**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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been some time since I’ve written much of anything, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. Writing a query letter, crafting a good pitch, preparing for the rejections to surely come. Beating myself over the head with self-doubt as PTSD grips its icy claws around me once more.
In between, I’ve been editing and posting short stories to my Wattpad page that are of a more erotic nature, although they aren’t typical erotica. There’s more introspection in them and the emotional responses are more of the focus. There’s also some comedy to give readers a breath of fresh air after the dark.
I returned to the book I’m crafting the perfect query for. I remembered a scene in it near the end where my alias has to conquer his fear of the unknown, namely darkness and the entities that exist in it. My spirit guide, Darokin, who is front and center in that scene, delivers some advice I’d nearly forgotten, and re-reading the whole scene, which is based on true events of my life, choked me up.
I’d fallen so far down again after nearly making the climb to the top. Metaphorically speaking, I’d started to conquer my fears before 2020 hit, and then fresh trauma, and being in a PTSD loop for months led me to write this book.
So, with a risk for spoilers that I’ll let slide, here is that scene I wrote during a PTSD-fueled bit of passion for my book, ‘Everything Is Wonderful Now’:
Sean shivered in the cold as he zipped his black hoodie to the neck. There was a full moon shining down on him and the demon prince, which was a perfect atmosphere for what Darokin had in mind. The cemetery wasn’t a place Sean often went after dark due to irrational fears, but it was all a part of the plan. Now that he knew he was a child of Lilith, and both Byleth and Darokin confirmed it, he would have to get over these fears and embrace his true nature. It didn’t help that he was weak, malnourished, and sick on a daily basis. But Darokin’s presence that night was all the more important.
The prince worked in the shadows and was familiar with the energy within it. The moon’s silver rays gave him a renewed vigor, and his eyes glowed beneath it as he was in his element. He looked to Sean as the boy stopped half way through the cemetery. “You have nothing to fear, Sean. The shadows are your allies, not your enemies.”
“Yeah, except for the thing feeding off me.” The boy wrapped his arms around himself and continued past an ancient mausoleum, pausing to stare up at its beauty. The cemetery during the day was a regular place of relaxation for him when he wasn’t ill, and it had been some time since he’d been there. At night, however, it was a strange new world to him. The dead lied below every step he took, but he knew they were just that. Their souls had moved on and they were no longer present. It wasn’t them he had to fear, but the echoes of mourning that remained in the atmosphere. Distant cries of grieving families drifted between the trees, and the occasional footstep that didn’t belong to him or his companion caused him to pause and listen.
Darokin stopped Sean as they reached a patch of grass at the center. A large monument towered over them, but otherwise, it was a place to rest with a few benches in a circle. “Nothing here means you harm, dear Sean. You must make peace with it, and in doing so, you will begin to conquer that which has latched onto you.”
“The thing I helped to create.” The boy stepped into the grass and turned to face Darokin. “So how do I do it? How do I stop being afraid?” A powerful dizziness struck him, and he realized he hadn’t eaten that day. It was no way to begin this.
Darokin knew it as well, but the demon prince pushed. “This does not require physical strength. It’s mere exposure therapy, as you are no stranger to.” He waved his hand at a rhythm, stirring the shadows around them. “Energies of the night — they take many forms. But they are merely onlookers. The ones you see and the ones I call to you tonight are merely curious. They do not wish to scare you or harm you, but they are honest in their presence. They will not spare you their gaze because you fear them, for they know you as well as I do. As well as Zagan and Byleth do. Better than you know yourself.”
Sean knew what he meant. The boy had no idea what it entailed to be a child of Lilith, other than what his path was destined to be. It explained a lot of things, such as meeting Death at birth and coming back from it, as well as living a challenging life to put it mildly, but he also remembered many things he felt as a child. He never spoke of them to Byleth back then because he didn’t have a word for them, but he could sense the good and bad in people. He felt their energy like a suffocating blanket if he were too close, which is a lot of the reason he couldn’t stand up to the children who meant him harm. He had to grow numb to their blind hatred to protect himself, but being so young and not knowing what was happening, he reacted as a child would. With fear and tears.
He was tempted to do that then as a feeling of being watched surrounded him. He turned to see the shadows swaying, and after a short time, a pair of milky white eyes stared at him from one of the forms. He was certain it was a singular being among many, but it looked more like the things he noticed while doing rituals in the safety of his home. Here — beneath the moon and in the middle of the night surrounded by the dead — Sean was among the rawest of energies these forms could take. Nothing was filtered through windows or mesh screens. There were no candles or lamps, and no light switch to run to in fear.
The boy kept his eyes on the being that watched him. It made no move to approach, but merely stood with the others as a more definite form took shape. Its face was emaciated and it’s hands bony, and it wore a long black robe that seemed to be made of the shadows themselves. It’s eyes seemed to glow like white pearls, but it had no mouth or nose. It was quite inhuman.
