Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Memorial Day Flash Fiction Challenge - It's FREE (and extra time to boot!)

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Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.

Here's why you should do it, especially if you haven't been writing for a while:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity.
2. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
3. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.

The next challenge is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday at 8pm EST.  You'll have twice as much time to write as normal.

Go sign up now at and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within
24(48 THIS WEEKEND) hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday.  BUT BECAUSE I'M THE FLASHMASTER, and it's Memorial Day Weekend, you've got 48 hours! Stories are due on 8pm EST on SUNDAY

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday. But because it's Memorial Day Weekend, the critique is due on 8pm on MONDAY.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

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Going on hiatus for a while

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I'm going to stop writing blog posts for a while, especially about relationships and self-improvement and that sort of thing.

This pains me, as I've seen people respond positively both in comments here, in e-mails, and on social media.  It sucks for me personally, as I'll often realize further things about myself and ways I can further improve while actually writing the posts.

But I have to stop, at least for a while.

It's important to know how I typically write posts for the blog.

I write them in fits and spurts - for example, the posts in May were pretty much all written one weekend in April. In some cases, the ideas for the posts were floating around longer than that, and I'd just not gotten around to writing it. 

Sometimes I'll dash off an immediately relevant post - like the one about inviting dictators over for tea, or how we already have the worst form of socialized medicine - and I'll bump the rest of the posts even further down the queue.

I can also say that most of the posts in May were directly inspired by my own screwups, failings, and realizations as I overcame my own mistakes.  And in the cases where they weren't, they were completely covered by my artistic license - something I made sure to occasionally point out.  (In short - if you recognized yourself in a post and I didn't name you, I was talking about someone else.)

Despite this, it's come to my attention that to some, it's seemed like I was aiming my posts at a specific individual. 

They weren't. 

Regardless, a number of people whose opinions matter to me believe this, even when I've (privately) shared the reasons and inspirations for why I wrote the posts that went up this month, or pointed out that I wrote them before the events that they were supposed to be in response to.

And it's costing me in my own personal life.

If you've found resonance in the posts I've written, or meaning, or clarity, or a point of view that made you stop and think, I'm glad. That was the purpose for writing them here.  If you've found yourself uncomfortably reminded of yourself, you're welcome to ask me directly if I was talking about you.

But I wasn't.

Because I know others have gained value from these posts, I'm not going to take them down.  Maybe I was naive to think that writing things weeks ahead of time or publicly making a point of obfuscating details would be enough to keep people from getting upset and think I was writing about them. I hope that me writing this publicly is enough for those who've thought I was writing about them to think differently.

Regardless, I'm going to take a break for a while. 

Have a good one.

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Moral Judgments and the end of relationships

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I was recently recounting the end of a past relationship, where I was dumped - and found out I was dumped by another person trying to sympathize with me via text message.  I mentioned that I'd pretty much cut all ties with that ex immediately.

The person I was telling said: "Wow, you must have been hurt".

And the thing was, I wasn't.

I was upset, sure. But it was a pretty casual relationship in many ways, so it didn't experience the deep core-level hurt that I've experienced at other times.

Which got me thinking.

In all the instances where I'd either been the person doing the dumping - or cut ties with the person who dumped me - it wasn't because I'd been hurt.

It was because I'd been morally offended.

To back up:  We all have some things where we make a moral judgment. Maybe it's abortion, or the death penalty, or cheating, or lying about money.  The specific offense doesn't matter so much here as the reaction.  They're the thing(s) that are simply unforgivable and elicit an immediate, visceral reaction from you.  Those are moral judgments.

What occurred to me is the possibility that when I (at least) break up with someone or cut ties with them, it's not because they've hurt me, but because they've crossed one of those absolute lines.  For example, explicitly trying to poison a kid's relationship with a parent because your relationship with that parent sucks is definitely one of those lines for me.

Maybe this is just me.  But if it's not just me, then this gives us a different way of looking at how relationships end and how (toxic) relationships persist.

