Life with my chronic illness

Life with my chronic illness is not:

  • A blue puffer and I’m fine
  • Being unable to do anything physical
  • Being able to do a spur-of-the-moment tirp
  • Wearing perfume without worry
  • Just laziness
  • Or just anxiety
  • At all like breathing through a straw
  • Finding someone else’s perfume merely strong (my lungs wish it, though)
  • Having pets
  • Looking like this (link to image of a blond Caucasian boy of about 6-8, sucking on a blue puffer with atrocious inhaler technique)
  • Or like this (link to image of a brunette Caucasian girl of about 4 or 5, sucking on a white puffer with atrocious inhaler technique)
  • … Or seeing anyone even remotely resembling me in pamphlets or brochures about it (all asthmatics, apparently, are small children or senior citizens. Young adult asthmatics? We don’t exist, apparently).

Life with my chronic illness is:

  • Feeling erased by “educational” resources.
  • Knowing that as erased as I feel, it’s probably worse for Asian, First Nations, Hispanic, or black asthmatics, who likewise seem forgotten by most “educational” resources.
  • Fearing insurance fuckups.
  • Spending a quarter of my pay each month to keep myself breathing… and feeling fortunate I have good insurance so I only have to spend that much
  • A special trip to the drug store the last day of my insurance coverage before I start a new position, to make sure I have enough meds to last until the insurance people get the paperwork sorted
  • Solving the source of mystery exhaustion when I take my peak flow and realize, holy shit, my lungs are 40% blocked.
  • Looking bored when I’m having a flareup (little-known symptom: Yawning).
  • Looking sick when I’m having a flareup (cough-variant asthma: it exists)
  • Having people yell at me for spreading illness in a public place when I’m having and trying to treat a flare-up (again, cough-variant asthma: it exists)
  • Trying to explain to an ER doc between coughing fits that cough-variant asthma exists and that’s why I’m not wheezing
  • Fearing when I get bad enough to go to the ER, because since I’m an athlete, my “Really sick” numbers are what is supposed to be my “Normal” – and I have yet to meet an ER doc who realizes that predicted bests are averages, outliers exist, and I’m one of them.
  • Knowing that being young and female means that I have to do my best to act calm and unruffled, lest the doc write me off as anxious, even though anxiety when you can’t breathe is perfectly normal.
  • Getting told I need more willpower when I’m treating my illness
  • Feeling judged when someone remarks that they “don’t like” taking medicine when they see me treating my illness, and resisting the urge to snap back, “Yeah, like I do it for shits and giggles.”
  • Having others presume me physically incompetent even on good days…
  • … and then when I’ve finally convinced them I can do stuff on good days, judge me as lazy when a bad day means I can’t.
  • Planning my budget around making sure I have enough for my medication and to treat any flare-ups.
  • On bad months, playing “which bill can I not pay?” in favor of getting meds so I can stay healthy.

Why “labels are harmful” is harmful

Trigger warning: Discussion of teacher abuse of a student, meltdowns, and the consequences of growing up with undiagnosed disabilities

Okay, so there is going to be a lot of personal history in this post. I present myself as a case study of why the idea of labels being harmful is both harmful to kids with disabilities and harmful to adults with disabilities. Since, by necessity, I’m discussing me in this post, it’s going to be a lot of anecdata, but I might follow it up with some studies later on to back up what I’m saying because I’ve lost count of the disabled people and disability services professionals who’ve told me analogous stories to mine. I know I’m not an isolated or unusual case here.

I’ve posted elsewhere about why labels are harmful is bullshit, a post I will probably recycle at some point for a post here. Today I want to argue that the labels are harmful bullshit is actually actively harmful.

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. By the time I was 10, I’d lived in 3 countries, 5 Canadian provinces, and in 8 different cities. One such move came when I was around 6. At my new school, I didn’t make much friends. I was lucky to be placed in a pilot program the school was running of semi-personalized curricula for each student, so I could learn at my own pace in everything. I devoured the coursework and blasted past the grade requirements for some subjects in under a month (math, English, science), while in others (handwriting and phys ed, naturellement), I was below grade level. Still others, I was about on par with my grade peers (History, mostly). I was never bored, was the teacher’s pet, and thrived.

My parents were disturbed by my lack of friends.Since I had access to the school library (books!), I spent my recess and lunch hour reading, and I’d bring two or three books home after school, and return them to the library, finished, the next day. My vocabulary exploded, and other kids started to complain that I talked “like a book.” When offered the chance to go play with other kids, I’d shrug and say, “I want to read.” and then go to my room and read.

