Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks

content notes: incarceration, suicidality, charcoal, cops, racism, colonialism

Last November, I tried to go to as many workshops and panels at Naked Heart Festival as I could – these things are extra tough for somebody who is in such tremendous pain that I am often-housebound and usually need a few days or more to recuperate from attending a one-hour appointment, but I felt that I needed to be there, and I was determined.

One of the events I was looking forward to the most was Hannah Harris-Sutro’s Femme Lineages writing workshop. The description read:

“How do we channel creation through our bones and blood, to keep our momentum and confidence as creators? This is a workshop for femme-identified & femme-adjacent* folks of all genders to come together and write within a lineage of femme creators and ancestors. A writer is someone who writes; no previous experience is necessary! Together, we will explore and build narratives of our own lineages as creators and artists, grounded in the revolutionary work of femmes who have come before us.

Participants will have opportunities to co-create a writing lineage altar, to ask for knowledge and support from their bodies, to play with the glosa form as conversation with and invocation of a femme ancestor or mentor, to create new work using a variety of concrete and evocative prompts, and to give and receive feedback on that work (if desired) in a powerfully vulnerable and supportive environment. Please bring something that invokes your lineage for our shared altar, and a piece of writing by someone you look up to. Please wear clothing that makes you feel right and comfortable.

*by “femme-adjacent” i mean that intentional femininity of some kind is part of how you understand yourself, even if you do not identify as “femme”.”

I arrived a little cranky because ten or fifteen minutes between events that were being held in different buildings was not enough time for my crip-body to take a pee break, get to and fro, and settle in, especially as we were experiencing a bitter cold snap. I’d just dug out my collection of fleece-lined tights from a box in my closet the day before. And I’m a hyper-vigilant creature who usually arrives at least forty-five minutes early for everything to ensure… I’m not sure what. That I’ll find my way, have a chance to look around, take meds, breathe, adjust to a new space. Thankfully, there were comfy chairs, and a mix of familiar and new-to-me femmes sitting around the long table.

Hannah taught us about the glosa form of poetry, and read us a few examples. Before that, she offered us a few prompts related to lineages: of femmes, of writers, of family. I scribbled a few notes about my dad dropping outta high school, my nana not going at all, of me and my twin dropping out, too, and of the teachers who didn’t know what to do with us. As a child, I worked a few grades ahead until teachers ran out of work to give me, and then I wrote self-directed book reports instead. I also wrote down the names of some writers and artists who I consider part of my lineage(s), past and present and future: Lynda Barry (especially Cruddy), Rebecca Godfrey (The Torn Skirt is my favourite novel and has done much to inform the ways I write fiction, what I write about, and how I write it – among other things, it was the first novel I read with an incarcerated teenage girl as the protagonist, which gave me permission to tell my own stories), David Wojnarowicz, Audre Lorde, Michelle Tea, Anaïs Nin, and adrienne maree brown.

Although there were also somatic exercises as part of the workshop, I skipped them this time because I was having the kind of day where I didn’t feel like being in my body. I scribbled notes and drew pictures of bones and pill bottles instead.

In my bones is pain, a history of fibromyalgia that nobody told me about. In my bones is tenseness & avoidance & the times they could not keep me safe. In my bones are cancer & pills & not-knowing. In my bones are amethyst & trauma & loneliness.

{image description: A ripped piece of scrap lilac-coloured paper. In purple ink, I’ve written:

“ATTEMPTING to PLACE my WORK within a CONTEXT(S) & LINEAGE(S)

– seeing my influence in others but feeling undervalued (NOT JUST FINANCIALLY)”

In the background, my Virginia Woolf mug and the keyboard of my pinky-purple netbook are visible.}

One of my BFF’s, Erin, was with me, and both of us were multiply-sick, taking different pills every half hour or so, and I think we were both feeling foggy and ill but/and ready to write. Several poetry paperbacks were scattered along the table, and I reached for a book I hadn’t read, feeling like there was something special in there for me. The book was Not Vanishing by Chrystos, an Indigenous two-spirit poet, writer, activist, and warrior. When I opened their book, the first poem I found was I Walk In the History of My People. At the first two lines, I knew I was in the right place, in the right room, and that I wanted to write my glosa with this poem.

