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. 

What I’ve Purchased During the Pandemic

To say that the pandemic has put a near end to my impulse shopping is an understatement but that doesn’t mean that my bad habit has been entirely snuffed out. I have purchased new things during the pandemic but I think that there’s something curious about this recent slate of purchases more so than the usual impulse buys I pick up in hopes of temporarily satiating my anxiety. 

Let’s go over some of the things I’ve bought during the pandemic. 


A Yeti Nano Microphone

I run two podcasts with two friends and oh boy has audio quality always been a struggle. On top of that, I have had virtual conventions to muddle through and my videos have never been the best quality. I started some freelance work early into the pandemic and that left me with a little extra cash and after agonizing for days over what kind of mic I should get and what mic would best suit my needs I settled on the Yeti Nano. It’s good sound quality, not super expensive and it’s petite: like me. My audio quality has improved, I feel more professional and it was absolutely worthwhile to save up for the new tech.


An Anthony Bourdain Novena Candle 

Longtime readers of the blog and those close to me will know just how much Anthony Bourdain means to me. I still remember the day I found out that he died. A friend reached out to me asking if I was okay as if I had lost someone very close to me. The loss felt close; it still feels close. That’s why when my friend reached out to me showing me a novena candle with Anthony Bourdain on it depicted as a Saint: well, I had to buy it

It now sits on my bookshelf in my bedroom next to my incense, a few family photos and my degree: a contact reminder to keep living as I would and to do so decadently. 


 A Ring Light 

Remember how I mentioned that I got a new mic? Well, since I was focusing on being the best I could be when it comes to my video production and presentation? Well, I bought the secret trick used by models, “models” e-girls, cosplayers and “cosplayers” all around the world: a ring light. A friend of mine who cosplays mentioned that the ring light she used was on sale and I happened to have some Amazon gift card money to spend and thus arrived a few days later a ring light that has really done wonders of making me look alive and vibrant while being on livestreams and while recording videos. 


A Pageant Gown

Shocking development: I entered a beauty pageant earlier in the year. It was mostly at the behest of a friend. Earlier in the year, I didn’t think there’d be a pandemic so I had to continue on as if the event was happening this year. I have started and stopped with this pageant for weeks and waited until what would have been the last minute to order a gown before the coordinators finally gave up the ghost and moved the event to next year. Well, I still have the dress and now I’m not sure if I’m going to be in the pageant. I suppose now I’ll have to find an event worthy of what may be the nicest gown I own currently. 


You may have noticed a theme here. I have been fortunate enough to be able to take my time and money and be able to reinvest in my hobbies this pandemic. I’m very aware that not everyone is this fortunate. I’ve spent this pandemic either saving money or trying desperately to find coping skills that don’t involve going to the mall to avoid my racing thoughts. I’ve filled the void with many things over the years: books, clothes, fabric, costume supplies to costumes I’ll never use but having to sit and be alone with my thoughts has been trying. I didn’t realize how destructive my shopping had become until the option to do so just didn’t exist as it normally did. I was never a huge on online shopping. Probably the part of me that subconsciously knows that I would develop a habit if I fully realized that with a few button clicks that things could arrive at my apartment like magic. By removing the ability to stop at “just one more store” or pick up “well I may need it” kind of purchases, I’ve had no choice but to really take a good hard look at my spending and my desire to acquire. 

The pandemic made my shopping more intentional and for better or worse made me realize that I need other coping skills. And to be honest, I’m glad it did. It’s never fun having to take a look at a bad habit by organizing books, trading cards and clothes. It’s been trying, hell. It’s also been shocking to realize the pure amount of privilege I have to even shop during this pandemic. That guilt may also have been what’s driving my desire to consume less. Being at home means now I’m even more aware of all that it takes to get me what I want. It isn’t just walking into a store and grabbing a pair of velvet leggings. It’s having to price shop and look and find shipping prices that make sense and knowing that someone is packing that order and making sure it gets to me. It wasn’t that such awareness didn’t exist before but I am more cognizant of it now. 

I feel almost guilty for consuming. I know that I shouldn’t, that’s the comfortable lie that capitalism tells me. But when the world is on fire, there are just plenty of times where I don’t feel like adding to the system of consumerism. It’s been remarkably difficult to look up from where I am sometimes to buy frivolous things. Realistically, the things I purchased either were to reinvest in things I’ve been doing for years or ended up being a need. 

That is, if sparkly ball gowns count as a need. 

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.