My parents took me to a child psychologist. Their previously over-friendly (no concept of boundaries), extremely active (hyperactive) child had suddenly transformed into a bookish, mostly-sedentary recluse. The toy cars she’d previously been obsessed with stayed forgotten in the closet in favor of books that she blasted through almost unbelievably fast. This was a Problem. Given the recent move, they guessed I might be depressed and took me to a child psychologist.

Meanwhile, my teacher had also noticed my lack of interest in other students. He noticed I was cheerful when I got to spend time doing what I liked (books!) and that you could bribe me to tolerate even my most hated subjects so long as there was a book in it for me when I was done. He heard me info-dump to other kids and realized that a lot of my conversation was me repeating lines that I’d read in books, trying and failing at seeming clever by clumsily repeating witticisms that had worked well for characters I liked with no regard to the context they were said in.

My teacher, I’m almost certain, had an autistic kid. He saw the similarities between me and his son and broached the subject with my parents. I wasn’t having too much trouble at school yet – even though I didn’t have any friends and the other kids thought I was a very strange kid indeed, with my books and my stutter and my lack of concern for manners or eye contact – but, he worried, it was only a matter of time before different meant bullied, and he knew that the school could better protect me if I was diagnosed. He told my parents this, while I sorted the books in the back of the classroom by reading level, subject, author (alphabetically) and title (also alphabetically). I imagine they all thought I wasn’t listening. He did not use the words “autism” or “Asperger’s”, but rather “difficulty socializing,” “too attached to routines,” “fidgety,” and “different,” cushioned by “smart,” “enthusiastic,” and “pleasant.” He suggested my parents see a developmental psychologist, who’d helped his son with similar issues.

My parents figured that since I was already seeing a psychologist, they could just ask that psychologist what she thought. Problem: This psychologist did not specialize in developmental disabilities. She told my parents that I was not depressed (correct), that I was introverted (correct), and that they and I would both be made miserable by trying to change my natural disposition (correct). As for the problems socializing and fidgetyness, I was probably shy and nervous, since the only disorders that cause that were Autism and ADHD, and only boys get those. Plus, she told my parents, labels are harmful because they limit the kids they’re placed on. She told my parents I didn’t need special education or extra help, I needed a gifted and talented program (as if the two are mutually exclusive), and that if I wasn’t in one, my boredom would lead me to act out and cause behavior issues at school. She encouraged my parents not to get me “labelled,” saying that it would be a shame to see a bright girl like me limited in such a way.

Things were fine until we moved again. Third grade, new school. This school had no gifted and talented program. I went from doing pre-calculus to arithmetic, and was faced with similarly shocking level changes in all of my subjects. Handwriting was the worst: rather than having a teacher who would accept that I couldn’t write quickly and give me extra time, my new teacher not only refused extra time, but expected me to do cursive. Neatly. I can’t do that at 26, nearly two decades later. It was unreasonable to expect it of me at 8.

I started to have trouble in school. A lot of trouble. Not with the subject material because aside from handwriting and phys ed, I was ahead of grade level in this new school system. I had trouble behaviorally. A lot of trouble behaviorally. Just as the psychologist had predicted, I acted out when I was bored. Since the work was so easy and the teacher refused to let me do anything except sit quietly at my desk when I was done, I was bored a lot. By the end of the first month, I spent more time in the in-school suspension room than in class.

Not that I minded, because my first-grade teacher’s prediction had come true as well: Different now also meant bullied. I did not make a good first impression when I spent my introduction to the class monologing about weather until the teacher had to cut me off and send me to my new seat, and tormenting me quickly became the class past-time. The teacher didn’t like me because of my behavior problems, so she turned a blind eye or punished me for being the victim just to get me out of her hair. I soon knew the secretary on a first-name basis and became her darling.

“I don’t know why she keeps sending you here, sweetheart,” the secretary would say. “You’re a great kid!”

And for her, I was – the in-school suspension room was quiet, free of bullies, and the secretary would let me read as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted once I was done my work (boooks!), so I wasn’t bored. Why wouldn’t I behave?

A conference was called to sort out my behavior issues. The teachers and new principal asked me why I was so bad in class but so good for the secretary and I shrugged and said, “I dunno.” They asked how I felt in class. After a long silence during which I fidgeted a lot, I said to the table in front of me, “Bored.” What bores you was the next question. “All of it.” I replied. There was a lot of back-and forth that I ignored in favor of studying the pattern on the table. I remember my parents arguing for me getting a modified curriculum, the principle debating whether to skip me ahead, and my parents arguing that I was behind enough socially already and that skipping me ahead would only make things worse. In the end, they agreed that I would stay with my age-peers, but I’d be given more difficult work and that I could grab books to read at the back of the room when finished.

