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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was younger, I cried a lot. Mostly the kind of spoiled crying most children do when I didn’t get my way. I rarely cried over things that deserved crying. Even breaking my wrist at 12 was not met with tears but naive stoicism. That changed when my dad died. My mother told me repeatedly that crying would be a poor reflection of her parenting skills; even going so far as to tell me that I was not to cry during group therapy as I was meant to be working through my grief. I internalized that for years because it was not the first time during a death my mother had told me such a thing. It actually happened first when I was 9 and my grandfather died. My mother told me I had to be strong for my younger cousins and thus, as the oldest, I could not cry. I had to be strong. I remembered that lesson at 12 and I held onto that for years.
My aunts were better at letting me express feelings during therapy but when I was home such “outbursts” weren’t usually met well. I assumed my tears were weak. So many went through so much worse than me. What did I have to cry about? I had lost my dad, sure, but there were other things to be upset about. What was the point of crying?
Around 17 is when I found Gravitation and quickly fell in love with the series and more importantly with a certain Cool Beauty that uttered a line I’d repeat in my day to day life regularly: Sorry fixes nothing. Yuki Eiri refused to apologize or accept apologies from people and he had a saunch view of shedding tears citing them as weak and pathetic to the extent that he questions his own masculinity when he finally reveals his trauma to his lover and cries over the years of pain he endured in mostly silence.
I felt those feelings. I related to wanting to ignore the past and wanting to shun tears as they did nothing but keep present long-held griefs. I used charm, humor, sarcasm and more to deflect how I truly felt culminating in a moment that I did not think would ever come.
When my mom died, I was given power to make a lot of the choices. I don’t think I had time to be sad, I was so busy. Planning a funeral is hard work and I mostly smiled and made jokes to break the tension. I greeted guests as nicely as I could, deflected my feelings by asking about normal things and mostly did my best to ignore the fact that a part of me seemed to die with my mother. I was an orphan and I was not handling it well.
When I spoke to my therapist before going to Austria, she looked me in the eye and said
“I had no idea how much you overcompensate with humor.”
I laughed off her comment before going quiet. I sat on that as I boarded a plane to another continent.
In Italy after a few travel mates decided to visit a cemetery in Sorrento (a terrible idea for a recent orphan) I found a statue of a long-dead Italian general and I sobbed. I draped my pathetic form over the cold bronze and openly wept. I lamented missing my mom, not revering her as much as I could in life and not being able to see her headstone be placed. I left loose in that moment all the emotions I had ignored.
I returned to the U.S. and continued to not cope well with the death of my mother, mostly laughing until I just couldn’t laugh anymore.
I’m bad about suppressing my emotions but working in career positions meant ignoring my feelings to be strong and stoic. As a black woman, my emotions are particularly scary in the workplace. Too angry and I am the angry black woman white people are told to fear. If I am too passive or sad then I am weak for being a woman. It’s a lose-lose situation that I internalized by just bottling up my emotions.
But a few years ago: I became a crybaby. If I was put under too much stress or felt too many things bubbled up, I couldn’t keep myself from crying. I felt miserable the first time I felt my cheek dampen with liquid failure and as I continued to find myself crying at even the slightest of inconvenience either professional or personal I would just burst into tears. Usually silent, usually soft, usually almost without my control. If I felt too overwhelmed, too sad, too anything: I would just cry.
Crying in public is an odd thing. It disarms people in all the wrong way. Professionally, it’s a nightmare. No boss knows how to handle a crying subordinate. Even close friends rarely know how to handle crying. It’s just an odd thing. What does one do? Are they to hug? Should they offer tissue? Should they just walk away and hope everyone just forgets it happens?
I fought this weakness for years and resented myself for being useless despite a few things being against me. One is that I have a pretty decent amount of trauma behind me and that two: I am incredibly empathetic. When I saw a person get into a low impact car accident downtown, I lamented to my sensei that I hope that others would care about me if I was in such a scenario to which my sensei was surprised and frankly troubled by my ability to empathize and internalize a scene that did not physically impact me. But in that moment when I saw that person get hit by a car at low speed, I immediately felt that shockwave, immediately felt that pain and immediately my heart sank knowing that we are all just a step or two away from being hit by a car and having others around you not care enough to stop or ask you if you need help.
To beat a dead horse but when I was watching Devilman Crybaby that was something I always resented Akira for. I found his desire to save humans as weak. I wanted to be Ryo. I wanted to be jaded and cynical and think that humans were just as bad as demons so why not make a hell on earth. I wanted to think that I didn’t care about people or good things or heroes. Dear reader, I was wrong. I am Akira. I am an emotional and empathetic crybaby who wants so badly to see all the good in people; even if it means the end of me.
I’m coming to terms with being emotional and with being an empath. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I just cry…and maybe that isn’t all bad. I’m getting better at holding it together when needed but also letting go of my emotions when I’m around people I can be vulnerable around and that I trust.
Now that I think about it: I do cry a lot.
