Xenogender

I am not a gender but an idea,
a walking philosophy of strange.
I have made friends with my shadows
and I walk among them as family,
leaving the fear behind
as I survive another day.
And I bask in my oneness with myself
and with the universe as it exists.
Cold and vast, and eerily beautiful,
as beautiful as the rotting flowers in my soul.
My being encompasses everything
they told me I am not,
and I choose to defy the boundaries
society forces with an iron grip.
I am an alien, xenogender and wild.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

How to better handle mental health crises

This entry contains mentions of suicidal thoughts, mental health crises situations, self-harm, and traumatic hospital experiences. If you are not in a good place mentally, please seek out help. A great place to start is 7 Cups, where you can find free peer support and low-cost therapy. If you are in crisis, please consider calling your local crisis line, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255. If it’s possible, reach out to a close friend or family member who will be understanding as an alternative. Your life is important, and the world is better with you in it. I promise.

“Have you recently thought about killing yourself?”

“Have you made plans to kill yourself?”

“Have you had an urge to act upon them?”

“What would your friends and family think if you went through with killing yourself?”

“Have you harmed yourself? How?”

“Name two reasons for living.”

The list of questions becomes longer the more at risk you are, and although I understand a certain level of bluntness is needed to determine the safety of the person in crisis, this could be handled so much better. In my case today, I had difficulty answering several of these questions, felt ashamed, embarrassed, and extremely irritated. It didn’t really help me at all.

I haven’t accomplished much in my life. I have quite a bit of experience with being told I’m too much, overwhelming, or just horrible. I have years of trauma resulting in BPD, PTSD, a panic disorder, OCD, and other issues. I’m autistic. I keep to myself and often worry if people truly like me or are just being polite. I’m always concerned that I’m a burden.

When the above questions were asked to me, among many others as they built off of my answers over the phone, I recoiled. I experienced very real physical sensations of my skin crawling, jolts of anxiety, and burning irritation. I have always found the questions intrusive, although that’s not necessarily the professional’s fault.

When asked what caused my crisis I’m currently in, my head spun. I became annoyed. It would take hours to explain. There has been a ridiculous amount of trauma in my life and when I’m feeling suicidal, that’s the last thing I want to go into detail about with my case manager. Again, that’s my issue, not theirs. They’re not doing anything wrong. I should be able to be open because I truly do want help, and I seek it out when I can as I need it.

I feel there could be better tact in the way required questionnaires are worded, though. Such blunt terminology, and open-ended questions I can’t possibly know the answer to (hello, autism), bring me more stress than comfort. I don’t know what my friends and family would feel if I died. Personally speaking, I often feel as if it’d be a weight off their shoulders. They may be relieved. They may be distraught. I can’t answer that question. Thinking about it just reinforces the negative feelings I had because it brings on guilt, and then I feel selfish for being in crisis. That’s not the intended effect, but this has been a part of the conversation around suicide for a while now.

Centering a suicidal person’s struggles on how others would handle it, or be hurt by it, isn’t helpful.

Likewise, using such blunt language can be a huge trigger. “Are you currently suicidal?” “Have you thought about taking your life?” While still blunt, there’s a huge difference in wording that sounds a lot easier on the ears, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been hit with a battering ram.

“What are two reasons to live for?” is another question I struggle with. I truly don’t have a lot in my life to name. I stick to myself, I don’t have anything going on, and the only reason that pulls me back from the edge every time is that my cats need me. They can’t take care of themselves, and I love them too much to let them go without.

All of the questions are delivered in a formal manner. I feel like I’m at a job interview rather than trying to keep myself safe. Again, I’m not harping on anyone trying to do their job. I just wish there was something more to this whole crisis prevention thing.

Instead of asking me to name things, or asking me to figure out how other people would struggle due to my problems, why not just… give me hope? The most important thing a suicidal person can hear in the moment isn’t anything they tell themselves. It’s what they hear from others.

