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

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

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

Living alone in 2020 – isolation and being a prisoner in your own mind

This contains triggering subject matter, including mentions of dissociation, PTSD symptoms, hallucinations, gaslighting, self-harm, and suicidal ideations. There is also art with visual depictions of these things, including non-realistic blood, and it may be disturbing for some to see. None of this is posted to be shocking, but as an honest reality that is not explored in popular media for the sake of mental health awareness. It is not my intent to defame or bring grief upon anyone, so names and locations have been left out for the sake of the privacy of everyone mentioned. Some things are intentionally left vague.

By the time 2020 came around, my mental health had been the best it had ever been. I was going out every day, drinking vanilla lattes at the café while writing on my laptop, attending a group with a close friend, and enjoying the company of my friends quite often. I was losing weight and felt healthy, and I was finally fixing the problematic teeth from when I’d broken my jaw at the age of thirteen.

My life was taking a turn after the hellish years between 2016 and early 2018, in which I’d been diagnosed again with GERD, lived through anorexia and didn’t eat for days at a time, had severe stomach and intestinal pain daily, and soldiered through acid reflux that didn’t let up for months, turning my throat raw as I wasted away in bed while no doctor could find anything wrong.

The beginning of 2020 was a continuation of the light of 2019. When I first heard about the new virus, COVID-19, in early January, it was thought to still be in Wuhan, China and wasn’t a threat here in the states yet. I had a bad cold in February I was nursing, and while I was concerned it might be COVID-19, I wasn’t worried because, well, I lived in America. Surely we’d get it under control and things would be fine. Thankfully, it truly wasn’t COVID.

Fast forward to March. People panic bought toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soaps, and cleaning supplies. Everyone glared at you if you coughed in public. No one was wearing masks yet, but we were still ignorant to the times to come. Despite being afraid, it felt like the equivalent of panic buying before a bad snow storm. It’d pass quickly in the night or a few days, and we’d be fine again.

Downtown grew empty. The last weekend before the stay at home orders were issued, a Pride event was quiet and scarce of people. More and more people were getting sick, and science was only beginning to grasp what exactly we were dealing with. The true numbers of the virus’ victims were stifled, and politicians gave mixed information, including the start of the second threat during the pandemic: misinformation and conspiracy theories.

We were quite confident. But yet, the virus reached us and spread throughout the world like wildfire, prompting many governors to issue stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and some countries issued harsh lockdowns. People started working from home as more and more people died, and children were pulled from schools. We no longer saw a stranger’s expression beneath the mask as we passed them in the store, and those of us who took the news seriously began to feel dread. The hopeful days began to die by the end of May. It was no longer ‘just a few more months.’ It became an unknown. We settled in for a year at least.

Protests and violence broke out between warring sides. Police murdering innocent Black people became more wide spread, and hate crimes against Asian Americans grew in number. America was crumbling, and every dark fault was put on display. We were a broken system with a narcissistic leader who had dreams of being a dictator, and our national security was compromised. Transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community were erased from the White House website and further from discrimination protection. COVID-19 wasn’t our only enemy, and the world was literally on fire as forest fires raged.

America fell. The world was scrambling to survive and cope with demand for medical equipment. Frontline workers — nurses, doctors, and EMTs — were experiencing so many deaths in a day — in a weeks’ time — that they surely would be traumatized for years to come. Their job had become like a warzone. And more than a few lost their lives to suicide because it was too much to bear, and their leaders failed them.

All of this, as overwhelming as it is to relive in brief text again, weighed on those who took the pandemic seriously. Those who masked up every time they left their front door and had bleeding, raw hands from washing and sanitizing. Those of us who watched the partiers and deniers were slowly losing our sanity, and many of us broke down in tears because we just wanted to be safe. We wanted our friends and families to be safe. We were dealing not only with a fear of a deadly disease that was unforgiving — that didn’t care whether we believed in it or not — but also the weight of civil unrest and abuse from the White House on a daily basis.

I rarely left my home in 2020. I last saw a friend in March of that year, and was dedicated to staying safe to do the right thing. I live alone with my two cats, and I’m plural and have alters and spirit guides, so I felt I could make it through. I knew if we just stayed inside we’d make it. I had Twitter. I had Facebook Messenger and a phone. It would be okay.

As the months dragged on, I began to see sides of friends and family that broke my heart. Some became downright mean as they denied the pandemic at first, and others couldn’t understand why I refused to let them visit. I’d started to learn about online grocery delivery, and I’d set up a good system as I was finally given extra food stamps to compensate for the expensive cost of delivery fees. I had set up my own little hermit bubble of safety, only leaving to get top surgery in July of 2020. My mom was with me then, and it was the last time I’d see her for some time. Until recently.

My mental health started to decline. I knew it would be rough having depression and anxiety, but there was a quiet beast I’d never confronted in waiting at the dark corner of my mind. Many closed doors started to creak open again, and as I became more and more trapped in my own mind due to isolation, I delved down darker internet holes until I stumbled across a strong trigger. A dark genre of music I’d never heard before that normally wouldn’t bother me, but as the doors were creaking open in my mind, the buried trauma quivered at the dulcet and droning tones of the deathdream genre, and before I knew it, I was dissociating, experiencing intense fear, a floating sensation, and gaps in my memory.

At some point, I’d moved from my chair to the kitchen and stared into space, but I had no recollection of it. My vision dimmed at the edges, and the shadows that were always hidden finally came out to play.

I didn’t know what was happening to me. Dissociation was as far as my knowledge of my own symptoms went, but the shadows that had been creeping closer became clearer as I ventured into trauma art tags on Tumblr, and I related to many of the liminal space images found there. They were images encompassing past nostalgia, traumatic thoughts, and dreamlike images. They emitted the energy of isolation and loneliness I felt, and in my desperation to relate to something since I couldn’t see anyone, I became obsessed with what was familiar to me.

Depression. Suicidal thoughts. Trauma. They had been there and always would be, and I’d often found an odd comfort in my depressive states. It was like a warm, weighted blanket wrapped around me to welcome me home again while the rain poured outside. A comforting melancholy that made me want to lie in bed and daydream about strange worlds that I came across in dreams. And the dreams always became nightmares, but in isolation, they triggered panic attacks and became more real due to the outside world growing less and less real to me.

I began to see hallucinations. They were always shadows, and some of them had large eyes that watched me. I often felt as if a figure were standing behind me, watching my every move as they stared into the back of my head. I felt as if something was closing in on me. And the more I fell into my past trauma and my hyper-creative mind took over, the more I realized these shadows were not only physical manifestations of trauma, some of them were from another plane of existence — the realm of the dead — watching me closely because I was often suicidal.

As I analyzed these shadows and started to dissect, as I often do, why they existed and what or who they were, I delved far back into my history. I started a side blog where I explored darker theories and ideas about why I was so at home within the dark, and I realized that even at birth, I had just barely escaped Death’s grasp. It was deeply embedded in my psyche.

A drawing I did during this time.

It was a prime time for these entities to seek me out again. Because there were days when I was most definitely ready to say goodbye. My own mind became a prison, and I was haunted by these visions and flashbacks, and nightmares, on a daily basis. I was paranoid, afraid, and trapped in a darkness I couldn’t escape. No friend could come and save me from them or bring me back around because no one was allowed in my safe bubble. I did not want to chance the suffering COVID-19 would bring.

My spirit guides did all they could. I started to come out of it. My heart was growing lighter and I was finding an interest in things I once loved again, and I felt as if I was finally turning the corner. The shadows started to fade with time as I looked for better distractions, and I finished writing a book that explored many of these things to cope with past trauma.

I hadn’t expected the events that followed. I’d carelessly mentioned not feeling important to a group of friends and was hurting since my birthday had been a lonely one, and I’d seen them celebrating theirs online. I quickly realized it was wrong of me, but the damage was done. I was infantilized, gaslit, retraumatized, and left a mumbling, catatonic mess after verbal abuse. They trapped me into a corner and made me believe I had turned into my abuser, and I stopped eating for two days.

The shadows came back, my mind kept blue-screening and erasing itself, and I fell into states of catatonia where I stared at the wall for minutes — sometimes an hour — at a time. I worried they were right. I worried I’d become the man who hit me, raped me, and abused me for years. When they called me an abuser, I believed them. I already had low self-esteem and hated the idea of hurting anyone, but it seemed I’d hurt them. They weren’t clear on everything I’d done, so I was also left reeling for answers.

I went back over my blog entries. I realized many vague things they could have assumed were for them as I explored my trauma on the blog I’d started a few months prior. It was my mistake. In trying to protect people’s privacy and identities while exploring and processing my trauma and feelings, it seemed they’d placed themselves in my entries where they were never meant to be. And my chance to show them that they were wrong was gone. They’d shut me out. Refused to let me explain. They’d already thought I was a monster.

PTSD vent art I did in 2020.

Everyone struggled in 2020. It was a difficult time for many people, and a lot of us were trapped in our own heads with too many negative emotions from the constant overload of the world falling into chaos. And this, unfortunately, turned a lot of people into someone they weren’t before, me included.

I went through shock for days. I saw my abuser every time I looked in the mirror despite what all of my other friends and counselor told me. They said what happened to me and what was said was wrong. They told me I’d been gaslit and bullied. I didn’t believe them. I believed those who tore me down. I planned my suicide and had written a detailed letter with my passwords to my computer and online accounts. I planned where my cats should go, and explained I’d leave food down and some sinks full of water until I was found. I planned where I’d be, in my bed. I remembered sitting on the toilet and staring at my phone, blank. I wasn’t a person anymore.

PTSD symptoms had resurfaced in a frightening way, and I saw vivid images of my abuser as he walked around the corner of the hallway and smiled at me. I heard his voice clearly as if he’d been standing before me as a real person. I had repeated dreams of him and the friends who called me horrible things. I was convinced I was a monster and I needed to destroy myself to save everyone from me. If I couldn’t figure out what I’d done over time that was so bad, I must have not been conscious of it.

Another quick vent art sketch from that time.

I broke my clean streak from self-harm. My spirit guide Byleth stopped me by taking control of my hand and making me drop the knife into the bathroom sink. Zagan Lestan came up behind me, hugging me while in tears. As Byleth forced my arm under the cold water, the red wouldn’t stop.

We wrapped my arm and I sat on the couch. I hid every single picture of my face from Instagram, changed my image on all social media, and refused to look at my face in any way. I was talked about on Facebook as a friend called me an abuser on their profile, and a mutual friend called me to console me and tell me he didn’t understand when he saw it. That in all the years he and others have known me, he’d never thought that of me. Everyone close to me tried to tell me I was a good person, but none of it was working.

I’d been trapped in my own head for too long. The isolation had gotten to me, and I’d spent too many days spiraling down an unstable void of madness. I’d lost my sanity, and the gaslighting sent me so far over the edge that I no longer trusted myself, my memories, or my sense of self. I was no longer a human being.

I was afraid to say or write anything. I had been accused of using everything for contents’ sake and attention, so I felt as if I had no right to say anything at all. If I vented or expressed suicidal thoughts, I deleted them again quickly due to paranoia. I felt I was pathetic and an attention-seeker. My mission to be an advocate for mental health awareness didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t trust my own mind or what it produced.

Those who gaslit me made it into my nightmares. They took the form of PTSD dreams alongside my abuser, and I started marking my symptoms on my calendar because I could no longer trust my memory or keep track of days. At this point, the outside world no longer existed. I had slipped into another reality, one that mirrored our own but lurked within shadows that wouldn’t let me sleep. Closing my eyes brought them to my bedside, and I lied awake for hours scoping my room to be sure nothing was really there.

I still, to this day, cannot get a proper nights’ sleep. Closing my eyes sends my pulse racing, and my mind conjures many things that I know, logically, aren’t there. I am afraid to dream. I’m afraid of the shadows. I’m frightened when night falls because the shadows are harder to avoid.

I finally got both of my Pfizer vaccine injections as of April 21st, 2021. I also found out that I am autistic, and that alone began to help me find a sense of self again, and to realize why I struggled with proper communication and expression. I finally started to listen to my friends and family and their positive opinions of me, and although the shadows are still here, even today, and my mind hasn’t recovered and I find myself in that dark space regularly, I am starting to see some kind of respite.

Today, for the first time in a year, a friend visited me. And although I dissociated and had to check out at least once or twice due to vivid visions and PTSD symptoms, I knew that this was the start of getting a grip on my mental health again. Yesterday, I got a hair cut as well, and it was all so surreal. It’s been very strange. We aren’t out of the woods yet, though.

I haven’t seen much in the news or anywhere at all about the effect of the pandemic and isolation on those with mental illness. Especially those with PTSD. Being trapped in your own head, which becomes a dark prison, can exacerbate anything that comes along. If I hadn’t been isolated for a year and having a resurgence of symptoms — symptoms I’d never had so intensely before — I wouldn’t have reacted so badly to what happened going into 2021. I truly don’t feel I would have.

I worry 2020 rewired my brain. When I spoke in person with one of my closest and oldest friends, I didn’t feel like the same person anymore. I felt completely different from the last time we met, and I was thankful he’d already known of my darkness and remained. Agoraphobia and anxiety have taken the wheel again, and my vision is always blurry. I’ve developed a chronic fatigue syndrome flare up for the first time in years that is robbing me of my ability to function. My poor memory has me losing things and taking actions I don’t remember later.

Many others dealt with worse fates due to COVID-19. And many continue to deal with the crushing reality of it because it isn’t over yet. I acknowledge that and at times, I feel guilty talking about my own struggles with isolation.

There are many who suffered in silence, some with fewer resources than me. We lived in shadows and trauma and fear. We were locked in a prison of our own minds, and as time passed with nothing but these four walls and a history full of trauma, it became our new reality. The outside distractions were gone. It was time to reckon with the dark that we pushed aside to survive for so many years.

In isolation for a whole year, living alone, your mind is all you have. And when that mind is a ticking time bomb of things you’ve pushed aside to be able to experience and enjoy life, when you remove the distractions — the reasons you had to shower and clean and be presentable for people you couldn’t see anymore — the shadows resurface. You overthink. You fall into nights of deep introspection. You click off of social media because it’s too much. 45 was too much of a trigger for trauma victims as he gaslit and verbally abused an entire nation for four years.

And you lie there at night with only your mind to entertain you. You haven’t seen another face in person for months. You forget what time it is, what day it is. And you realize just how much even an introvert requires of human interaction to stay sane.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

All artwork, writing, and videos are my own.