There are women locked in my joints
for refusing to speak to the police
My red blood full of those
arrested, in flight, shot
My tendons stretched brittle with anger
do not look like white roots of peace
In my marrow are hungry faces who live on land the whites don’t want
In my marrow women who walk 5 miles every day for water
In my marrow the swollen faces of my people who are not allowed
to hunt
to move
to be
In the scars on my knee you can see the children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones that we are prisoners of a long war
My knee is so badly wounded no one will look at it
The pus of the past oozes from every pore
The infection has gone on for at least 300 years
My sacred beliefs have been made pencils, names of cities, gas stations
My knee is wounded so badly that I limp constantly
Anger is my crutch
I hold myself upright with it
My knee is wounded
see
How I Am Still Walking

I didn’t stick to a true glosa structure because rules are for breaking, and I was grateful that Hannah insisted that none of our writing had to be perfect, and that we were here for encouragement and expression, not criticism. I used to be intimidated by poetry because I thought I had to get all the lines and syllables and rhymes just right. Now I know I don’t.

In terms of feedback, we were asked to answer these questions: What’s strong? What stays? What resonates? We give no advice and ask no questions. Rough drafts!

I wrote:

There are ghosts in my joints, and
I refuse to be in my body but I
want to listen to them, their
complaints & questions & sharp points
After being in so much pain, I
could not roll over in bed or
adjust my blanket, the mere word
“WALK” makes me feel irate & bitter
If there are women locked in my
bones my ribs my knees my
blood for refusing to speak to
police / for speaking to them and
being told I’m lying I’m just
trying to cause trouble because I’m
bored
I want to keep them with me –
if I have no listeners, I’ll be the
listener / Bruises tattooed on my knees
Even when I write about the messages
from the ghosts & I am told, “I love
your writing about loneliness.
See you next year, maybe,”
I will press my pen so hard it rips
my paper / a needle that paints
flesh & knife that cuts planets & razor that shears fleece
I limp constantly, my cane
sings hymns on concrete and no
one else can remember the words.
The city abandons me again & again
because my crooked bones are,
well, lovely in words but
inconvenient in person flesh plans time
But concrete & pills give me the
will to live / dead without meds
I’d kill without pills
my body is a broken lease
How many more evictions until
the girl femme creature who
cannot talk to police
refuses to say, “I’m sorry my
body can’t do that but I’m not sorry
There are ghosts locked in my joints.

{image description: My diary opened wide to scribbly notes of the poem above. Swirly black ink. My diary is on top of a retro turquoise table at a diner with my left hand holding it open. My nails are painted deep violet and are absurdly long. A tiny silver teapot and a fork & knife are visible at the edges of the photo.}

I read my poem out loud. I used to be much more quiet, but now I feel like with all the time spent in bed, spent housebound, spent alone on WheelTrans rides and medical appointments, all the readings & workshops & zine fairs & everything I’ve missed out on / am missing out on, I’ve earned some time to talk in workshops, to read out loud, to ask for feedback.

The next day, I drew The Magician as my daily Tarot card. It was November 13th, the ten-year anniversary of my first suicide attempt, a day always marked on my calendar – not that I need to write it down to remember, but I set it aside as a self-care day and usually choose to be alone. But this time I had a friend with me, and plans, and that felt very special.

Before returning to Naked Heart, I brought Erin to Trinity Bellwoods Park in hopes of showing her the infamous white squirrel. Some people don’t believe the white squirrel exists, but she hops over to me nearly every time I’m in the park, and I’ve even captured photos of multiple white squirrels hanging out together. I can tell them apart, too. The one I see more often has pale blonde patches and is a little chubbier than the other one.

Sure enough, we found the white squirrel! I had white chocolate peanut butter cups in my coat pockets for good luck. She came right up to us and kissed our hands, shuffling through the fallen leaves. Before we left, I left a piece of white chocolate at the bottom of a tree as an offering.

