Excerpt – Everything Is Wonderful Now

‘Everything Is Wonderful Now’ is the last book I completed and had edited. It means a lot to me because it’s based on my childhood going into my current life, and is unapologetically honest about various kinds of abuse, mental illnesses, and one of the more unfortunate experiences of coming out as transgender. It’s the book I am currently hoping to get published, and I can’t stop trying no matter how discouraged I get until it happens in some way. This book is too close to my heart to give up on it, and it’s the story I’ve always wanted to tell.

Here is another excerpt from it — the entirety of chapter two. I posted another shorter preview on this blog a while back. I made a playlist for it to help inspire me, and you can find that here as well.

“I don’t want to be here anymore.”

The young girl stared at the ground, long blond hair falling in her face. She couldn’t look at her mother, but she didn’t know why. Her dad always said she should try harder to overcome what was bothering her inside, but she couldn’t conquer something she knew nothing about. She wasn’t sick. Her mom, Cathleen, made absolutely sure her doctor told her that even if he seemed concerned when he did.

“What do you mean, sweetie?” Cathleen finally focused on her daughter. She’d been engrossed in Jerry Springer — a rare chance since her husband was on the road for another few weeks at least.

The young girl shrugged and bit her lip, sighing. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be here.” She glanced at her mom to see she was giving her ‘that’ look. The look she hated more than anything because it put her on the spot, and her cheeks burned hot with shame.

Cathleen smiled affectionately and patted the green sofa beside her. “Come here. You want to watch a movie? Princess Goblin? That’s your favorite, isn’t it?”

Sera fell onto the couch and stared at the floor. She didn’t want to watch cartoons or go through the usual routine. It was the best way her mom knew to distract her from panic attacks, but tonight Sera was calm. The serenity she’d found frightened her in some ways, but she couldn’t piece together an explanation that would make sense. All she knew was that she wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.

Sera mumbled as her mom brushed some of her hair aside, “The Princess and the Goblin.”

“Alright. Sit still.” Cathleen stood to open the VHS cabinet while Sera stared listlessly across the room. Their dog, Bear, a Chow, came shuffling in with her purple tongue hanging out, her perky ears and soft fluff bringing Sera a sign of comfort. Bear stole Cathleen’s spot and the young girl laid her head against a sandy-colored warmth. The familiar sound of the VCR accepting the tape resounded in the quiet room, save for the clock that struck midnight.

“Hey, mom?” Sera slid off the sofa as her mom returned with a bowl of macaroni and cheese.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

“Can I just go to bed?”

Concern washed over Cathleen’s features. “You don’t want to watch your favorite movie?”

Sera shook her head and made her way toward the dark hallway. Memories resurfaced of the last time she’d sleepwalked down it. Dream visions of a beautiful field of flowers beneath a blue sky had comforted her before she regained consciousness. Her hands were outstretched to touch the slatted white doors of the hall closet, and she fell to the floor. Out cold.

The girl shivered as a familiar panic threatened to shake her. She didn’t like uncomfortable memories because they only brought the possibility of it happening again, which wasn’t an option. She hurried the rest of the way to her small bedroom and closed the door behind her. She waited to see if her mom had followed, but it seemed she was finally alone. Which was the way it needed to be.

A large double speaker tape deck powered to life. Sera carefully selected one of her favorite cassette tapes — ‘Beautiful Garbage’ by Garbage — and dropped onto her metal frame twin bed. She closed her eyes and waited for the woeful tones of Shirley Manson to lull her to sleep, but no such sleep came. The day had worn her down so much that she was too tired to sleep. Silly.

A slight breeze rustled her collection of Spice Girls dolls. Sera sat up from where she’d been contemplating the best way to stop seeing anything at all, and she noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe the wall shelves had come loose.

Another cold breeze. It was obvious that time.

The girl dived under her comforter and pulled it up to her nose. If she was certain of anything right then, it was that monsters did not dare to harm someone beneath the safety of their blanket. The closet door she made certain to always close creaked before a feeling of being watched alarmed her. Sera swallowed hard when the distinct sensation of a hand brushing over the comforter triggered trembling. Her blanket was yanked to the bottom of the bed and she was vulnerable. Left out for the monsters to consume.

“You’re pretty young, you know that?” A deep voice with a sarcastic lilt invaded the dark silence. When Sera sought out the source, a passing car’s headlights illuminated a reflective pair of golden horns.

“Mom!” The metallic bed frame knocked and clicked with the floral bulbs around the bars. Surely, that would’ve caused enough racket for Cathleen to come running, but it all came to a stop as the intruder leaned over Sera’s bed, his clawed hand wrapping around the metal frame to still it’s rattling.

“You don’t really want her to come in here right now, do you? I mean, the whole reason you’re here is to be left alone.”

Sera squeezed her eyes shut as the shaking caused her teeth to chatter. She couldn’t get a single word out to save her life, which was ironic considering her whole reason for seeking out a forever sleep.

“I’m not going to hurt you, chill.” The tall figure stepped back into the shadows to observe the shivering child. He hardly considered himself frightening, although to most humans, the sight of horns in the middle of the night with red eyes wasn’t exactly comforting. He was hardly the angel he once existed as, but he retained his shoulder-length blond hair and unearthly beauty. That didn’t matter to a kid, though. And that was why he never dealt with children. He should’ve never answered the call. “Alright, whatever. I’m not going to eat you, so go back to your self-destructive thoughts alone.”

As the being raised his fingers to snap, Sera found her courage. “Wait! What are you?”

The being sighed in frustration and twisted his hand in midair. The angst of Shirley Manson fell to a tolerable volume. “Aren’t you a bit young to be listening to that shit?”

Sera’s shivering slowed to a tremble as the sense of danger receded. Surely, this being would have harmed her by now if he’d meant to. “I — I like it.”

The figure spun back around to face the child who’d curled up with her knees to her chest. Her eyes were wide and her mind was buzzing at impossible speeds, so many thoughts turning into a cacophony that threatened to drive the being mad. It was another reason children were low on his list of humans to entertain. Their minds were wide open and they were too curious about everything. “Okay, whatever. Anyway, what’s your deal?”

