Last September I reviewed a book from a writer called Michael R. Brown, aka fuguewriter, aka writerspleasure. We knew each other beforehand, did not much care for each other, and in the review you can see why I discussed the book and that I did my best to be evenhanded. A person who has experienced Brown online left me a comment in May, I responded, and a month later Brown became aware of it.
When I saw I had a comment from him, I sighed, figuring it would be more of his strange evasions (the man runs his online life like he is Jigsaw and we must all struggle to decipher the clues he lays out about himself – it is tiresome). I expected to be called a liar, which he calls me with pneumatic regularity when I relate any of my experiences with him online. I expected to read and read and read as he postulated on this, that, and the other as he insulted me, insisted his book was misunderstood and assumed the posture of a man so far above me that he could barely deign to write thousands of words to put me in my place but just had to because of his innate largesse. He has to explain things to me because, you know, I am so dumb.
However, I did not expect him to demean me because I suffer from mental and physical illnesses. Not even from him did I expect such bullshit. These are some of the things he had to say here and at an online snark community where he continued to show his ass.
He demeaned this site and all sites that discuss books as snark sites. He met me on a snark site in 2007 and as a result thinks I sit on snark sites on LiveJournal and do nothing but discuss him and men like him and that my site is nothing more but an extension of the same. Why he has this opinion is something only he can explain, but he can’t explain it here because we finally banned him because he was insulting other commenters, and because why give him another forum when I don’t have to? But because he met me in a site devoted to mocking bad behavior, he has the idea that all I do all day long is snipe at people online. This is important to know because this picture he has of me has caused him to make a remarkable leap in his mind that since all I do is snark people, I must be dwelling in a state of negativity.
And here’s where it gets really stupid and really nasty. Brown asserts that the reason I have an auto-immune condition that affects my skin and joints and mental illness is because I have made myself ill because I do negative things:
Wake up, Anita. There’s a reason you’re as depressed and pain-ridden as you are. Get out of the negativity, before it’s all you can do.
Your negativity reinforces your depression and pain. Yes, yes, I’m so cruel and hateful for shaking you up about your negativity.
These are just two of the things he said. It is stupid because thoughts do not cause illness. Full stop. Let me state it again in all caps: THOUGHTS DO NOT CAUSE ILLNESS! It is ridiculous pseudoscience.
There are a couple of reasons what he said is nasty. It is victim-blaming to tell a sick person that he or she is responsible for their illness. This bit of pseudoscience is used in many ways to encourage people who are very ill to be positive, but there is not a bit of sound scientific research that proves people with sunny dispositions don’t get sick or recover better when they do get sick than morose people. It is also nasty because it is predicated on Brown’s very shaky understanding of who I am and what I do. I spend the bulk of my time reading and writing about books. There is nothing inherently negative about discussing books.
But it is mostly nasty because my illnesses had nothing to do with the topics at hand: Brown’s book and his questionable behaviors online. He invoked it to shame me and worse, he cloaked his need to shame me in some really hilarious concern trolling.
He called my husband an enabler for not doing the right thing and intervening and, presumably, removing me from the internet:
Anita’s compounding her very real life-difficulties with submersion in pervasive Internet negativity, confabulation, etc. You’d do better to assist than enable, but I’m not surprised you’re enmeshed as well.
My very real life-difficulties? Of course he doesn’t mean when fatuous asshats interrupt my day with such nonsense but it is, in fact, a difficulty I face with Brown. But it didn’t stop there. Before he got banned from sf_drama for TOS violations over at LiveJournal, Brown shifted his “concern” focus away from my physical health to my mental health and used deliberately loaded language to create an unsettling conclusion, or it would have been unsettling if anyone believed a word this man has to say:
let me tell you something, right from me to you: my pointing out her self-harming made her, her husband, and you SCREAM with discomfort is my favorite thing in this whole exercise. it really is. because it tells me i hit a nerve, and the only way things get better with stubborn mutually-enabling negativizers like you’all is going against your defense mechanisms, over and over and over. and i’m the one to do it. and in this, if you detect some arrogant pride, you’re right on the mark. i dare because i can, and because i’m right. and none of the rest of you gives a rat’s ass about it.