“You are familiar with Hades in your reading, are you not?” Darokin interrupted the swishing of the light breeze. He smiled hopelessly as the boy made a step toward him, and as much as he wanted to open his arms to Sean to comfort him, it was counterproductive. “You will notice that what is drawn to you resembles your own passions and interests — including the darkness and death. You have been obsessed with Death since birth, and they have been obsessed with you. They know they failed to claim you, so they admire you. You’ve beaten the odds, so to speak.” Darokin stepped back and held out a hand. “Stay where you are. Let them speak to you.”
Sean paused and took his eyes off the emaciated being to plead with his friend. He couldn’t bear to see it. “This is fucking ironic then, isn’t it?” Sean’s emotions surged as he fought the anxiety. “I’ve spent most of my life wanting to die, but when I’m finally confronted with things resembling death, I’m terrified. Why am I so afraid?”
“The unknown is what you fear,” one of the beings spoke softly. “The unknown is that which many refuse to acknowledge. You dress up your dead to appear as if they are merely sleeping, and you forget about them once all has been made clear with the dark blessings of graveyard dirt. You fear what cannot be seen because you feel the need to fight its existence. You deny it.”
Sean finally turned to see that the being approached, but kept a safe distance. A musty, damp, and cold aura seeped from it, and it smelled like mold. “What you fail to see is that you cannot resist the unknown, but face it. It cannot hurt you. Only enlighten you. And you fear knowledge.”
“As most angels and God would have it,” Darokin continued. “So you see, dear heart, the only way forward is to face the unknown. You have a lot of fear within you, but you resist that which is your true home. Where you belong. It is among those like myself and these.” Darokin gestured to the many dark forms that gathered Sean hadn’t noticed. There were so many of them. “You are not a child of the light. You can only benefit from finding comfort within the dark instead of fighting it. Only then will your ailments begin to lift — including your irrational fears — and you will be able to face that which is draining you. That which feeds on your fear. Because fear is the most potent of human emotions. If you show that you are at home in your darkness, and that you have control over the unknown and welcome it, your Intruder will recede. He will lose his power.”
“But what do I do about being anxious? I can’t control it. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. When stuff catches you off guard…” Sean paused and held his breath in fear as another being came closer. It had become so cold he was shivering. “How do people not even flinch?”
“Come.” Darokin gestured for the boy to follow, and Sean was more than happy to do so. He grabbed onto the demon’s dark muscular arm and continued through the cemetery until they reached a mausoleum, in which Darokin clicked open the lock. They entered through the iron doors and were greeted with the smell of ages past, and crept lower down a set of steps that led to complete blackness.
“What’s down here?” Sean’s heart leaped into his throat when he heard scuttling. “What was that?”
“Tell me, you do not really fear physical pain or actual harm, do you?” Darokin stopped and backed away from the boy, and the wave of anxiety that enveloped him was powerful. “You fear not knowing. You fear not having control over your environment. Here, in the darkness, you cannot see as I can. But you see, you have not come to harm. That which circle around us and those who lie in their shrouds beside you, they will never harm you. You fear it because in reality, you do not really want to die, do you?”
“I don’t know.” Sean sank to the ground and hugged himself. Despite the darkness providing no line of sight in any direction, he squeezed his eyes shut. “I really don’t know.” More scuttling. Was that a moan? A breath from ages past. A death rattle?
“And here is the obvious sign.” Darokin became firm, which was not a tone he usually expressed. “You’ve closed yourself off. What you refuse to realize is that by closing yourself off like this and succumbing to your fear, you become vulnerable to things that do wish you harm. You are a spiritual parasite’s absolute dream. You do not fight back.”
“So it’s my fault I’m being targeted? Are you seriously victim blaming me?”
“There is your problem as well.” Darokin pointed to the boy on the ground. “You are beyond a victim of this life. I have chosen to guide you. Byleth has chosen you. Zagan has come to join you to protect you. We do so not just because you belong to the darkness like we do, but because you are capable of a strength you refuse to acknowledge. You survived Lilith’s test — her curse. Will you let that be in vain? Will you turn your back on all of us after what we have done for you by allowing yourself to be the victim?”
“I’m sorry.” Sean took a deep breath, stood, and opened his eyes. Fear shot through his veins and nerve endings like electricity and he felt faint. “One of my first experiences with the unknown was an angel that looked like something out of the Necronomicon. I was in the dark and I was alone, and he wanted to hurt me. What if something like that happens again?”
“Do you really believe Byleth, myself, and Zagan would let that harm come to you?” Darokin approached Sean at last and placed a hand on his forehead. “Why would we let you continue to seek out this Intruder if we did not believe you were capable of defeating it?” He trailed a finger down the boy’s face and lifted a bony chin. “The universe only gives challenges it knows you can overcome. It would not make anything impossible. And you see, you are safe even now in the bleakest of shadows. You have received wisdom from your true allies. So, dear Sean, tell me. What do you really have to fear if not fear itself?”
The boy realized he’d stopped trembling and searched for a good excuse. He was full of them and exhausted all the same, but something else rang true in the prince’s words. He’d never come to harm from anything he’d feared in the dark. He tiptoed around their help during rituals with the safety of a candle’s light, but he’d seen them in the flame’s flickering shadows. In the smoke from the incense and in his peripheral on particularly manic nights. He communicated with them unknowingly when he drew each tarot card, and the energy he called to when looking for answers — when Byleth, Darokin, and Zagan were nearby to protect him so that the wrong thing didn’t reach back — was the very same that surrounded them then. It was the only force that answered his calls for help when he was told it was the angels who would do so.
