“She always did put too much of herself into her creations…”
My name is Lavender. I’m chronically ill, neurodiverse, a geek, a sometimes comedienne (intentionally or otherwise), a foodie and I (burnout aside) care a lot about social justice. And the WordPress community. I used to know how to talk about trauma. And, I will forgive you if you don’t remember any of that, given I’ve been inactive for six months.
Because did I mention I used to know how to talk about trauma and social justice? Well, I burned out on that extremely hard. I can pinpoint the moment. My work went ‘all social justice, all the time’ at exactly the moment when they also seemed to forget why data ever mattered. (To the point of ignoring warnings I had given them for…a while…that they were risking some important contracts.) They changed my job to the point where I was exhausted and physically in pain all the time (all data entry, no real data analysis). This nominally happened because of a scandal at the upper echelons of the company that – instead of leading to the leader stepping down, which is what the scandal revealers hoped – led to a rather pro forma ‘equity audit’ and a whole bunch of retraumatizing ‘social justice training’ and ‘trauma-informed training’ that, despite myself, I attempted to participate in honestly. Even while my wrists were killing me because my relatively senior position suddenly was almost entirely manual data entry for reasons of ‘the new leadership doesn’t really see the point in anything more sophisticated than a Google doc.’ Because I do care. And, I was told that I was simultaneously too smart and too invested in the idea that anyone could be as smart as me if they just had the opportunity. I was too equitable for how smart I was. And, that combination just made others feel bad about not being as smart as me. So, could I basically cease being…all of me…for the comfort of others?
And, I broke. I broke hard. I spent my entire formative years always being told I was too much of everything except smart. Too selfish. Too much of a freak. Too helpless to ever survive if I ran like Hell from the 9th Circle of Hell. Then, in my twenties, it was, “You are a weirdo, but at least you are smart enough to make up for being a weirdo. Thus, we keep your neurodiverse ass around.” Now, suddenly, it was “Smart is no longer in. And this being sensitive to others thing? So they don’t ever have to feel like you did? No, that just makes people feel worse because it shows you actually are smarter than them. Could you try just….not being smarter?”
No. No, I can’t actually. I spent years developing this particular autistic mask to survive, and I frankly wouldn’t know how to change it anymore. I suck at masking. Being Sheldon Cooper – which was my nickname from my old Bully of a Boss – is about the only mask I know how to put on long enough to function Also, no, I don’t want to talk to all of you who said that to me at work about my River of Life. Because a) I don’t remember much of my own life (and don’t feel I owe work idiots explaining why) and b) Turns out when I start to tell the parts I do remember, umm, well, it’s too intense for the comfort of others, too. There was a moment where I went sufficiently ‘fuck it’ that I, uh, told a true story from my childhood that was a true response to one of those ‘let’s examine the messages we learned in childhood’ prompts. Funny enough, it turns out some of my more ordinary stories (“Oh, yeah, we had no furniture growing up, and I had no say in what I was allowed to listen to, so, uh, I missed out on all the formative t.v. experiences of my pop culture era. So, I can’t really say pop culture influenced me much. I didn’t know it enough to be influenced. My partner still shows me old-school movies to “make up” for what I should know as just cultural zeitgeist for an older millennial…”) kind of freak people out, you know? (No, I’m not sorry I made them uncomfortable at that point. After all the things they’d said, it was…oddly satisfying. And, well, I’m not a perfect person. Let’s be real.)
That extreme work burnout carried over into a trauma burnout. I’ve been in therapy now for years. Intensive trauma therapy to learn to talk to my Greek Chorus, to be okay saying the word ‘autistic’ (even though that in itself is a massive trauma trigger), and to just try to believe that the world I live in now and the life I built now is the real one. Not the 9th Circle of Hell. And, oh yeah, we might want to have a kid. And, like Hell if we do is that kid ever going to know a Lavender as a mom who is still too connected to the 9th Circle of Hell. I refuse to perpetuate ACES. So, if work is going to send me into clinical burnout and I need Hell to just not exist, well, what do I even talk about on my blog? I had no idea what to say, so I said nothing. It was just too much. You see, I have this tendency to not know how to give my some. If I can’t emotionally be in a place where I pour my heart and soul into my creations, I just…shut down. I only know how to put too much of myself into something, or nothing at all. And, if I’m giving nothing at all, it’s usually because I’ve given so much and someone or something has drained so much from me that I have nothing left to give.
