Where Stress Hides

The past few weeks have been a lot. I won’t go into detail because despite this being a personal blog, the events of the past few weeks are simply a little too personal and too close to home to want to share in their full detail. Needless to say, I have been stressed and likely more so than I have in years. At times, it’s easy to forget that stress is a biological response not just a psychic phantom. The body responds to stress poorly and I think we tend to forget that when we ache and feel rundown while being under constant pressure. 

I wanted to explore what was feeling and I hope that in sharing and being vulnerable that you all take a moment to think about the stress in your life and how it’s affecting you. With that being said, here is where I felt my stress the most. 

My Stomach

Nausea, loss of appetite, increased appetite, food being unappealing

I won’t go into gruesome details here but when people say that you “trust your gut” part of that is because your stomach is a vital part of the system that stress can impact. The past few weeks have been marred with upset stomachs, wanting to eat everything in sight, wanting to eat nothing at all and just generally not feeling well. I remember feeling similarly when my mother passed away and being shocked because I simply hadn’t correlated the shock and trauma of losing my mother as a contributing factor to my then deteriorating health. I’ve been able to feel better by eating when I’m hungry, drinking water and the occasional ginger candy but I’m still working hard to handle my messed up gut biome. 

My Head

Headaches, dizziness, vertigo

I’m not usually a headache sufferer, only when my blood pressure is too high. So with the recent swaths of severe light-sensitive headaches that can’t be linked to high blood pressure I had to assume that of course, it was the stress. I would get dizzy if I stood too quickly and had to bury under the blankets to avoid light (a perfect place for a depressed person) and I exhausted almost all of my cold compresses just to keep the feeling of blood rushing in between my ears at bay. 

My Back

Back pain, stiffness

When I’m stressed out I don’t tend to move. I’ll post up in one place and remain there until a biological function usually forces me to move. I stay in that one uncomfortable place for so long that my already ailing back typically grows sore from having to keep  me either hunched over, sitting in some kind of impossible twist or laying down in the most inelegant position humanly possible. 

My Mind

Insomnia, fatigue, racing thoughts, obsessive thoughts, negative self-talk

The brain is a cruel hunk of tissue sometimes. The worst part about having mental health issues is knowing that you’d never let your friends talk to themselves the way you talk to yourself. I’m fortunate that I’ve had a network of friends and family propping me up and motivating me and reminding me that I am not a sad miserable slug who doesn’t deserve happiness and I’d truly be lost without them. It was the fatigue I couldn’t deal with at first then the fact that once I tried to sleep that I just couldn’t. Fortunately, I’m on medicine for that now and my nights can be somewhat restful albeit very artificially but I can sleep even if it is often dreamless and rarely restful. 

The last few weeks have been hard. The state of the world is…well, it is, my personal life is not what it was and I am nostalgic for a version of my home, my family and myself that likely truly never existed. But in thinking about all the ways stress impacts me and my choices and my body I’ve been working hard to be more mindful and intentional about the choices I make. And in that mindfulness, I have been able to get much more done: like finishing up this blog post. 

My Year With Executive Dysfunction

There are many words that my friends would use to describe me and lazy just is not one of them. I co-host two podcasts, run social media for both podcasts and myself, I blog for myself, write for a column, make and edit videos, am community manager for one of the places I write for: I am a busy person. So why can’t I seem to get up and take out the trash?

Executive dysfunction happens mostly to those suffering from mental health issues or are neurodivergent and it’s best described as when you literally just can’t even. And I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s a chill normal thing, it’s a debilitating and exhausting condition where cognitively, I know I should do something and just emotionally and physically not being able to. In some chronic pain/neurodivergent circles it’s sometimes framed as having spoons or not having spoons: spoons then acting as an energy unit and sometimes you just don’t have the spoons. Sometimes, it’s just a no bones day. 

I didn’t realize that I had executive dysfunction until late last year and early into 2021 when I battled with a huge depressive episode after a prolonged illness that left me bedridden and in the worst physical and emotional place in my life. I was heavy, in pain, couldn’t breathe and walking from my bedroom to my bathroom took at least a break or two in between and I do not live in a large apartment. 