Often, when suicidal, it’s important for someone else to say, ‘I would miss you’ or ‘be sad if you died.’ ‘You’re not a burden.’ ‘Think of (this thing) and (this thing) you may not have thought of that you’ve accomplished!’ Often, others see things we’ve done in ways we can’t, especially in crisis. Having to answer these things myself just makes me irritated and want to withdraw even more because I can’t think of anything, which furthers the reinforcement of the initial feelings that put me in crisis.

The questions are for clinical purposes, but in the end, the way mental health crises are handled in America still needs a lot of work. It’s a very blunt, and often traumatizing, experience for the already traumatized. Often, we will say we are safe at home when we really aren’t due to the poor quality of treatment in hospitals.

We also may fear emergency help at our door, which could take the form of a crisis prevention police officer or an ambulance, which adds loads of stress to what we’re already experiencing, and then we have to hope they have training and don’t hurt us, put us in handcuffs, or force us to do something we don’t want to, such as being involuntarily committed.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to face a crisis intervention on that level because I’m aware of the possibility. I don’t lie, but I certainly skirt the truth. I’ve been in the psych ward a few times, and while it kept me from dying from a suicide attempt or from even going through with one, it is a cold and sterile place with nurses that may get frustrated with patients. I watched a helpless old man, who had been homeless, have food thrown on the table by a nurse who got frustrated, yelled at him, and left after he kept dropping things.

If I needed my PRN (as-needed) medication for anxiety because I was shaking like a leaf and terrified, I was handed one through a window guard and sent to bed alone. I spent a few nights crying by myself in the dark with no one to check on me, only to be woken up at the crack of dawn and threatened with the reality that if I didn’t get up, eat, and go to group, I couldn’t go home.

When first admitted, I had to strip down into a backless gown so a team of nurses could come in and look at my naked body to make sure I didn’t have injuries anywhere else, and the entire time I felt ashamed and embarrassed because complete strangers were looking at my nakedness. No one bandaged the wounds on my arms. They left me to redress and head out into the community room while I had to ask for my sweater so I didn’t bleed on the table.

The first or second time I’d been admitted (brain fog makes it hard to remember things), it was late at night. I had medications in my bag in a pill box because I had to take my medication to work at night, and I was met with policemen — two of them — who walked into the community room while I tried to eat a snack. They stood over me and questioned me, and I said the medication was mine prescribed by my doctor. I simply took it to work because I worked at the same time I had to take it.

One remained with me with his hands clasped over the table, sitting across from me and staring me down. The other went to the nurse’s station to confirm what I said was true. The entire time I was terrified. I’d never done anything illegal in my life. I’d never been in trouble with the cops and was as straight-laced as they came. I had no record of any kind.

Finally, they left and I remained in the dimly lit community room. I felt less than human. In a matter of minutes, after the nurses scoped my naked body and left my injuries unattended, and police officers coldly interrogated me, I felt institutionalized in every sense of the word. There was no love. No care. It was all quick and cold, and merely to be sure there were no problems.

Don’t get me started on group therapy, in which religion was forced on me that I didn’t want, and the art therapist argued with me about the meaning of my drawing. And the sexism. Women weren’t allowed to shave, but men were. If one floor of the psych ward did something bad, we were all punished. We had our coffee machine taken away because someone on the floor below us threw theirs across the room.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going to the hospital if they are a danger to themselves or others. The hospital truly did keep me from going through with the inevitable. Despite how awful my experience was, that was one place. There are far better hospitals I’m sure, but since I’m low-income and on state insurance due to being disabled, my choices are limited.

If you are in crisis, please get help. Do what you can to protect yourself. That’s far more important than the current imperfections in the system. Surviving is key.

But many of these reasons are why people don’t seek out help. The whole process is cold and controlled, and very institutional. It’s a system. And I understand the need for a system, but in reality, what someone in crisis really needs is someone who cares — or at least acts like they care.

In the case of being transgender, the process can be doubly bad. Not only do we have to fear discrimination, but the act of being forced to strip and be looked over, which will out us and possibly open up awkward questioning, is traumatizing in itself.

If it must happen, it would be better handled by well-informing the patient of the intentions and the necessity, asking if there is anyone they preferred to do the inspection, and simply just letting us wear a pair of fucking underwear during it.