I told my therapist, “When do I get to just be done with trauma being such a defining part of my life? When do I just get to be like everyone else and live to try to find joy in the everyday?”
This is a nice sentiment in the abstract. I really believed for a while that I had mastered it. I really believed I had ‘leaned in’ to the other parts of my life. I needed trauma not to be my ‘all’ and so it had to become my ‘none.’ And, that was tricky for my blog.
Hi. My name is Lavender. I am also – despite my best intentions – pathologically incapable of not investing too much of myself into something. All those months I thought I was doing exactly what I told my therapist? Just deciding “not to care” anymore? As a break from all those years of caring too much? Well, it turns out I was taking all of my overly intense neurodiverse special-interest-level passion and putting it into an accidental hobby instead. I was trying to be detached and not care. Because work and life was too much, and I “needed a break”. But, instead, I was just caring too much about something else.
I went through a phase where – because burnout and depression make everything gray – I just said yes to randomness. Anything completely off the wall that I could think of for the sake of novelty. One of those things, since I had briefly tried DMing a short mini arc back a year ago for friends and had fun with it, was to try actually running a D&D game. One day, in a gaming group, someone posted they had never played D&D before. And, they would like to. Ideally with some other neurodiverse, disabled folks who would be patient with them. It was a sort of “Can disabled people with mental health challenges play this game?” kind of post. And, on a lark, I messaged that person directly and went “You know what? Find a few more people and I’ll run something. No clue what – and don’t expect me to be good – but what the heck?” I got my neurodiverse partner (who is contractually obligated by marriage to support me in my wild-ass ideas) to agree to join, and we found three more.
And, because I’m Lavender and I’m also – never forget – an irony magnet, that ‘who knows what story I’ll run’ ‘off-the-shelf’ experiment turned into an almost year-long epic sprawling homebrew campaign that….broke up one in-real-life engagement and one in-real-life marriage. And, thus, ultimately broke up the campaign as a result.
No, I’m not joking. We all put a lot of ourselves into that campaign. The story really was epic. Like, ‘ended in birthing a God’ epic. And, it was the most amazing distraction from burnout I could have asked for at a time when the real world sucked. It was a world that I initially created that others bought into that I could spend infinite hours ignoring how burned out I was by creating scenarios that other people were eager to participate in, talk about, speculate on. It was a world where others were so invested in the story that they literally would role play out the most mundane of events throughout the week between our ‘official’ sessions, and they would come to me with sourced (in so much as there can be said to be a true ‘source’ for anything in D&D Faerunian lore as so much is contradictory) ideas for “Because X, Y, and Z happened in game, and because these things are true, what if this was also true?” It was a world wherein – if I had just had a talk with someone at work that nearly made me cry – I could skip the crying part altogether by just losing myself in designing a fancy map for the next session. If I ever wanted to stuff all of what I didn’t want to feel anymore down beneath glorious distraction, it was the perfect excuse. I loved it. There came a point in that game where I felt like they were all my co-DMs and it really was such a living world that I – the supposed creator of the game – was only ever a half step ahead of their next plot twist that would change everything. We talked at times about maybe trying to even do a webcomic of the campaign someday.
And, it – for a time – gained me some of the closest semi-IRL (we still were spread across two different countries, so communicated ‘face to face’ only online) friends I’d ever had. I’ve never had any actually neurodiverse friends whose faces I’ve actually seen. It’s awesome, when it works. Because all those things you are embarrassed to admit about yourself? Like that you care about your interests to the point of obsessiveness? (Hence why they are called neurodiverse ‘special interests’…) Like that you are up because you are in pain and could use a distraction, so want to do an RP scene? Like that your work sucks? You can just say those things. You can’t just say those kinds of things to neurotypical people, most of the time. Not without being humiliated. But, for a time, it seemed like we could all just say things to each other. And, have each other as friends to be supportive. To talk about things if we needed to, or to just dive headfirst into our collaborative story if what we really needed was a distraction. It seemed like maybe neurodiverse friendships were what I had been missing all my life. Because I didn’t have to mask at all, and neither did they. For once, I didn’t feel like an alien even in the real world.