Those accommodations never happened. My teacher felt that she could hold my more difficult work hostage to me “behaving” and regarding getting a book, “If I let you, then everyone will want to”. So I kept misbehaving. And getting sent to the in-school suspension room. Other teachers joked that they should water me like one of the plants, I was there so much. I would tell them they shouldn’t water me since I’m not a plant. I didn’t get why they found that funny.

Another conference was called. I told the principal that the work was still too easy and that I wasn’t being allowed to get a book. The teacher lied and said I was. I got punished for being a liar and melted down, throwing a chair at the wall and hitting myself. My parents were shocked at the “tantrum” since I’d never been a difficult child – my mother says I seemed to skip the terrible twos entirely, so long as I had blocks to stack and stuff to sort.

My parents locked me in their car while I melted down and went inside to finish the meeting. They told me later that the principal suggested they take me to a developmental psychologist, since he felt my explosion wasn’t normal and I was definitely having a lot of trouble socially and behaviorally. He said he wasn’t sure it was me willfully being bad, since I was so much better in the in-school suspension room. He said there might be something making the difference between the two environments. My parents refused. “There’s nothing wrong with you that discipline and more difficult work won’t fix.”

This pattern repeated with varying severity all through school, as my handwriting fell further and further behind grade level, and the bullying worsened. I was either the pet or the terror, and it all depended on whether the teacher kept me interested. I got a reputation for being high-strung, unpredictable, wild, undisciplined. Later: untidy, disorganized, scatter-brained, rude, and overbearing were added. I was told often by teachers that as smart as I was, I could be anything, but I probably wouldn’t because I didn’t want to. My third grade teacher was the first, but not the last, teacher to predict that I would never amount to anything in life and would likely be in jail by 20. She was the only one that went so far as to call me worthless and a bitch, or to tell other kids to hit me for misbehaving, though.

I was frequently singled out in gym for humiliation by the teacher since he felt I couldn’t possibly be that bad at [insert skill here]. Except I was.

Sometime around fourth grade, my parents had started giving me “handwriting lessons” where they’d scream at me that it wasn’t hard and that my hand didn’t hurt as I cried and tried to finish the damn sheets neatly enough to satisfy them. I never succeeded. When the pain of my hand got too much, I’d refuse to write anymore and then my parents would physically restrain me and my father would force me to finish the sheet neatly. “There!” they’d say cheerfully when he finished, giving me a hearty smack on the back. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“I hate you,” I’d often reply, and get sent to my room.

That went on for over a year. One day, on summer break, my mother thought some extra practice might be a good idea for me, so my handwriting didn’t atrophy over the summer. I came inside from climbing trees and saw the handwriting set up on the dinner table and immediately melted down. I don’t remember what happened. I do remember that whatever I did, my throat and hands and head were sore afterwards and it convinced my parents their “lessons” were making me miserable, because I never had to do them again, and my parents secured an agreement from the school that I wouldn’t have to do any more “extra practice.”

The school responded by end-running my parents’ refusal to force me to torture myself with handwriting lessons: They started making handwriting quality part of the marking scheme for all of my subjects, and they refused to let me type. My grades in all subjects plummeted. I’d been a straight 95%+ student. I still deserved those marks, but because I physically couldn’t make good enough handwriting, my marks plummeted to low 70s. I spent hours copying over my assignments, often to no avail. When I hit burnout, I wouldn’t do any homework, because a 0 I deserved was less painful than a 72% I didn’t.

(Note that I was, and remain, a perfectionist. A 100% was the only mark I ever felt happy about, and if I got below 95%, I would cry about it. A mark below 75% would induce meltdown. If I made myself not care and refuse to do it, it protected me from the inevitable disappointment of an low mark that I couldn’t help.)

The bullying got worse. I came home crying at least weekly, and I had a lot of bruises on my back and sides from kids hitting me. They made a game of tag out of it: They’d hit me hard enough to bruise, and then go tag their friends. “[my name] germs, no returns!” they’d sign-song. Another time, they refused to call me by name, and instead only referred to me as Beaver – because of my overbite – for two months. And so on. I told my parents, and was told that I should stand up for myself. I stood up for myself in school and got punished by the teachers. I told my parents and was taught that I shouldn’t stand out so much. I tried not standing out, and my clumsy attempts at fitting in were met with derision. I told my parents of my failure, and was told that I should develop a thicker skin. I was over-sensitive. I should just ignore them. I wondered how you could “just ignore” every single interaction with your age-peers, all school day, every school day, for years on end. They told me to stop being defeatist, and that I could fit in if I wanted to, but I must like the attention of standing out.

