted the pills, but my mind rejected them – it felt wrong somehow. I set down my glass of water and decided to take the streetcar to CAMH. I calmly packed my backpack. I brought three books and two notebooks because I didn’t know how long I’d be gone for, plus my toothbrush and my meds and maybe an extra pair of socks. I don’t remember. In my early-20’s, I used to keep post-its stuck to my bathroom mirror with lists of essentials for emergency rooms, and I would feel both embarrassed when I left them out when people stayed over, and annoyed that they didn’t ask me what the notes were about.

Disabled people are miserable.

I knew that the reasons I wanted to die, or the reasons I felt that living was impossible, were not something that anybody at the hospital could help me with. The less my body was able to do, the more isolated I felt. It would snow soon. The city felt like it was receding, becoming further and further away from me, and my life and imagination felt like they were narrowing down to nothing. I didn’t want to be here.

marandaelizabethhospitalbreacelets
[image description: Maranda’s left hand and wrist, with three plastic hospital bracelets: two white ones from the emergency room, and the aforementioned purple bracelet with black stars. They’re holding a deep violet, heart-shaped amethyst in their open palm.]

In my diary, I wrote: The suicide attempt rate among social assistance recipients is 18 times higher than among higher income individuals.

In my diary I wrote a quote: “Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” – Lucille Clifton

In my diary, I wrote another quote: “Fuck it, I choose myself, now or never.” – Chani Nicholas, Libra horoscope

I didn’t write all these things on the same day, but an overdose doesn’t happen all in one day, nor does a recovery, nor does a remission.

I got higher and higher on the streetcar as the meds began to take effect, and I remember laughing, but I don’t know why. In the CAMH ER, I approached the receptionist behind the desk.

“Oh, you changed your hair,” she said. “It looks great!”

“Thanks!” I handed her my health card and she gave me a clipboard with forms to fill out. I felt quite dizzy now.

marandaelizabethselfhealselfie
[image description: A self-heal selfie! Maranda Elizabeth is standing in front of the red door of the haunted lighthouse, holding onto a sprig of self-heal. They’re wearing bright fuchsia lipstick and pigtails. Their purple backpack straps are visible. They’re looking into the unknown distance. Their eyes are hazel.]

I check the clock between each encounter with staff when I can, just to see how long each step of the process takes. I almost never take names, though I always tell myself I will (actually, it took me two or three visits to remind myself to take names, take titles). I couldn’t read because I was passing out. I told the receptionist I’d overdosed again, and she called a nurse to bring me to another room. I’ve had my stomach pumped, and I’ve drunk charcoal, and I’ve been in comas – I once had a CT scan to see whether or not I was brain dead, but obviously I wasn’t conscious for it – so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to hook me up to something (saline?) and revive me, but instead they brought me to interview after interview, where I repeated the same answers to the same questions.

They wanted to know what triggered me, what brought me here, why I took all those pills. My reasons are frustrating because they can’t respond productively to them: “I’m not sure” or “cumulative trauma” or “poverty” or “loneliness.” “Resurfaced memories.” “A book I was reading.” “A dream I had.” “I’m afraid that everybody who hasn’t left me already is gonna leave me soon.”

I also told the nurses that the last time I was at CAMH, a nurse on the inpatient ward had tried to confiscate my cane because she thought that either I or another patient (or inmate, or client, or or or, whatever you prefer…) would use it as a weapon. I told her this had been traumatic for me, and that it could not happen again. They gave me a purple bracelet to wear alongside my hospital bracelet, denoting that I was using a mobility aid, and that it was real and could not be taken away from me. I didn’t know until then that such a bracelet could be issued. And it was purple!

As I responded to a nurse who asked me to describe my current feelings, another nurse entered the room and announced, “But you look badass!” I wondered if she’d had too much caffeine that shift, but/and I felt a real affinity for her, and was glad she’d arrived at just that moment.

Paramedics arrived, too. I was told that they didn’t have the medical equipment to treat overdoses in the CAMH ER (?!), that they’d have to bring me to another hospital. The paramedics brought a stretcher. I insisted I didn’t need it. I rested my backpack on the stretcher and walked with them instead. The badass nurse followed me.

marandaelizabethsmokyquartzdonttouch
[image description: Maranda’s hand touching a giiiant smoky quartz crystal that probably weighs 1,000 pounds. The quartz crystal is clear but cloudy, with black and grey shades and remnants that looks like smoke. There’s a sign in the background with a symbol indicating Do Not Touch.]

They brought me to an ambulance. I’d never been quite conscious in an ambulance before, nor had I been in an ambulance without laying on a stretcher, needles in my flesh, eyes closed, disoriented.

I was still disoriented, but I was able to sit up. Soft Cell’s Tainted Love was on the radio. My back was faced to the driver’s seat, so I watched everything curve and disappear backward from the window on the backdoor. I knew the street should be familiar, but I felt lost (later I realized it was a short ride: South down Spadina, West on Dundas to Bathurst). The nurse and paramedic in the back talked to me to keep me conscious. I don’t remember what they asked or what I answered, but I think I talked about how novel it was to be awake in the ambulance, to look out the window. I remember asking them if I’d be billed for the ambulance ride, and feeling disappointed when they said yes. After every ambulance ride I’ve had, a $45 bill has arrived in the mail two weeks later. I’ve never paid it. This bill never arrived.