And, those friends would tell me about their own struggles, too, and I’d try to support them through them through their own moving or their own nights up in pain. Until – to get back to that part about how my game broke up one IRL engagement and one IRL marriage – two of the things that the group ended up ‘supporting’ each other through were those aforementioned ends of serious relationships. We supported one group member who felt trapped in a marriage where their spouse was repeatedly unfaithful through asking for a divorce and moving back to their own childhood home (which had its own tricky memories, because being neurodiverse so often comes with trauma.) And, we supported another who felt trapped in an engagement where they “felt like strangers they had just met online now cared more about them than their partner and accepted their neurodiversity where their partner didn’t” through their own partner deciding to call it quits on them, and through the process of deciding maybe it was for the best even if they hadn’t initially been the one to call it quits.
And, in hindsight, it was perhaps obvious that the moment the ink on the divorce papers was dry, that those two separate players who had ended IRL relationships during the course of the campaign would…immediately start dating each other. There was a lot of ‘life imitates art’ in that game, and those two players had had characters who had been together in the story since the third month of the game. Now, it’s always…tricky…to know what to say to someone who has just ended a really not great relationship and had to move back to a difficult location with bad memories to get back on their feet. It’s even trickier when you aren’t sure whether you should mention it seemed a bit…soon…to be launching into another relationship after such a big life upheaval. Even if that new relationship was with someone else in the same close-knit group. But, we all decided to be optimists. Because, if I’m honest, I met my own Partner on literally the same night my worst, most horrible ex told me that my own past made me broken so fundamentally that his own infidelity was my fault. I did not jump into a relationship with my Partner immediately. In fact, I probably – in hindsight – tortured him with how close ‘friends’ we were for the next six months while I actively told him we would not date. Because I never wanted to wonder if I was just ‘settling’ for a rebound relationship. But, it didn’t change the fact that we were such ‘close friends’ we might as well be dating. And, thus, even though it was objectively maybe not the ideal situation under which two people might start a new relationship, I – and everyone else in the group – chose to be idealistic. And, to think that perhaps someday, in a couple of years or so, we might all haul ourselves overseas (after those two worked out immigration between countries) to see the wedding of two friends who came together because of an awesome story we told together. And, we might live in a world where we got to give speeches at that wedding wherein we joked about how their characters had known they were meant to be together before they did.
That would have been an awesome world. Unfortunately, life imitated art a lot in my game. And, once those two players were together, one of them came up with an idea for a character arc that relied upon the idea that those two characters could – even though they were high-level magic users in a culture where usually the competition for personal power destroyed any chance at real relationships or collaborative magic – actually share credit and arcane power as a plot point. And, I, uh, naively assumed they could share a spotlight arc (in and out of character!) One of those two players suddenly blossomed away from her old relationship. She was clever, she was a fantastic storyteller, she came up with what was probably the single biggest plot twist in the game (in a good way), and she ultimately solved a whole bunch of background world lore puzzles that I had had thrown in from the very beginning of the game that I doubted anyone would ever notice or care about.
And, the more the rest of us went, “Wow, your ideas are awesome” the more – in character and out of character – the player she was now dating became sullen and pulled away. You see, the group – again largely in character and out of character – had had ‘party roles.’ Things that they did. And, that other player – and their main character – was known as the magic nerd. The one who learned lore and knew history. While her character (and self-professed IRL personality type) was the more ‘diplomatic’ ‘schmooze’ type. Who relied on her boyfriend to teach her lore and how magic worked in character – and how the mechanics of D&D worked out of character. Suddenly – during a story arc centered on those two characters about how the fact that they could work collaborative magic in a world where jealousy between magic users usually leads to the highest-level rituals going spectacularly awry – the new boyfriend player got insanely jealous over his new girlfriend having good ideas and being noted by the rest of us as being clever. And for, it seems, playing a bit of ‘his role’ which he – uh – couldn’t actually share credit for after all.