I began to internalize a lot of bad things. Lazy. Willful. Bratty. Careless. Apathetic Doesn’t want to succeed. Stupid. Freak. Ugly. Thin-skinned. Over-sensitive. Defeatist. Etc. I was receiving the messages on so many fronts – from my parents, from my teachers, from my classmates – that I felt they couldn’t all be wrong. Maybe I really do just not want to work hard enough. Maybe it really is all my fault.

I have spent the time since I left high school trying to erase messages I internalized by the time I was twelve. All because I wasn’t given the right “label” and instead of receiving help for my disabilities, I was written off as a lazy brat. That is how a refusal to give your kid the gift of a correct diagnosis harms them. Because they’ll get labelled anyway – and it will be with words a hell of a lot more painful and a message a hell of a lot more difficult to overcome than simply “different” or “disabled.”

Things, for me, only started turning around when I had a teacher who was willing to look past the endless notes of “does not work up to potential” “is careless in her work” and “behavior problems need work” and actually try to get to the root of the problem. She challenged me where appropriate and accommodated me where necessary. She taught me that I could succeed when I wanted to – I just had to be allowed to type in order to be able to. She arranged typing accommodations and got a label that worked for me, rather than one that worked against me. I wonder how much less pain and how much more progress I could have made in school if more than just my handwriting issues had been addressed. I’ll never know, because my parents refused to even investigate the possibility their kid might have a disability, out of fear of some ominous “label”.

But let me be perfectly clear: Not having any label didn’t stop me from getting labelled, and not having a diagnosis did me far, far more harm than having a diagnosis might have. I don’t know how to convey this to someone who didn’t grow up with absolute knowledge that you would never amount to anything, but the baggage of my childhood is such that every birthday I spend still not in jail and not in a substance abuse induced stupor and not in criminal activity? Is a surprise to me. Because on some level, I still feel like I’m destined for criminality and a bad fate. It’s all my teachers ever expected me to amount to.

And as a result of that? I’m a 26-year-old PhD candidate with two degrees under my belt and a 4.3GPA, and I still don’t feel good enough. And I don’t think I ever will.

Think on that, and then try to tell me that it’s better not to get kids appropriate diagnoses for their disabilities.


In search of a cold beverage

It’s a hot, late summer afternoon. I want something cold to drink. I’ve been thinking all morning about an iced cappucino (Tim Horton’s brand, to live up to Canadian stereotype).

I arrive. Blink.

Where the Tim Hortons’ used to be in the building is replaced by a scene of construction chaos. Exposed wiring, demolished concrete, and the bare bones of framing show where the store used to be. On the door into the area, a sign: “Tim Horton’s Temporarily Moved” with an arrow. I follow. Find the temporary location.

Not a real Tims’. It’s where the old cafeteria was, but the old cafeteria is closed for the summer, so it’s where they moved the Tim’s to – but it’s still a cafeteria, and there’s no Tim’s sign and the displays are wrong.

No matter, I tell myself. I can still get an iced cappuccino.

Grrrrrr. A grinder. Ka-lap, ka-lap, ka-lap. My feet. Muddled conversations. My fingers flutter in front of my face, a reaction to the change. My other hand spins my keys one direction, then another. Clink. Whooshwoooshwoosh. Clink. 

I step into line. Put my hands by my side. No finger-flutters where people could see. Pocket my keys. Don’t want to hit anyone. Wait while a man changes his mind over and over again until I’m tempted to start quoting Monty Python at him (“Get on with it!”). Wait while a woman asks questions about the soup schedule. My turn. 

I step up. “Do you ha-“

Eyes lock on mine. Frozen. Words feel like struggling through syrup as they work their way to my mouth.

“Do- do you – do you ha-” Rephrase. “Have you – Do you – Are you able to – er…” Pause. Collect. Think of the words. Think of the words. “Do you have…”

Words blocked again. In frustration, I make my hand into the shape it takes when I’m holding a drink. “Frozen.” Wrong. “Iced.” Closer.

“Iced cappucino?” the woman at the counter offers helpfully.

Relieved, I nod vigorously. “Yes, do have you that?”

Jumbled. Meaning clear anyway.

“No, sorry. Our machine isn’t working. We have cold drinks in the cooler, though, if you want.” She points.

Excuse to break eye contact. Take it. I look at the drinks. Nothing stands out. They’re not what I want. I want an iced cappuccino. I realize I probably sounded pretty strange earlier. Feel heat on my cheeks as I blush. “No, I have a water bottle at work.”

“Sorry about that,” she says.

“No worries,” I say, stealing a phrase from a Brit I used to work with. Then I channel his wife. “Not your fault. Laters!”