“What?”

“What…” The being sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Why do you want to sleep forever?”

“Oh. I want to just go to sleep and live in my dreams.”

The being quirked a brow. Something else was surfacing in that tiny underdeveloped brain. It intrigued him. “You know that isn’t possible.”

Sera took a deep breath and stared at her knees, her fingers squeezing light denim. “Since I can walk while I’m sleeping and still be in a dream, why can’t I just have that happen all the time? There’s a way to do that, right?”

Understanding dawned on the being and he sobered. The red in his eyes ceased glowing and he sunk down onto the girl’s bed, crossing his legs. Her expression told of her confusion when she laid eyes upon him. He looked like a very tall man adorned in a white button-up shirt tucked into a pair of faded jeans. If it weren’t for his horns and strange eyes, she’d think him nothing more than an average person.

When their eyes met, he was unwavering in his attention. “You want to die. Why?”

The word hadn’t crossed her mind. She knew death meant to stop existing, but was that how people went away to live in their dreams? She’d never known anyone who’d died. “I think so, at least.”

“Why?” the figure pressed. “You’re ten years old. You’re barely out of the womb. What reason could you have to want to die?” He huffed. “You haven’t even suffered through puberty yet.”

Sera’s face scrunched in confusion. “Puberty?”

“Oh Hell. Listen, you’re way too young to be feeling whatever you’re feeling right now. I doubt you have a reason that’ll convince me you actually want to die.”

Sera reached for the remote to the small TV on her nightstand and switched it on, the Munsters drifting over the now barely audible Shirley Manson. “It’s too dark and I’m scared.”

The figure squinted as his eyes were invaded with light and snapped to turn off the stereo, the loop of the child’s thoughts combined with all the artificial noise too much for his short temper. “You didn’t answer me. Why do you want to die?”

Sera grew shy and grabbed her comforter to pull up to her chin. Her Winnie the Pooh security blanket was in her hands and she chewed on the silk edge. “I… don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. Why won’t you tell anyone the truth?”

The girl glanced at the figure. “Because no one will believe me. I told the principal at school what happened but I got blamed for it. I’m the one who got in trouble.”

The figure’s patience was gone. “What did you get in trouble for? What happened to make you want to call it quits?”

Sera dropped the blanket and grew somber as the memories hit her, and it was clear in the way her eyes glazed over. “At lunchtime, the boy I had a crush on found out I liked him because my friend told him. I was happy at first because I thought we could be friends, but he told me I was gross. Everyone started laughing at me and I got really sad and started crying.”

The figure’s attention turned to the hard floor that was covered by a decorative fuzzy carpet. “And then what?”

“Then I went to the principal’s office with my friend. I just wanted to go home, but the principal put me in a room alone with some tissues and said if I cried I’d feel better.”

“Human empathy at it’s finest,” the figure droned. “What did you get in trouble for?”

“I got in trouble because this girl in my class, Tracy, and some boys beat me up at recess. She bullies me all the time. My friend told the principal I started it and everyone lied and got me in trouble. So I got blamed even though I didn’t do anything. They believed my friends.”

“Those aren’t friends.” The figure stood and approached a white dresser with a large mirror. Beneath it was a row of small troll figures with gems in their belly buttons, their hair wild and in numerous colors. A clawed hand grabbed a green one that was supposed to be a costumed version of Frankenstein’s monster. The child certainly had an interesting mind full of strange curiosities from what he could catch, but there was a pain there as well that was underlying. It was more than a human of that age could be expected to carry, and there was much more than just being bullied at school and framed for it.

There were flashes of memories with a man’s face and a belt in his hands. Blackouts and irrational fears and illnesses — of the mind and body — and days spent in the hospital. He feared a different kind of hospital visit was looming, but he couldn’t be sure. He froze as he caught himself worrying over it all and dropped the troll doll. This wasn’t his problem. He had been curious and only meant to lurk because of the child’s call and her strange dark aura, but it hadn’t been so superficial. Her concerning wishes were real and she meant it with all her little human heart that hadn’t stopped booming in his ears.

The figure turned to face the girl who’d gone silent, leaning back on his hands against the dresser. “I don’t expect you to understand, but just listen, alright?”

Sera nodded, staring at the being with rapt attention and wonder.

It was endearing in an odd way. He continued. “I’m not a dream or a nightmare, or a bogeyman. I’m a fallen angel. Judging by your Bible over there on the desk, you already know a little bit about that, but I assure you it’s all bullshit.”

The girl’s eyes blew wide. “You’re a demon?”

“No.” The figure cut her off before she could continue. “A fallen angel is not a demon. We just hang with them because we don’t have a choice. I am a king of Hell, but I’m far beyond even that.” The figure’s ego shined brighter than the headlights blinding the room once more. “My name is Byleth. You’ll probably have better luck looking up Beleth since humans have spelled my name differently throughout the years. I can teach you more about this stuff, but you can tell no one I’m around.” Byleth was sure to emphasize the seriousness of the matter. “If the adults find out what you’re doing, judging by their spiritual alignment, they’ll try to stop you.”

“But mom knows what’s good and what isn’t–“

“No, she doesn’t. Not in this context, anyway.” Byleth approached the child once more and dropped onto the side of the bed. “I can tell you all kinds of things that you’re not old enough to understand that would shake your world, especially concerning them. I’m your ally right now, and judging by everything going on, I’m your only ally. Do you want help or not?” He couldn’t believe what he was considering, but the darkness that seeped from her wasn’t just from illness. It wasn’t something he saw in children, let alone one so seemingly pure. He’d considered its purpose the moment her mind opened to him and he could read her like a book. She was no ordinary ten-year-old.

Sera nodded as she remained transfixed on him. “Are you real?”