Emphasis mine. Of course, those who read his long comments about me in the review entry might understand he means I am harming myself by making myself sick with all this negativity. Really, “self-harm” is synonymous with “self-injury” and I have no doubt that was his point. I have so much empathy for those who self-harm but I am not one of them. Brown’s filter for mental illness is so deranged that he likely thought trying to make me sound like a cutter would reduce me in the eyes of others as so mentally fragile steps must be taken asap to secure my well-being. Then he goes on to imply, in the most self-important concern trolling ever, that my friends online and my husband are only defending me because they are complicit in my self-harm and that he is the only person who truly cares about my well-being.
Lovely, isn’t it.
I am writing this entry for a number of reasons. One is that I want this to stand so that if anyone ever Googles this fine specimen of humanity, they will see this entry and know that Brown is so low that he will invoke a foe’s physical and mental health in an attempt to bring focus off of his own nauseating behavior and give his own bad motives a sheen of “concern.”
I want him shamed. Michael R. Brown is only one of millions of people online who do this sort of thing. They do it because it’s easy. They do it because the internet has made everyone a goddamn expert. Despite the fact that science disproves it, many people think they are responsible for the brain chemistry they are born with. Despite the fact that we know full well the limitations of our bodies, we have strangers telling us that we are our own limitation. We have strangers giving us advice that could harm us and are offended when we politely refuse because we know our capabilities and the science behind our illnesses. People accuse us of being “negative” when we refuse the latest snail oil supplement or refuse to endorse the power of positive thinking. We have people who use sickness to make us less than human in something as petty as an online argument. And it’s bullshit. I can’t make an example out of every person who does this sort of thing maliciously but I sure can make an example of the one who did it to me.
People who are well physically and mentally do not understand the shame that comes from being sick. It is bad enough to be covered in scars, as I am. It is bad enough to creak when you walk – if you can walk. It is bad enough to see parts of your life drilling down into a smaller and smaller focus until you know that things will never be the same. A long walk, even with sunscreen, could make my next Sweet’s Syndrome flare-up worse, meaning more time on drugs that make me sick and anxious, more scars so that strangers stare at me. Little things like taking an evening walk with my husband have all kinds of hidden dangers beyond the sun. If I get scratched by a branch, if a happy dog leaps up on me and a claw scrapes my skin, if I encounter something I am allergic to, I could develop an outbreak of plaques on my arms. My last flare up also involved my joints, so now I am in interminable testing to see what else is happening to me. Some mornings I feel like I need a cane but I work through it. One day there will be no working through it, I fear.
My brain has been messy since the day I was born. I have been diagnosed and misdiagnosed but the best way to describe my condition is cyclical depression. I just finished with a bout. When it happens my days are dark and now you know why I may go several weeks between discussions. Trying to manage my atypical brain has caused me to become an addict, an alcoholic, and nearly cost me my life when a misdiagnosis landed me in a mental hospital when prescription drugs made me psychotic. I am sober now, but I have zero control over what happens to my brain. Even prescription drugs only go so far with my brain chemistry. I could fall into a depression at Disneyland (and probably would, actually). I could fall into one reading my favorite book. I could fall into one cuddling kittens. My brain and what it does is beyond me simply thinking happy thoughts.
So now you know this about me. So let me tell you what these things mean, in the hard, cold, day-to-day world. They mean people look at my arms and hands because I have purple, circular scars left from the plaques. They fade a bit over time but they never disappear and the faded ones become flanked by new, livid discolorations from time to time. I feel strange that in the blistering heat of Texas I wear long sleeves. I feel out of place a lot. I worry a lot about what is happening to my joints and from time to time, I am utterly disgusted with myself. I was once a pretty girl. I am now scarred, pale, often bloated from steroids. Sometimes I feel like my confidence is sapped and I feel ashamed to be in this body. Then sometimes I feel fine, like the world and I will be okay.
My mental illness has caused me more shame than anything else because my physical issues are only hard on me. My brain makes things hard for others, like my husband. I have self-medicated when I knew it was counter-productive. I have said and done things in the course of trying to make a dark time end that I cringe when I remember it all. To be unable to regulate my emotions makes me feel ashamed because it deprives me of being able to do that which others do effortlessly. I cannot eat properly, sleep becomes impossible, even showering seems beyond me. The shame that comes from not even knowing if one has the physical and emotional resources to engage in the most basic elements of self-care, like eating and showering, humbles you and diminishes you. It also makes me full of dread because many sunny days are clouded by the fact that I know a dark day will come again. It’s hard. But again, I work through it. Some days are horrible. Some days are wonderful.
I explain these things about me so that there can be no mistake in anyone’s mind that my body or my head can be used against me. That which I was open about in other places I am being open about here. Putting things down into words of my own hopefully will make it clear though I feel shame from time to time, I really don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of.
So now that you know that I am sick mentally and physically and how it affects me, ask yourselves this: What the fuck does any of this have to do with me running a book blog?
The answer is: Not a fucking thing.
The fact is this: Michael R. Brown tried to shame me for being ill. He can’t. It’s not just that his initial premise that I spend my entire day in negativity is wrong. It’s not because I know he is a choad for whom I have zero respect. It’s not any of that.
It’s that I knew immediately what he was trying to do. One of the benefits of having gray hair is that I finally know when a loser is throwing shit with both hands to see what will stick because he can’t win an argument any other way. That is what Brown was doing. He was trying to distract me into discussing my health with him, he was using my health to distract from his essential cravenness as a human being, and he was trying to shame me by dragging my health into a discussion of a book review.
If you suffer from any sort of illness, never permit anyone to do this. When it happens, recognize it for what it is: an attempt to distract and an attempt to shame you. If you can confront, do it, but if you can’t confront, do not accept this attempt to diminish you. Reject it and the mentality behind it. Sick people often internalize the near-constant onslaught of bullshit that comes their way. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that when anyone brings your health into a situation where it has no place, they are misguided at best (like most family members), or at worst they are foul and cruel. Reject any idea other than that you deserve respect at all times. Even if you can’t speak out, just knowing it helps.
And if you are lucky enough to be wholly sound in mind and body, you need to understand a few things:
–If you don’t know me well enough to know my cats’ names, you don’t know me well enough to bring up my illnesses in an online conversation. Extrapolate this to everyone you know or encounter. Do you know the last name of that woman with lupus who pissed you off on a message board? Do you know if that guy in the next office at work, the one who has a limp, has kids? If you don’t have access to a level of intimacy with a person to know basic facts about his or her life, you do not know them well enough to bring up their illnesses. Ever. Especially not in a book review, an online disagreement, or during petty internet bullshit.
–If you do bring up a person’s illnesses in a manner like Brown did with me, in a faux-display of concern to cover your viciousness, no matter how much you justify it to yourself (“Oh, I didn’t want her to get worked up, poor thing!” or similar), you are a Bad Person. Stop doing it and you won’t be a Bad Person anymore, at least not in this regard.
–Don’t engage in what many call ‘splaining (you know, “mansplaining” and “whitesplaining” and such) when you see someone like me nail a bigot like Brown to the wall. Don’t tell me I am overreacting when someone uses elements of my life beyond my control to shame me and I respond. How you decide to respond to such things is up to you but don’t tell me that I cannot fight back against someone who wants to take my dignity from me.
This has been an interesting couple of days. Brown has the honor of being the first person banned here, and after this entry and responding to any replies anyone has about him or this whole incident, I am going to assume he doesn’t exist because I never plan to read another word he writes. Much contrary to Brown’s opinion of my life and how I spend my time, I am mostly healthy, spend my days reading books and have here and other places built a network of people who love books, love cats, and like me. I like them, too. I have a pretty positive life, peopled with interesting bibliophiles and beautiful freaks of all description. To spend another moment on this topic deprives me of real joy.
Oh, screw that treacly ending I had up there. Ending righteous anger with protestations that “Hey, I’m HAPPY and having ever so much fun!” is a rhetorical device that still dies hard. Instead, let’s conclude this with the lovely tale of the time Sarah Proud and Tall and Gloria Vanderbilt vanquished the proto-Randian, as it were.
Then let us try to go as long without mentioning the name of Michael R. Brown as we do Ayn Rand and it really will be like the time when the evil queen died and all the forest creatures frolicked and danced in the meadow.