At the next hospital, the paramedics left me behind, but the nurse stayed with me. Two cops were instructed to accompany me. I was much hazier now. They asked me what happened, and I said, “But I hate cops.”

As I sat in the waiting room, they watched me. Each time I talked to another receptionist, another nurse, they came with me. They asked me more questions. The badass nurse kept telling me she was sorry, and that she was glad I’d come to CAMH even though they couldn’t do much. After I was registered, she left. The cops stayed.

More interviews. I was given a bed. Blood was drawn. I fell in and out of sleep. As one nurse trained another in how to draw blood, I had to keep telling him to please stop using my leg as an arm rest. One of the doctors told me she wished CAMH would spend more money on beds and less money on branding and marketing (me too – also, classes in active listening or something, my gosh).

There was nothing anybody could do. I was discharged that night. I came home at midnight. I didn’t read any of my books. I didn’t write anything. I went to my regularly scheduled appointments the next day and didn’t say anything about it.

*

While I was under the light house, my left leg, and then my right, and then my back, fell under a spell of painful sensations that felt like a bunch of burrs and pins and needles were trying to escape from underneath my skin. I thought, “Oh, it’s just ghosts. I’m used to this.” It persisted for half an hour, and scratching made it feel worse, but leaving it alone felt terrible, too. I’d sprayed bug spray on my exposed skin and black dress, a natural homemade spray that smelled so good I wanted to drink it, and kept writing through the pain. I didn’t write about the pain, and I didn’t tell anybody about it either, because I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to not be real, or not be worth worrying about.

The next day, I visited crystals at the Royal Ontario Museum. I hadn’t been there for two and a half years because my body couldn’t do it, although sometimes if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d go into to gift shop and find another chunk of amethyst to bring home. I’ve re-named my apartment Amethyst Cathedral. At the entrance to the exhibit, I felt as though I were reuniting with an old friend. I wanted to hug the amethyst. I wanted to ask it questions.

marandaelizabethamethystfriend
[image description: Maranda standing beside a very large amethyst crystal, befriending & reuniting. They’re wearing a black dress, purple backpack, and pigtails. They’re holding onto their lavender cane, which has stickers of moons on it. The amethyst is very bright, and the museum lights have made their pale white skin glow beyond ghostly.]

Inside the exhibit, I took my photo with an amethyst cathedral. I didn’t realize until I looked at the photo later that it looked like a hermit carrying a lantern. I knew I was listening when I held onto it, but I didn’t notice its lantern. Now I feel like it’s become another friend of mine.

A few days later, I noticed mysterious bruises growing around the bug bites from the Island. I panicked. I googled. I knew there had been warnings about ticks carrying Lyme disease on the Island, but I thought I would notice them if they showed up. I had in fact thought about the ticks while experiencing the ghost fingernails scratching my legs and back under the lighthouse, but ghosts made more sense to me than bugs – they felt safer.

Before the bruises, I had another migraine. It only lasted three hours, but it was excruciating, and since I was too sick to get out of bed, I puked all over my floor. Multiple times. I then became delirious, and heard poems being recited to me, but I couldn’t write them down because my body was too weak and my head felt like it was being crushed with heavy metal clamps secured around my eyes, which I couldn’t open. I could see pages turning in front of me, but couldn’t hold onto them.

When I began to come to, when I was able to open my eyes and lift my head, I saw that my vomit had swirled to form a moat around my bed, and my bed now felt like a castle. I hadn’t eaten that day, so my puke was just coffee and bile, but there was a lot of it. None of this was unusual to me, except that I had taken one Tylenol 3 and 2 Teva-Sumatriptan, and I couldn’t feel them doing anything. I was shivering and sweating.

The bruises seemed strange to me. I bruise easily. I’ve had all kinds of mysterious bruises appearing on my legs since Winter, and my doctor doesn’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, so I tell myself that they are from the ghosts, too. Sometimes I think they’re fingerprints from a long time ago. But the most recent bruises freaked me out, so I went to the ER. I thought I better get antibiotics ASAP, just in case.

I wondered if I was being paranoid. I wondered if I was confusing Lyme symptoms with fibromyalgia symptoms, since they’re so similar. I wondered if I was bored and my borderline blood just needed another excuse to go hang out at the hospital for a bit. I took my time choosing a book to bring with me for the waiting room. I went. It wasn’t walking distance a few months ago, but it has been this Summer.

marandaelizabethcrystalsselfheal
[image description: a small crystal grid on the ground under the lighthouse. The crystals listed earlier are circling a self-heal plant, with the squirrel-shaped amethyst on top. Maranda’s left hand holds onto a small bottle of Saint Dymphna oil, pale minty green with plant bits floating inside.]