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Luring the thing with feathers - Seeing past the limits of what is "possible"

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I asked her what she wanted from her life.

"I don't see how it can be any different," she replied, and it nearly broke my heart.

Let's back up.

She's (see my artistic license policy; and let me explicitly state this is an amalgam fictional character) in a pretty awful relationship. There's abuse - mostly emotional, but some physical and sexual - as well as the logistical entanglements of money, having been a homemaker for years, and children. She's female, but I know this can happen to men as well; I've been there myself.

I've been talking with her, trying to help her decide what she wants to do. Hell, just what she wants, and it keeps coming back to this exchange. So fast-forward again.

I sigh. "That's not what I asked. I want to know what you would like to have happen if you... I don't know... waved a magic wand."

"I don't have a magic wand."


"It couldn't happen."

I'm reminded of my dog Taylor. The first house he lived in had the kitchen off to the side, and he was trained to keep out of it. When we moved, the door to the backyard required him to go across the tile floor of the kitchen - and he wouldn't. As far as he was concerned, the back door might as well not exist, even though we were begging him to walk across it.

All of us - but especially women, thanks patriarchy - are trained. We are trained to see the walls of what society says is possible... even though these walls aren't based in anything real. If we don't have a concept for something, it's impossible to comprehend (such as the color blue in early Western history, or the concept of progress prior to a few centuries ago).

In this case, it was the walls of society's assumptions that kept her in this abusive relationship. She'd internalized them so much that she couldn't envision changing the relationship, let along leaving.  It did not matter how many ways I tried to phrase it, how many resources or options I pointed out. Her aspirations and dreams were limited by what she'd been told - both explicitly and implicitly - by the walls society (and her boyfriend) had set up around her.

I remember not being able to see a way out. I remember feeling hopeless. I remember thinking that since it wasn't a big blowout fight that day, it counted as a "good" day.

I remember not having any hope.

And so I keep trying to coax the thing with feathers to perch within her mental line of sight, and to sing so that she can no longer ignore its existence.

And maybe someday, she'll be able to imagine a better future for herself.

Because this scenario - or something so close to it - has played out so frequently in the last few years, I'm going to again note my artistic license policy, and add in that if the shoe fits, you should probably check out the signs of being in an abusive relationship.

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Don't let the loops and whorls of self-improvement throw you for a loop!

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I've written a lot of posts about relationships and communication over the last few years.

Sometimes that causes a problem for me.

I usually tell people "If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, it's because I'm either quoting Dan Savage or it's something that I've screwed up in the past."

And I have screwed up a lot in the past.  And I've done a lot of work on and with myself to improve.


Sometimes I get overconfident. Sometimes I forget that I have to keep doing the work.  And then I screw up, and things get worse, and I recover, and improve.

And that's the way it usually works.

Look, here's a graph to illustrate:

Improvement tends to have loops and backsliding and be irregular as all hell.  The important thing is that the overall trend is upward.  It's great if your best is way better than you were before.  But it means something if your worst is better than your worst before.

That said... if you're dealing with someone who is trying to improve, that does not mean that you have to put up with behavior that violates your boundaries or hurts you... even if they're improving.

Don't forget that either.

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We already have (partially) socialized medicine; just the worst form of it.

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Shared from a friend:

If you're saying "people without heath insurance can just go to the ER!", you've already conceded the argument. You've admitted that people should have health care regardless of ability to pay. Now, you're just insisting on the least effective and most expensive way to pay for it.

To put it another way: you've agreed to help pay for your buddy's tractor repairs. But instead of chipping in for oil changes and regular maintenance, you're insisting he wait until the engine seizes up and the transmission drops before you'll give him a dime.

An addendum: To say nothing of the fact that certain long term or chronic conditions (cancer, MS, Parkinson's, to name just a few) can only be ameliorated by preventative care - once it's reached "emergency room" levels, it may be too late, and long term damage is already done.

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Three things that mess up communication without you even realizing it

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Brains are tricksy things, and you've got to do some due diligence to make sure that the things that are going on in your head are actually... well, real.

