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. 

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. 

Thoughts from UshiCon, Austin and a local Sake Brewery

I am back from another convention. I was accepted as a panelist for UshiCon and so I went. If you’re close to me personally, you know this convention was… a lot. Disorganization and poor communication made it hard to plan for, hard to get excited for and hard to do but I’ve never turned my back on a convention and I don’t plan on doing so now. I spent weeks frantic over which of my already finished costumes to wear and weeks frantic over the state of my panels and me as a panelist. I want to talk about this con as I have talked about others since this one doesn’t lend towards a flowing narrative, let’s bring back the old format: you’re welcome. 

  • Austin has too many toll roads. If this is supposed to help boost the economy then I want to see it boost the economy. I get tolls pay for roads but good lord I do not look forward to my bill that will be sent to me sometime within the next couple of months. 
  • Austin is a beautiful city that is simultaneously very close and very far away full of things I quite like a bit. 
  • The hotel my friend and I were staying at this go around as beautiful and I’m so glad I found a good one. I was fretting over the condition of the hotel only to redeem myself from the previous year where we stayed in Kamoshida’s Castle with a staircase that went to nowhere. 

Now for some context. UshiCon is a con I’ve tried to get into for years. It was just never at a good time so I could never make it. It’s an 18+ con and I’ve been trying to visit since college. I put in a panel application late last year and was shocked to find out that I was. The convention itself is older, in its 15th iteration of the eponymous convention. I was lured in by the hopes of an older audience as recently I have been disillusioned and deep in the ennui of being an anime fan, panelist and human person. I assumed that maybe being around a group of older peers would help.

Back to the bullet points: 

  • Whole Foods is a magical land full of delicious and over-priced food. I regret nothing.
  • The Domain is a mall that I could live in but also reminds me of all of the best and worst parts of gentrification and generational wealth. 
  • It was nice to get some hallway photos for once. 
    • For context: hallways are when photographers ask to take photos of you in the con hallway. It typically means you look good and are worth photographing.
  • Having costumes and panels done is wonderful and it means moving forward, I want to work on having that material done way before the convention.
  • Getting ready in a hotel bathroom is indeed an art form; and one I am getting shockingly good at including applying makeup, wigs

One of the detours I took on this trip was to a local sake distillery: Texas Sake and FOR THE LOVE OF KAMI-SAMA their stuff is delicious. Honestly, some of the best sake I’ve ever had in my life and you should support them if you’re anywhere near Austin. Austin did feature some delicious food including Cafe Eden which had some of the best chicken katsu I’ve ever had and Little Lucy’s donuts which is a pink food truck that serves mini donuts and I could just live there; let’s be honest. Also I found a cute little succulent shop that nearly resulted in Toi gaining a sibling…which may happen this year regardless.

This convention didn’t bring a lot to me as far as big bombastic moments like larger cons but I do want to get a little personal here. This convention opened my eyes and well…let’s ditch the bullet points. 

I have been struggling as a panelist for the last year or two. I’ve been chasing the high of packed houses from 2015 and 2016. I’ve been chasing this high that I can still dazzle audiences and still be good. But my numbers have not been the best in the last few years, hell; I’ve had flat out bad conventions in the last few years and in tying so much of myself and my self-worth to paneling; I hated myself. I was not my best and I was bitterly disappointed and cruel to myself. I had told myself over and over again that I liked small crowds and that surely it was my fault that audience participation had dwindled and my numbers weren’t the same. It was my fault, my failure, and my inadequacies. 

UshiCon told me that I was partially right. I do like paneling. I do like small and engaged crowds. I am good at this and all of those things were so needed for me, my career and my ego. 

I have spent the last few years beating my head against a wall obsessing over what I was doing wrong even though the answers were right in front of me. I was ignoring changes in my audience, changes in trends and changing in how conventions are to begin with. I have spent the last few years chasing a dragon that flew off years ago; hoping lightning would strike twice and shunning any other success I had. 

During UshiCon I had a guy say that I changed his view on media criticism. I met a fan who said they loved my energy. I had questions that spilled out into the hallway and I couldn’t see any of that as success because I didn’t have a packed house. 

And it took some serious self-reflection and some serious emotional time to realize that I was not helping myself. I was giving myself too much time and resenting a lack of questions during my panels rather than the simple answer of just asking for less damn time. I was upset at low numbers as I forgot that for most conventions: fan panelist attendance is down if you aren’t like Youtube famous. 

I spent years mad at myself for nothing; well, for things that are rather easy to fix. 

It also reminded me that I am so blessed to have Carlos as a co-panelist. I traveled with another friend of mine who I am indeed close to but certainly communicates in a way that was less helpful to me: which to be fair, I’m awful at communicating my needs. At this stage, Carlos is damn near psychic and knows my needs and knows how to talk me up, talk me down and keep me grounded and even; and I only realize how much I appreciate him and need him during those moments of intense stress and emotional exhaustion when he isn’t there.  

UshiCon was a good time. I can’t say it was a great time, but it was a good time. It’s given me a new focus and a new drive to be better that I have needed now for a few years. I look forward to more conventions this year; maybe even one for fun; I haven’t taken a con off in years so maybe I’ll just visit one to visit. I look forward to retooling my formula and being the best version of me. I’m not the same person I was in 2015. The world is not the same world as it was in 2015. I’m not a bad person for not being able to pack a house consistently; most performers can’t.

So thank you to all of those who came to see me during Ushicon. Thank you to Ushicon for having me. Thank you to my friends who keep me humble and thanks to my anxiety that never lets me think too many positive things about myself. 

See you all next con. 

About My Cactus

For my birthday, my friend sent me a cactus. It was a joke between us that I needed an emotional support cactus (yes, I know the irony) and she said “The cactus is in the mail.”

A week or so later, in a box with a pot and soil was a moon cactus. I waited a day or two before I opened the box: mostly from anxiety and just a lack of urgency since my birthdays have gotten quieter and quieter as I get older and I’m still adjusting to that. But one night after deciding that I needed to remove the cactus from the box, I popped out a moon cactus and placed it in a pot with soil and set the pot outside. 


I am a compulsive namer of things and typically the name I give a thing reflects a certain encapsulation of my feelings in the moment. So, when presented with a cactus that poked me as soon as I removed it from the box; I named the cactus (and gendered the cactus male) Toi coming from Kuji Toi, my disaster son from Sarazanmai


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Thank you to @salaamander for my new son. 💖🌵

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Immediately, Toi the cactus became a part of my life that I discussed openly and often. I lovingly refer to him as my son. I obsess over him. I worry about him. I say hello, good night, see you later, and I’m home (all in Japanese) on a daily basis. But because of my closeness to the cactus, I realized something strange about myself: I have a very bad habit of projecting onto things. Now, I knew that; to be fair, I knew that. But to the extent that I do it, that was a new development.

I have tended to plants before; famously tending to roses in high school and to a Jimson Weed that I did not know was poisonous; I merely did not question our garden’s lack of squirrels or birds. I really enjoy tending to plants; I like the watering and pruning and watching things grow. I always have.  I like the routine of going out, watering the plants, pruning in the fall and keeping plants warm in the winter. I like caring for things.

Between anxiety and a not so stellar childhood, I don’t respond well to children. I have a strange mothering instinct but no actual desire to raise children. I’ve always accepted my future being someone’s very eccentric aunt who is always traveling and has a long-term partner but never marries and is only home for one of the holidays but drops like thousands on the children before heading back to Martha’s Vineyard. I did teach Sunday School briefly and I did like teaching. When paneling and doing conventions, I do genuinely like inspiring and helping younger fans, even the children. But the thought of having a child, raising a child, being responsible for a child turns my stomach. I’m afraid of being cold and distant. I’m afraid of being bad at it and those stakes are much higher when it comes to a living human person than a rose bush that was too aggressively trimmed. 

But tending to Toi has been a fascinating look into my psyche when it comes to how I approach rearing and care. 

I have nearly loved Toi to death. 

Toi is a moon cactus and many a site has listed that moon cacti are strange chimeras that shouldn’t exist and thrive mostly on neglect. They need sun and some water but for the most part, you are to treat them like a slow cooker: set it and forget it. 

That is antithetical to how I operate in existence. The first month or so with Toi, I vastly overwatered him. I fretted over him getting enough sun. I cooed at him while watering him, barely noticing the lack of growth or thriving in my boy. 

I was able to pull back on the water; Toi did even flower briefly, the summer and fall were good. 


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Can I interest y'all in some high quality cactus content?

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But as summer changed into fall, I noticed the paleness on Toi’s stem. That paleness is from a lack of sunlight. Where my apartment is, I don’t get a lot of sun. Toi was outside but trees blocked him from getting the sun he needed. My son needed sun. I would move his pot as I left for work or as I left to run errands over the weekend. This was an okay compromise for a while. When it rained, I brought him inside so that we did not repeat the “too much damn water” issue. 

There has also been a consistent talk about getting a table for Toi. Because Toi was outside on a ledge, there was worry that a large gust of wind could knock him over. And what started as light teasing about being a bad mother from coworkers and friends quickly turned into another weapon I could use against myself and my already fragile self-esteem. I felt like a single mom being shamed by mommy bloggers who have time to bento box every damn morning as I send my kid off to school with a lunchable and a can that I’m hoping isn’t a spiked hard seltzer. 

As a “cold front” moved in, I moved Toi inside. Toi did not like being inside. In my bedroom, the poor dear does not get much more light as his mother is a vampire and recently hung several feet of pink silk in an attempt to be an Instagram influencer or just a weeb pastel goth. Within days of being inside, the flower Toi worked so hard on withered and died. I felt crushed. I felt like I was watching my son die. And as parts of my personal life changed, Toi became the personification of every anxiety I had.

Toi continued to not thrive indoors and on a particularly miserable and low night, I sat up on Amazon for hours looking at grow lamps that had reviews from more than just pot growers. I cried. I was sad. I was scared of losing my son. But in the back of my mind, I also resented the cactus. If I can’t make it grow, then I should just throw it away. So what? It’s just a cactus. It doesn’t matter, everything dies. I was in a full nihilistic spiral and it wasn’t Toi’s fault but Toi was the vessel I used to  beat myself up over every failed relationship, every moral weakness, every flaw I’ve ever had.

Toi’s lamp was set to arrive in one day. I have been using an Amazon Prime trial and I was thrilled to have the programmable lamp arrive in just as day as I felt like watching Toi wither was like watching the rose die in Beauty and the Beast. The original delivery window was between 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Mind you, I am usually in bed by 9:00 pm, so I stayed up patiently waiting for the lamp to arrive. But updates slowed and time moved forward, my anxiety started to ramp up. I wanted the lamp. I wanted it now. I wanted Toi to be okay. When 9:30 passed, I sent a message to Amazon asking about the state of my lamp. I was told it would arrive the next day and was given a small credit but honestly, it wasn’t the lamp I was anxious about: I was worried about so many other things than just the cactus who didn’t like being inside.

Toi’s lamp arrived and it is programmable and it’s wonderful. He seems to be happier with the lamp and I’m working on getting a little stand for the lamp as now I am angering the God of Literature by using a book to keep my cactus and my cactus’ lamp in place.

I love my son. I love Toi. He’s a beautiful cactus and was an amazing gift. But quickly, my relationship with Toi became about control. As a person with anxiety, I long for control and routine. As a person who lost both parents young, I long for stability and for things to be okay. As a person who lives alone, I long for companionship and someone to care for. Toi is truly an emotional support cactus in that I should use him to better tend to myself. I can’t save everything. I can’t save everyone. Nothing is perfect and sometimes even when we do our best, it still isn’t enough.

But for now, Toi is doing okay and I’m doing okay, too.

Thanks for reading.

Proudly Goth in Every Way

I have been a goth for about 10 years now. And I don’t mean that in the pejorative way as an all-black clad edgelord even though everyone around me will agree that I am one of those. But I want to talk about being a goth, the evolution from emo to now a pastel goth and why I’m fine identifying as such despite being nearly too damn old for such a thing.

I have a comic book past: I lost my parents young, I was always just a little above average in intellect and maturity in comparison to my peers and I had quite the taste for things that were not too happy, too nice or too upbeat. But I had an aunt who was concerned about my image and the crowd I found myself in with being goth so I never outwardly looked very goth. Even during the height of my emo days in high school I was still a pink dot in a sea of boys in black trench coats and bullet belts if you can imagine such a thing.

It wasn’t so much that I resented my aunt’s mandate on my wardrobe but even when I began my job at the local Goth Barn I only went to so far with being a goth. I got to wear more black, I got to wear the t-shirts of bands I listened to and I got to accessorize but that was about it I never wanted to wear super skinny jeans or TRIPPs or anything. I may be a vampire but I am for sure vain and have always been.

It isn’t all black roses and My Chemical Romance shirts being goth. I absolutely understand all the criticisms a parent or society has with the term. Within the goth community there are very strained discussions of mental illness that glorify self-harm and not being medicated for serious mental health issues. It’s a community that is synonymous with melodrama and especially unearned melodrama. That was always difficult in high school listening to people go on about their problems that were not so problematic. That melodrama makes it difficult to want to be better or to change your situation. Wallowing in darkness is never a good way to cope with issues and the anti-authoritarian and especially anti-parent/guardian messages behind a lot of goth culture is risky; sometimes parents can be less than sympathetic and understanding but most of the time, it’s well-intending guardians just doing their best with complex emotions. But there’s an allure to rebelling against a machine. There’s absolutely an allure to the old photos of me in all black surrounded by a family of brightly colored outfits.  There’s an allure to being a little overly dramatic. But I can understand that to parents, it’s likely a little distressing to see their usually bright child descend the stairs fully as a vampire going on about how life is pain and death is a sweet sweet embrace.

We’ll skip over the college and post-college years except for one footnote. The lace dress. Yes, the lace dress. So when I was in high school I was inviting to a homecoming dance once. Once. And I got a dress from Torrid (previously the plus-sized Hot Topic) and it was black and lace and short and wonderful. I wore that dress in my senior photos, to conventions for gothic lolita, to my college graduation party that my anime clubbers threw for me. That dress was just recently donated and I miss it but that’s about the extent of my prior gothic impulses. A notable appearance of The Dress was at a local Twilight prom that I was brought to against my will. My former best friend liked the books and wanted me to go with him as he platonic date. It was held a bookstore and truthfully we were both too old for this but it sounded like a good idea to him and he said it was an excuse to look better than everyone else so I got dressed and went with him. Immediately a gaggle of teens asked if he was the Edward to my Bella and I said that I would sell him to them for a dollar. The night ended with us at the local IHOP me still in my black lace dress and him a little angry that I was willing to sell him off so quickly.

THE Lace Black Dress

My first office job forced me to dress decently and I did my best to stay with light colors because that is what’s socially acceptable. I had to be amiable and kind and outgoing even though my personality had always tended towards being a bit of a misanthrope and a vampire.

It wasn’t until the last few years and my cosplay resurgence that I found my love of black dresses.

I love black dresses. I own at least 5 of them. They’re modest and make me feel attractive in a way that I have not felt since I was a teenager. This coincides with my reemergence of loving the paranormal and my love of cameos. I’m primed and ready to be a casual witch.

Now my wardrobe is that of a pastel goth. Now, those things sounds like they don’t match but they absolutely can! I love pastel colors, thanks to all of this melanin, they really pop on my skin but I usually pair them with creepy-cute accessories like haunted castle rings or ouija board necklaces. Accessories really are the heart and soul of my wardrobe. It takes more than just a black dress and tights to be a goth. It’s also about the necklaces, rings and more. I also get to explore with makeup more now. I wear more highlight now so the light catches just right and I love bright red lipstick because it really pops on an almost all black and silver canvas. I’m a sucker for a bold lip and now if the occasion permits, a bold eye.

I also prefer the silhouette that being goth allows me. I can be modest or show skin as I wish. I can wear some bright colors and still tone them down with blackout tights or I can wear all over all  black and just enjoy the aesthetic of looking like a Victorian vampire.

But there’s something about being labeled as “goth” that I actually really enjoy. If being goth means that I like ghost stories, vampires, cameos and lace: then I’m happy to be a goth. If being goth means that I am honest about my emotional health and refuse to put on a brave face all the time because happiness is normative, then I’m proud to be goth. If being goth means that I feel the most comfortable in my skin that I have in all of my years, then I am proud to be goth.