There’s no privacy in emergency rooms. Open doors, walls made of curtains, chairs squished too close together. When the intake nurse asked me if I take any meds, I gave her my long list, and when she asked what they were for (or what, specifically, the Seroquel is for), I said, “Borderline personality disorder and complex-PTSD” without thinking, and then neglected to mention fibromyalgia because sometimes my memory blanks out in those situations. I knew she was probably asking me what exact symptoms the Seroquel was for, but I didn’t feel like getting into specifics – while I was unashamed to name my diagnoses in front of twenty people, the symptoms I’m managing are pretty much unrelated to bug bites. I think. When the man she’d spoken to before me told her that he used to be a cop but now the cops were hunting him, and no, he didn’t need to see a psychiatrist, several people in the ER laughed at him and made no attempt to conceal it. But those are the guys I tend to feel an affinity with. In that waiting room, despite only being there with bug bites and bruises, I wanted it to be clear that I was on the crazy side, not the laughing-at-the-crazy side.

There was a note pinned to the bulletin board behind the intake nurse: “STAFF: DO NOT SNOOP THROUGH PATIENTS’ FILES.” I listened to the ways the staff invalidated multiple patients, no matter what they were there for. When an adult woman announced that she was looking for a wheelchair for her mother, a nurse admonished her to use a quieter voice. At least three staff asked me if I’d banged my leg recently. One nurse kept her foot outside of the room as she asked me about my symptoms, and kept trying to step out before I’d completed my sentence. Two paramedics discussed just exactly how much cream they’d like in their coffee while a man on the stretcher they were pushing moaned and moaned.

I took notes this time, because I was conscious, because I’d taken a Xanax, because nobody was telling me to calm down or confiscating my stuff or telling me they couldn’t help me. I signed my name on a clipboard at 4:13. I was registered by 4:40. I was given a plastic bracelet at 5:00. I was seen at 5:40. I was discharged at 6:10.

A Code White (actual or potential violent or out of control person) was called while I was in the waiting room, and then called off. I’d almost brought the novel Code White by Debra Anderson with me, but had chosen A View from the Bed: And Other Observations by Jenny Diski instead. I read the first 45 pages.

The doctor asked me if my cane was new. It was resting against the bed I was sitting on. He picked it up and moved it out of his way. I took it from his hand. I didn’t want to have the “Do Not Touch My Cane, Ever” conversation. I said, “No, it’s not new, it’s for an unrelated chronic pain condition, I’ve had it for two and a half years.” He insisted the bug bites couldn’t be from a tick.

The last time I’d been in the ER for a non-mental-health-related ailment was about a year and a half ago, when I fainted while I was alone and thought I had had a seizure. I fell, lost my vision, bruised my hips and arm, and my mouth tasted like metal. It happened while my twin was in a med study, undergoing a CT-scan that she was warned might cause seizures. The doctor in the ER told me that nothing in my exams or blood work showed anything that could have caused fainting or seizures, and that my intuition that it was just another weird twin thing was his best guess, too.

marandaelizabethamethysthermitlantern
[image description: Maranda wearing the same outfit described earlier, standing beside an amethyst cathedral. The crystal is approximately five feet tall, but it is on a podium, so it’s towering over them. The shape of the amethyst cathedral is extremely and eerily reminiscent of the silhouette of a cloaked hermit holding onto a lantern.]

The doctor decided it must have been a different kind of bug that bit me, and gave me a prescription for antihistamines instead of antibiotics. I educated him on areas of the city where Lyme-carrying ticks have been found, as well as common early symptoms, and the fact that not every bruise is a bulls-eye, but mine had definitely formed around bites. I didn’t tell anybody about my other mysterious bruises because I wanted them to believe me. I told the doctor I was experiencing my first remission in seven years, and I refuse to let a tick bring me back down. And then I left. I found a dead butterfly and pressed it into my diary.

I recently had bruises tattooed on me, but I didn’t tell anybody at the hospital about that either.

On my way out, a woman using crutches emerged through the sliding door exit and exclaimed at the man she was with: “I TOLD YOU IT WAS REAL. I TOLD YOU I WASN’T LYING. I BROKE MY FUCKING COLLARBONE.”

Bruisingly Yours,
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P.S.: My annual P.O. Box fee is due! It costs $202.27, and so far, I’ve been given about $40 from readers to help me pay to keep it another year. My P.O. Box is a very good, but unfortunately very expensive, friend of mine. Having a P.O. Box ensures that I can send and receive mail uninterrupted despite perpetually unstable living situations, as well as keep the creeps away from my doorstep. When I moved to Toronto a few years ago, postal workers were kind enough to arrange for me to have a mailbox with a number I love! If you’re fond of my zines, my writing, and me, please consider offering a contribution to help me out, or ordering some zines at schoolformaps.etsy.com. Information on how-to-contribute can be found below the following image.

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[image description: Maranda’s left hand holding onto a receipt stating that their annual P.O. Box rental fee is due as of September 2016.]

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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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.

telegram401
[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.

marandaelizabethpillspills
[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.

marandaelizabethamethystcare2
[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.

marandaelizabethconcretemagic
[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.

marandaelizabethfliers2016
[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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