Byleth’s laughter lit up the room and would surely be heard by Cathleen, but it wasn’t the case. “Yes, I’m real, sweetie. But only you can see and hear me right now. I’ll make sure no one else knows unless it’s necessary, alright?” As the girl opened her mouth, Byleth held up a finger. “Ah-ah, no. We can’t tell mommy. Definitely don’t tell daddy. Definitely not him.” A low growl rumbled in Byleth’s chest like a tiger’s. “We’ll talk more about them later. For now, just focus on surviving and pay attention to what I tell you.”

Sera sighed as tears streamed down her cheeks. “What if I can’t do it?”

“Stop it.” Byleth quirked a brow and stared into Sera’s eyes until the tears stopped again. “You’re stronger than you think you are. Trust me, I know. You can do it.” A deafening alarm bell interrupted them both, Sera screaming in surprise as her heart boomed in Byleth’s ears.

Her shaking hand stilled the alarm bell and the tremors returned. “Can you walk me to the bathroom? If I wet the bed again mom will get mad at me.”

Byleth fell silent in a stupor and stared at the child, all emotion draining from him. What in all the Hells had he just gotten himself into?

©2021 Shane Blackheart

From Vexis – original writing

I’m kind of lost when it comes to pursuing publishing anymore. For the time being, I’m just going to write for myself with no further intentions to publish. I can’t seem to get anything to work, and I’ve lost hope for succeeding after trying just about everything. Maybe at a later date I’ll try again. For now, the pile of rejections will be a reminder I have to figure out what to do to improve.

With that said, I’m going to keep writing for myself like I used to. This is from a book that started as a short story, and it’s in the same universe as another of my books, Everything Is Wonderful Now. It’s called Vexis, and this is from the last part I wrote. The cover art was drawn by myself.

The toddler tossed and turned in her sleep. As far as she was concerned, she was stuck in a wintry landscape with a growing, howling wind eating away at her sanity. Nothing but dead trees lined the landscape, and she didn’t have anything to comfort her or keep her warm. Her silk blanket was nowhere to be found, and her little lamb that played music was missing. There was a note pinned to the tree before her, but she couldn’t read. She barely knew what was happening other than the fact that she was lost.

Vex slipped out from behind the tree and ripped the note from its trunk. Sinister red eyes formed in the hollow. “Hello, little one,” Vex soothed. “I hope you enjoy my memories, as horrific as they were.” They paused and looked down to see the child had sunk to her knees, shivering. She stared wide-eyed at Vex, who took pride in her fear. Interesting. It had been the one thing she retained from her time near death. Fear. And she would live with a fear of everything for the rest of her life, no doubt.

The child blurted a cry — a near scream. Vex glanced at the note and then moved to drop down beside the child in the snow. They placed an arm around her, feigning a moment of comfort and trust. “You can’t read yet, but this note was left for you. You’ll find it again when you’re older. It explains a lot you won’t understand for now, if you ever do.” Vex showed the note to the shivering child. “It’s out here, in the cold. You’re lost in the snow, and it’s where you will remain.”

Vex rubbed the child’s back and stood, setting the note in the cavity of the tree. It was time for her to wake up, although their meddling would have a negative effect on the process. Vex smiled. This was the start.

The wintry world flickered as the child regained consciousness, and Vex sunk back into the old library. Other rooms had begun to form inside the child’s mind, but nothing much was in them yet. One of them would be her prison — a place for the ghost Vex would slowly coax out of her until she became someone else. Someone Vex carefully molded.

Vex watched as the child sat up in her bed, mumbling and yelling with her eyes wide open while seeing nothing. Her mother and father rushed in to console her, but the night terror had already progressed. The dead trees scattered about her room, and red eyes emerged from all of them. Her bedroom — a place of safety — had become the nightmare itself through hallucination. Vex found it interesting in the way humans could experience dreams and nightmares in the waking world too, and it reminded them of the last life they lived while a void walker among dreams.

The child devolved into a panic attack that shook the dust in the library Vex resided in. Rushed thoughts of danger in the form of images instead of words flooded the headspace, and Vex watched them swirl with delight. “Yes, all of these things could happen to you. So many horrible things. It’s why you should leave this life to me. I know how to deal with such horrible things, and I can keep you safe.”

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Salem – a bit of inspiration

Last night while listening to Lil Nas X’s new album, which is fantastic by the way, I got caught up on the track, ‘Life After Salem.’ The visualizer for it on YouTube sparked something in me after the third round, and a quick scene popped into my head.

While on repeat, I wrote this scene. It stretched longer than I’d realized, and it was the first bit of inspiration I’ve had in some time. It just goes to show what music can do for your soul, especially if you’ve been in a slump. New music, mostly, or something you haven’t heard in many years. It’s why music will always be an important part of my creative process.

Here is that scene. I’d like to flesh it out into a book some day, if I have the spoons for it.

It was late — later than she’d meant to stay on campus. With her friends, however, she felt safer than usual. There was also something about the mysterious dark stranger a bit further down the sidewalk, although his aura was more of a loner’s than anything else.

The young woman’s heart fluttered as it hit her. It was him.

“Hey, what are you doing?” A girl with long blond hair reached out to stop her friend who had jogged ahead. “Are you nuts?”

“It’s fine! I know him.” It was a lie, of course. A half lie. She’d never spoken to him before but had only observed from afar. He was too interesting to ignore, and there was something about him that felt like home to her in a way she couldn’t figure out.

The tall man turned around, and she saw beneath a dark hood black lipstick, bright gray eyes, and below were silver rings on his dark brown fingers. He was ethereal, unworldly. A crow landed on his shoulder.

The young woman brought a hand to her mouth in surprise. He was certainly taller than she realized, but he was just as dark and handsome up close as she’d suspected. She looked to the crow. “Is he yours?”

The dark man glanced at the crow and lifted a hand, letting the bird nip lovingly. “Yeah.”

“Oh, okay.” The girl gripped her messenger bag tightly and took a deep breath, but before she could speak, he interrupted.

“Did you want something? Or are you just curious?” A sly smile revealed two small canines slightly sharper than average.