And the Intruder — he wasn’t of this darkness. He wasn’t of Lilith or Hell or whatever anyone wanted to call it. He was of Sean’s own darkness he’d given power to for so many years. A thought form that became something real when he’d succumbed to defeat and stopped eating. When he grew tired from not sleeping and fearing death, causing his body to become weak as he was paralyzed with panic attacks night after night. In reality, he feared meeting the Intruder again and he’d unconsciously placed that fear on other things. Yes, the entity was feeding from him, but only because he let it. He’d given up.
Sean let out a shaky breath as tears fell. When had things gotten so bad? He was practically killing himself without meaning to, and that thing wasn’t helping. It wanted to keep him — to have him, as it often said. To keep growing stronger because that fear was what had haunted Sean his entire life. It was as powerful as was his resilience, and that resilience was needed now. Although he’d wanted to die for so long, he realized he feared it too. But now that he knew the truth of everything, he realized why the words had become empty. It was an easy escape. But he’d survived for a reason. He’d made important friends for a reason. And Lilith, wherever she was, had chosen him to defy the odds and show the world the truth they tried to ignore. The unknown that the angels wanted to keep humans ignorant on so the divine would have control and power. With knowledge came power in itself, and that was detrimental to them.
Sean’s tears stopped as Darokin wiped them with his thumb. “I’ll try harder, I’m sorry.”
“You always do,” Darokin smiled. “And you always will. This is but another hill to climb, but trust me, dear one. It is a small hill.” The dark prince leaned low to meet Sean from his six point five foot stature, and kissed him. “Welcome home.”
Sean’s nerves finally eased, and he placed a hand in Darokin’s. “I guess the first thing I should do is eat. Right?”
Tonight, I found myself unexpectedly diving back into 90s punk, industrial, and the general dark scene I loved as a kid. I was about ten years old as I recorded Type O Negative and Marilyn Manson onto a taped cassette from the radio, and I remember slipping the thin headphones onto my ears from my off-brand Walkman as I rode in the back seat of the car. It was grocery shopping eve, and rain was pattering against the window as I looked out across the road. Type O Negative’s ‘Love You To Death’ soothed me into an early moment of awe. I was forming an early taste for the darkly romantic before I even knew what romance was.
If my parents knew I was listening to the band Orgy and obsessing over Poe, the musician, they would have been concerned. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV for the longest time, and they kept a pretty tight grip on the movies and media I was allowed to consume. Keep it G or PG, basically. Nickelodeon dot com. Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis. Disney movies. All of that stuff.
My mom did get me the Garbage 2.0 album though. I think it was because she’d heard one of the songs on the Now 2 compilation — the second Now That’s What I Call Music album. Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, wasn’t really vulgar, but her music delved into some pretty dark stuff that I shouldn’t have understood as a kid, but I was already struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide from being bullied, and I was taking Zoloft and coping with disabling agoraphobia.
I remember being very young when I fell in love with horror as well. Goosebumps were my introduction, and I knew my dad loved Stephen King, who is considered a modern horror master. I stumbled upon the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy, and that was one of my first tastes of truly being afraid of literature. Granted, the reason they were so alarming to me was because of the Bloody Mary legend, which was really popular then. It was used to traumatize me at a birthday party, and I was forever afraid of the dark.
While I didn’t have access to a lot of media due to a strict rule on what I was allowed to consume, I regularly discovered things in secret. My love for vampires was sparked when I snuck the Interview With A Vampire VHS from the video cabinet in my parent’s room, and I remember how entrancing it was to see for the first time. I didn’t yet know what love or warm and mushy feelings felt like or meant, but when I saw the vampire Lestat and how bratty and brilliant he was, I think that’s what sparked some kind of sexual awakening.
I guess I should take the time to say, too, that I stumbled upon all sorts of ‘forbidden’ things like that as a kid, and I turned out alright where having morals and being a good person is concerned. And a lot of the media I enjoyed and consumed was very dark.
Something inside me was yearning for… something from a very young age. I never truly felt a connection to the Christian religion I went to church for. I always felt very weird compared to other kids, and listening to Marilyn Manson in daycare definitely didn’t win me any friends. I didn’t go out of my way to be strange or stand out just to be cool. Even as a teenager who wore Tripp NYC pants with chains, spiked collars, and hoodies year-round to hide my self-harm injuries, nothing I did was to make a point or stand out.
I’d been naturally drawn to darker things for as long as I’ve been able to have any sense of self. I’ve always understood the dark because it understood me. And then I wonder if some people are just born with a darker aura. Some of us just belong in the dark, and it’s not a bad or negative thing.
Those in the dark tend to think deeply, feel intensely, and most have an urge to express themselves artistically in some way. Speaking for myself, I’ve been writing stories since I was seven. Even then, I remember a few darker things I wrote that I couldn’t have possibly understood. I don’t even know how my mind was able to concoct a story about a woman who was escaping an abuser only to stumble upon multiple horrors like a badly written horror film. I was probably about nine or ten with that one.