{image description: I’m standing under a maple tree surrounded by fallen yellow leaves. My hand is reaching toward the tree trunk, and a white squirrel is clinging to the tree and kissing my fingers. I have the most gleeful silly smile! I’m holding onto my lavender cane, bending slightly. I’m wearing a purple coat, purple backpack, black boots, and floral socks. This is one of my all-time favourite photos of myself, and one of the only ones with a big, big smile.}

I missed the next reading I wanted to go to because my WheelTrans ride was late (again!), and nearly missed the Crip Writers on Representation, Publication & Transformation panel as well, which would have been a funny but painful story to tell. But I got there and I kept scribbling.

{image description: My diary held open again. Messy black ink of notes on poetry, a doodle of a bottle of pills, and thoughts during panels.}

{image description: My diary held open again. I’ve scribbled notes like:

“What do you fear most in sharing? (My fear = indifference)

WE CAN’T EVOLVE IF EVERYBODY AGREES WITH US

triggering grief while writing out loud

EMBODYING DISSOCIATION

YOU CAN DIE

IMPOSTOR VS. UNDERAPPRECIATION

Sometimes language is limiting

Enabling others’ art

IMPERFECT PRESENCE BETTER THAN ABSENCE”}

In February, I attended Hannah’s Femme Lineages workshop again, this time from home. As usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about art & poverty & access, and how to continue learning and developing my writing skills when it’s becoming more and more rare that I can attend anything at all. I’m always looking for different kinds of writing workshops, but so often, the ones that speak to me are not ones that I can afford, and/or not ones that I can otherwise access. When a friend of mine saw that Hannah was offering her workshop online with a pwyc sliding scale, they sent me a link and offered to pay for me! It was one of those moments of feeling seen not only as who I am and what themes arise in my writing, but also like I was being listened to when I talked about various forms of support, and like someone might actually have my back when I talk about this stuff. So I gratefully signed up!

Because I was alone in a comfy place, and because the online workshop was longer and more in-depth, I was able to participate in the somatic exercises this time, which deeply changed the way I wrote, the ideas that came to me, my confidence in the messages I was receiving from my body and from the prompts, and my feelings of connection with the other participants and with the facilitator herself. And it felt meaningful, like real queer magic, that I was able to participate from bed while the Moon was in Taurus.

Also, I was grateful that because the workshop was online, I didn’t have to a) write out my long long long list of access requests, b) cry while doing so, and c) show up just to find out they’d been fucked with anyway. The only thing I was really worried about was that my glitchy internet would disconnect, but it didn’t.

I brought Anne Sexton with me. Another friend of mine, Heather, lent me their copy of The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton as winter survival reading, and I searched it specifically for poems with cripple in the title. I feel like she might seem too obvious a choice to bring, especially as a crazy femme, when there are thousands of other poets to choose from, but I was thinking of her also as agoraphobic and as a cane-user, details that I haven’t heard mentioned so often. She’s also a writer who didn’t go school but ended up becoming a teacher. And on the theme of lineages, it made sense to me to choose a book a friend lent me, to note that connection, too.

I had a teenage photo of myself by my side (time-travel is real), and I worked with Amber Dawn’s Where the words end and my body begins, and the tenth stanza of Anne Sexton’s Cripples and Other Stories.

The surgeons shook their heads.
They really didn’t know –
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

{image description: My so-called Grade Eight Graduation photo taken in Spring 1999, the portrait repeated four times on a sheet of photostock. I have freshly died ruby red hair, sad eyes, and an expression of exhaustion. I’m wearing heavy black eyeshadow like a raccoon, deep violet lipstick, a black and gold graduation gown, and holding onto a bouquet of fake red roses. My head is tilted, my lips slightly parted. The camera-person told me to smile. My lips are parted because he took my photo while I was literally saying to him, “I don’t want to smile.”}

I wrote a poem called Cripples and Other Storybooks:

