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.

[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,


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?

[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.

[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!

[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.

[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,

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

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

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chalice of the hopeless: new zines & cripple-goth feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ziningly Yours,

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

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bruises self-heal: the body in retrograde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disabled people are miserable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruisingly Yours,

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

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

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

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Further Notes on Reclaiming Borderline and Resisting the Sane Gaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borderliningly Yours,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Nine of Wands / Nine of Keys

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Questions to Explore

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


Three of Pentacles / Three of Bones

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Questions to Explore

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

Tarotingly Yours,

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

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oh my heart it breaks every step that i take

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Hauntingly Yours,

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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