Oops? What do you do with that as a DM? What do you do with the fact that two of your – now dating – players are actually turning out to be becoming jealous of each other during an arc they wrote about how they….are such cute lovebirds that they don’t get jealous and can thus work collaborative magic? Well, I did what all the ‘new DM’ advice online suggested. I reached out to him separately about, “Are there things we could do to tweak your character?” “Would you like help coming up with some storylines that aren’t shared between you and your girlfriend’s character anymore?” “Would you like me to design some encounters that play specifically to your strengths alone?” Nope. I got no response. Just an ever greater sullenness that became quite noticeable to everyone, including the girlfriend.
And, a girlfriend who – in character and out of character – completely did a 180 on her own personality to seem to pretend everything was fine. In character, her ambitious, clever diplomat character who had come up with one of the coolest plot twists of the game suddenly wanted to do nothing but defer to her boyfriend’s character and abandon all her contacts she had made so he wouldn’t ever feel unimportant. Out of character, she began harassing other players in the group about how they needed to give her boyfriend special treatment even when he was being, well, kind of a sullen jerk to others, because that was what ‘accommodating’ neurodiversity meant. She went on the offensive with other players: actively suggesting that anytime her jealous boyfriend snapped at someone or said something (increasingly frequently) that hurt others’ feelings in real life (because, remember, we all thought we were friends here) that if they didn’t just sit back and take it, they were being ‘ableist.’ After a couple of weeks of this after they began dating, I had basically everyone in the group – including my Partner – saying “Hey, the dynamic of these two is becoming so challenging this isn’t fun anymore, what do we do?”
I kept trying to reach out. To the point that I was in tears by the end going “I feel like it’s my responsibility to fix this, because I brought this group together and officially it is ‘my’ game, but I don’t know what to do anymore. Because, the clearly rocky interpersonal dynamics of this new couple IRL is leading to him even being a jerk to me. And, I really had thought we were friends.” Things finally reached breaking point for, well, we’ll never know what reason. The rest of the group really tried to be sensitive to the fact that this was a new couple, but eventually those two – without warning – just blocked all of us on all possible avenues and disappeared without ever even saying why. No warning. No reason. No way to even reach out at the end and go, “We wish you both well, sorry things ended.” And, it hurt all of us. A lot.
Because did I mention we were all neurodiverse? And rejection sensitivity is a thing? We all got together shortly after those two exited so dramatically and talked things through. And, it seems we had all had concerns. That maybe those two were moving too fast. That she was going to try and go spend months overseas with her new boyfriend, and one of the other players had asked if that was the best idea so soon. That maybe she had changed so much for him after they got together in real life that one other player had had a serious heart-to-heart with her about whether he was a ‘safe’ person. Because, well, if life imitates art….there were red flags. If already in the game her character was having to give up everything that was clever and smart and unique about her to accommodate him, would that be the same eventually with their relationship in real life? And, she had…not been open to hearing that. And, she had retaliated with accusations that his actions that had been hurtful towards others and jealous were just a normal part of being autistic, and if we couldn’t see that we were being ableist ourselves. She basically fell into a pattern in the last couple of weeks before they both ghosted of defending anything he did or said – even when it was actively mean to others – as “This is just what being neurodiverse means. You all have to accommodate, or you are no better than the neurotypical world.” And, we were all the type who have felt like aliens in the real world for so long that we, uh, tried to accommodate. Because none of us ever wanted others to feel the alienation we had all felt. Until it was screwing with all of us. Because, well, we were all blaming ourselves for them ultimately ending the friendships and leaving in a way deliberately designed to hurt us and throw chaos into the game.
So, uh, yeah. It’s always dangerous to weaponize language of inclusion or disability or accommodations. And, it’s even more dangerous to weaponize it against friends who were trying to look out for you. It also…still sucks to lose friends. It’s weird how things can go poorly at the end, and you can still miss friendships with people who kind of….screwed you over, actually. Like, actively tried to be as hurtful as possible at the end in how they left.