Dear Maranda,
In this one, you are
13-years old
one week out of the detention centre
dying your hair in your boyfriend’s mom’s kitchen sink
Féria Ruby Red
preparing for a graduation photo for
a class you could not attend
a year of probation
and summer school filling out photocopies of
homonyms & antonyms
The surgeons shook their heads.
Dear Amber,
In this one, you are
standing at the microphone at Glad Day
the stage at the top of stairs & stares & stairs
reading a poem with an open book fracture
that I almost missed because I was harassed
on the way to the reading
and wanted to scream and go home
You asked if we knew Lucille Clifton
And I felt ashamed at the silent response.
On the landing of the bookstore,
somebody with purple hair asked me for my name
and cried as they realized it was my book
that they stole from their wife when they
divorced and ran away
They really didn’t know.
Dear Anne,
In this one, you are
agoraphobic, clutching your cane after breaking your
hip, you’re really 36 & I’m really 31
talking to your ghost at the used bookstore again
and carrying you home, medicated and dissociated
in a WheelTrans cab, a bandage hiding
my 29th tattoo, my skin a storybook
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

(I imagine this as a poem-in-process, where I’ll keep naming everybody who’s contributing to it – a stanza for Hannah, another for Lucille Clifton, and the title will keep growing, something like, Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks…)

Once again, I read my poem out loud. I’ve written four poems in adulthood. One of them was in Oliver Bendorf’s How to Make It online creativity workshop, and the other three were at Hannah Harris-Sutro’s workshops. I’ve been realizing more and more that not only do I want to read more poetry and write more poetry, I also want more opportunities to have friends read me poetry (or fiction! anything!) out loud. There was something so cozy and special about both the online space and physical space(s) of the workshop, and of talking to all the other participants who were cozy in their own homes, seeing what quirky mugs they were drinking their tea from, listening to all the different stories we dreamed up and shared.

{image description: My hand holding onto a white mug that says in yellow letters: “At a diner, a cup of coffee is never half empty.” I stole it from Denny’s.}

I was also reminded of something Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said on a panel at the previous year’s Naked Heart fest. To paraphrase from memory, she talked about how poetry can be more accessible to disabled and crazy people, and broke and working-class / hustling-class queers, etc. because it can be written in short snippets between pain flare-ups, during long rides on public transit, scribbled on lunch breaks from shitty underpaid jobs, etc. And because you can complete a work in a shorter amount of time than, say, a novel, which makes a difference when you’re struggling with suicidal feelings, and/or lack of so-called productivity, or visibility, and/or not being able to commit to larger projects if you can’t see a future as well.

On a similar note, Sassafras Lowrey, who I met at the same reading at Glad Day documented in my poem, and who read from hir novel Lost Boi that night, talked about doing most of hir writing on an iPad while taking transit to and from work, and taking lunch breaks at hir favourite local bubble tea shop. Although clock-time is something like a form of privilege to me, as I don’t have work or school to organize my life around, both Sassafras’s and Leah’s words resonated with me as someone who needs to write to stay alive, and someone who does so without seeking permission, and someone who knows the necessity of self-publishing and and and…

Later in the workshop, I wrote:

In my bones is everything
that has failed to kill me.
A decade of disability cheques
has failed to kill me.
Lack of access to formal
education has failed to kill me.
Jail cells, detention centres,
endless court dates, the psych
wards I’ve lost count of
have failed to kill me.
Crying in public
has failed to kill me.
Bike crashes
Alcohol
Perfume
Has failed to kill me.
33 homes, 20 diagnoses
X-rays, blood tests, brain scans
Overdoses
Doctors have failed to kill me.
Knives and razorblades
Loss loss loss
Jealousy
Suicide has failed to kill me
Evictions, landlords, mouldy apartments
Have failed to kill me
Stairs have failed to kill me.
Brittle bones of amethyst & snowflake obsidian
Charcoal brought me here,
And magnetic resonance imaging
3 drops of columbine
Essence plus 1 Oxy-
Codone are in my
Bones and carrying me here
If my cane is a limb,
Then so is my pen,
A bone, ink marrow
Behold the three-legged three-armed cripple
A crooked cauldron of

After the workshop, I felt totally revived and revitalized, and even felt the same kind of hunger that would traditionally arise from physical exertion. It felt strangely invigorating and definitely memorable. I’d drawn the Knight of Pentacles as my daily card that morning, and now I see it in terms of embodied writing, of carrying lineages and continuing them as a form of respect, responsibility and reverence.