I cry during movies when characters I love die or honestly, when the scenes make me feel too much of my past. I cry during anime series at home when I feel too much. I cry when songs are too much or hit particularly close to home. Lots of things can make me cry.
I suppose, what makes it not so weak, is what I do afterwards. I try to be honest about how I feel and realize that tears don’t make me a bad person. I try to be better at piecing together what has me emotional or overwhelmed. I’m honest with myself about the fact that I’m usually holding onto feelings and more importantly: I’m trying to find better methods for channeling my empathy into being present, kind and listening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This has been a difficult small eternity, hasn’t it been? And I don’t say that to make light of the serious nonsense that’s been going on in the U.S. and abroad I say that to tell all of you that I am just as stressed out as many of you are.
But with that in mind, I wanted to talk about self-care and how I do my best to manage our current garbage fire of a world.
For those unaware: self-care is a series of actions, rituals and practices that help improve one’s own mental health. It’s become quite the buzzword recently and with the rise of “treat yo self” culture, it’s one of many things appropriated from those with chronic mental illness and conflated with simply being immature, irresponsible, selfish and reckless. True self-care shouldn’t be damaging, put you in a financial lurch or be entirely disastrous to one’s health or usual routine and it isn’t an excuse to be a jerk and shun personal responsibilities to oneself and to others.
I’m far from a paragon of mental health, longtime readers I’m sure are aware with my struggles with depression, anxiety and more. But I offer these tips as:
An insight into my semi-chaotic mind and world.
Genuine advice for those curious about the world of self-care.
Here are a few of the ways I take care of myself after a long day, week, month or year.
I Get Witchy
Many readers have noticed my predilection towards the supernatural. I can’t help it, I was born Roman Catholic. But I’ve always been vaguely magical. From ghosts to hauntings to ritual, I’ve been drawn to the world of magic and spirituality for years now. I found crystals recently and while I’m far from a basic witch who thinks crystals can cure cancer (they cannot, please see actual doctors) I do take some solace in my crystals. I know it’s psychosomatic, but so is aromatherapy so don’t come @ me. I’ve always enjoyed rituals so lighting some incense, wafting over my crystals and myself and doing a little tarot is a lovely way to unwind: I still walk into Catholic churches and still do at times take in the eucharist but I have never seen Catholicism as a religious entirely separate from paganism. My Catholicism is at home with tarot, incense, crystals.
I Get Beautiful
I have very low self-esteem despite being strangely vain and concerned about my looks. I have pores you could land a plane on. I have acne scars because of self-mutilation behaviors and eczema. I am chubby and short and I am unhappy with my body. But I am still incredibly vain. And in that displeasure with my cursed meat shell, I do what I can to make myself feel pretty. I love masks, I love serums, I love makeup. I love my fit and flare dresses and my dusty pink wardrobe. I do things that help me feel a little bit prettier.
I Enjoy Something Wholesome
Every Saturday morning for the past several months, I wake up early (well, I’m always up early) and I spend an hour in the morning before I get up and leave to start my day watching a magpie and her owner on Periscope. It’s wholesome, relaxing, funny and sweet. The bird is adorable, her owner is attentive and answers all the questions the folks in the livestream have about his beautiful bird and the weather in England and which biscuits are the best (we disagree on Oreos). The world for many of us is a hot garbage fire and social media is hard to do. The 24-hour news cycle is exhausting and it seems like everything is awful everywhere. But for an hour every Saturday, I get to watch things be okay for an hour. I have an entire list of videos and television shows I can watch to avoid feeling anything too much. I try to, during the darker times, to watch things that I know may trigger an emotional episode (something a few friends of mine have lovingly called “dead parent approved” or “not dead parent approved”). Wholesome things include, kittens, sloths, The Mameshiba theme song and the like. Not to say I don’t still watch things that challenge me (see my long post about watching BoJack Horseman despite it hurting me emotionally every single time I watch it) but if I’ve already had a rough week, there’s no point in making things worse needlessly by opting to watch something stressful.
I Do Something (Important)
The world is a hot dumpster fire in many places and that is overwhelming and exhausting, but it’s important to turn disillusion into action. I do what I can when I can. I educate those who wish to listen. I vote on matters that are pressing to me. I continue to express what I feel and educate myself when needed.
I Do Something (Frivolous)
There are plenty of instances where doing something big just isn’t appropriate or needed but that doesn’t mean I like to stay inactive. Especially considering how insidious the negative voices in your head can be, it’s important to seek out others. I sit on calls, I go out to the mall, I go for a walk in the park. I do my best to do something. Many will recall how I use Pokemon Go to sometimes help me get out of my apartment and get some air.
I Indulge (Unfortunately)
A friend remarked that my self-care began with cake and ended with frosting. She wasn’t entirely wrong with that assessment. Remember that remark I made earlier about self-care not being something that should totally derail you? Well, I occasionally lie. I bake, I love sweets and sometimes I buy dumb things on Amazon. It isn’t self-care but it does sometimes happen and sometimes I do feel better after making a meal of two cakes.
I’m far from a mental health expert. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who are genuinely invested in my mental health and a therapist who is loving, empathetic and understanding. These are simply a few of the ways I cope with a stressful world. That does not mean I am always successful in my attempts at taking care of myself. I still have bad days but they are likely reduced when I do what I can to take care of myself. Again, none of these things are a substitute for actual mental health care. That’s always been my ire with the modern use of the term “self-care”. I work hard to be the best version of me and spending hundreds of dollars in cakes and lipsticks are not ways to be my best self. It’s effort, it’s crying, it’s stressing out over panels and how to get paint out of things. It’s calling friends tirelessly and in tears and arranging to meet over late night coffees to rant about failed first dates. It’s lapsing and trying your very best to be better next time.
It wasn’t long after my birthday that Amber finally pressed me further when I said that I was tired casually at brunch. It’s a response that I give often to the tedious question of “How are you?” and its variants. It’s a bit of a default response from me nowadays but the people that actually care about me that have noticed it. So I wanted to go over a few of the reasons why you’ve been hearing me say “I’m tired.” quite a bit.
It’s a Default Response
Typically, if I say “I’m tired.” I’m probably just avoiding answering the question of “How are you?” and its many disguises. I’m seldom intentionally trying to be rude with this answer (sometimes I am, see “catcalling” as an example) but I find it hard to be open with that question. Many people don’t want to hear that I may be a little sad because I miss my parents. Or that my day at work was long. Or that I’m really thinking about how a snake would hold a knife. It’s a means of protecting for the both of us, really. You don’t really want to know how I am if you don’t know the full leathery demon that I am. If you are, however, formally acquainted with my true casual swamp witch self then there may be other reasons why I’m saying “I’m tired.”
I Am Actually Tired
I have insomnia (likely caused by anxiety but we’ll get to that). I’m also anemic (thanks, endometriosis) and I’m not too proud to admit that I don’t always take great care of myself. My job is sedentary and occasionally I have a fickle appetite that means that dinner is Hawaiian sweet rolls and a dream. None of this likely helps the fact that I am truly an insomniac. That means there are plenty of nights that I just do not sleep. I take a fair amount of medication to make sure that I do sleep but every once in awhile, that fails me and I am up, awake and alert with my thoughts as the rest of the world sleeps. It is normally pretty easy to tell the difference, though, between being physically tired or emotionally tired. You can tell if I am actually tired by the size of the bags under my eyes: if I just look slightly puffy, probably did sleep some the night before. If you could, in fact, check my bags as luggage while flying, then I probably didn’t sleep and I would suggest not speaking or moving too quickly without dropping off tacos or coffee to appease me.
I Am Emotionally Tired (Because of Mental Health)
I am anxious. My thoughts can be oppressive and unkind. That means that emotionally, I am seldom allowed to rest. It means that oftentimes in my mind I hear mostly negative things about myself and mostly untrue things that my friends must certainly feel about me. My brain is always buzzing and that noise makes it very hard to really rest. I joke oftentimes that my panels are written at 3 A.M. and while that’s said in jest, sometimes it’s true. I do try to use the time I am awake with the owls to create and be creative but often times that just leaves me more tired. Being anxious on its own is a burden to carry but the way it affects my sleep schedule and clouds my mind is insidious. So even though I may have physically slept for several hours, most of it isn’t restorative or restful.
I Am Emotionally Tired (Because the World is a Hot Dumpster Fire)
While at Jo-Ann Fabrics not long ago, when asked “Why are you tired?” as a somewhat valid follow-up question from a questionably concerned cashier my response was thus:
She was satisfied with my answer or at least annoyed that I was flippant. But obnoxious response aside, I’m not entirely joking when I provide those as answers to the question of “Why are you tired?”
It’s exhausting having to go through day to day life being worried if someone is going hurt and/or kill me for being myself. And this is a feeling I have never had before in my life. I am from a remarkable amount of privilege and even though my life may not always be conventional, I’ve been never worried about someone hating me or hurting me because of who I am. This irrational (let’s be real, it’s pretty rational) fear is incredibly taxing and takes up more of my brain than I like admitting. And I’m a social media manager, I don’t have the luxury or ability to “just log off”; it is my job to stay connected. But all of it really is quite draining. It’s exhausting having to day in and day out hear catcalls and statements that either seek to qualify or quantify my level of blackness or whiteness. It’s exhausting looking at social media to see another mass shooting, another racially or gender/sex-based crime. It’s tiresome watching the president flail around and thus play chess with human lives. The world is a dumpster fire; the good news is we can recover from a dumpster fire but that doesn’t mean that the fumes and fallout are pleasant to enjoy while it burns.
I’m finally realizing just how often I say “I’m tired.” in day to day life. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s a lazy verbal shorthand for a myriad of feelings. I can be more vulnerable. I’m pretty used to putting myself second while also always being afraid of putting too much on people so this is a clever little trick to give an answer without giving an answer: it defuses people who are asking either out of obligation or a shallow level of caring and it also builds a wall around me from having to answer to the people who actually do care about me.
I’ll try to be more careful with my words in the future: I’m a writer after all, I can do better.