I noticed then that trash didn’t go out like it should or recycling didn’t go out as regularly as it should. Dishes would pile up for the first time in my adult life and laundry just didn’t get done. I had no words for this condition and thus only blamed myself, spiraling my depression down further and making it even harder to find the will to do basic things. At its worst point, I was not showering regularly or brushing my teeth regularly even though a previous version of me would be mortified to know that I had let the care and keeping of myself fall that far. Again: cue depressive spiral and further negative self-talk and even less will or energy to get things done. 

It wasn’t until I spoke about this with my therapist and consulted some online sources (TikTok) that I realized that what I had was not laziness or just simply depression. I cognitively knew I should take out the trash or shower or clean the kitchen but I couldn’t. Rather than willfully ignoring the task, I was screaming at myself to just get up and use soap when my body and mind just wouldn’t comply. 

It’s taken a while to address my executive dysfunction as it does not simply have one cause. It’s a combination of anxiety, chronic illness, trauma and depression that make it hard to do some things and just slightly less hard to do others and even though I have had these issues for years: the executive dysfunction is new. 

You may be like when I started wondering exactly what changed and it actually hit me fairly recently why my brain has been extra mean to me just now. There’s a whole ass pandemic that happened and while many did suffer for the first time with anxiety and depression during the pandemic, many of us who were already mentally ill simply saw their mental health deteriorate further.  So while I have indeed been mentally ill for years, I have not had to survive a pandemic until very recently and that looming sense of dread and uncertainty does wear on the body. 

I’m finding ways to grapple with my executive dysfunction and so far changing up my meds, lots of positive reinforcement and just persistence have made it a lot easier to deal with but I’m still not entirely cured. It still sometimes is a struggle to do basic things but I’m getting better and that’s what matters. 

Chasing Toi

A few birthdays ago, I received a moon cactus. I named him Toi after an anime I had invested too much emotion in and he overtook my entire life and I have not been able to replace him in my heart.

Let’s talk about it. 

Toi was a gift sprouted from a joke that I needed an emotional support cactus and then a friend who is sweeter than sunshine actually made the joke happen. She mailed me an emotional support cactus. I actually left him in the box for a few days, somewhat paralyized by fear to open it and in denial that I had received a live plant in the mail. Once I took him out of the box and set him in a pot full of soil and began a relationship that was better and more loving than I had with some men I had taken to bed. Toi listened to me, Toi was there for me, Toi gave me something to do. I could dote on Toi, cry to Toi, talk about my very worst secrets to the little cactus who took it all in stride and held it in his spines. 

I identified strongly as a cactus mom, my aunts when they called would ask about Toi and I made videos of me watering him for social media and I was proud to be Toi’s mom. But what many didn’t see behind the videos set to classical music and the tasteful filters and the cute pot and the blooms was that I was deeply mentally unwell. I was in a job that made me hate myself, I was lonely and sad and burnt out and overworked. I had too many hobbies to keep myself from facing the void and I was lying to myself, my friends and my family about my mental health. I was miserable and obsessive over the little cactus who took it all the best he could. 

Moon cacti are strange plants; they thrive on neglect and that was something my brain couldn’t handle. I overwatered Toi, I underwatered Toi. I gave him too much light, I gave him not enough light. I spent one evening up all night waiting pathetically for a UV lamp to arrive for my withering cactus and cried the entire night when the order was pushed back to the next day because I had placed all of my trust and faith in this Amazon order. I felt like if I could fix Toi, I could fix my other problems and that just couldn’t be the case. 

Eventually, Toi died as all things do. Moon cacti rarely live longer than three years and I had Toi for a glorious year in which my emotions waned and waxed like the moon with my little guy. I tried my best to grieve appropriately but there was a hole in my heart where a cactus should go. 

On a whim at the local Lowe’s I picked up 3 more moon cacti. I named them Reo, Mabu and Toi II and I thought I’d be okay. Toi II was almost the same color as my precious boy and he looked very similar and I was so happy that Toi was no longer an only child.

That was the plan; that things would be okay but nothing can stay gold forever. 