As I’d been thinking/writing a lot about disposability lately, and beginning work on tracing various lineages of mine, the Femme Lineages workshop arrived at just the right time, and got me dreaming more about ways to resist disposability, particularly as disabled crazy chronically ill crip weirdos who can’t be everywhere and do everything, and whose presence and access are so often not prioritized. As someone who has often felt used and discarded by queers, glosa poetry feels like a way not only of tracing our lineages, of naming them and passing them on, but also of resisting disposability culture, and being creative in the ways we find to survive and make sure we are seen.

Writing is lonely, and often feels like a void, but glosa poetry and acknowledging lineages gives us a way to name and credit our influences, cite the work we love, and make art against erasure. It means acknowledging past incarnations of artistic resistance and finding ourselves among them.

I need poems and essays and evidence, of cripples and borderlines and witches and crazy people and and and supporting each other. Maybe you do, too.

Poemfully Yours,

P.S.: Hannah has multiple online and offline workshops this Spring, and as you might surmise, I very highly recommend attending if you can! In April, Hannah will be facilitating her Femme Lineages writing workshop in-person in Montréal, and everywhere else online. And in May, she’ll be facilitating two new workshops with online and offline variations. The first one is Embodied Tarot, a workshop for tarot readers of all experience levels to explore using their bodies as a tool for reading and learning from tarot. And the second one is Writing Our Monsters, a workshop for queer writers of all experience levels to explore embodied practices of working with the parts of ourselves we find ugly or shameful. And then in July, Hannah will be offering a six-week workshop for queer writers that brings together writing, somatic practice, and shadow/monster work!!! Multiple exclamation marks for multiple enthusiasms! Mark your calendars, please! And I’ll ‘see’ you there for the online versions!

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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What is art about social assistance?

Is there such a thing as art about social assistance? By people on social assistance (whether it’s welfare or disability)?

I’ve been dreaming up an art project. I’m asking if art about being on social assistance is a thing (not looking for definitive answers, just putting that question out into the universe, and making some of my own). I’ve been reviewing a lot of my writing, and trying to place it within different contexts. One of those contexts is Art About Surviving Social Assistance (specifically, without the goal of getting off it & ‘making a living’). Last Spring and Summer, I desperately documented the process of coming up for review. In May, I was forced to crowdfund rent and food, and at the end of Summer, I wrote a zine about how I survived. While I was initially cut off due to misfiled forms (the worst Mercury Retrograde), eventually my benefits (but it’s hard to call it that) were restored and I was given permanent disability status.

During that same period, I wrote about having yet another discussion with a mental health worker about how writing what I’m writing, doing what I’m doing, isn’t quite giving me the feelings I wanna have, or the life I wanna have. That’s still true. It was one of those absurd, exasperating “Have you ever tried writing or journaling?” conversations. This conversation happened in the context of me having to quit the first (and only, thus far) complex-(p)TSD group therapy I’d had access to, since others were consistently breaking the scent-free policy despite reminders via phone, email, and mail, and signs on all the doors and mirrors. Instead of just rolling my eyes at the system, I’ve been contemplating these questions ever since.

marandaelizabethpillsforever

{image description: My left hand holding onto two small glass vials of pills, and a silver blister pack of pills. The pills are white and the wall in the background is purple.}