I don't just mean "better communication" things - though those are vital.  I mean things like external factors that can completely alter and shift the ways we interact without us being aware of them.

Here's three ways it happens - and the odds are good that at least one of them effects you.

1.  While "hangry" might be a marketing slogan, it's also a real thing. Aside from it meaning that you're low on energy (including willpower), it also kicks in adrenaline and physiological effects that often lead to anger.

2. The weather can have a significant effect on your mood - and almost entirely negatively.  It's not just through things like SADD or general light levels, but can even do a number on you if there's a rapid change in barometric pressure (I'm noticing the latter).  This effect seems to be greater with people who are already in an unstable emotional state.

3. The autonomic nervous system - the part of your body that controls "fight or flight" - tends to react differently in men and women (PDF link).  In particular, the sympathetic nervous system (e.g. "starting fight or flight") kicks in faster for men, and the parasympathetic ("calming down from fight or flight") is slower to respond for women.

How does this work in real life?  Let's say that Anastasia and Fabio are a couple and have an issue that requires a hard discussion.

1.  Anastasia and Fabio have the discussion before eating, and are both "hangry".  As a result, when Fabio brings the issue up, Anastasia responds defensively.  Fabio gets defensive in turn, and so rather than a productive discussion, it turns into an argument.

2. They try again, but this time there's a storm front moving in and the barometric pressure is dropping precipitously.  Fabio is already on edge from the first discussion, so the weather change is really doing a whammy on him, but he's not consciously aware of it.  So when Anastasia brings it up, Fabio is out of sorts, throwing Anastasia off.  Another argument ensues.

3.  After about twenty minutes of arguing and discussion, Fabio and Anastasia sound like they've reached an agreement.  Fabio breathes a sigh of relief, just in time for Anastasia to say "...and ANOTHER thing!"

All three operate on the same principle. When there's something off with our mental state, our brains - the wonderful, tricksy pattern-matching machines they are - try to find something to explain why we feel off.  In all three cases, neither Fabio or Anastasia is aware of the external influences that's pooching their communication.

The first two are pretty obvious, but the third might need a bit more explaining.  While Fabio's parasympathetic nervous system has kicked into gear and calmed him down, Anastasia's isn't done yet.  She's still in "fight or flight" mode.  The actual thing that started "fight or flight" is done and over with, so her brain - without conscious intent - finds something else to explain why she's still feeling that way.

It's the same kind of effect that happens with scary movies on date night - the excitement from fear is physiologically similar to the excitement from attraction.  Our brains try to find a reason to explain why our bodies are all worked up, and...

The cool thing is that if you're aware of these effects, you can start to work to minimize how you're thinking.  Postpone arguments until you're not hungry.  If you're out of sorts, check the weather.  Be aware of how your body handles its autonomic nervous system so you don't accidentally start a new argument just after you've finished the hard discussion you started out to have.

And above all, be kind and understanding of yourself and those you love.

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Everyone's got needs. And sometimes that means you're needy.

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Sometimes, a "truth bomb" lives up to its name.

While reading The Real Cause of Neediness over at Elephant Journal, there was one on the first page.  Here it is (though the whole article is worth reading):
So many of us internalize our sensitivity and our cries for emotional support as something negative—something that we need to fix.

Truth bomb: You are only as needy as your needs aren’t being met.
That ain't no joke.

If someone's needs aren't being met in a relationship, it can be really frustrating for everyone.  And not just in the obvious way where, hey, a need isn't being met.

Too often we aren't aware of our needs and how they are, let alone whether or not they're being met.  There's little guidance in either during our formative years.  Most of us learn by screwing up, over and over and over again.

It's most frustrating when not only is a need not being met, but that nobody's even aware what the need actually is.

Remember that our brains are tricksy little buggers.  If they can't address the actual thing that's going on, they'll snatch up something else to latch onto. 

So that unmet need will get expressed somehow.  Maybe it'll be picking fights.  Or dissatisfaction with a different part of the relationship. Or even that the disagreement or problem will continue to shift while the main need is unexpressed.  It'll come out sideways.