I leave, taking care not to lock eyes with anyone else as I go.

Disparagement humor

… Or, no, it’s really not just a joke.

Disparagement humor is the type of humor designed to make a marginalized group look ridiculous. If the punchline is “Ha, ha, [insert marginalized group here] is [insert stereotype here]!” it’s probably disparagement humor. Jokes about women liking shoes, about black people being ignorant, about disabled people being stupid, or about Asian people liking music, are all examples of disparagement humor. 

In the case of sexism, disparagement humor has been shown to release and normalize sexism. When exposed to sexist humor, men are more likely to behave in a sexist way, and men who enjoy sexist humor are more likely to view sexism as acceptable. That’s bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there. Sexist humor increases rape proclivity if the men find such humor funny. In other words, when men who like sexist humor are exposed to it, they’re more likely to say they’d do stuff that amounts to rape, and they’re more likely to sympathize with rapists in hypothetical scenarios.

There’s also a link between enjoyment of sexist humor and physical, emotional, sexual, and relationship aggression in men. Men who like sexist humor are more likely to be violent, aggressive and abusive.

Similar results have been found for racist humor. People exposed to racist humor are more likely to behave in racist ways, and people who enjoy racist humor are more likely to be racist. Racist humor contributes to hostile environments and is harmful to those targeted by it.

Other vulnerable groups, such as GBLTQIA people and disabled people, have not been studied as much, but given the well-characterized effects of disparagement humor on sexism and racism, it would be foolish to expect anything other than analogous effects.

Because of the fact that disparagement humor normalizes prejudice, that it causes an increase in prejudiced behavior and aggression, and that it thus causes real and measurable harm to the marginalized, I will not tolerate disparagement humor on my blog. Joke about other stuff all you like, but don’t make racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted jokes. They won’t fly here.

Sarcasm tags

As a note to my readers: When I’m being sarcastic, I usually use sarcasm tags. I’ll always put a closing tag when I’m done being sarcastic, but if I feel it ruins the joke to give away that I’m being sarcastic, I sometimes won’t put one at the start. But I almost always use them.


Because I’m shite at parsing sarcasm, and it’s not hard for me to realize that others might have that issue, too, and there’s only so many times that I take something seriously that’s supposed to be sarcastic before I start wishing for real-life sarcasm tags. Since I can’t make meatspace sarcasm tags happen, I’ll just do my best to make virtual sarcasm tags happen. Because it’s so freaking great to not have to guess and wonder and ponder and analyze and re-analyze and re-re-analyze and etc before I decide that Person is…. probably sarcastic? 

And then I find out I’m wrong and they actually meant that and then it gets awkward. Or if they were being sarcastic and I parsed them as serious, it can get awkward, too.

Sarcasm tags eliminate that. They are awesome and should be used in meatspace. Except I’m not really sure how you’d do that? Saying, “Asterisk forward slash sarcasm asterisk” seems awkward. Hm.

Anyone have any ideas on a meatspace sarcasm tag? How would you make that happen?

Lies they told me in school.

This one goes out to the kids who need to hear it, and the adults who lived it. They know who they are.

  1. “In the real world, you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do.” – Not true unless armed people are involved. In the “real world,” near everything is a cost-benefit analysis, and you might do stuff you don’t like to do because you do like the payoff. This is different from being forced to do stuff you don’t want to do because it’s not worth it to you. That, you don’t have to do, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to bully you into compliance.
  2. “You’ll need to know how to write when you get older.” – True in the sense that you’ll need to know how to fill out forms, etc. Not true in the sense that your teacher is trying to make you believe – that handwriting has to be legible, or that you need the 5-paragraph essay (unless your job requires it). More jobs don’t require legible handwriting and a 5-paragraph essay than do – I get a lot of use out of essay structure, but none out of handwriting. Others I know get some use out of handwriting, but none out of essay structure. No adult I know handwrites 5-paragraph essays ever. Doesn’t mean that jobs that require both don’t exist, but does mean that jobs that require both are a hell of a lot less common than jobs that will let you compensate for stuff that gives you trouble.
  3. “Doing [insert pointless make-work here] will teach you discipline and diligence.” No, doing pointless make-work teaches you compliance. Working hard on something you care about to produce something at a high standard will teach you discipline and diligence.
  4. “You need a thicker skin. In the real world, nobody will protect you from bullies.” In the real world, you’re usually not forced to spend most of your day around bullies. In the real world, you get to choose who you spend time around. In the real world, if people deluge you on a daily basis with insults and threats and just won’t leave you alone, it’s called “harassment” and sometimes “uttering threats” and if it’s bad enough, you can press charges. In the real world, decent friends don’t let others bully you. In the real world, when people beat the crap out of you, it’s called “assault” and you can press charges. In the real world, a gang assaulting a smaller person is not brushed off as “just kids being kids.” In the real world, reasonable people will not expect you to be comfortable with and civil to those who have assaulted you.
  5. “You need to work past it. In the real world, you won’t be given special consideration.” In the real world, you often won’t need “special consideration” because many bosses don’t care how you get the work done as long as it’s done and up to standard so you’re free to self-accommodate as needed. Where that fails, in the real world, disability rights are a thing and you can force the issue. It may not make you friends and you may get backlash, but in the real world, just as in school, you have rights. Teachers who say this are just looking to make excuses for their own laziness.