One of the things that helped me get through the disability review process was reading stacks of disability studies and mad studies books from the library. As a broke-as-fuck high school dropout, these are texts that, in various ways, are not accessible to me – whether or not they are meant to be (and even when they’re about me). I spent a lot of time googling seemingly innocuous words like pedagogy and temporality that a lot of people use everyday and take for granted. I found ideas that made me want to stay alive. But the books prompted so many more questions: Who gets access to information that makes their life more liveable? Who gets to participate in conversations about disability and madness? Who is invited to participate and who is left out? Whose knowledges are valued, prioritized, listened to, paid for? Whose knowledges are left behind? What happens when maps and theories about your own brain body psyche daily-life and survival are not accessible to you?

marandaelizabethdisabilitybooks

{image description: A stack of books I read last Summer. They all have library code stickers on the spine.}

They are:

Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer
Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer
Disability Theory by Tobin Siebers
Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers
Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader edited by Tanya Titchkosky and Rod Michalko
Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies edited by Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume

marandaelizabethwinterreading2016

{image description: Another stack of books I’m reading.}

They are:

Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex, Blood, Loss, and Selfies by Margaret Christakos
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz
Problems by Jade Sharma
milk and honey by rupi kaur
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement by Angela Y. Davis
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Volume Two by Nia King, edited by Elena Rose
bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy

Now that it’s March 1st, I’ve been on ODSP for a full decade. Average rent in my city is almost more than double my entire monthly income. And if my income doubled, I’d still be living well below the poverty line. While it’s a miserable and frightening income to try to live on, in a weird way, it’s a bit of a dream come true, too. I grew up scared of growing up. I left school when I was fourteen and started working when I was fifteen. I quickly built a reputation for crying while serving customers, having panic attacks at work, and quitting by either storming out or not showing up at all (well, that was my reputation at school, too, but a little more violent). However. I hoped that somehow, by the time I was an adult, if not sooner, I could find a way to stay home, get my rent paid, and read and write whatever I feel like. I didn’t know I’d puke my way through these years, or dissociate, or lose my ability to walk, etc etc etc – maybe I wasn’t specific enough when I burned candles and drew sigils on my teenage bedroom walls with greasy lipstick and wrote short stories about escape, but the spells came true.

marandaelizabethsurvivingillnessselfie

{image description: Selfie taken in a dusty used bookstore. Although you can only see my face, I am on my knees, with my purple cane handle beside my face. I am expressionless, not-quite-frowning. There are bookshelves and books behind me. The shelves are labeled SURVIVING ILLNESS and ADDICTION/RECOVERY.}

The next chapter of my social assistance art project (or the can art about social assistance exist? and what is it? project) is this: My Wishlist (click! click! click!). To celebrate the fact that though the provincial government has been trying to kill me, I have survived a full decade. All I wanna do (is have some fun) is read more, write more, share more. And I want to do that knowing that my contributions are appreciated and valued, and that I am being supported, not merely consumed. Most of the books on my wishlist were chosen as part of my current focus on learning about and naming mad and crip lineages, politicizing borderline, unlearning white supremacy, and continuing to develop my writing skills and (re-)develop my imagination.

(And if yr feeling gross about Amazon, just remember that many of us can’t afford the full-cost of books and can’t get our bodies to bookstores and and and. Sometimes being poor or oppressed in other ways necessitates compromise and participating in the systems that are hurting you so you can stay alive. Criticize systems without abandoning individuals, please and thank you!)

marandaelizabethkathyackerquote

{image description: A quote from Kathy Acker’s Blood And Guts In High School that I’ve written in all caps black ink on unlined paper. It says: “POVERTY IS BAD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM PERPETUATE ALL THAT IS OPPRESSING THEM AND GOOD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT HELPS THEM TO BE WILLING TO DO ANYTHING – THE WEIRDEST ACTS POSSIBLE, SUICIDAL – TO STOP THE POVERY.” My long purple glittery nails are visible in the photo, holding the page flat.}

If you buy something from my wishlist, you’ll also be participating in my weird social assistance project with me. I plan on documenting this in multiple ways. If you buy me something, please consider answering these questions in the snail mail note that gets delivered with your order. You can choose whether or not to remain anonymous.

Why did you choose the book/item you chose?

Have you read this book? Do you intend to?

How long have you been following my writing?