I’m no stranger to trauma, and I have enough mental health diagnoses to get tongue-tied. But before the life-altering trauma that gave me PTSD, way back to my earliest memories of Kindergarten, I experienced intense fear. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for as long as my memories exist, and even before that, I had chronic nightmares and night terrors that followed me into adulthood and the present day. I started keeping a dream journal that’s been scattered in many places over the years. More recently, I’ve started turning my nightmares — including the most traumatic ones — as well as my sleep paralysis experiences with the entity I call the Intruder, into short stories.
My most recent complete book explores all of this. All of my childhood memories that were traumatic, all of the frightening thoughts I had as a kid that I’ve rarely uttered to anyone else, and my journey through nightmares and trauma as I grew into a teen. The book ends with my adult years as I face down my sleep paralysis entity — the Intruder — and confront fear itself through a series of horrific dreams. And the dreams in the story are real — taken directly from my dream journals. All of this is, of course, weaved into a bit of a side plot with angels and demons to make things interesting. But there is more truth than fiction in the book.
I’ve tripped into one thing after another in this, and I’m not sure where I meant to end it. Tonight was filled with a lot of introspective moments, and it was inspired by some music from the 90s I’d missed out on. When I hear something unique like I did tonight — something that makes everything in my constantly buzzing brain come to a halt the moment it hits — I am overwhelmed again with a love for art. For all forms of artistic expression that humans use to show the world something that can’t otherwise be perceived. And when it’s done authentically, and when the artist truly means what they are saying and showing and they can capture that in their work, that’s a rarity that makes life beautiful. It’s like magic.
There is beauty to be had in the dark that way. And some of us are just meant to make friends with our demons.
It’s immensely hard to wake up one day and realize you’ve been playing a part — wearing a mask your whole life.
And I don’t mean a literal waking up, as in waking up in the afternoon like I do, and then noticing, again, that I can’t sleep a full night and haven’t since I was a kid. That I can’t go to bed before the wee hours of the morning.
I mean the ‘AHA!’ moment-that-rocks-your-world waking up. The kind of moment I felt when I realized I was transgender. And that was very much solidified after I had top surgery — a double mastectomy — in July of 2020. I couldn’t stop smiling and I felt complete.
Something else was always wrong. Even though I’d finally accepted my gender identity back in 2015 and transitioned as fully as I needed to, there was still something under the surface. Things relating to stuff I joked about for years — even with friends. Things that felt so far out of reach because I kept them that way. I was ashamed of a lot of things I did in private, sometimes because of the fact that they were common poking points when I was bullied. Some things were habits I had to learn to not do, especially in public, because they were embarrassing to the person I was with or people would stare.
Having an anxiety disorder from birth did not make it any easier to be myself. But as a child, I remember being bossed around easily. Even if my friends ‘hurt,’ I did what they told me. I let bullies beat me up, kick my head in while buried in the snow, and I would often end up playing by myself or with kids who were incredibly cruel to me at times. Sometimes, I’d have one person who I didn’t speak to often, or even after the particular day, who I’d spend alone time with.
I remember a few peaceful moments as a kid on the playground, though. One in particular involved a girl I don’t remember. We were at peace wandering along the fenced off barrier of the school grounds, and we would sit to pick flowers or dig up clay far from others. While the other kids played pretend and chased each other, or went down slides and chatted in groups, I was happy picking at grass and being convinced that the little white flowers that bees fed from were also nutritious to humans too.
I remember one constant friend I had who was developmentally disabled I got along with best, and we never played in a group but among ourselves.
During this time, I would sometimes have to wear Pull-ups to school, or ‘big kid’ diapers. I had to wear them to bed as well because I couldn’t stop wetting the bed. I got in trouble whenever I did, but I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have a kid, making their way through elementary school, who still soiled their own bed every night. My doctor at the time finally explained that I just hadn’t developed the antidiuretic hormone yet, which is a hormone usually developed by the age of 5 that causes the body to produce less urine at night.
Among being bullied for that, I was quiet and shy, and often kept to myself. I would memorize my favorite horror stories from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark until I could recite them word for word. And I was so proud of that. I often wrote stories from the age of 7, and writing is still a passion of mine to this day. Books and notebooks, pencils, and other office supplies make me lose my shit with happiness, even if I never could learn to properly grip a pencil in a way that doesn’t make my fingers feel as if they’ll break (or the pencil, in that case).
Besides the social ineptness, like not being able to start conversations with other kids well or even maintain healthy friendships, if any friendships at all sometimes, I never had imaginary friends. Not one. But I did treat my stuffed animals as if they were creatures with feelings and souls. I still do to this day, and would not have admitted it before now. I would often cry if a stuffed animal was the last of its kind on the store shelf as a kid, begging for it to be taken home with me because I didn’t want it to be alone. I still have the lion I remembered doing that with.
I’m clumsy. I trip over myself, drag my feet, walk flat-footed, and I run into tables and doors. I can’t judge distance to save my life, literally. While driving a car, my depth perception just doesn’t exist. It took me weeks of driving school and I still failed the maneuvering lessons. I magically passed with my one stroke of luck on the actual driving portion of the test, but haven’t driven since.
When I get excited, I get the urge to flap my hands or wiggle my fingers, which I’ve been allowing myself to do freely now. I realized it’s been an unconscious thing for a long time, and probably much longer than I’m conscious of. It comes on strong when I get happy and experience joy so intensely I start trembling, and I grow hot and anxiety-like from being overstimulated. Sometimes this will devolve into a shaking panic attack if I don’t reign it in. This was something I got very good at hiding, but at the cost of complete exhaustion after I returned to a private space.
I’ve asked at least two close friends about the hand flapping, worried that it was a side effect of my medications, but it couldn’t have been because I could control it. I could make it stop. But yet, it happened autonomously. Commonly while I am on the phone, because I pace quickly and continuously while talking and have for a lot of my life. I cannot sit and have a conversation. I’m usually out of breath by the end of one from the laps around my apartment.
Among many other things, lastly at least, I have always had trouble taking a joke, and I have asked friends how to start or continue conversations with new people. I cannot clearly read sarcasm, teasing, or joking. Often, I’ll get defensive and upset and over-explain, only to feel embarrassed when I’m told it was only a joke or a tease. My mom confirmed this as well when I last talked to her.
But now I know why all of these things have been so troubling. From communication issues — and losing friends over completely failing at expressing myself or reading them — to my constant downplaying of my experiences, as well as my clumsiness and severe social ineptitude. My formal way of talking, even in text, that I often try to break because when people have read some of my stories in the past, they’ve expressed annoyance at the ‘purple prose’ that just was naturally how I like to think. It’s an explanation for why I become so intensely obsessed with things and it overwhelms me and I cannot focus on anything else, and I annoy friends with the same subject over and over until they’ve told me to stop at times. This is another thing I taught myself to reign in, or to mask as best as I could.
My ‘aha!’ moment was when speaking with autistic friends, which I realized I have a lot of; when I noticed that I’ve always related to them and find conversations easier with them than most other people (obviously, there are a few exceptions, and I don’t want to invalidate my few closest friends who are not on the spectrum. They’re dear to me and we have a lot of years behind us).
I am incredibly certain, if not as certain as I was when I realized I was trans, that I’m autistic. And the reality hit me like a ton of bricks. It was hard to see that I had been unknowingly taught to mask my symptoms out of fear of social rejection. The end goal for me was always to find ‘normal’ or some semblance of a normal life like everyone else. As an adult, I had no business keeping stuffed animals everywhere. I had no business messing with fidget toys or enjoying things I enjoyed in the past as a teen or a kid. I had to grow up quickly, learn to pay my bills and manage my finances despite my dyscalculia, and grow a damn backbone.
And now I see it was all a well-rehearsed act in a part that society and others expected me to play. An ableist society that looks upon autistic people with unease as we flap our hands or do harmless things like stim in public — especially with objects that appear to be made for children when we’re older. Or in my case, like when I’d bite my hand in the middle of a store.
We’re considered annoying when we obsess over things, and often people lose patience with our needs, like a need to be in quiet places when necessary due to sensory processing issues. As well as that last one, I’ve had issues with doctors even making jokes that they’re surprised when a medication sits well with me. I’m so sensitive that I feel every side effect, even if it’s not serious, intensely. I have often tried and gone off so many medications because I’ve joked that my body just doesn’t like medication.
Nothing I’ve grown up joking about is a joke anymore. I really don’t understand when someone is flirting with me. I truly am clumsy and half the bruises I get are from me bumping into things or injuring myself. I really don’t understand sarcasm or jokes that well, especially if they aren’t clear or given some kind of inflection to clearly note the mood of the speech or text. I really do need to flap my hands and wiggle my fingers, and move in rhythmic ways sometimes to stim and it feels nice and helps me cope. And I’m allowed to do it. I shouldn’t have to hide it like I have been.
Among a plethora of other things and information I won’t delve into other than with my therapist and psychiatrist, realizing I’m autistc has explained so many things in my life I felt were faults. That I thought were weird things that made me a messed up person. And it’s a devastating thing to realize you really don’t know how to be you after all, and you don’t even really know who you are.
But I am starting to realize who I am by reflection. I am looking back at my younger years and recent ones, and I am finding patterns that have caused me to swallow down the need to start sobbing because I’m so confused. How do I live without that mask? How do I take it off and be comfortable with who I really am? How?
It seems impossible, but I am finding that coping mechanisms I forbid myself from using due to my age are helping. Despite the distress I’ve felt over the realizations I’ve had, my moods have been good. I’ve started going on walks again and I have felt happiness, at least so far, for a small stretch of time. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be me. It’s okay to embrace those things I forced myself to hide or unlearn. There is nothing wrong with me after all, and that’s a feeling that settles in my chest in a way that makes me both anxious and nauseated. It’s a hard thing to accept, but if I can finally start using the right coping mechanisms in therapy, I feel my outcome will be much better than what it was.
Being disabled and poor at any time during a normal year is difficult. Most things people take for granted, like clean laundry, access to food, and simple pleasures like a coffee at a cafe’ or getting a take out meal without much stress. Buying a book here or there. Being able to afford new shoes that won’t fall apart in a month. And especially, access to the internet.
Basic needs are a luxury
During a normal year, despite being disabled and poor, I can usually scrape the bottom of the barrel and make a lot of these things work. I don’t have Netflix. My shoes fall apart quickly from walking everywhere. I can usually do a couple loads of laundry a month if I’m frugal. I can get Taco Bell or a pizza a few times. I can get a coffee or two. I can buy a new book. And my internet bill keeps rising, but I can cover it. Often, I sacrifice groceries or food to have these things, and I just fast off and on for a week at the end of the month because I don’t get any more than $16 in food stamps, so my cupboards go bare.
Then the pandemic hit. I already knew a lot of things I struggled with were a given for others but a luxury for me, but now, I realize just how much basic necessities are a luxury for disabled and poor people in America.
I can’t drive, so I order delivery for groceries, which at the cheapest is $7.95 for delivery plus a $10 tip. I can only afford this twice a month, but often must make due with a shortage of online stock, and I have to either ration or ask for help at the end of the month to make up. Thankfully, I have extra food stamps through the pandemic otherwise I’d be starving. I get about $195 a month now in EBT — temporary to the pandemic until the aid runs out.
Stores are also making it hard to access things for delivery, like WalMart, when they have ‘pick up only’ or ‘in store deals only’ stipulations for many necessary household items, limiting me to whatever happens to be in stock for delivery I can grab, which has been a more expensive brand than I normally afford.
My internet bill has risen $10 since 2020, making my internet access alone $80 for decent speeds. I don’t even have cable TV. My phone is about $38 a month for the phone cards I buy.
I am lucky that my rent is based off of my income, and then I have to cover all non-food necessities with my own bank account. That means trying to find paper towels and toilet paper, dish soap, and other necessities that keep going out of stock or are limited to higher priced items I don’t normally buy. Basically, I grab whatever I can find at the lowest price, but it’s a toss up.
Add in laundry. I haven’t done it in months, save for washing things in my sink because the nearest laundromat is a joint bar, and people aren’t wearing masks and are drinking there. The smaller places are self-serve and unsanitary. Our washer downstairs, the only one, is wrecked because someone is destroying the laundry room. So by hand it is, as I’ve been doing. I wash a few things as I need them, so everything I own is dirty and it just has to stay that way for now.
I do find room for enjoyment. And again, it’s at the cost of food. If I didn’t make room for something to make myself smile, I don’t think I’d even be here right now. I might buy a few books or a new game. I might buy a much needed new pair of pants. And I feel anxiety any time I buy anything at all. It takes me forever to check out due to nerves.
The stimulus checks allowed me a bit of comfort. I got to see what it was like to not worry about food. I got to see what it was like to not struggle for a month. I remember feeling euphoria. “This is what people who live well feel like? This is great! I won’t run out of food!”
And that was just from my usual $785 disability check plus the first stimulus which was $1,200. I was euphoric over having $1,985 for a month. It was unreal.
We can’t work. And it isn’t our fault. We didn’t choose to be disabled. We didn’t choose chronic illness, severe mental illness, or physical disabilities. We did not want this, yet, we have it and it’s out of our control.
If you have a chance to write to your government officials, please pester them about this. Disabled Americans deserve dignity. We shouldn’t have to be scared to accept cash gifts on a birthday or we’ll lose some of our benefits. We shouldn’t have to hide the fact that someone in our family bought us food, otherwise it will count against our benefits. We are not allowed to have any help on SSI, nor are we allowed to own any more than $2,000 at any given time, and that includes assets like a car (i.e; you can’t own a car worth more than $2k). If you save money for too long and it stays in your bank account, it starts counting against you. It’s a poverty trap.
This is my experience being disabled on SSI (Social Security Insurance). SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is different and only available to those who have worked enough to qualify, so I can’t speak for that. But SSDI has its limits as well, and every disabled American on SSI or SSDI deserves dignity and enough to afford basic necessities. As SSI went up this year, $795 a month is not enough to have a home and all your necessities paid for unless you go through a subsidized housing plan, which there are often huge waiting lists for.
Getting help is difficult and convoluted
Help is complicated, convoluted, and often nearly impossible for some to access. Add in having to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare to afford medication and medical treatment, which thankfully SSI and SSDI recipients mostly qualify for, and then there is a general lack of accessible community resources to get help. There is a lack of mental health care. All of this is buckling under a system that under funds it.
Before I arrived to where I am now, I was homeless as many end up due to a lack of resources or available shelter space. It’s disappointing how few studies have been done about homelessness and mental illness or disabilities together, and it was difficult to find anything as of 2019, but I found some data from the BBR Foundation that was extremely concerning, and that’s an understatement.
As posted on the BBR Foundation’s website:
According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. At a minimum, 140,000 or 25 percent of these people were seriously mentally ill, and 250,000 or 45 percent had any mental illness. By comparison, a 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
That paints a grim picture. Not only because studies like these are not done often enough, but nothing is done with them. As it goes in America, the rich get richer, and the poor are looked down on like leeches. But how much of our taxes are actually used for food stamps and other programs for disabled people and those in poverty?
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Safety net programs: About 8 percent of the federal budget in 2019, or $361 billion, supported programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. Safety net programs include: the refundable portions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which assist low- and moderate-income working families; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income people, including SNAP (food stamps), school meals, low-income housing assistance, child care assistance, and help meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused or neglected children.
The problem in America has nothing to do with those who are disabled, in poverty, or otherwise those who use safety net programs. The problem is greed and hoarding wealth, and it starts at the core of our government. Just within the last month alone, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are arguing over whether Americans should get $1,000 or $1,400 for one month. Meanwhile, they make leaps and bounds more than your average person, and they return to their lavish homes and make plans for cocktail parties.
As mentioned in Business Insider recently about further stimulus checks:
Biden and other senior White House officials have said they are open to negotiating the income thresholds for direct payments. “Further targeting means not the size of the check, it means the income level of people who receive the check,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday. “That’s something that is under discussion.”
Our lawmakers have been sitting at the table and negotiating when it’s convenient for them, and the negotiations are stretching too long. They duke it out to allow everyone an opinion on what they think poverty is and what they feel we deserve or can live on at the minimum. And help has been at a minimum — if that.
It’s time to stop negotiating and pull up statistics. Pull up the research. Face the actual data. Americans cannot keep living like this. Even long after the pandemic is over.
That’s roughly $14,000 a month at the lowest tier of salary. And when it comes time to negotiate the well-being of Americans who are starving, dying, and living on the streets and in their cars, lawmakers aren’t seeing the reality. They aren’t driving around to these poor communities or testing for themselves if what little they give is livable. And with figures like the above, you can see how out of touch they are.
They are living in nice homes with good healthcare, and they have access to groceries and don’t have to worry about going hungry. They can sip a martini on their back deck and take in the sun after negotiating on a $600 stimulus that was the last poor excuse for aid.
I have no problem with people being paid large amounts of money to do an important job. I have no issue with anyone who built up their career and have earned a large salary through hard work. What I do take issue with is their skewed thinking that comes from an entitled life. They give us breadcrumbs while they take a few fresh loaves out of the oven for themselves.
The argument for universal basic income
To close this, I fear this problem will never be addressed properly. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a start, but again, it’s the bare minimum. Even considering a universal basic income like Andrew Yang proposed, which would ensure all Americans at least $1,000 a month, would solve a slew of issues. Redirect the money flowing into food stamps, SSI, SSDI, unemployment, TANF, and other monetary aids into one universal basic income, and America would start to thrive. It would not only help the economy, but take away one major cause of depression that causes people to not want to work. That causes people to ultimately destroy themselves because they have nothing and can’t get their head above water, and there is often no safety net if they fail.
With a basic safety net, not only would disabled people have what they need to thrive, those who are able to work will still work to make even more money. When people are happy and safe, they can do amazing things, and our economy would be booming again. But that’s my utopia dream. I’m not a businessman, mathematician, or even good with numbers. I’ve never been in government work. I just know what I’ve heard from Andrew Yang and what I’ve seen in the studies from Finland, which did a test run of UBI distributed to 2,000 citizens while having a larger control group of 5,000 others on unemployment benefits:
There was no difference between the two groups in terms of the number of days in employment in 2017 – both groups worked on average 49 days. The UBI trial group only earned €21 less on average than the control group during 2017. The surveys also showed that the UBI group perceived their health and stress levels to be significantly better than in the control group.
America is in a scary place right now, but there are ideas and wonderful theories that could pull us out of this dangerous road we’re going down. Equity, equality, and basic dignity are not too much to ask for. When it comes to money in America, there’s a lot of redistributing and shuffling around of papers that needs to be done.
Now, we just need our government to care as much about us as they do themselves.
Byleth stood from the rock on the cliff, smiling before looking down at me. The sunset seemed so close yet so far away, and it painted his face in a warm orange as his eyes flashed crimson.
My breath was shaky as I averted my gaze. I brushed some of my brown hair behind my ear and realized I’d started trembling. The ethereal, dreamy tones of ‘Like Lust’ by MOVEMENT did nothing to calm my nerves as I’d hoped. I was still glad that Byleth brought it into being. Everything in that space was of his will according to my wishes, and it was more than I could have asked for. He always did more for me than he had to. “Yeah, it calms me. Usually.” I chuckled.
Byleth noticed my shivering, and it wasn’t a chill. The temperature was an ideal warmth. “Sweetie, you’re shaking. I thought you wanted to make out?” He laughed to temper the mood, but quieted just as soon and sunk to a knee before me. He took my hands away from my face and neck where they were rubbing the skin with anxiety. “Why are you shaking? It’s me.”
“I’ve had this problem lately. You know.” I chewed on my lip.
His hands moved with mine as they trembled, and he squeezed. “Are you afraid to be intimate with me? You never were before.”
“No, I know. It’s weird to me, too. But since my PTSD symptoms have been so bad, it’s all coming back. The trauma is coming back and it’s like muscle memory.”
“It’s not just that,” Byleth soothed. He slid a finger beneath my chin and lifted it. My eyes had gone dark. “You have this other problem. You have such a negative image of yourself you can’t even let yourself enjoy simple pleasures. But let me show you something, sugar.” The fallen angel king stood and slipped his red jacket off, and then worked at the buttons on his white button-down.
I glanced down to see that he was aroused and looked away as my face grew hot. “You can’t possibly be turned on by me.”
He quirked a brow and dropped his shirt. “Are you telling me my body is lying?”
“No, but you’ve told me before that you can make your body do anything you want it to. So, I guess, maybe you’re just making yourself aroused to make me feel better.”
Byleth sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Do you remember when we first met? When I asked you to lie in your bed and it was the first time we slept together?”
“Yeah.” I held back a laugh. “You said I was a science experiment. That a human’s inner workings were interesting, or something like that.”
“Yes.” He crossed his arms and shifted his weight. “But you’ll remember I was turned on then too. I didn’t even know you, dude. So what reason did I have to fake it for a human — which is a species I don’t often give a shit about — that I barely knew?”
“That doesn’t explain now.” I hugged myself. “I gained a lot of weight. When we met I was skinny.”
“You were ill. You were anorexic. I’d rather you not have an eating disorder. It’s not hot when you’re practically dying.” Byleth grabbed my arm and pulled me up.
I stumbled and grabbed onto him as I collided with his chest, and I looked up. I often forgot just how tall he truly was. He could carry me around like a doll if he wanted to. He was so warm in a way that was comforting, and I nuzzled his bare chest. “I want to do things with you, Byleth. I really do. I’m just scared.”
He pet my head with a clawed hand. “What are you afraid of, sugar? I’ve always been honest with you. I’ve never lied to you.”
“No, you haven’t.” I looked up into his red eyes. Maybe it would be alright. “Can we take it slow?”
He snorted. “No, we have to get this over with quickly. Of course we’re going to go slow, you goof.” He snapped his fingers and pointed to the ground. “Now lay down.”
I turned to see a thick white blanket on the ground, and I sunk down onto it. It was cool and felt like soft cotton beneath my fingers, and I fell forward. I could have slept for an entire week. It wasn’t in Byleth’s plans though, and he dropped down onto my back, hovering over me. A shiver drifted over my body as Byleth breathed against my neck, laying kisses behind the hair he pulled aside.
“Are we going to do it this way?” He chuckled. “A bit primal, but I’m up for something different.” He coaxed me up onto my hands and knees and ran his hands up my shirt and around to my scarred chest. “Yes, now I can touch your chest without you objecting.”
“Because it’s fine now.” I bit back a smile. “Those things are gone.”
“You’re a proper man now.” He hummed as his fingers traced my scars, the sensation strange as they remained numb. “But you’ve always been a proper man.”
I smiled and rolled over to look up at him. I didn’t want our first time in a while to be all hands and knees. I wanted to watch him. Observe his supernatural beauty as he willingly came to me. Desired me. It was still foreign to see someone with a desire for me that was honest. One that was truthful. Nothing else mattered. Byleth knew how to work with me and my trauma, and he always made everything feel amazing in the end. He wasn’t selfish. Nothing was expected.
“You’re really staring, sweetie,” he laughed. I realized it too and hid my face behind my hands. He moved them aside. “No, none of that. Do you really want to block out my glory? I mean, I am gorgeous.” He flipped his shoulder-length blond hair as he sat back on his knees, and I laughed as I watched him in his glamour. Everything sobered when he reached for the waist of his bell bottoms. “But I want you to see all of me. No matter how shy you might be or how much you feel like you don’t deserve it.” He flicked open the button and slid the zipper down. “Don’t you look away. I’m giving myself to you because I want you, and I won’t let you believe otherwise. You’re stronger than this, and I know you are. I know there’s a sexual creature underneath somewhere because I’ve seen it in you before, sugar. Let him out.”
I tried to still the trembling in my limbs but became frustrated instead. I loved Byleth — every part of him. The brattiness and the sarcasm, and the offensive humor. The huge ego. The perfection that was him. Dark Lord in Hell, I loved him just as much as I loved Lestan — more than the air I breathed. My stomach fluttered with butterflies any time he spoke or looked my way. He was just so…
Byleth smirked and snapped his fingers as he took in my silent adoration. Nothing covered his toned body now, and he stared down at me with confidence as he hid nothing from me. Not even his love for me, and it was apparent in the way he remained still despite his truest desires. He was patient for me. Silent for me. Waiting for me to say it was okay.
“I love you, Byleth.” I reached out with a trembling hand to take his, and I pulled myself up to melt into him. I squeezed my arms around my king and a calm washed over me. All tension left my limbs and I hummed with happiness as his arms hugged me close. He rubbed my back and kissed the top of my head.
His voice was calm. “I love you too, sweetie. And don’t you forget that.” He pulled away just enough to lift my chin, and he lowered his head to capture my lips.
I’d forgotten what his kisses felt like. Tasted like. A moment of doubt and self-loathing surfaced and I faltered, but Byleth slipped his hand to the back of my head and took my breath away. When he finally drew back, he licked his lips with a forked tongue. His golden horns glistened in the forever setting sun of our fabricated escape.