Here's an example of how something can come out sideways:

In my day job, I work with big imaging machines, and somewhere around 5%-7% of the population is claustrophobic.  This can be someone who doesn't like the machine too close to their face to people who can't let their big toe go under the camera. It's no big deal to me if someone can't deal with the machine.  I respect other people's baggage.  If someone is claustrophobic, they're claustrophobic, and that's that.

Sometimes, though, a person will seem nervous and complain about everything but the size of the machine.  They'll say it's anything except claustrophobia. I've learned over the last twenty years that when there's difficulty after difficulty (and fixing each one doesn't do anything) and they finally decide to refuse the test, they're almost always going to say they're claustrophobic.

We do the same thing in our personal lives. If our needs aren't met, that will come out, one way or another.

It's far, far better (and easier) to address them directly.

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How are you spending the seconds of your life?

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Economics has a reputation for not dealing with real people or nuances like emotion and relationships.

But there is one economic concept that can help us in our personal lives: opportunity cost.

Here's the basic idea:  You have a limited number of seconds in a life. In your life.  Each is worth something. Are you getting the maximum outcome for the investment of the seconds of your life?

In economics, this doesn't mean that you have to be earning the maximum amount of money every second. You may be earning at a lower potential - or even spending money - in order to maximize your earnings later. The classic example is going to a trade school or college.  You spend money up front so that you can earn more later.

Likewise, in a relationship you may spend time up front having hard conversations or tackling difficult topics. The goal there is that later on you get a return on the investment of your time by being a better person, avoiding unnecessary conflict, and having a better relationship.

Opportunity cost is a useful way to think about things to ensure that you aren't stuck.

For example, I know a young woman (see my privacy policy) who is trying to pay off a large debt. She is currently working a minimum-wage job and spending the rest of her time doing odd jobs for a family member for minimal payment.

It did not occur to her that she could spend some time learning an additional skill - perhaps getting some kind of verification or certificate - instead of doing the odd jobs so that she would be able to earn more money and be able to pay off her debt sooner.

In relationships this also relates to the fuck yes idea, or how I wrote last week about how obligation is a horrible reason to stay in a relationship.

You have a limited number of seconds in your life. Is the relationship(s) you're in now the way you want them to be? Are they growing towards what you want them to be? Are they improving?

Look, there is nothing inherently wrong with being in a minimum wage job.... If you choose it intentionally and it meets your needs. Likewise, there's not anything inherently wrong with your relationship as long as you choose it intentionally and it meets your needs.

If your job or relationship is not the best way you could be spending the seconds of your life, then you have an obligation to yourself.  You have an obligation to either improve your job or relationship... or find a new one.

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Identifying the Common Shitty Squirrel behavior

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I posted this cartoon from Poorly Drawn Lines on social media yesterday with the comment "I know people whose significant others are like this."
And... yeah. I do know people who act like that towards their significant others. They run things on an explicit quid pro quo basis.  At best.  At worst, they'll withdraw love, compassion, approval - even things like money and help around the house - if they don't get what they want.  Some even "forget" to do things that create more problems for their significant others.

This sort of squirrely behavior doesn't often show up in lists of "signs of an abusive relationship", but it probably should.

So I'm going to start referring to this behavior as being a shitty squirrel (or a shitty tree-rat), much in the same way that I use the shorthand of brain weasels.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep telling my amour that she's freaking awesome. 

Especially when she takes the time to tell me when I'm wrong, or when she needs time to herself, or otherwise disappoints me.

Because there's no way I want to act like a freaking tree-rat.

Running the abuser on a separate mental loop - and how that hurts the ones who care

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Something happens when you're in an abusive1 (or otherwise awful) relationship.

You learn to cope.

It's especially effective (but does not require) when the abuser has succeeded in isolating you from loved ones.  (You might remember that is a sign of an abusive relationship2.

I personally call this kind of mental coping "running on a separate loop", because that's what it felt like to me when I was the one exhibiting this behavior.