It sucks how much feeling like I gave so much of myself to that game, and it – like everything else lately – was just one more thing that I lost because I failed to be what I needed to be means right now I can’t figure out where to invest my pathological need to put too much of myself into something. I still feel burned out on trauma, so I still don’t know what to write here. I still don’t know how to even begin to emotionally approach the impact of those, “Even your passion for helping others is weird and alien and we can’t handle you” comments and how much they shattered me. Work still sucks and hurts me physically and mentally. And, given how seriously burned out I still am – and how much the world is still unending grey – I think I need to find something else to invest in again. But, I also am still so much a child of trauma that it doesn’t feel safe to do so. There is still that trauma part of me that can’t see what might still be good even out of the bad because all I can ever feel is the lifetime legacy of “You give your all and it’s never enough” that is the heart of being a traumatized neurodiverse person. It sucks that I’m feeling like maybe I never should invest again, because it just ends up breaking my heart all the time. When I know that investing is a core of who I am. And, it shouldn’t have to be something I have to be ashamed of.
Two players out of five left on a bad note. After talking about it, we all realized that we had all been feeling uneasy, and we genuinely hoped she would be okay just with him as her only support, once she burned other bridges. That we had hoped things that had been challenging with him in the game world wouldn’t eventually translate into her being isolated or alone later in the real world. We all agreed it was…concerning…that they so isolated themselves so hurtfully from people who had really been trying to work through things and to navigate ‘keeping the friendship’ even as we all seemed to be taking the brunt of unspoken issues in their own new relationship, just so they could continue to pretend things were fine when they themselves were not necessarily able to work together well.
After talking about it, we all agreed it was very ‘Lavender is an irony magnet’ that my first foray into DMing didn’t end for any mundane reason, but instead ended when literally a plotline about how two characters together in fiction should be able to share power (and thus complete a ritual that would be too much for any one mage alone) actually revealed in real life that their dating players…could not. And, that those two had to hurt their friends and actively try to ruin all the good memories rather than maybe just…communicate with each other over that realization.
We had been close enough to a natural ending for the game that we were able to end it. We handled the final resolutions more narratively. Honestly, we had had whole sessions without dice that had just been freeform, and an active game channel, etc. Handling things ‘narratively’ wasn’t a big change. (I’m very much the kind of DM who – if you tell a good tale – won’t even make you roll for it because I just like what you did and want it to work) It felt weird to throw dice for the final combats with two former friends gone, but we got together to co-write an epic conclusion to the story and handle encounters with a more streamlined simple set of rules. The conclusion we came to, we realized, was honestly probably a better one than would have been possible if those two other players had stayed in the game. Because, well, we’d all been making little subtle adjustments to our own character arcs and interactions out of game to try and ‘accommodate’ the unspoken concerns we had about those two. We had all wanted to preserve the friendships first, and so we had been giving in more and more narratively and in our ‘hanging out’ out of concern for those two as people to the point it was becoming exhausting. It was, thus, nice to be able to just end the game the way the remaining characters wished.
I’m still friends with the other two players (and obviously married to my Partner.) And, both have said they’d really love it if I’d run another game sometime. Which, in theory, I would like to do. It really was a wonderful distraction from burnout. The world is still very, very grey. And, I really would love to have another fictional world to escape to sometimes when the real one is too much. One even told me I should just write a book.
But, I’m Lavender and I’m an irony magnet and a weirdo. And, life often imitated art in the plot of that last game. The introductory quote above is actually a quote said by the diplomat character among the two who left the game so painfully about one of the characters that I played (because the DM plays the villains in a D&D game, as well as the ‘rest of the world’). The character about whom that quote was spoken was somewhat of a tragic villain who – also somewhat ironically – ended up with a ‘narratively satisfying’ but still tragic redemption arc at the end because the remaining player characters recruited her to fill the role that the diplomat character who had followed her boyfriend into obscurity would otherwise have played in the finale.
In the narrative, that statement was quite literally true about that character. That character had an ability that was supposed to work where she could ‘mirror’ magic she wasn’t natively familiar with. But, she was a ‘broken mirror.’ Instead of reflecting the magic of others, she…put too much of herself (literally) into what she did and weakened herself in an arcane sense in the process. The reasons she had become that way were because she had cared too much for too long and trusted the wrong people until she was betrayed at a critical juncture and thus had to take some drastic actions that left her permanently magically broken. Even in her ending, she basically had to give too much to the degree she made a heroic final sacrifice. (No, I swear that parallel between life and art wasn’t intentional. I actually came up with that backstory for her as a ‘villain’ they would encounter…a month before the work events that turned me into a broken mirror myself. And, thus, a year before anything I described at the end of game happened.)