Toi II was taken from my porch one day. 

I was walking into my apartment and noticed that there was a space missing where my three boys were lined up. Reo and Mabu were safe but Toi II was missing. He was just gone. My heart broke all over again as I realized that my precious boy was gone again. Reo and Mabu immediately came into the house and stayed under the UV lamp where I could keep them safe from the outside world. Mabu was next to go after I noticed he was lacking color, probably because no matter how much artificial UV light I can provide, I cannot provide the Sun’s rays indoors. Mabu passed away and was buried in the trash rather unceremoniously. Reo held on for a while longer, only recently passing away after a year of life as a strange miserable hybrid of a cactus without his partner and brother to also be tossed into the trash like Mabu. 

None of them have elicited the same emotional response as Toi’s passing has and my relationship to the three cacti sans Toi II all had strained. Far from negligent but I never felt the same call to devoted arms as I had with Toi. Reo and Mabu were no longer surrogates for a child and companion but what they truly were: cacti on the windowsill. 

A few things had changed during the time that I got Reo, Mabu and Toi II from the time that I lost Toi. One of those things was I was put back on a heavy dose of medication for depression and anxiety and the second was that I took a job that was much less stressful than my previous position. Perhaps it was the change in my brain chemistry that got me to finally stop projecting onto a cactus, maybe it was just a sick form of maturation that got me to stop projecting onto a cactus. Maybe I was just a lonely soul who needed a friend and found one in a spiny little phallus that listened to me when I felt like no one else could. 

I haven’t immediately rushed to replace Reo, Mabu and Toi II and I don’t know if I will rush to replace them as none of these spiky little fellows have been able to replace the same space in my life as Toi did.

For now, I continue to try and chase the high Toi gave me, that loving something dearly gave me, the obsession, the madness, the intoxication of wanting and being wanted that came with the little violet cactus that came in the mail. 

I’m still chasing Toi and I may never catch those feelings again. 

The Strange Calm of Car Crash Compilation Videos

I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.

There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.

But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it. 

Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well. 

I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain. 

Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling. 

I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.  

That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly. 

I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety. 

What Hoarders Taught Me About My OCD

I watch Hoarders with a sick and perverse level of judgement. Hoarders is reality television at its very best featuring increasingly delusional people in houses filled with waste, with junk, with items and with emotional baggage or some combination of all of the above. And I love every damn moment of it. I will sit for hours and watch comforting doctors and reclusive and strange people engage in a battle of wills over a horse figurine. 

I have watched Hoarders until my skin crawl at the sight of roaches and mice. I have watched people in varying levels of emotional and mental decay in their fallen palaces of hubris waiting to be destroyed by a pile of used adult diapers. But one thing I never saw in Hoarders was empathy. I never felt anything for the people on the show. I never really wanted their houses to be cleaned; mostly find them undeserving of the privilege and I was always skeptical about just how much someone could recover after becoming used to such a level of disarray and filth. 

But during my lower moments in the last few months, I would sit and really listen to the therapy sections in which doctors do their best in the strangest conditions to tell someone who clearly has a problem that they have a problem. It may have been my own mental illness talking but I felt intense superiority over my own mental “stability” in those moments. Sure, I have extensive emotional trauma and the coping skills of an unwashed cabbage but at least I don’t have a dirty roach house. I may have not ever coped with the loss of my parents but at least I deal with that in a healthy way by spending too much money on backwards Japanese comic books and crying during Disney movies and not by ignoring that dishes have to be washed.

And while on a base level, I understood that many of the people on Hoarders had a mental illness or two, they felt distant and other from my own. It wasn’t until I actually started listening to the therapists on the television screen that I made a shocking realization: I was entirely wrong in my place of judgement, not just from a moral “don’t be a dick” sense but also from a mental illness standpoint. I wasn’t far away or othered from these people. I was on the same boat, just on a different level of the ship. 

I had tested mild to moderate for OCD as a kid. You know that self-mutilation stuff I’ve written about? That’s an OCD thing. It’s about control. It’s about seeing a flaw and seeking to destroy it and it’s also a cognitively dissonant moment; an awareness that I shouldn’t be doing this but an utter inability to stop. My then psych assumed the OCD came from the death of my father and low self-esteem and would go away, like he assumed all my problems would, with an SSRI. That psych was wrong of course, but it was certainly eased by an SSRI and I went on with my teen years and some of my college years with few issues and few compulsions. 

After my mother died, the first signs of something being rotten in Denmark began to surface. I had obsessive and racing thoughts that often made it hard to sleep and hard to focus. I spent money compulsively and I shopped until I couldn’t feel. This was mitigated by a lack of serious income being a broke college student but the signs were all there. I assumed that I was just manic depressive (a diagnosis that fit due to family history) and thought little of it. I was manic, that happens. 

My recent six year mental health decline brought with it something new and shocking: disposable income and my own apartment. I could spend freely, no one could tell me what to do and when to stop shopping. Like a queer dragon I hoarded fabric and notions for costumes I’d never finished. Impulsively bought paint for projects that I never started and would never finish. I bought clothes for events I’d never go to. I just bought. I rarely was in excess of items because I gave away things as quickly as I added to my collection if you ignore the books that I assume my goal was to build both my dead parents back up as golems using the hundreds of books I’ve amassed. 

It led me down a deeper hole of financial insecurity and anxiety. Every purchase was a risk. Every item brought home was a failure of will and every outing was just me avoiding the fact that at home I had no one waiting for me, nothing to look forward to and my own thoughts of failure, inadequacy and misery in the still silence of my own apartment. 

And it wasn’t until watching entirely too many episodes of Hoarders on Hulu did I come to realize that maybe, just maybe I had OCD. It took one of the doctors mentioning its other symptoms for me to finally catch on. OCD wasn’t all about obsessive hand washing, it’s obsessive thoughts and behavioral patterns that can lead to compulsions which are at times serious and at times benign. What I had all these years just assumed was anxiety and probably a little manic depressive disorder was something far more complicated. It was anxiety, depression and very very clearly OCD. I did the thing that no one with mental illness should and took an online screener (which is where I finally pause and say I’m not a doctor and this isn’t meant to diagnose anyone; this is just a story time) and found out that there are many types of OCD and few of them actually have to do with stepping only on odd numbered bricks on a path or washing your hands until they bleed. I had obsessive thoughts, intense negative self-talk and compulsive behaviors that were oftentimes negative to my day to day life. 

I called my aunt and asked if she remembered any of my previous appointments and she mentioned that I usually tested moderate for the condition but that she wasn’t surprised that now as an anxious adult I tested much higher. My aunt herself tests fairly high for OCD but ignores that to continue to assume that she is well-adjusted as most African-Americans do in the face of mental illness. 

When I went to a psychiatrist again after years of avoiding my mental illnesses I mentioned my OCD and indeed it was confirmed that I had the condition and far from mild to moderate but fairly severe. I was shocked but had been steeling myself to accept the answer. I started a new medication and my compulsive shopping has indeed decreased (not to mention the pandemic that keeps me inside). Therapy has also helped as I work on retraining my mismatched brain wiring. 

What has been most helpful though is seeing other versions of OCD in media; namely John Green and his very candid discussions on anxiety and OCD during his podcasts and videos and yes, Hoarders

I try to be more empathetic now while watching Hoarders though the framing of the show certainly makes it hard to build any empathy for these people, making spectacles of their mental illness and their plight. But having examples around of me versions of OCD that weren’t just Monk did help me come to terms with the fact that in the basket of mental illnesses I carry around with me: OCD is one of them. 

How One Introvert is Trying to Survive a Pandemic- Part 2: How to Save a Life

So. How are we doing?  Doing okay? I figured I’d update you all on how I’m managing and use this time to get through some of my feelings because, let’s be real; this is an ordeal. 

I’ve been feeling mostly tired. My appetite waxes and wanes. I’ve been on a mental health journey that I assumed was failing but then I ate my way through half of a Domino’s pan pizza before realizing that I was stress eating. I was anxious and I was taking my anxiety out on a pan pizza and then I set up an appointment to speak with a therapist online. The therapist said everything I knew already but apparently needed to hear from another more authoritative voice. I was told to keep writing, work out, get some sun, try to keep my appetite in check and to not stop taking my meds. 

Since that appointment, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been trying to write, trying to work out, trying to get sun whenever I can. But this whole thing hasn’t gotten much easier. I guess this gives me an opportunity to check in with all of you and also give myself the ability to update you all on my headspace and how I’ve been doing. 

Well, I’ve been okay. I’ve been talking to friends: my podcasts have been keeping me going. My column keeps me going and this blog keeps me going. I’ve been more active on social media as that is a decent way to feel connection to others. I’m trying to take small bites out of my To Watch anime pile. I’m just trying to stay busy. I’ve been relishing in small comforts like the fact that Domino’s has a delicious pan pizza that makes me feel simultaneously satisfied and emotionally disappointed in myself. Writing hasn’t been easy but I have been trying to schedule out time to do so whenever I get a chance. I guess it’s my concentration that makes writing difficult; I’m still not sure. I also noticed my depression getting worse; mostly what triggered my realization was the vast overeating. My appetite has been up and down for years but after downing nearly an entire pizza and then going back for more I came to realize that I was coping, or not coping at all, by consuming too much food. 

At least talking to friends and family has been a balm from the onslaught of negative thoughts and disappointment that has come from watching large event after large event get canceled. 

Speaking of, I want to talk about a phenomena that I wasn’t expecting: time itself to stop mattering. 

I feel like we’ve been at this for eternity. I was shocked to find that we were only a couple of months into what could be a very lengthy process of returning to normal. To be honest, I’m still not used to the days all running together. I go out of my way to greet my coworkers on Zoom with the day of the week because it helps keep me on track of what day it is. Weekends are particularly difficult for me as those are days I tend to be out of the house the most but now I tend to use them to run errands and get groceries from stores that are just a little further than my local Target. The time in my car is strangely liberating: being able to listen to the music and just not be in the house. I guess the days running together is good in that I got used to this new normal relatively quickly or as quickly as possible considering. I did my best to adjust to working from home and not doing much with my time since I’m encouraged to stay at home. But the slowness of each day is a little worrisome. Day in and day out it seems like the same things happen and even though I have plenty of things to keep me busy; I struggle to start any one project. I’ve been meaning to paint or to work on a collage or to do literally anything that isn’t just laying on the sofa but days like that are incredibly difficult. 

When I do have the energy to do things outside of my sofa I’ve kept busy by making masks and talking to my friends and family. I’ve kept busy by podcasting and still writing and making content. I’ve kept busy with social media and video games. I’m still watching an alarming amount of television: just something to fill the silence, something that is a voice outside of my own, something to give me the illusion of life in my quiet one-bedroom apartment with no other people in it. I’m still playing a lot of Pokemon Sword and still playing Just Dance after work to get my heart rate up. I’m still watching medical dramas and still watching shows about the paranormal because that’s a good idea for an anxious mind. I’m still on calls with friends and still on Discord keeping in touch with those that matter to me. I’ve been doing my best to stay sane. 

It’s been a strange time of going through therapy to help find better coping mechanisms but also trying to figure out which ones just don’t apply to me easily but the ones that I have been able to keep so far have been helpful. It was my therapist who encouraged me to write this Part 2 and to be honest and say that “Hey, I’m doing mostly okay but could be doing better.” sort of post. But I’m doing about as well as to be expected. As well as others are doing. I’m lucky, I can be aware of that. I know I am lucky to be working and to have my friends and to have the luxury of mental health care and therapy. 

It’s actually taken me a while to do this; so it if seems a little disjointed, that’s probably why. But I’m glad that I got it out on paper. The next post, I hope, will be an interesting one. 

What Bejeweled Taught Me About My Anxiety

In the days when my mother had a job and did work in an office, there was one interesting constant that I remember and that was the game Bejeweled. The gem matching game was installed on her desktop; likely something to do when she had down time in the office. Mother was a receptionist and she did inevitably have down time; it was also great for me because on the few days I had to be in office waiting for her to get off of work after school. I loved the game as it was mindless entertainment and my mother loved it as it kept me quiet as she finished out her work day. 

My relationship with video games is a complicated one. I like things that help me escape the realities of existence. I like mindless things. I like distractions. I like to escape. It’s one of the reasons I obsess over games like Pokemon and Cooking Mama. I am a neurotic little monster so anything that lets me escape into a world that has fewer problems, idealized people and simple tasks that can distract me: I’m all in. There’s a reason my CurryDex in Pokemon Sword is as stellar as it is or why I have such a great high score in Cooking Mama. It’s easy to want to keep trying to make the same thing over and over again but if I fail; it’s difficult to beat myself up over. If I don’t become champion of Galar, it’s okay; that’s not tied to my self-worth (but let’s be real; I easily defeated Leon and I am proudly Galar’s champion). It’s one of the reasons I like playing fighting games alone; the stakes are low. I don’t have to worry about losing to someone else, the only person who stands to lose or stands to be affected is myself. 

So when my mental health recently became the worst it had ever been and I found my phone once more devoid of all games after finally giving up on Pokemon Masters; I downloaded Bejeweled on a whim and the process of playing Bejeweled has taught me a lot about myself, my anxiety and my mental health. 

Bejeweled is a puzzle matching game so it’s great to keep my mind on something that isn’t the futility of life, how many errors (most likely imagined) I made during the day, how miserable I am, how alone I am and how much I miss my parents. I responded well to the patterns, the colors and the need to continue to feed my starved brain some dopamine when I felt I did a good job or cleared a level. It mostly became a mindless thing to do while laying in bed and waiting for sleep to take me. 

Bejeweled recently added a feature that was fascinating to me which was a Zen mode. Zen mode is an endless, you cannot lose version of the game that allows the anxious to just swipe jewels forever in hopes of easing worried minds. In Zen mode there are ambient noises and something I did not expect; positive affirmations. Now, many know that positive affirmations don’t always work for the anxious. It was hard to believe that I was worthy of good things or a magnet of success when I barely felt like leaving my bed. 

Recently, I’ve been taking my mental health more seriously and those steps mean taking a good hard look at myself and my thought processes and Bejeweled has brought to center all of the things I can’t stand about myself. One is the negative self-talk and worthlessness; not being able to believe those positive affirmations. Another is getting lost in the forest for the trees; I’ve noticed that I’ll get stuck on a level only to come back to it hours later and find that the solution was right in front of me. And a third was impatience. I get ahead of myself easily and I get easily discouraged because I don’t feel a great deal of self-worth. 

I didn’t think that a simple game would be better at shining a light on my emotional issues than years of therapy would be. I didn’t think I could find so much comfort in a simple gem matching game would help me find something to do when my mind raced and when my thoughts turned cruel and hateful. I didn’t think that Bejeweled would be the thing that distracted me and kept me grounded when I was stressed out and miserable. It became something to keep my hands busy, my mind focused and my soul at ease. 

And as my mental health improves (albeit, slowly) it’s easier to find those little affirmations less disingenuous and more relatable. It got easier to sleep. It got easier to teach myself to let my thoughts wander to other things that weren’t self-loathing. And I do hope it continues to get easier. The last few weeks have been complicated. I faced a lot of backlash over a post I wrote, honestly, one of the first times that’s happened on my blog. I had the anniversary of my father’s death as well as work stress and other personal things that make my already hectic life more hectic. 

There’s a place in the world for mindless distraction. There’s a place for the anxious for mindless entertainment and a certain comfort in routine and simple pleasures. It’s nice to let my mind wander now as I play Bejeweled to calm down, I feel less hopeless and less strange. Remember when I mentioned that I quit playing Pokemon Go? Maybe I was hasty. There’s nothing wrong with having something that gives you an anchor. And if my relationship with Bejeweled ever becomes such that it is a distraction from people, then I’ll delete that game from my phone as well. But for now; it’s a nice vacation with ambient sounds, positive affirmations and an endless sea of colorful gems to keep me occupied in my darkest hours.