Is there anything you’d like to share with me? A word, a story, a mantra, a secret?

marandaelizabethbooksimreading1

{image description: Another stack of books.}

They are:

Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch
No Exit by Annie Mok
salt. by nayyirah waheed
Having Faith In The Polar Girls’ Prison by Cathleen With
The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek
The Right to Narcissism: A Case for an Im-possible Self-Love by Pleshette DeArmitt
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis
Laid Waste by Julia Gfrörer
When the Chant Comes by Kay Ulanday Barrett
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delaney

Part of this experiment is also to see if readers will celebrate crip wisdom by buying me books specifically about poverty, madness, disability, and incarceration as a form of valuing my work and showing a desire for more. Incidentally, you might notice that many books on these topics cost more than ordinary books. I wish this weren’t so, but here we are. A few of the books are ones I’ve already read from the library, but want my own copies of so I can reference them more often. Most of them are books I haven’t read yet.

You know that feeling when you have (a) severe mental illness(es) and debilitating chronic pain condition(s) that make you wanna die, but you keep dreaming up art projects that’ll take years to complete? That’s where I’m at right now. Actually, this is where I’ve been for a few years, but it’s tough to even begin those projects when everyday, in multiple personal and political ways, feels like it could be the end of the world. But I’ll keep trying.

Experimentally Yours,
blogsignature

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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be my borderline palentine

Hello, dear readers! This is just a small note of love and appreciation for those of you who support my work, writing, & weirdnesses, sent from housebound-me to magical-you. I’ve written a couple of essays recently that I think you’ll appreciate, especially during the loneliness of Winter.

Why I’ve Learned to Embrace the Joy of Missing Out is about transforming feelings of FOMO into JOMO. I talk about missing out on events, book launches, zine fairs, the annual Mad Pride Bed Push, and even the Disability Pride March. And yet, feeling joy! I talk about the necessity of saying y/our disabled friends’ names out loud when we/they can’t be present, and I ask myself (and you!) questions like:

What do I love about being sick?

What do I love about staying home?

What do I love about missing out?

And I share a recent epiphany:

When disabled folks aren’t present, we are not the ones who are missing out. Non-disabled folks are missing out. Not us.

I’ve been contemplating cripple-magic and cripple-joy, and hope to share more with you soon!

How to Support Your Disabled Friends in Winter and Beyond is another essay I wrote recently that I hope you’ll find affirming, encouraging, and useful, no matter what your physical or emotional capacities. I talk about loneliness, being housebound (I haven’t had a breath of fresh, outdoor air in February, but hey, I’m alive and I’m getting stuff done!), fears coming true, and the necessity of non-disabled folks reaching in to crips, rather than expecting us to reach out, especially when our conditions are chronic. And I share ten practical, specific ways to support y/our disabled pals.

But I forgot to add #11: Apologize for fucking up the first ten!

Both of these essays are illustrated by my dear pal, CB Lavery. See more of their work at CeeLavery.com. And if you’re into either of these essays, if you find them valuable, I would really appreciate it if you shared them!

Also! I’m having a quick little sale on my Etsy shop today. If you’re in the mood to gift yourself with a Tarot reading for mad folks, crip-queers, weirdo witches and misfits, or if you wanna read my zines about politicizing borderline, staying alive and making magic through mental illnesses and chronic pain, friendship, support, recovery, etc., or if you wanna get my zine anthology or my first novel, use coupon code ‘BORDERLINEPALENTINE’ for 14% off at schoolformaps.etsy.com! The code will be active today only!

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[image description: A photo of Maranda Elizabeth holding onto a star-shaped candle-holder with a tall black tallow candle burning. There are more candles burning in the background. They are wearing a black dress and a black and silver glittery hoodie with an amethyst necklace. Their face is visible from their lips down. They are unsmiling, wearing purple lipstick.]

Here’s a selfie I took this afternoon! I’m burning a black candle in a star-shaped candle holder painted various shades of purple that I made on a psych ward six years ago. Mad cripple borderline witches forever!

Palentiningly 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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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.

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[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!

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[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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