I felt a lot like that character when two people I had thought were close friends decided to blow up everything we had so amazingly built together so spectacularly for…no reason I can ever think of that deserved it. I…still feel like a lot like that character knowing I only started that game originally because I was already so burned out because I had put too much of myself into other things and had so claimed I “wasn’t going to care anymore.” Yet, I’d ended up massively caring about what was supposed to be just a distraction anyway. I…still feel a lot like that character because – despite how much I say I have trust issues – I always seem to end up caring enough that I want to kick myself for caring whenever it involves other people who then eventually make me feel even more like I’m broken and wrong in the end.
Because it always ends up feeling like it’s never a good idea to trust others with the things you actually care about. I…had thought I had been through enough therapy to not blame myself for the choices of others anymore. I had done what I could, and the choices those two players made for how to end things was not my fault. Work has been screwed up because of scandals of their own, high staff turnover, and some new staff who just….clearly have their own insecurities they seem to project onto others. (And, I, let’s be honest, make an easy target because I take things so personally.) I keep asking myself “what could I have done differently?” I keep blaming myself for two players screwing all the rest of us over over their own interpersonal issues anyway. I keep blaming myself for “why can’t I just be what others need” anyway.
I keep feeling like I’m…well, a broken mirror. Who puts too much of herself into things when no one really wants her to put any of herself into anything at all. Who would be better off just learning how to truly…not care. Because caring always just seems to hurt.
Which, yes, I know is a trauma thing. One of those trauma things I explicitly wanted to be able to be done with. But, I can’t. Because healing from trauma still doesn’t mean you don’t get screwed over by its legacy…forever. My Partner went “I wouldn’t reconcile with those two former players even if they apologized at this point. Because the things I have since learned they pulled on all of us when we were all trying to meet them in the middle were just so mean – especially to others they knew were neurodiverse – that I don’t care to associate with that.” The other two players both had their own spirals over, “Could we have done something?” and commiserated a lot about how sad the loss of friends was and the need to conclude the game hastily was. But, I think they are at least (mostly) now of the opinion that, in the end, just the way those two left spitefully in and of itself shows we can be kinder to ourselves. Because that was not the way to handle things, and the kinds of folks who would leave like that probably couldn’t have been accommodated forever anyway. The remainder of us agreed we wanted to stay friends. And, in principle, I’d like to maybe run a game again. Someday. Or, to figure out what to do with work such that I can deal with burnout. Or, just care about something (maybe a book, since, well, no other people could break that? And, I’m not feeling super trusting of people lately…)
But, well, the nature of trauma and always having been told – always, it seems still being told – that you are the problem is that I am, still, too much of a broken mirror. The prospect of caring again – especially intentionally – just feels like too much. It feels like I really would just give until I had nothing left of myself, ala the original inspiration for that term. I accidentally fell into caring about something, and that allowed me to keep functioning during months of deep, deep burnout and depression. But, the prospect of caring so deeply again knowingly? It just…hurts. Art feels too much like it imitated life (or maybe life imitated art, since the character was created before the drama?) to want to go through the effort again.
I’m too…me…not to put too much of myself into everything I do. I cannot “just not care” even if I want to. But, it also always seems to be too painful to have cared.
I’m too neurodiverse not to have the world respond to that level of passion with telling me all of what is wrong with it to the point I burn out.
And – despite how much I want to pretend to be ‘post trauma’ – I have too many engrained trauma responses not to always end up feeling like the things that happen are always my fault. That my work is probably right that I’m a problem for being too smart. That there was probably some way I didn’t “accommodate” that jealous player and thus deserved the way they sabotaged the entire game for everyone later. That I should probably be ashamed of the fact that – despite the fact I know I ‘should’ just detach – I don’t seem to know how to not put too much of myself into things.
I don’t know what to keep saying about trauma. Or neurodiversity. Or burnout. Because if I start knowing what to say again, then I’ll care again. And, caring just feels…too much right now. But, what I’ll say about trauma and burnout for the moment is this: being a broken mirror sucks. In fiction and in real life.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms