Emotional Breakdowns, Myoku Needs a Tag, The Heartwood Trilogy, Writing Journey, Writing!

On Micah’s Quiet BPD

TW: Discussion of self-harm, suicidal ideation, substance use/abuse, trauma and abuse

I came to the realization yesterday that I coded Micah particularly in The Heartwood Trilogy with features of Quiet borderline personality disorder, also known as BPD and not to be confused with bipolar disorder. BPD has some unofficial subtypes that include quiet/discouraged, petulant, impulsive, and self-destructive. The subtypes are useful to an extent but it’s important to note that the overall experience of an individual with BPD might move between any and all of its symptom set and not just a particular subtype. Subtypes are also not a feature in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (5th Edition, Revised). What that indicates to us is that while there is a common belief that BPD can present several different ways, we don’t want to use subtypes if it muddies the water or invalidates someone’s experience with this issue.

Micah’s BPD traits felt like a huge shock to me as I was putting together a graphic featuring mental health representation in the trilogy for Mental Health Awareness Month. I was listing Andrew’s issues and it was easy and straightforward and then came back to Micah a few times looking at his behaviors and issues and wondering why I couldn’t quite fit them into like, depression, anxiety, trauma. Well, I mean, turns out I can.

Some Background on Borderline

Borderline personality disorder is a fascinating diagnosis that I’ve seen a lot of in my time. I’ve been drawn to unstable, volatile and passionate personalities since I was in middle school partly because it interests me and captivates my attention, partly because of my own hyper-stable home environment that allows me to launch out into the world with a sense of self and confidence, and partly because I’m extremely empathetic. I am something of a foil to borderline traits.

When I got into working in the psych hospital in 2017, I started coming across coworkers and psychiatrists discussing “borderline traits” or “she’s so BPD” and thus began building my firsthand knowledge of the tendency for folks with BPD to end up self-harming or suicidal, which was true for what I knew about BPD from my adolescence. When I moved on to working at a residential in 2021, we had to avoid using BPD as a diagnostic label when we knew someone was going to get that diagnosis because as a personality disorder we don’t allow for use of them until a person is 18 and over. Not that that makes a fucking lick of difference, but I digress.

Folks who end up with a diagnosis of borderline tend to have the common experience of an unstable childhood. Whether that be parental conflict, parental violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse from parents, siblings, relatives, or babysitters, or a parent with BPD, these all lend toward developing an unclear worldview and quite a few behavioral survival tactics.

A lot of those survival strategies include manipulation, emotional lability, fawning behaviors that go along with having a “favorite person” who the person with BPD designates as a safe person and can create something of an intense obsession with them, a fear of abandonment from their experience with unstable relationships in childhood, and a tendency to punish oneself or seek attention through self-harm or other self-destructive or risky behaviors. I want to really stress that attention-seeking is another survival strategy developed often from cold, distant, or distracted parenting that makes a child feel like they have to act out to get their needs met.

In order to avoid abandonment, folks with BPD can end up appearing codependent or clingy toward a partner because there’s this constant underlying belief that you don’t have worth of your own unless you’re in relation with others.

Because of my personality, my training in DBT which was designed by Marsha Linehan for use with folks with borderline personality disorder, and my personal interest in working with folks with trauma and personality disorders, I have a lot of folks with BPD on my caseload, and probably always will.

I always admire the ability to intensely feel, to identify how wildly emotional you are, and I feel a deep sense of empathy for when someone feels overwhelmed by their emotions, frustrated that their emotions are getting in their way, and frustrated that others don’t consider their emotions a valid lived experience. I had the privilege of being deeply validated by my parents throughout my life whether it was an ADHD quirk, social anxiety, or performance anxiety, so I consider it a responsibility of mine to validate others and to always challenge myself to understand myriad of perspectives and experiences even if they differ wildly from my own.

How About Micah?

Micah Stillwater is a half-Fae 40-year-old whose mother is a wicked faerie Queen ruling over a redwood forest tucked into the Hoh rainforest in Washington. Micah spent 20 years of his life living in faerieland among cruel, treacherous, dangerous Folk who treated him as less than, calling him halfling, manipulating him to get closer to the Queen, and stomping out his magic.

Micah’s mother weaponized his human father’s safety to force Micah to be compliant and docile. The more he smiled, the more he did as he was told, the safer Julian would be. When Micah acted out, when he expressed himself, when he went against the Queen, it was Julian who paid for it.

So, what we see throughout the trilogy is Micah in a safe environment trying to navigate his emotions and his relationships with this insanely unsafe foundation under him leading him to be fearful of hurting others, of causing others displeasure, of his emotions bringing about harm to his father or himself. Micah cries a lot, he gets attached quickly, he tends toward fawning behaviors, and tends to attach to a favorite person — Julian, then Chamomile, then Andrew. Micah has a history of self-harm and tends to do it in order to ground himself or dispel the fog of his feelings, and also to punish himself for whatever it is he feels he’s fucked up – letting his dad get kidnapped, Andrew leaving, etc. Both of these reasons are common for folks who get stuck in secretive self-harming behaviors and is sort of the other end of the spectrum from folks who self-harm to make a statement to people around them.

Micah’s relationship with Ingrid is a perfect example of BPD traits in action. Micah came to Minnesota with her as she was one of his few safe people, but 15 years into his time in Minnesota, he decided he needed to cut tie with his Fae side altogether as Ingrid’s ambivalence about humans abusing Fae-spelled foods grew. He split on her, got into an argument, and stopped talking to her for five years except in very controlled circumstances such as when he saw her at Amore. Despite her begging and reasoning and his obvious affection for her, for some time it felt safer for him not to have a relationship with her at all. It’s likely what happened during their argument is that Ingrid’s ambivalence felt very invalidating for Micah as a half-human with a father who was forcibly addicted to Fae-spelled foods. He saw no other choice but to cut her off since she staunchly refused to take his position into account and make systemic changes around Lilydale, like he ends up doing.

During Rend Me, Julian calls Micah codependent and says that Micah tends to try to rescue others. This sort of emotional caretaking is common with BPD folks who might have had younger siblings or people affected more notably by abuse than they perceive themselves to be. There’s also an underlying belief that you aren’t worthy on your own except in what you do for others which once again is common when you’re devalued by your primary caregivers unless you’re essentially fulfilling a role whether it’s good grades, behaving yourself, staying calm, doing chores, etc.

We also see in Rend Me why Micah doesn’t drink, as he struggles to be able to do so in a leisurely way and it causes him to lash out more, increases suicidal thoughts, and makes him more emotional and depressed. All his hard work controlling all his emotions at all times and maintaining tenuously good relationships goes out the window when he drinks. The Redwoods would have treated intoxication very differently than human society as well, and it’s harder to get a faerie drunk, but Micah being half-Fae means that he’s more sensitive to intoxication and this was used against him when he was growing up, creating an even more complex relationship with alcohol in particular for him. When he came to Minnesota, he got a community college degree before getting an MBA, where he was expected to drink and party. Thus, as he got older and pulled back from that culture, he essentially stopped drinking altogether as he wanted to be sober to manage his dad’s mental health.

What differentiates quiet BPD from more self-destructive, conflictual types of BPD is the tendency to internalize feelings, internalize emotional meltdowns by dissociating or downplaying yourself, engage in fawning/caretaking/codependent relationships more than frequently splitting or being in conflictual, on-and-off relationships, and shut down when you receive criticism rather than becoming defensive or combative, which are all things Micah does until he begins to really confront his own patterns of behavior and comes into his sense of power.

Andrew is actually a perfect person to help Micah navigate his BPD symptoms because Andrew is very emotionally level-headed, he’s introspective, he is a good communicator, and he’s not afraid to set boundaries with a sense of kindness and compassion which helps Micah not feel like the boundary is a rejection. These are all things we can do to help people in our lives who might be insecure about losing the approval of others.

When Andrew found out about Micah self-harming, he responded with compassion and empathy. This was such a complete surprise to Micah because of his experience with judgment, criticism and rejection, and is a positive step toward undoing shame responses which tend to provoke secrecy and do not often decrease harmful behaviors.

As a leader, Micah might always be prone toward compassion, nonconfrontation, feeling guilty for having to issue directives to his people, and struggling to be assertive. Micah might in times of stress become more volatile and lash out. But as he tunes into these issues with himself he’s able to name them, confront them in the moment, and develop more effective ways of communicating. You can see that happening in Promise Me as Micah figures out how to ask Andrew for what he needs as he’s sorting through the threats against Lilydale.

In Conclusion

Quiet BPD might seem more “palatable” to the general public than more externalizing forms of the disorder, because you seem likeable and kind and empathetic rather than argumentative or reckless. It’s important to note that these features are both true for a person and a result of learned behaviors from being mistreated as a child. All BPD is is an attempt to protect yourself and that’s literally what organisms have to do to stay alive. It’s an essential truth and not a single living soul is above needing to take measures to survive.

The goal for discussions around BPD should not be to “eliminate” the disorder as childhood trauma can’t be undone no matter how much more competent a person feels dealing with it. The goal of any mental health struggle is to arm people with tools to cope with their “vulnerabilities” as I like to call them, meaning areas that tend to trip us up, cause incongruencies with what we want to be like versus what we are like, and harmful behaviors that have a particularly strong draw to us compared to others.

As I write this, it becomes fairly transparent to me that Micah is BPD-coded. It’s part of what makes him so raw and believable throughout the story, at least to me. It’s a reminder that personality disorders are rooted in trauma and when we throw around terms like “antisocial” or “moody” colloquially it can really damage our ability to see people as complex humans interacting with their histories and environments. It definitely illuminates a lot of my complex feelings about Micah in The Heartwood Trilogy for sure, and I hope it does for you too.

Art!, MicahxAndrew, Original Characters, The Heartwood Trilogy

ostara vibes

well, the release of Promise Me, Lord Heartwood is flying closer with reckless abandon. I’m so ready. Rend Me came and went with little to-do because it was the middle book, I couldn’t get any ARC readers to sign up, and it really just felt like I was sighing my way through it to get to this one.

My proof of Promise Me came and it was very shockingly emotional. It certainly helped that this is the first of the three books I didn’t have to fuss with to get the frame positioned right, so the copy that I got was so close to perfect I felt like it was basically the final copy.

I still can’t get over Andrew’s perfect face. It feels like he is everything he’s always been meant to be.

My experience with Micah in the trilogy has been that maybe I get defensive when he’s imperfect or annoys people because I believe that heroes can fail and suck and screw up without making them less worthy of success. Or because I just care about him too much.

I’ve been working on an IngridxChamomile short story and it’s been brutal. I think it’s been good practice for like, pushing through on a project I don’t feel like is organically flowing at all. I’ve had some good writer friends rooting for me which has helped.

Chami has Keeley Jones vibes in this.

Other Miscellaneous Heartwood Art

Random Traditional Andrew

I’m going to be at Minneapolis Pride in June and I’m trying to be very extra prepared for it. This drawing is gonna go on a huge sign with the logo for the trilogy omnibus.

Lol god this blog has taken me like three weeks to finish and I haven’t written anything

Art!, MicahxAndrew, Myoku Needs a Tag, Original Characters, The Heartwood Trilogy, Writing!

summer palette 2024

I’m watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood for the first time. I will never be the same. But no fanart yet – I’m not done with it.

Anyway, Ostara brings summer colors. Pastels and creams and oranges. Getting the final book in The Heartwood Trilogy ready to launch has helped me enjoy the boys more again, so here’s my latest art.

sketch:

drunken babygirl
promise me andrew sketches
neons
ostara pics 🌸
Art!, Myoku Needs a Tag, Original Characters, The Heartwood Trilogy, Writing!

Checking in

Well, Rend Me, The Wayward Knight is out in the world! It’s been, as expected, a much quieter release than Deny Me but I’m comfortable with that because I know the people who read Rend Me are ones who really wanted to come back for Andrew and Micah, and that’s kind of been the point the whole time.

I’ve been kind of wandering about a bit with art these last few weeks so I decided to do something simpler: a Micah picture unattached from Heartwood. It turned out REALLY gay AHAH and as soon as I did the pose I knew it was going to be a reprise of spilled sugar…which I didn’t realize till pulling it up that that one was a decade ago already.

HOW do I have Still-Adult pictures of Micah that are A DECADE OLD NOW? what the FU

Anyway I think Micah looks scrumptious in this and I think it’s partly due to the glasses hahaha.

It’s kind of funny because it DEFINITELY makes this old picture of him look like a fucking hobo but that KIND OF IS the phase I was going through after college hahaha. I blame hipsters.

I don’t remember why I did this one, I think it was promo for Book 2 ahah. Moody Micah.

Wanted to print an Ingrid sticker and she turned out SUHEXKSY

less so

This is how we explained my gender to Ronan and it’s been living in my head, so I turned it into a sticker design, and Ryan didn’t like the version I made without a goblin SO HERE WE ARE IT’S SO CUTE

Art!, Original Characters, The Gryphon's Solace

new year energy

The last time I felt this positively about the new year was in 2020 which turned out to be the worst year in American history in my lifetime. So at the risk of jinxing it, it feels like Team Glasses has put a lot of bad shit and stress behind us and we’re enjoying our hard times paying off.

Without further ado, some art!

I absolutely adore how this turned out, from Ingrid’s crushed velvet to the silliness of the pile of champagne bottles to Chami’s sparkles to how pretty the champagne looks. Feels like a triumph.

Vic and my dad have gryphonWIP which rounded out at 88k now so that’s depressing because I don’t have anything to do except edit Promise Me and I don’t wanna do that haha.

Nico and his baby sister have very Myoku/Shani vibes and might be their spiritual successors especially since Nico is like a cousin/spiritual successor to Micah even if I was able to uncleave Alister from being Andrew, Nico still feels stuck.

PAMPERING TIME

ATLA TIME

TRIO TIME

Art!, Holiday Drawings, MicahxAndrew, Original Characters, The Heartwood Trilogy

holidays 2023

Kind of like with the Emotia drawings, I’m going to start this as a Christmas master post.

I think I’m going to add a few finishing touches for this but there’s something freeing about posting on my blog where I know nobody will see it. It’s been a pretty “curated” art year for me which is fine to an extent but definitely adds pressure. This Christmas drawing literally came about because I told myself I was going to have all week to see if I could come up with a good one, thus relieving the pressure of making the perfect drawing, so I ended up making the perfect drawing haha.

Looking at that 2020 drawing though with the whole cast in the house kinda makes me want to do another one like that though. It’s always been one of my favorites.

SO IS THIS THOUGH COME ON

Micah’s gauges? His snowflakes? HIS NAILS? Andrew looking DAINTY AF? come onnnnnnnnn

Also I pulled this up on my iPad and realized the only finishing touch I actually need for sure is my signature lol. I kind of want to add a border or something but idk

Through the years we all will be together.

Art!, Original Characters, The Gryphon's Solace

gryphonWIP

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO I guess I had just started Sun-Walking, so I guess even without participating in NaNoWriMo (recently exposed as harboring a moderator who was grooming teen writers so I’m fucking out), November has always been a productive writing month.

I’m 40,000 words 55,000 words! into my latest project which is a huge departure from the type of storytelling I’ve done before. It’s first person with three distinct POVs, and I’m 40k in but not even at the third act yet. I’m pretty excited, it’s looking like a great great story with some of the tightest and best writing I’ve ever done. It certainly shows the effects of being actively engaged in the writing community for the last nine months, and this is just a first draft. I’m feeling a bit frustrated that I set out with the intention to tell another Andrew/Micah story because the MCs are not ENTIRELY like that but they’re certainly somewhat parallel and related, which makes me just feel like I wasn’t able to write new characters. Even though that’s not true, because the gryphon in said gryphonWIP is nothing like Solveig (or Fionna), the little sister is brand new, as are all of the characters in the city. It’s really just Alister and Nico who have some overlap with Andrew and Micah’s dynamics, but not a lot. I’m working really hard to uncleave them from any other characters which ended up meaning Alister’s ash blond haha.

I made it to 50k WITHIN November (I did 5k before the start of the month) and I’m so proud. I’m about to tie up Act II and the slow burning shitheads FINALLY kissed.

This ended up being a bit of a thesis statement which unsurprisingly means this whole fucking world I created is an analogy for the threat to gay rights happening rn baha
Blond Alister gives Jaime Lannister and Draco Malfoy vibes but Im going to chalk that up to a skill deficit atm
Stella is a 17 year old firecracker and I’m obsessed with her

Oh yeah here’s new Lucienne > Claire

Emotional Breakdowns, The Heartwood Trilogy, Writing Journey

IT’S LIVE!!!! EEEEE

Well, I survived the preorder week of hell and GOT MY PERIOD TODAY which would explain why I was so wretchedly anxious and sad beforehand so that SUCKS.

But now I’m not, even though I had a dastardly day of pitching because I let my dad talk me into trying at Uncle Hugo’s, even though that 70 year old autistic man had NO interest in buying Deny Me hahaha. I mean, actually, Moon Palace was really nice and I’ll probably do some events there next year. And I got to tell my dad all the cool stuff that’s been going on around my release and he wanted me to read some of the awesome reviews I’ve gotten. And of course he’s been very kind about the not-so-awesome reviews I’ve gotten (most of which seem to be for completely individualized reasons which I do of course respect) and talked about.

I got into sticker-making last weekend partly as a means to cope with the wait for my book to come out and also because I decided to take part in a market at Nine Keys Apothecary a few weeks before my book reading there haha. So I was like “ok yeah I can sell my book but bitches love stickers” and…here we are.

So let’s see, I know Next Chapter is going to carry a few of my books, as is The Paperback Exchange. Moon Palace might, and I also emailed them, and Dream Haven, and Next Chapter about events. Tomorrow I’m gonna be on a book podcast!

Oh yeah and The Kiss is gonna be on the cover of a magazine in October??? what the butt

my silly baby boys, look how we fly