The young woman’s eyes blew wide. “Oh god, are you a…” She looked around, conscious of her friends still present just a way down the sidewalk watching them. “… a vampire?” she whispered

The dark man fought back a laugh and licked his lips for cover. Feathers flapped as the crow left him. “Nah. Vampires aren’t real.”

The young woman sighed with relief, then chuckled. “That was a dumb question. Sorry, you just look like one. What with the way you dress, you know?” She glanced back again. They still hadn’t moved.

The man finally noticed the three girls and lost the good nature he’d managed. “Is this some kind of joke I’m not in on or?”

The woman grew flushed. “No! Oh my god, no. It’s just… I…” She groaned. “I’m sorry. I’m not really good at this whole meeting new people thing.”

The man looked her up and down from beneath his hooded cloak jacket before holding out a hand. It was covered with a black fingerless glove, and his nails were short but rounded to a point and painted black. “Would it be easier if we were somewhere brighter?”

The girl glanced at his hand and then back to him. “Uh, well, my friends…” She looked behind her to see the three girls huddled together nervously. She then looked back to the mysterious stranger. He had a calming aura about him despite his intimidating attire and his affiliation with crows. It brought back the itch she couldn’t scratch — she had to know who he was. There was just something about him that was so different from anyone she’d ever met. Something not entirely human, even though they’d already covered the vampire bit. There was something else there. Something out of time.

The girl smiled and took his hand. “Sounds good to me. Where are we going?”

The man quirked a brow as he curled his fingers around hers. “I figured you’d be the one to say. I don’t really go many places that are considered lively, nor for the daytime folk.”

“You’re positive you’re not a vampire?” She followed as they walked together down the sidewalk.

A snort. “Nah, not a vampire. Flesh and blood, unfortunately.”

“Right. So you don’t like people-y places. Where do you usually go?”

The man stopped at a cross walk. A moment of silence passed between them before he answered casually. “The graveyard.”

“At night?” She didn’t miss a beat as they crossed and realized they were still holding hands. Her pulse quickened. Why couldn’t she let go of his hand? She could have just dropped his and turned around, but something…

“Yeah. Can’t get caught though, but it’s easy to hide in black.” They came to a side road and the man paused in doubt. “You want to go to a coffee shop or something?”

The girl glanced down the road that gradually got darker with spaced out streetlights, versus the cozy coffee shop in the other direction beneath the city lights. She squeezed the hand in hers. “Um, graveyard’s fine.”

The man’s eyes widened and he looked down at her. “You sure?”

“Yeah, well… Yeah, why not? YOLO.”

The man squinted. “YO… LO?”

“You only live once!” she smiled. She was pretty sure he was safe based on her observations. Safer than most of the other men around campus anyway. He wasn’t one of those frat boys lingering around a stray drink at a party. “Seriously, yeah,” she assured. “I’ve seen you around. You’re pretty cool.”

The man stared at her for a minute before huffing a laugh and steering her toward the side road. “Cool, huh? Never been called that before.”

The girl’s cheeks burned and she spoke no further. She’d finally released his hand as he reached for a cigarette, and she watched as the end lit up beneath the night sky. Smoke drifted around him in a way that made him even more otherworldly, and as he flicked the ash into the air, she noticed even more silver jewelry on his wrists and around his neck. Upside down crosses, pentagrams, and plain silver rings, although there was at least one on his right middle finger that looked like a silver snake curled around the length of it.

The walk was further than she’d anticipated, and she quickly checked her phone for the time. It was nearing ten at night. It definitely wasn’t how she’d expected to spend her evening after a late study session, but she was finding it to be more exciting than hitting the bed. Classes started early in the morning, and it was important to keep up her grades, although most wouldn’t care much about literature. It was her major — minoring in philosophy. Throw in a creative writing course and a few other classes for credits, and she was your average academic nerd. And she loved every second of it.

What was even more exciting, however, was the darker age of it all. The rainy days in the oldest parts of the university. The smell of old books that permeated the library air. She surrounded herself with candles, old tomes, black and brown wool sweaters, and dark academia music. So it really wasn’t too odd that she became interested in…

Oh. She hadn’t even introduced herself.

“Uh, hey.” She stopped him from walking just as they approached the wrought iron entrance. “Sorry, I’m Agnes.”

“Salem.” His voice was quiet and deeper than before as it ground against his vocal chords. It brought out the silence surrounding them in such a forbidden place to be after dark.

“I love that.” She followed him past the gates. “Seriously, that’s a cool name.”

Salem paused and turned around. “What do you want?”

Agnes was taken aback. “What… I just wanted to hang out with you.”

“No one just wants to hang out with me, Agnes.” Her name on his tongue sent shivers down her spine in all the right ways. “A dare? A photo of a weird dude for social media? What is it?”

“No, none of those things.” She started picking at her nails and hung her head, her long brown hair falling in her face before she smoothed some behind an ear. She felt much smaller than she actually was — and she definitely felt tiny in front of Salem. His six feet to her five foot five was a contrast. “I’ve been watching you for a while, and no, I’m not stalking you, I promise!” She looked up at him hurriedly, her over-sized brass, round glasses sliding down her nose. “I just really think you’re cool. You’re not boring like most everybody else. And maybe I’m a little in love with all things dark, even though I might not look like it.”

Salem smiled, to her surprise. “A budding bookworm goth, huh?” He chuckled. “Well, if you’re not here to tease me, then come on. Let me show you something.”

Agnes fixed her glasses and did her best to contain the adrenalin that rushed up inside her. It was so exciting she could burst. She didn’t want to go home any time soon.

Agnes followed Salem to the center of the cemetery where he stopped beneath a large weeping willow. A section of grass was set out for resting, and a few granite benches lined a large stone circle. Salem gestured for Agnes to sit, and as she did, she looked up through the willow’s leaves. The moon was out and almost full, and its silver rays beamed down on her face like magic entering her body. She knew the power the moon had, if you believed in that sort of thing. It could make even the most innocent person wretched, or the smallest person so powerful.

It was also a bad time to go to the grocery store. People hyped up on a full moon night crawled under Agnes’ skin.

Salem went to light another cigarette, but thought twice and pocketed the Newports again. “What kind of music you listen to?”

“Mostly dark piano pieces. I like dark ambiance too.”

Salem smiled. “Dark Ambiance? What kind?”

Agnes’ heart fluttered. They were connecting. They were actually connecting. “Atrium Carceri. Cities Last Broadcast. And I like some darker soundtracks too, like Eyes Wide Shut. The music from that film is just…” She made a sound of pleasure before catching herself and her face grew hot.

“Eyes Wide Shut? Really? You?” Salem turned to see her fully and crossed his arms. “You don’t look the type.”

“I know.” Agnes looked down at herself in her knee-length brown plaid skirt, black Mary Janes, and brown wool sweater with a white button-up beneath. She looked every bit of the dark academia scholar. Her leather messenger back completed the whole aesthetic she didn’t realize had made up her entire being. “I guess you’d just have to understand the things that go on in my head, really.”

Salem dropped down beside her and she caught a whiff of myrrh. It made her head spin. He had a cigarette ready in his hand again but hadn’t lit it. “And what sort of things are those, Agnes?” he smiled.

She was being teased and she knew it. Agnes puffed up and looked him dead in the eye. “I like rainy days. I read Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and Georges Bataille. You tell me.”

He lifted his eyebrows and made a sound of amusement. “That’s interesting company to keep. Story of the Eye?”

Agnes’ breath hitched in her throat. Electricity coiled in her stomach. “One of my favorites.”

A slight breeze rustled the willow, and the silver peeking through danced around them like the leaves were made of crystal. An audible swallow, and then shuffling in the dirt beneath the bench.

Agnes leaned close and took Salem’s cigarette, bravely placing it between her lips. She looked up at him longingly as he pulled out his lighter and lit the tip. She took a deep drag, remembering the habit she’d tried to kick so many times. Her friends would be pissed for sure.

“Huh,” Salem mused. “You’re serious.”

“Completely.” Agnes turned the cigarette and lifted it to Salem’s lips, which he took gently, albeit with a bit of flirtatious flair. Her insides quivered.

Salem took a drag before exhaling off to the side, and when he returned he leaned low to meet Agnes eye to eye. He searched her gaze to be sure she felt safe, and upon seeing the yearning behind her eyes, captured her lips with his own.

She slid a hand along the side of his brown face and squeezed her legs together. This was the magic she’d felt and why she’d been so intensely interested in him. They were the same in many ways, and she could taste it upon his cool tongue. He was the dark night’s sky beneath a cloaked hood, a walking mystery in black and silver. He was a taste of the unknown — the darkness that she wasn’t brave enough to wear so openly like he did.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Suicide Prevention Day 2021

This was originally a thread on Twitter. It’s been edited and posted here for readability purposes.

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and since this is an issue I’ve dealt with in my life since I was 10, I’ve written a lot about it.

How To Better Handle Mental Health Crises is a recent blog entry I wrote here about handling mental health crises, especially in those who are suicidal.

How To Better Support Loved Ones Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts is an article I wrote for The Mighty to help spread awareness on what not to do, as well as what to do, including personal experiences to help drive the point home, to further raises awareness.

Everything I wrote in those articles, as well as other things on mental health here on this blog and on my side blog, Waking Dreams, is spoken with utmost honesty and transparency. I don’t sugarcoat these things.

My main point in everything, ultimately: The world grossly underestimates the reality and debilitating nature of suicide and mental illnesses, and you can never truly know if someone is going to end their life or not.

Please check on your friends if they go silent. There is a belief in some circles online that if you don’t hear from friends, you should give up on them because it’s assumed they don’t care. That’s very dangerous thinking. There are many reasons people go silent — mental health being one of them.

Likewise, I saw an alarming trend on my personal Facebook for quite some time. At the risk of pissing off some people by being honest here, I would often post when I was suicidal in the past and the most I’d get, a lot of the time, were heart reactions. It’s mostly why I left. The like, or heart, button felt empty.

Sometimes a friend would reach out. My mom did months ago when I last posted there about it. I often didn’t hear anything more going forward, and while it’s no one’s job to look after me, I felt like I didn’t matter. It’s what my suicidal thoughts already told me, true or not.

When I become silent for long periods of time, mostly due to not having the energy to reach out, all I want sometimes is for someone to just message me, comfort me, and confirm that I’m not a burden or a pain in the ass. To be someone’s random thought. To feel like I have value and deserve to live.

In the far past, I disappeared one time for a while and heard from almost no friends at all. This happened around 2009-2010. I had my boyfriend at the time and that was it. No one checked on me. No one messaged me. When I came back around, they said I’d dropped off the face of the planet and they’d noticed, but no one reached out.

Let me reiterate: It’s no one’s job to look after someone else. Sometimes it’s too hard. At the same time, if you call someone a friend, and you see them disappear or struggling, why wouldn’t you reach out? Why would you ignore it and pass it by?

Again, I am not criminalizing anyone. I’m not shit-talking anyone. I’m not angry at anyone. I’m not defaming anyone. I’m not accusing anyone specific of anything. (Did I cover all bases? I’m tired of people getting mad at me for just being honest, even when I feel like shit.)

Which brings me to another issue. When someone is suicidal or depressed and they express their feelings, it’s not the best time to be angry with them. Step outside of yourself and your ego to try to understand why they are hurting and where the hurt may be coming from.

Social media has made people extremely detached from reality. Mostly, it’s because we see so many bad things from day to day, and the people behind the numerous screen names and profile pictures become characters in a reality show. Our brains detach. It’s too much information.

It’s why we need to remember what people mean to us, how long we’ve known someone, and remember that there are real human beings behind the static profiles. Real people whose lives could be lost.

So please, if someone is suicidal or writing about their trauma, don’t lash out at them in judgement. You could be the final push that sends them over the edge. And please, if you have the spoons, please don’t ignore them. Sometimes all they need is for someone to reach out, say they care, and to be told that life is better with them in it.

It’s so simple and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. And please don’t stop there. Check on your loved ones the next day, even if they appear to be doing better. The day after that. The things that go through our heads when we’re suicidal amplify when we have so much silence.

Another disclaimer pause. I don’t talk honestly about this stuff often anymore because every time I do, I piss someone off and I lose more people in my life. So if you’re pissed off by this, let’s talk. Try to understand and don’t make snap judgements or assumptions.

Suicide is often a symptom of many severe mental illnesses. Often, severe mental illness debilitates people and as much as they want to function, they simply can’t on their bad days. This is why abandoning friends who haven’t reached out in a while is damaging.

Not everyone has the bravery, the energy, or even the safety to speak up about their mental health diagnoses or trauma. Don’t assume a friend is fine just because they haven’t spoken about any of these things. Don’t assume these issues don’t exist if the person looks fine.

I desperately want people to regain empathy. I desperately want this coldness that social media has become to change. ‘Not my problem’ causes so much harm. I’ve reached out to complete strangers before to make sure they’re okay after seeing something concerning, and you can too.

It really is just as simple as that. A comment on their art, writing, music, or other creative endeavor. A comment on their post crying out for help, directly or indirectly. A simple… something… rather than silence.

Maybe I feel too intensely. Maybe I care too much. But I’d rather care too much and try to make a difference than remain silent when I could have possibly helped someone. I’d rather speak than be silent because I’m scared someone else will misinterpret or cherry-pick my words without communicating.

So again, if you are upset by anything I’ve said, or you have an assumption about anything, ask me for clarification. Talk to me. It’s that simple.

I feel like I should add one more thing to be responsible: You are never obligated to keep speaking with somoene if they are treating you badly. If they’re calling you names, verbally abusing you, or otherwise treating you like shit in direct conversations, you have to look after yourself. Nothing justifies being verbally abusive and hurting someone else.

Likewise, if someone feels you haven’t been there enough and mentions that, or mentions a short-coming that is causing them grief, it’s not okay for you to be an asshole. There is a huge difference between someone bringing up concerns and worries about you and just straight up verbally abusing you. Be willing to talk. Be willing to see your shortcomings and work on yourself too.

Please take care.

A resource I always like to share is 7 Cups. The website offers the ability to find affordable therapy, as well as online peer support. There is always someone there to listen.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

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

Borderline Personality Disorder Is Not The Stigma Placed On It

**This was originally a thread on Twitter. I decided to post it here to make it more accessible and easier to read. Grammar corrections and basic changes for readability were made. There are helpful resources at the end of the article.


When I saw this comment today about people with BPD, or borderline personality disorder, among many others I’ve seen over the last several years since my diagnosis, it truly got under my skin.

People with BPD are not monsters who deserve to be ditched and locked up in an institution. Those are cruel comments to make and very telling that someone knows nothing of the diagnosis. So, I’d like to educate since I have BPD and have gone into remission with it.

BPD is, commonly, a trauma diagnosis. People with it have often been abused — sometimes severely — from an early age. It shifts how you view others and the world, and it involves cyclic behavior and emotions due to trauma responses. Many people with BPD self-harm and act on impulse.

Many also regret their actions deeply and hate the idea of hurting anyone, but due to abandonment and trust issues, may lash out in ways they normally would not. To be transparent, I developed cyclic behaviors of starting a goal, failing due to my diagnoses, self-sabotaging — which included self-harm in the way of cutting — and I pushed people away because my emotions were so intense from self-hatred, I wanted others equally near and away from me. I experienced painful turmoil at the smallest failures. I felt like I deserved nothing, not even life, when I hurt someone or failed a goal, such as not being able to keep a job.

Let me follow up with something important. Those I affected negatively and hurt had a right to leave. No one’s diagnosis gives them a right to hurt another person. Please keep in mind, however, that not all people with BPD lash out at others. Which brings me to the other type of BPD.

‘Quiet BPD’ is more internal. The person is more likely to hurt themselves rather than others, and often have comorbid diagnoses like PTSD, depression, anxiety, or others that exacerbate self-harm behaviors as well as the cycle of self-sabotage and inner turmoil.

Before I knew how the world treated people with BPD, when I got the diagnosis, I was happy to finally have an answer as to why I couldn’t function. I was still living in an abusive environment at the time, however, which didn’t help. I attempted suicide three times, before and after a diagnosis.

I admitted myself each time voluntarily to the hospital. I couldn’t handle the constant trauma that wouldn’t stop that started in my childhood. And it continued as I lived with abusive people who at first did not accept my diagnosis.

I soon got a good psychiatrist, a counselor, a case manager, the right medication, and attended a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group that lasted for a year. I was horrified when I realized what I’d done, how I’d treated people, and how serious the trauma was that affected my life. I’d always made excuses for my abusers and reasoned out why I deserved the abuse, so not only did I have c-PTSD and other mental illnesses, but I had a diagnosis that would be a stain on my record forever according to a lot of people on the internet. The trauma I experienced, and the BPD label I unfortunately gained, are not anything I asked for or wanted.

It doesn’t matter about the amount of work a lot of us do. It doesn’t matter that I’ve learned and become a better person, and I no longer do the things I used to. It seriously sucks to do all that work for so many years, and go through all that turmoil, only to be talked about like we should be abandoned and institutionalized by default. That’s inhumane. It’s cruel to generalize and further verbally abuse an already traumatized group of people who are doing all they can. Especially those who have worked hard to recover.

I realize not everyone with BPD will recover, and I realize BPD makes some people do horrible things. But that’s the only part of the picture people want to see. That’s like saying, ‘my abuser was named Jesse, so all Jesses are abusers.’ That’s absolutely asinine. No one does that.

It’s extremely triggering to work so hard to become better only to still be placed in a box of defeat — only to be despised because you have a certain diagnosis. To be told you won’t and can’t recover when that’s demonstrably false. It’s reinforcing the traumatic cycles people with BPD have. Stop doing this.

People who stigmatize us and say cruel inaccuracies about BPD, as a whole, are no better than the kind of people they claim we are. 

Finally, here are a few links to some good resources to round this out.

“The support of family and friends is critical in the treatment of BPD, as many people with this condition may isolate themselves from relationships—even when they need them most.” — Borderline Personality Disorder, NAMI.

Resources for those supporting, and caring for, loved ones with mental illnesses are very important as well. You must take care of yourself first so you can care for others. — Family Members and Caregivers, NAMI.

“Research has shown that outcomes can be quite good for people with BPD, particularly if they are engaged in treatment. With specialized therapy, most people with borderline personality disorder find their symptoms are reduced and their lives are improved.” — Overview of BPD, NEABPD.

What is BPD, exactly? The clinical symptoms. — Making the Diagnosis, NEABPD.

Since impulsive behaviors and addictions are common in people with BPD and other mental health diagnoses, and have been for me, something that really helps is tracking behaviors to stop them. I Am Sober has been a life-saving app (iOS and Android!). It also tracks self-harm habits, which can become a dangerous addiction. That is what I use it for. — I Am Sober.

I hope more and more people with BPD can feel brave enough to speak up about the truth of our diagnosis. We are tired of being abandoned by doctors and caregivers, verbally abused by the internet, and being treated as less-than-human simply because we are sorely misunderstood.

© 2021 Shane Blackheart

Bo Burnham: Inside left me speechless

When I started watching Bo Burnham’s special, Inside, it was late evening but still sunny outside. When it ended, my apartment was dark and I sat for an amount of time I can’t remember in awe. I finally got off the couch to write this post.

I’ve rarely seen anything that made me feel so many things that intensely. It was nothing short of genius, but what really hit me the hardest was at the end of the film. I empathized with Bo’s story about agoraphobia and panic attacks.

From late 2016 into 2018, I remained inside due to severe anxiety and agoraphobia. I lied in bed most days, not eating, too afraid of my own body’s mysterious illness. It later turned out to be a severe case of GERD, and my anxiety only made it worse. I became anorexic during that time.

When 2019 came around, my life started to improve. I was finally on medication and had a doctor who, at last, believed me about my stomach. I gained weight back and was no longer weak and dizzy. My fear of the outside receded slowly but surely, and in middle to late 2019, I started going to the coffee shop almost every day to write. I couldn’t afford a laptop, but I had a tablet with a keyboard. My agoraphobia was gone.

I had been on testosterone for my transition for a year at least — finally on the right kind that my body wasn’t allergic to and could handle well. Everything looked so beautiful. The holidays were equally as great, and I spent them with my family. I remember being happy more often than not, and my manic states and mixed episodes were non-existent for the first time in my life. I hadn’t felt suicidal or severely depressed in some time, and I was so busy with friends I didn’t have time to think about the mental health issues I’d struggled with my entire life.

I thought I had recovered. I finally was able to live a life full of friends, happiness, and I was on my way to accomplishing my goal of becoming a better writer worthy of being published.

2020. It came quickly. I watched as my personal sunshine dimmed more and more as the months dragged on. PTSD hit me full blown, and I was, once again, not only dealing with severe agoraphobia that made me shake and nearly pass out every time I left the apartment — it still does to this day — but past ghosts and actual PTSD hallucinations and dissociation from isolation, which I’ve written about in detail extensively here and on my side blog, Waking Dreams.

I got a year of recovery in 2019. 2020 was going to be the year I accomplished everything I didn’t think I could before. Now, half way into 2021, even though things are looking a little bit better and I’m vaccinated, 2020 not only set me back to stage one, it left me worse off than I was before with many more shadows I can no longer stuff down and hope they go away.

I am starting to see a bit of light again, but the end of Bo Burnham: Inside, as well as the scenes about depression, resonated with me and gave me a sinking feeling not only in my stomach, but in my chest. I know. I know what that feels like. I know the absolute trauma 2020 caused when you were so close. When you were right there and everything was so damn beautiful for a minute.

I am definitely going to watch Inside again. It’s a truly honest look into what 2020 was for so many of us who remained inside. The music, all of it, is fantastic and there isn’t a single song I disliked, but the message was the most important thing in all of it. It was so painfully true. Sometimes humorously true. Sometimes ironically true.

I hope Bo can find his strength to perform, and if not, I hope he continues to make music when and where he can. I hope he realizes just what a masterpiece he created and how it’s touched so many people.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

Image source: Netflix

The importance of self-awareness in cancel culture outrage

I’ve been in therapy for, it’s safe to say, most of my life. Since I was about seven or ten, I’ve also been taking psych meds. Things got worse over the years due to trauma, and I had to eventually admit what was wrong, open up about my problems I’d kept inside, and seek out more intensive therapy. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, while I feel it — inadvertently — taught me how to mask my autism a bit, also helped me learn to slow down, breathe, and take nuance and facts into consideration before acting.

It taught me how to handle problematic or aggressive people, and it helped me cope with my over-sensitive emotions and addictions. For a while, however, I still fell into the social media patterns of clout-chasing mobs, and I joined in on the calling-out culture, even for smaller accounts involving people who were virtually no one in the grand scheme of things. Just like I’m no one in the grand scheme. Only a select few are, and they hold obvious social status and influence.

I dived back into my spiritual practices, and I started to meditate as often as I could remember, or as often as my spirit guides would remind me to. I also finally found the right counselor, and have been going to weekly counseling sessions ever since. Even then, I still got caught up in the rage social media likes to reward.

At some point in all of it, after dissecting it all, I realized the problem and why I was constantly so upset.

I had become so distracted by the fast pace of social media that I’d forgotten the lessons from DBT and meditation. There was no time on Twitter to slow down with the brief character-limit posts, and with how quickly things spread like wildfire. It’s easy to get swept up in, and it’s sad what it can do to good people.

Over time, I realized an ironic thing. In the writing community, among those who are quick to take people out of context, there are groups who ruin lives with glee. They get caught up in the rage machine, and no one leaves room for nuance or stops to think about their words. People forget the person behind the picture is a real human being who needs to eat, work, and survive. Aren’t writers supposed to be good at slowing down and thinking about what they write?

Instead of blocking people who don’t have much influence — your average person — and moving on, people ruin lives over misconceptions. Over things they’ve interpreted their own way without a care to ask what the original writer meant to begin with. Lives are ruined due to a bad day, one misstep, one or two wrong statements said carelessly. Being canceled for a bad day or a mistake in wording is like being put on death row.

Your career, which most on Twitter are living paycheck to paycheck with, is threatened. Suddenly, people who advocate for kindness, mental health awareness, and love start to act the opposite. And they laugh about it. They point and insult like the victim is now an animal in a zoo, and they create campaigns and threads of out of context posts and screenshots, the victim no longer able to crawl out of the speedily devouring quicksand their life has become to correct anything. And even if they tried, no apology would be good enough. Because that’s how it works.

All of that chaos and rage because they said something carelessly on social media that they now can’t take back, even if they wanted to.

Suicidal thoughts come as the hate continues to pour in. What was once a few screen captures becomes a side show of banana phone messages. Soon, people who don’t even know what’s going on read the out of context posts, or only see the outraged comments, and they don’t bother to check the source. They blindly accept voices they think are good because they’re a mutual follower or a friend, not realizing that sometimes friends can be wrong, too.

It’s utter chaos. One person’s life can be ruined — or lost — for an accident or a careless few words. For a bad take that would have naturally been forgotten by anyone else.

As writers, it’s our job to dissect people and see why they do what they do. When we write dialogue between characters, as well as explore the depth of character development, we have to look at the human condition. When we write heroes and villains, we have to get inside their heads, figure out why they are who they are, and why they do what they do.

Another irony is the supposed love for imperfect characters and antiheroes. People praise them, love them, and call them relatable. Myself included. Yet, if any of those characters were real, they would be canceled as soon as they tiptoed onto a social media platform.

The problem is that no one is allowed to make a mistake. But people forget what human nature is, and what being human means. Our brains are so complex, not even scientists can figure out, one-hundred percent, why we do some of the things we do. We’ve evolved into such diverse and complicated creatures that we’re going to be our own undoing, to tell the truth. With power comes corruption, and humans have done quite a lot of corrupting of nature and to our planet itself.

The conversation must also be had about good and evil. Bad and good. All of this is personal judgment, and while many may agree on a definition of an overall evil and good, it will differ greatly from one group to the next. In counseling, this is why we use words like ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ over ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Removing judgmental words helps to create a more calm mind, opens up the ability to slow down and think, and judge less. To figure out what actually works and what doesn’t without emotions getting in the way.

Certainly, there are some people who should be rightly judged. And I mean people who cause very real harm and have the influence to do so. Celebrities, influencers, and those in power can genuinely hurt people, and often do. JK Rowling’s words were used during a hearing in a court of law to deny an LGBTQ+ rights bill, for example.

However, if a nobody on Twitter — an everyday person like you and me — voiced that they dislike LGBTQ+ people, which is hurtful and bigoted and very wrong, I’d just block them, report their activity, and move on. I don’t want to see them anymore. I certainly don’t want to stare at their face and their triggering words for hours on end to create a cancel campaign that will only do more damage to my mental health than their initial hateful Tweet that I vanished in seconds.

Do I hope they lose their job? Not really. I don’t care enough about them. Do I hope they kill themselves? Certainly not.

Despite how awful the above example was, people like that aren’t often who get canceled.

It’s the people who have a bad day, but are otherwise a good person. People who are depressed and express a negative opinion that is slightly offensive on social media. People who are anxious and typing carelessly and make a mistake. People who did something questionable in the long past — we’re talking five or more years ago — who have changed their ways and have moved on, yet someone digs their mistake back up and they are ruined by something they’d learned from already.

People lose jobs over this rage. They lose the food on their table, they lose the roof over their heads, they can’t take care of their kids. Their lives fall apart. It doesn’t just affect them. It affects their family and people around them, too.

I’m sorry, but I will not wish death on anyone. I will not wish ruin on anyone. In the case of internet trolls and bad faith nobodies, I think it’s far better to let them fade into silence, not getting the attention they wanted. Why? Because in the end the best thing to do about a troll is to block them out and not feed them.

Are there some people who deserve to be called out and lose their job, though? Yes.

Celebrities, people in high places that make big decisions about people’s lives, people in consequential positions in society that can actually hurt someone — these are the people who are the threat when they turn morally corrupt. When they become bigots and racists and horrible human beings. THEY are the ones worth calling out because they have the power to actually do a real amount of damage.

Joe and Jane on the other side of the internet with a few thousand followers with a few bad takes? Block and move on. Understand that all of that hate and rage that is being directed at the smaller folks — the people who don’t even matter — is wrecking your own mental health. If you need to spend hours — days — creating a smear campaign against someone, make it mean something and actually affect people who matter in the grand scheme.

Call Rowling out and screen cap and raise awareness because of her harmful actions. People called out 45 constantly because he actually hurt people, provoked violence and division, and was a real threat. Cancel and raise awareness for Bill Cosby like hell because that guy should not be walking free. He is literally a sexual predator.

But a person said something that was out of line, or possibly poorly worded? Do you see the problem here?

The crime must equal the punishment. Otherwise, we’re treating everyone like a criminal, good or not, and we’re being judge, jury, and executioner. We’re yelling ‘guilty until proven innocent, except we won’t accept your apology or explanation so you’re guilty anyway!’

This needs to be redirected. The focus needs to be panned back to the real problems. Let’s stop this madness because the warpath of cancel culture doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care about the crime or lack of one. It only cares about getting a high from ruining people’s lives.

This is not the kind of internet my 90s kid self foresaw when it came into being. I was told there were dangerous people on there at the time in the chat rooms. It pales in comparison to the danger of social media rage.

©2021 Shane Blackheart