What's especially awful about this is that it can be extremely hurtful and damaging to those who care about you and want to be supportive.

That's what I ended up doing, and by the time I realized what was going on and started dismantling it, I'd permanently damaged relationships and hurt those I cared about.  I've seen this happen with other people as well, and that's why I decided to write this up now.

When you've been in an abusive relationship for a while, the ways that you react in that relationship are knee-jerk responses.  They're like reflexes.  You respond and react in specific patterns to minimize how much you are hurt by the abuse.

Here's the bad bit:  These responses and patterns don't hit the conscious mind.

Because these responses and reactions aren't handled the same way as everything else you do, your responses can seem completely opposite to the way that you normally behave - or even counter to the ideals that you hold most dear.

Frequently, you might be aware that something's wrong.  If you're able to be away from the direct influence of the abuser, you might even be able to identify how your behavior and responses are unhealthy... but only after the fact.  When you're back in the abuser's presence, the reactions take hold again and what seemed so clear is suddenly obscured by mental fog.

When you're the person who cares about the abused person, it's especially rough. You'll see the abused person blithely accept behaviors and conditions they'd never otherwise accept. This can even effect how they treat you.

It looks a lot like hypocrisy. It looks a lot like a double standard.  It sure as hell feels personal.

I can tell you as someone who did this sort of thing: It's not.

The double standard you're witnessing is like a reflex.  Reflexes happen without conscious thought - they're usually handled by the spinal cord, and the brain just gets notified after the fact.

The same thing is happening here.

The "hypocrisy" you're experiencing has nothing to do with the actual person you care about - it's all about the reactions and reflexes constructed during the period of abuse.  It isn't who your loved one wants to be - or even who they are - outside of the toxic influence of the abuser.

If you're the person experiencing the double standard I am not - repeat not - telling you to blindly ignore your own boundaries and mental health.  Again, from personal experience, I know this kind of separate "loop" can do a lot of damage to the people who care about the victim of abuse.  Maintain your boundaries. Maintain your own mental sanity.

Sometimes that can even mean the very, very difficult choice of cutting a person you care about out of your life.

But sometimes, just knowing that it really isn't personal is enough to help you be able to be there for them anyway.

1 I don't think that intent to be abusive is required for a relationship to become abusive.
2Ten signs of an abusive relationship (if any ring true, read more at:
    • They want to isolate you from friends or even family.
    • They tend to insult or belittle you, even when “joking”.
    • They blame others a lot, and often times it’s you.
    • Alcohol and drug use that causes erratic behavior can be a catalyst of abuse.
    • They instill fear, uneasiness or are intimidating in their speech or actions.
    • They punish you or retaliate for time you spend away from them.
    • They expect you to be subservient but aren’t helpful themselves.
    • They are extremely jealous of your time, relationships and/or aspirations.
    • They manipulate your emotions and make you feel guilty.
    • They get physical. Obviously hitting someone is abusive, but physical abuse can start as intimidating posturing, grabbing or controlling your movements and space.

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If you walk on eggshells, sooner or later they're gonna break.

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It is a sign of a healthy relationship that you consider your partner(s) feelings.

It is a sign of a toxic relationship that you walk on eggshells worrying about your partner(s) reactions.

Put that baldly, it seems simple and obvious.  Sadly, the slope between them can be awfully slippery.

Luckily, there's one clear difference between the two: whether or not people are owning their own emotions.

Here's an example that comes quickly to mind:

Both Goofus and Gallant have a celebrity crush on Chris Evans.  Goofus denies having the celebrity crush because they're afraid that will make their partner mad or sad. Gallant is honest with his partner about having the crush, but doesn't mention it when their partner is having a rough day or feeling insecure.

See the difference there? Even though both might not tell their partner immediately, the difference is in how they're approaching it.

Goofus is taking responsibility for their partner's emotional state. They're fearing a negative emotional reaction of any kind, and so decides to hide how they feel.

Gallant is considering their partner's emotional state.  Gallant knows the information may not be pleasant for their partner, so they try to tell their partner when they're able to receive that information.  They remain honest about what they want and who they are, while still being kind to their partner.

Aside from the "hey, I want to have a healthy relationship" bit, there's a very practical reason why being honest about who you are and what you want and need is a good strategy.

It will come out anyway; you only get to choose how it comes out.

Walking on eggshells and hiding who you are and what you need - including things like irritations at behaviors or situations - takes willpower. And willpower (or mental energy) is as much a finite resource as the amount of physical energy you have.

This is why so many fights and arguments start in the evening and late night! Our mental energy reserves are low, so it's harder to balance on eggshells.  And once our reserves are so low we can't keep it inside any longer, we have no energy to spare for consideration of our partner(s).

So rather than a difficult, but honest discussion, it turns into a nuclear meltdown.

It's possible to walk on eggshells around your partner for an extended period of time.  It's born out of a fear that the difficult honest discussion will go badly.  And sometimes they do; that's just the way things are.  But I know people who walked on eggshells around their partner for years.

And sooner or later, that always - always - ends badly.

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Today, in "shit I shouldn't have to say", Philippines edition

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If you defend the extrajudicial murders (with a death toll over 7,000 people) in the Philippines, you are also defending extrajudicial murders everywhere.
Including  the US's shameful history of lynching. 

"But they're criminals!" Deciding that is the point of a court of law, not a mob or thugs on motorcycles with guns.

"But most of the public approves!" That applies to lynching in the Southern United States as well.

Mob violence and extrajudicial murder is mob violence and extrajudicial murder. 


I understand the desire to punish and get rid of those who are harming others without bothering with the PITA that the courts can be.  That's also been my go-to reason for being glad I don't have the power to make that call.

I understand the visceral appeal; I like superhero fiction as much (or more) than anyone. I also realize it's fiction, where the bad guys are always bad and the good guys don't punish the innocent by accident. (or it's glossed over, thanks DCU).

This is the real world. And even with checks and balances, we punish the innocent a frightening percentage of the time.

This is pretty clear cut and dry, and I'm horrified that it still has to be spelled out.

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Everyone has baggage, whether it's in the DSM or not.

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If you are old enough to read this, you have baggage.

If you are old enough to read this, you have damage.

If you are old enough to read this, you have habits and thoughts and impulses and actions that you struggle to work with or overcome.

You are still a member of society, and worthwhile.

Maybe you had a bad breakup. Maybe you're aneurotypical. Maybe you have something that is classified as a mental disorder. Maybe you simply have some aspects of a mental disorder or of being aneurotypical.

But that does not mean you are crazy. That does not mean you are wrong or bad.

You are still a person. You are still amazingYou still deserve the same love and respect and consideration as everyone else.

What some people see as othering or want to classifying as an illness I frequently see as different degrees of obstacles.

Maybe you need medication to overcome the obstacle. Maybe you just need to change your point of view. Maybe you were unable to overcome the obstacle and just have to work around it. 

All of these are valid.

Make no mistake, I am not being dismissive of anyone's struggle. Quite the opposite.

I am saying that there is a lack of empathy for the struggles we all face.

Regardless of the shape, size, or type of struggle and obstacles you face, you are not alone.

Perhaps your struggle is different than mine. Perhaps it will take extra time to understand the scope of your struggle or the shape of your struggle.  Maybe I could overcome your obstacles easily while you'd struggle with mine.  Perhaps it's the opposite.

It doesn't matter. We all have obstacles. We all have struggles.

In the end, we are all damaged goods.

We have this in common, every last one of us.

We have received help and aid and comfort during our own struggles.

You may not understand or share the struggle and obstacles of the person you are interacting with today. 

But you know what your own feels like.

You know the shame and fear that you feel while fighting your own struggle and overcoming your own obstacles. 

The only sin here is if you do not extend that empathy and understanding to those you care about as they face their own struggles in life.

The only sin is denying others the comfort and caring that you yourself crave.

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