A decade ago, I was a very different person. My confidence was nonexistant, I had almost-daily meltdowns, I self-harmed daily, I spent days without saying a word, I had no real friends, and I hated myself, my life, my family, and the world at large. I was a ball of anger and hatred and fear and hurt.

Now, I’m not in that place. What changed? Two things.

Firstly, I got out of an abusive situation. I went away to university, and so got away from my emotionally abusive parents and my physically and emotionally abusive classmates. Secondly, I started accommodating and accepting myself as who I am, rather than trying to force myself into the mold of what others want me to be.

The first is pretty obvious how it would improve my life – fancy that, when you’re not being told you’re dog shit on the bottom of someone’s boot all the time, you’re not as likely to think of yourself that way.

How did the second work? Well, a few things: After it became impossible to ignore anymore, I admitted to myself that I do actually have asthma and I do actually need to take care of it. Then I learned how to take care of it and learned how to do so in a way that works for me. My lung function tripled over the course of about two years as a result of this action. When you feel better physically, you tend to feel better mentally.

Second, I stopped pretending I can fight my handwriting issue. When I was in high school, my English teacher single-handedly saved my education by arranging accommodations for my undiagnosed handwriting problem (I suspect motor-type dysgraphia, as I know a few people with it, and their handwriting and issues with handwriting are similar to mine – and, like me, they tend to have a lot more problem expressing themselves in handwriting than they do in typing). I sincerely believe that if it weren’t for her, I would have flunked high school, as I can’t do neat handwriting, and I can either write legibly for a short time or write for a long time, but can’t write legibly for a long time. After about a page, the quality of my handwriting drops off considerably. 

In university, I fell back into trying to do assignments in handwriting because that was what was done. This made me miserable for my first term of uni, until I asked my TAs whether I could type up my pre-labs and lab reports, if I attach a handwritten copy of my data so they’d know I didn’t copy from anyone. They knew how bad my handwriting was and how long it took me to handwrite anything and since nothing in the syllabus said the assignments had to be handwritten, they agreed. Note to those with disabilities who don’t have formal diagnoses: Sometimes you can bypass the diagnosis requirement by asking the TA and using a bit of syllabus rules-lawyering. Doesn’t work all the time, I admit (my math prof refused), but it might work sometimes.

Around the same time as I started typing my assignments where possible (and thus freeing up the 20-or-so hours a week I had been spending on trying to copy stuff legibly. No, I’m not exaggerating.), I started taking notes on my laptop instead of with a notebook. I only had one prof give me trouble for it – said prof felt students weren’t paying attention when they had a laptop and prohibited computers in his lecture theatre. When I explained that my handwriting is bad and I can’t take notes if I don’t use my laptop, the prof refused to make an exception unless I spoke with the accessibility centre (which I couldn’t, since I had no formal diagnosis), so for that prof’s class, I’d borrow a friend’s notes and type them up after the lecture. Since I would email my typed versions to my friend, they didn’t mind having a backup of their notes.

Shortly after I stopped trying to fight my handwriting, I stopped trying to make myself look like everyone else in class. I let myself fidget in non-disruptive ways – jiggling my leg, shifting around in my chair, twirling my hair, etc. This helped me focus on the lecture and absorb more from lecture, which in turn let me spend less time on studying and more time relaxing, lowering my stress level further.

Lastly, I quit trying to force myself in to the mold of the girly-girl social butterfly my parents had wanted. I let myself explore my interests and be enthusiastic about them. I quit buying clothes I hated because I thought it was what I was “supposed” to like. If I didn’t have the energy for an outing, I’d call it off rather than forcing myself along and dealing with the ensuing meltdown and aftermath.

“For my own good” isn’t.

Trigger warning: some discussion of abuse and gender norm enforcement.

I have a thing against people doing stuff for my own good or in my best interest without consulting me first. If you don’t like me getting angry with you, don’t do that. I might not show my anger now, or the next time or even the time after that because my parents socialized me hard to never stand up for myself, but eventually, I’ll hit the point of can’t-take-it-anymore and explode at you.

And you will deserve it.

Especially if you know that my parents socialized me into never standing up for myself and so I have a hard time saying, “No, I actually don’t want that.”


Well, most importantly, because nobody knows my wants and needs better than me. So not consulting me on something that concerns me = not cool. When you do that, you’re saying you know my wants and needs at least as well as I do. And you don’t. Secondly, because it’s infantilizing to me to try to treat me like a child who can’t advocate for herself. I know my own best interests. Ask me.

Finally, because people in my past have historically been very dishonest when they claim to be doing stuff in my best interest or for my own good. When people have told me that they’re doing something in my best interest, what they usually really mean is one of three things: “I’m trying to justify abusive behavior,” “It’s in my best convenience,” or “it’s what I want for you, and I don’t give a shit what you want.”
My parents would – and still do – justify abusive behavior by arguing that physical and emotional abuse was for my own good because I needed “discipline.” How threatening to strip a 14-year-old naked in public and spank her is discipline and not emotional and probably sexual abuse, I don’t know. To me, that’s not discipline, that’s abuse. To me, they weren’t doing it for my own good, they were doing it to vent their spleens.

My parents and teachers would frequently argue that refusing me accommodations was in my best interest because it would teach me patience, diligence, organization, and discipline. It didn’t actually teach me any of those. What it taught me was that I’m a bad person (because my boredom intolerance made me act out which got me painted as a problem kid), that people with power will make you do pointless makework just for their own amusement and you can’t fight back, that might makes right (because my parents would physically restrain and force me to complete work I’d refused because it was pointless) and that I should just shut up and take abuse because if I try to stand up for myself, things get worse for me. It didn’t do me any good at all, but it did save them the work of setting up proper accommodations. Fancy that.

My parents would frequently ignore my actual interests to make me do activities with my sister instead. They argued that it was in my best interest to do more social activities. What they actually wanted was for my sister’s social competence and social butterfly characteristics to rub off on me. They didn’t. And, again, not in my best interest to spend time at stuff I didn’t want to do and be refused the chance to do stuff I did want to do. And I wonder, if I’d met kids with whom I had some common ground, if I might have had more friends during grade school than I did when my parents were trying their damnedest to sand off my corners and force me into that round hole they wanted me to go through. I’ll never know, though, because my parents were so damned set on turning me into a “real girl” (their words) that they couldn’t let me be who I actually am and make friends with kids like me.

So, whenever the phrases “for X’s own good” or “in X’s best interest” come up, I get suspicious and wary. Because I know that those phrases pretty much never mean what people say they mean. So unless I’ve told you what would help me or what’s in my best interest, don’t do stuff “for my own good” or “in my best interest.” Chances are, you’re just being self-serving and trying to justify it to yourself. Ask me what’s best for me instead.

How to interact with a marginalized person you think is over-reacting

… on some issue of privilege.

So this post is inspired by an ongoing internet shitstorm that I won’t address because many others have done it better than me. I’m going to just talk in generalities here, instead, because I think it’s one of those things that everyone who’s privileged on 1+ axes of privilege should think about.

Everyone has had that time where someone is pissed off, explodes, and you don’t get why, right? Now, imagine that the person is pissed off about some axis of oppression on which you’re privileged – say, if you’re mentally well, someone explodes about mental illness ableism, or if you’re white, someone explodes about racism, or if you’re a man, someone explodes about sexism, or etc. You don’t get why they’re so pissed. You know they are pissed, because they’re yelling and cursing and generally exploding all over the place. You don’t know why, because what set them off seems – to your privileged eyes – to be rather minor. It seems like they’re over-reacting, or being unreasonable, or being too harsh on the offending person.

What should you do? In general:

  1. Bear in mind that you have no idea what the fuck is going on there. You are just seeing stimulus and explosion. You don’t know context, and you don’t know history.
  2. Assume the other person is, in general, a reasonable person who would not explode for no good reason. Yes, I get that unreasonable people who explode for no good reason exist, but they’re in the vast minority, and you’ll do far less harm assuming an unreasonable person is actually reasonable than in assuming a reasonable person is unreasonable. It is far more likely that the person is a reasonable person who’s reached a point of can’t-take-it-anymore than someone who’s exploding just for the sake of exploding.
  3. Try to relate to the person doing the exploding. This is easier if you are oppressed on at least one axis of oppression: If you are, draw an analogy to your own oppression. In my case, I draw analogies to sexism, heterosexism, and ableism. “So, basically, what that person did is the equivalent of asking me why women don’t just work harder because if they worked harder there wouldn’t be a wage gap?” That sort of thing. If you aren’t, draw an analogy to a time when you’ve had people pick at the same sore spot over and over and over and over until you just can’t take it anymore and finally it all just erupts over a relatively minor nudge. The point here is to realize the person doing the exploding isn’t reacting just to the stimulus you saw, they’re reacting to the cumulative effects of their oppression.
  4. Listen to what the exploding person is saying and look for clues to what your group might be doing wrong in it. For example, if the person is talking about how they’re here and you’ll just have to get used to it, that means the group is making them feel unwelcome and unwanted.
  5. Try to figure out why the stimulus was oppressive, if you can’t see it already. People who are oppressed can hear oppressive dogwhistles without trying, because hearing those dogwhistles is a matter of survival for them. If you’re gay, you need to figure out who will be all, “That’s cool,” if you come out, and who will try to put you in the hospital before you come out to them. If you’re a person with a chronic illness, you need to figure out who will accommodate and who will call you lazy, and you need to figure it out before you disclose your illness. Similar analogies hold true across other axes of oppression.
  6. In the future, call out people who behave in a similar way to the person who provided the stimulus for explosion. It’s not macroaggressive oppression that grinds away at most marginalized people, it’s the cumulative effects of microaggressions. By calling it out when you see it, you lessen the drain of each microaggression. A simple, “That’s a bit ~ist, don’t you think?” or “Not cool,” is sufficient, you don’t have to lecture.

And, likewise, there’s some things you definitely shouldn’t do:

  1. Refrain from automatically siding with the person being exploded at. It’s easy, as a privileged person, to relate to someone who’s privileged in the same way as you and to err on the side of assuming they didn’t mean it that way or that they’re just naive or ignorant. Here’s the thing, though: Whether they’re a card-carrying oppressive asshole, or just Friend Down The Street who’s heart’s in the right place doesn’t really matter in the current context. What matters is that whatever they did hurt somebody. If I hit someone with a car, does the person I hit get any less hurt if I hit them because I was distracted instead of hitting them because I thought it would be fun to hit someone? No. They were hit by a car. Why they were hit by a car doesn’t really matter to them right now, because, hello, they were hit by a fucking car. Right now, they’re far more worried about the fact that they were hit by a car than why they were hit by the car. Same in situations of oppression. As far as the hurt person is concerned, they don’t care whether someone meant to be an oppressive asshole or if they’ve just internalized oppressive cultural memes. The person still did something oppressive.
  2. Don’t minimize the oppressive thing to yourself. Because  you’re privileged in the same way the offender is, it’s easy to relate to them because you can imagine yourself making the same mistake. You might be tempted to justify the mistake – it wasn’t offensive, it was naive. It wasn’t hurtful, it was just ignorant. It wasn’t malicious, it was clumsy.  Don’t do that. I’m prone to this one. Instead of letting myself justify the oppressive action, I try to acknowledge to myself that people sometimes do bad things, either by mistake or on purpose and that just because I could see myself making that mistake doesn’t mean the mistake is excusable.
  3. Extension of #2, don’t gaslight the person exploding. Don’t justify the mistake to them, and don’t minimize it to them. I guarantee, Exploding Person doesn’t want a paternalistic privileged ass explaining to them about how the oppressive person didn’t mean it that way. If you’re oppressed, think of it this way: Would you like some privileged ass explaining to you about how someone who said some bigoted thing isn’t really a bigot? If you’re not oppressed, would you like your boss explaining to you how the coworker-from-hell you have is really a nice person once you get to know hir?  Instead, remember that if you’re privileged, you have social power over the oppressed person and thus must act very carefully in order to avoid furthering the oppression. Secondly, acknowledge to the Exploding Person that the thing that was done to them was in fact oppressive and not okay.
  4. Don’t tone police, don’t chide them for their reaction, and definitely don’t take the exploding person aside for a talking-to. It is not your job to do that, so don’t do it. You are not the person’s boss, you are not their parent, you are not their coach or their teacher. It is not your place to take a stranger or an acquaintance aside and chide them like a naughty child when you know less about the situation than they do. Don’t do that, it’s oppressive as fuck.
  5. Don’t demand the oppressed person educate you on why that thing is oppressive. Oppressed and marginalized people do not exist to be your personal tutors. Google exists. Use it.
  6. Related to #4: remember that demands for “civility” are a common silencing tactic and that the oppressed person did not start incivility. It is uncivil to do something oppressive. It is even more uncivil to demand that someone respond to an insult to their humanity with Straw Vulcan-esque emotional detachment. Emotion is an acceptable and human response to insult and oppression. So, don’t demand that they be more civil.