Things need to change. In times of crisis people have to respond quickly, but it should also be possible to be humane and compassionate while responding quickly.

If we want people to continue to seek out help, we have to make help a non-threatening thing.

Word questions in a way that are sensitive to the person who may be moments away from taking their life. Give us reasons to continue instead of asking us to figure that out ourselves, since we obviously feel we don’t have reasons or we wouldn’t be in that position. Don’t make our struggles about other people and what they feel or would have to say about it.

Treat us like humans who are in pain. A lot of people with trauma have a serious lack of love — or a sense that they are not loved. Going through the motions and being blunt, distant, and cold may enforce that we feel like a burden, are in some kind of system, and that no one cares.

To the doctors, hospitals, and crisis prevention people who are doing it right and are compassionate, thank you. Ultimately, a person in crisis is someone who needs love and handled with care, even if they may not want it. It’s far better than the alternative, which will lead to less people seeking help, and will end in more lost lives than there needed to be.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Breaking down misconceptions of PTSD

It’s important to remember that PTSD isn’t just an illness experienced by veterans. PTSD can result from years of traumatic abuse, sexual abuse, and other things that can scar a person for life, such as a car accident or the loss of a loved one. I have PTSD from years of several kinds of abuse.

For the longest time, however, I didn’t take my diagnosis seriously because ‘I’ve never been to war or in the service.’ That line of thought caused the utter horror that PTSD is to fester until it finally went full-blown in 2020 due to isolation. So we need to clear up misconceptions.

Not talking about the many ways PTSD can manifest and come about causes victims of it, who only see one experience, to suffer longer and harder than they need to. If you have experienced real trauma, I urge you to get help by at least talking to a counselor.

PTSD is often waved off by people who think it is just an illness from being in the service or being involved in war, which is dangerous considering what it can do to your brain.

Symptoms I experience:

  • Poor short and long-term memory
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Self-harm
  • Visual disturbances like hallucinations
  • Night terrors and disturbing lucid nightmares
  • Severe depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Isolation
  • Dissociation
  • Flashbacks of traumatic events
  • OCD and cyclic thoughts of self-hate and self-blame

I have never been to war or gone into the service. I experienced trauma from an early childhood age, and continued to experience repeated and prolonged abuse — sexual, physical, and mental — for many years. I received a PTSD diagnosis as a teenager for the first time.

PTSD with any cause, no matter where it came from, is a horrific diagnosis in varying degrees, and we need to raise awareness for the wider scope of it to save people’s lives. Misconceptions cause people to suffer in silence and denial like I did.

I wrote a blog entry about what my experience was like with PTSD while being isolated for the majority of 2020 here: Living alone in 2020.

Here is some information about PTSD. In my case, I unfortunately developed chronic PTSD.

Another kind of PTSD is c-PTSD, or complex PTSD.

I hope we can continue to have conversations about PTSD and it’s roots, which is, ultimately, trauma from any source. If you’ve experienced intense trauma, or trauma of any kind that is disrupting your life, please seek out help. A trusted counselor can help you figure out if you have PTSD, what the source was, and to help you cope and possibly recover from it. You may need a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication if it’s extremely disruptive, and from a personal account, medication can make your symptoms much more bearable so counseling can work.

A good starting place is 7 Cups, where you can search for a therapist or someone experienced who can listen and guide you in the right direction.

©2021 Shane Blackheart
Featured image by RODNAE Productions on Pexels

The Moral Sense and How it Destroys Us

Good and bad.

Evil and heroic.

Negative and positive.

Humans have a habit of black and white thinking, which is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. As I grew older I found this to be the case with many people, and as I dived more into philosophy in my teenage and adult years, I realized something important about the distinction between what it means to be human, and what it means to be — what humans view as — animals below us.

In Mark Twain’s ‘The Mysterious Stranger,’ which is one of my favorite stories he’s written, he writes about Satan as an angel, which Satan originally was. Satan gains the interest of a group of three children, and they meet regularly as Satan shows them magic and wonder. In one of many of Satan’s philosophical speeches, he mentions this:

“It is like your paltry race — always lying, always claiming virtues which it hasn’t got, always denying them to the higher animals, which alone possess them. No brute ever does a cruel thing — that is the monopoly of those with the Moral Sense. When a brute inflicts pain he does it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thing as wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it — only man does that. Inspired by that mongrel Moral Sense of his! A sense whose function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with liberty to choose which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he get out of that? He is always choosing, and in nine time[s] out of ten he prefers the wrong. There shouldn’t be any wrong; and without the Moral Sense there couldn’t be any. And yet he is such an unreasoning creature that he is not able to perceive that the Moral Sense degrades him to the bottom layer of animated beings and is a shameful possession.”

Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

There is a lot to unpack in that quote, but the basic meaning of it is that the brute — non-human animals — are free of our judgments and moral codes, so they don’t judge what is right or wrong. Evil or Good. In the case of cats and dogs, if a human makes a mistake, like accidentally stepping on a tail or turning too quickly to stumble over the animal, they know it was a mistake and don’t think any more of it. They don’t question whether the human was meaning to hurt them or if they are a good or a bad person. They yelp to signal they are in pain, and they observe the surroundings to see that there is no real threat, and they look to the human who has moved on, and they also get on with their day, crawling into the human’s lap for a cuddle session.

Of course, this doesn’t apply in cases of abuse. People who abuse animals are the lowest kind of person, and even in a situation like that, an animal doesn’t judge the person. They learn to fear the hand that hit them, and they recoil as an act of defense. They do what is simply effective or ineffective at the time. They do feel emotions, and they do feel sadness because they do not understand why we do what we do.

On the other hand, people think in extreme black and white. You see it when someone makes a mistake or puts a toe out of line, and they are vilified and the bad moment is what defines them.

You see it in cancel culture, where people tear each other apart over a misunderstanding, a misstep, or a number of assumptions that no one wanted to ask about or fact check.

To humans, emotions are addicting. Anger and power, and even depression, can be very addicting in how they feel. Anger leads to feeling powerful or important, or righteous. As in my case, depression can feel like a familiar home, and it’s far easier to stay in a state that is familiar rather than risk the vitriol and frightening reality that people are generally judgmental and difficult to stomach sometimes. And I have also been addicted to my own anger, we all have. None of this is effective. Too much of one thing can lead to horrible real-world results.

So rather than being a boon to being human, our emotions and Moral Sense — as Twain calls it — is a shortcoming in ways that relate to living practically and successfully. In that way too, it could be argued that animals other than us are the better species, and we’re merely invasive and destructive.

That’s not to say we’re all bad. And that’s not to say we should regret our existence and hate ourselves. We can only do what we know, and we can only know what we know. And knowing is half the battle. We can learn something from our pets, and that is to be direct and honest, start thinking of things in the way that they are effective or ineffective rather than good or bad, don’t judge others for superficial reasons, and learn to enjoy the simple things and not worry about what another is doing unless there is a direct threat. Accept that there is a universal idea of kindness and there is a universal idea of cruelty, and strive to accept kindness and reject cruelty no matter who you are or what you do or don’t agree with.

I am good at none of this. Not a bit of it.

I spend a lot of time wanting to speak about philosophy and relate it to my own life, but I often refrain from it out of fear due to past trauma. I fear I will be looked down on as trying to be a know-it-all. People will see me as trying to act smarter than I am. People will think I’m trying to be some intellectual prodigy I certainly am not. Worst of all, I’ve been accused of being manipulative, and I worry people will see me using philosophical points to defend or explain myself as a form of that.

Of course, these people are wrong. I know this. I’ve been told people like that are wrong. Anyone who claims to know you better than you know yourself and your reasons for doing anything are the ones who are manipulative and, honestly, gaslighting you. No one can or should say solidly what anyone else’s intentions are but their own, and to do so is moronic because while I believe in spirituality and am spiritual, and I practice divination and other spiritual things, I don’t believe anyone can actually read anyone else’s mind with that much clarity. Or at all.

Yet, because of the human condition that affects us in various ways, some very bad, I’ve dealt with some situations throughout life that have not only made me question the validity of my own memories and feelings, but I’ve encountered people — again and again — who felt the need to make me feel like I’m the worst thing on the planet.

Throughout the amount of abuse I’ve dealt with, I’ve had to cope through therapy. The intense bullying in elementary school set me up to be agoraphobic off and on for the rest of my life, and the sexual abuse in my very first sexual relationship ensured I would have a panic attack or feel insecure every time I went into a sexual situation. And when I finally called things for what they really were instead of burying them deep inside, my symptoms exploded into a nightmare of PTSD symptoms that I am still experiencing that haven’t allowed me a restful sleep since mid-2020.

In therapy, specifically in dialectical behavioral therapy classes, I learned the importance of being aware of black and white thinking, and of replacing the words bad and good with effective and ineffective. I was taught to remove judgments and live in the moment, and how to deal with difficult people. These lessons saved my life, but as new challenges entered my life — such as digging up the reality of my PTSD and the source of my BPD diagnosis which are rooted in the same traumatic events — it was easy to forget a lot of that and fall back into the cycle of self-hatred and believing those who say negative things about me. Who tell me who I am, what my intentions are, and what they expect I’ll do.

It led me to fall back into old patterns. I dared to feel envy for those who were publicly loved by their friends and those whose lives were sailing by with good things happening. I wondered why, for my entire life, I’ve had to deal with repeated trauma, bullying, and failures. After a falling out with a group of friends who gaslit me and repeated the cycle of bullying I seem to attract, two things happened.

I went back to the previous point of realizing that few leave room for nuance or gray areas anymore. It’s all black and white. Bad or good. Conversations are no longer accepted, and many settle with demonizing and verbally abusing anyone who makes a mistake or has a bad day. They create reasons to make you look bad out of seemingly small things, and any apology you could possibly make is automatically denied because you simply can’t apologize right no matter what you do. That is the ugly side of having the Moral Sense. Miscommunication. Assumptions. Righteousness. Wanting to be the worse-off victim.

But I did a 180 from that thought process.

The self-destructive cycle started. I’ve fallen into the horrible part of the human condition where the mind is so complex it can continuously give you reasons to believe the bad things others have said about you.

I will always fail.

I’m toxic.

I can never do anything right.

I’m a bad person.

I’m a horrible person.

I’m afraid of people again and can’t date because I am afraid to welcome others into my life again only to be hurt, without so much as a single question when I make a mistake.

I have days where I write a social media post, post it, and then delete it out of insecurity. I am scared to say anything some days due to being accused of doing everything for attention. I am even more careful about how I write journal entries due to assumptions that I’ve written things about people that weren’t actually about them. I’ve essentially become a bundle of nerves that second-guesses every action I take, and I over-explain and elaborate to a greater degree than most due to wanting to be clearly understood — to not leave room for error since I’ve had trouble with communication due to being autistic. I want to get my intentions and my point clear from the get-go so I can avoid any misconceptions in my actions.

This all backfires. People have viewed my over-explaining as manipulative, malicious in nature, and attention-seeking. I have been told I am responsible for what other people say in response to me, so I must be fishing for attention. I am told I was dirty-deleting and wiping away evidence of some nefarious deed I was, apparently, supposed to be plotting when I barely have the spoons to get out of bed in the morning.

All of this not because I actually had any ill intent, but because I dared to communicate in a way that isn’t acceptable by neurotypical standards. All of this because years of trauma have made me doubt and hate myself so much, and I now exhibit the same behavior as what police note as suspicious when it simply isn’t suspicious in the slightest.

I cannot make eye contact due to the fact that it feels too intimate and is intensely uncomfortable. I post and delete because I feel I can’t say or do anything right. If someone is offended by something I do or say, I delete it to not cause any more harm, apologize, and try to work on the issue. I experience such a strong sensory experience over the fear of hurting others or being rejected, or doing something wrong, that I feel as if I’m going to die due to the intensity of the self-hatred and fear of doing something wrong again. My heart races, I don’t sleep, I lose my appetite, and I spiral until I feel as if the world would be safer without me in it. This has resulted in more than a few suicide notes and detailed plans I intended to carry out before ultimately over-dosing, slitting my wrists, or finding some means to not wake up again.

I can talk about philosophy and what it means to be human, and what it means to be without judgement and the harm of black and white thinking. I can speak all day about what we should do to be better as a species, and I can recite mindfulness exercises, meditations, and class lessons to a T. I can debate for hours about the faults of social media, how it’s killing people and changing us for the worse, and how we’re generally going downhill.

With humans, it doesn’t matter how kind we mean to be. It doesn’t matter what our true intentions are. Unlike pets who understand when a mistake is a mistake and when true harm is true harm, humans will tear each other apart for assumed intentions that may not even be true. We have narrow societal boxes that we must fit into to not be regarded with suspicion or negativity.

As humans, we need to stop caring about fitting everyone into our own comfortable idea of how we want the world to work, and focus more on the wider idea of peace we would be better with. If someone makes a mistake, consider your relationship to the person. If you know them, let them apologize and move on if they just backed into you or stepped on your tail, metaphorically speaking.

Likewise, if someone verbally abuses you, hits you, or is genuinely mean to you, protect yourself.

It’s not okay, however, to throw around words like abuser, toxic, and gaslighting when you don’t have all the facts. Words like that are serious, and they carry serious meaning. To dilute them because you’re overwhelmed by emotion rather than looking at the facts, is to diminish the true meaning of the stories of people who have actually experienced serious abuse in their lives.

We think we are enforcing morals when we take action. Morality drives us to cancel someone over something they did five years ago, that they’ve long repented for, due to a feeling of needing to enact some kind of justice. Morality causes assumptions to be made and people to jump on bandwagons because they see everyone else mad at something, so the greater hive mind doesn’t even look at the facts, but is ruled by powerful emotions and a sense of moral justice.

In the end, the Moral Sense can be used for good things, too. Random acts of kindness. Housing homeless people. Increasing minimum wage. Fighting for a universal basic income so no one is left without food and a safety net. Animal rights. Equality. Protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and allowing us access to discrimination-free medical environments (or allowing us to be free from discrimination from health insurance to begin with). Pushing to allow disabled people true marriage equality. Make society more accessible for people with disabilities. These are all morals that are for a greater good that help make society a better place. Canceling someone online that you assumed was making a malicious point is not a moralistic change.

Humans are deeply flawed, but we are equally beautiful in the way we experience emotions. Our pets and wild animals can teach us how to still be beautiful and reasonable at the same time. Accept kindness. Question accidents or mistakes and allow for conversation, and block or defend yourself against those who truly mean you harm.

On the cosmic scale, our lives are short. We should make the best of them while we are here — learn to live more effectively instead of this mess that social media and society has become. Do what you will, as long as it harms none. You don’t need to know why your neighbor is able to afford that new and expensive car. You don’t have to be upset by a trans person wearing the clothes of their choice that may not fit into your accepted boxes. You don’t have to scour someone’s profile history for hours if they’ve made a mistake to find a reason to pile-on and cancel them due to a moment of anger. You don’t have to bully someone over a misconception or miscommunication issue.

You can allow people to speak for themselves. You can allow trans people to exist without their existence hurting you. You can just block someone on the internet who made you mad, and you won’t have to waste a day or two stewing in anger and hatred. It’s okay to be mindful and just live in the now. It’s okay to accept that people are imperfect, and mistakes happen. It’s okay to ask questions.

Most importantly, it’s perfectly alright to take a step back and think before you make that knee jerk decision. Find the gray area in the black and white thinking, figure out if what you have to say will be effective or ineffective, and take into consideration all the facts. If there are no solid facts on the surface, find them. If there aren’t any to support your initial reaction, take a break and go for a walk to be in nature.

We are all a part of the universe as a whole. We’re made up of the very stuff that also made cats, dogs, deer, and even bees. We can bring that simplicity into our lives, and all it takes is coming eye-to-eye with a friendly animal, and truly taking a moment to understand them, how they see us, and why it’s so ideal.

©2021 Shane Blackheart