Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 36: Harriet the Spy

In which hosts Amanda and Tori talk about Harriet the Spy written by badass Louise Fitzhugh, Amanda complains about tomatoes, both hosts try desperately (and fail) to not be political and talk about the ethics of spying on the ethnic families in your neighborhood as a small child.

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. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 35- Frog and Toad with a Side of Queer Theory

Join hosts Amanda and Tori on a journey through an unexpected frontier: children’s literature with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and talk about Queer Theory: Amanda’s favorite subject.

Something Unpredictable, But in the End It’s Right- Music in Medical Dramas

To combat the acedia and tristia that have come along with our current reality, I have been watching medical dramas even more so than usual. Longtime readers of the blog and those who know me in real life know that I happen to love medical dramas. I’ve always been fascinated by medicine and the thrill of surgery and the rush of figuring out just what is killing the patient. A good medical drama mixes the human element with intrigue and genuine thrills. But as I’ve been trying to pass the time by living vicariously through the lives of fictional doctors, I noticed something curious: the music in these shows is fascinating and at times incredibly appropriate. 

Medical dramas have a lot to do in a little amount of time. Many of them are serialized and do their best by telling season-long or arc-long stories while also telling a day to day story. So a series like ER works best because you have characters you can follow for sometimes years and see their arc(s), see their loves, wins, losses and more while also seeing their day to day interactions and daily goings on in the hospital. House works in a similar fashion but is even tighter and has a team with less actor-based turnover so you spend even more time with one tight knit team going through nearly impossible cases for in the case of House literally a decade. 

At their core, though, a medical drama is still a drama and you need something to go along with all of the beeping machines, flatlining patients, heavy dialogue and euphoric highs. And it certainly can’t all be church music or public domain classical tunes. What has become truly curious is as I go through early seasons of shows I watched with my parents is that every once in a while as I work or write and my attention waivers from the show, a melody will catch my attention. 

It actually started with an early season of ER. A young man dies and a common thread during his arc was his love of Green Day. During his funeral, his loving and attentive nurse sings to his casket one of his favorite songs and in that acapella melody I noticed a song that I also shared a love for with my father who passed away. 

The song was a perfect encapsulation of all the themes of the arc and episode: loss, grief, regret, hoping that when it’s over it means something and that at the end; there will be someone there for us hoping that we had the time of our life. It was also a beautiful time capsule of the late 90s and the cynicism that came along with it.  

ER was pretty masterful with its use of music, even if some of the moments were ham handed. I wasn’t expecting to hear Clocks during an episode where a disabled surgeon comtemplates suicide via jumping off of the hospital as that all too familiar opening harmony begins to play, that same few bars on the piano that every basic high schooler I knew could play when I was younger. The music swells as the doctor loses his head covering in the wind and he backs away from the dizzying height to a song that was the anthem for most thoughtful emo kids when I was in high school. 

As ER plays in the background of many of my days I’ll notice more and more little songs that resonate and hit closer to home now as an adult than it did when I watched the show as a child with my parents. I noticed Claire de Lune (which may be my favorite piece of classical composition) during a romantic dinner which seems ironic since Verlaine wrote the poem that inspired the song and Verlaine was…I guess legally a romantic.  

House is a unique show in that it centers around a main character who is not just a sociopath but also a musician. Dr. House plays a lot of instruments and thus for a medical drama, there is a lot of music. I think House is one of the better series to handle its music choosing from a catalogue that includes folk, gospel, pop, rock and more all to fit the mood and tone of an episode. I’ve heard plenty of songs from House that sound like a Spotify playlist from your favorite Starbucks barista but they’re usually done with thought in mind. 

Which is I think best show here.

A funeral scene for a colleague lost where a sad song plays; but not just any sad song. It is, to quote a friend, the saddest song she had ever heard. I remember immediately using SoundHound (yes, I’m old) to find the song and once downloaded I rarely listened to it except for moments of extreme melancholy. I can still remember how viscerally the scene made me feel the first time I saw it. I had lost my mother, I was home from college, I was mentally exhausted and I laid in bed catatonic for a while in the dark as I processed the intense feelings behind the song and it’s scene. That’s what suicide does: it makes someone lose you and not to say that the scene in question wouldn’t have been powerful if filled with ambient noise or simply the heavy silence funerals tend to bring with them but it echoed so much more thanks to a brilliant soundtrack choice. 

This was a post I never expected to work on. A post I never expected to find so much intense interest in. I guess it’s the pandemic. I guess it’s pareidolia. Maybe it’s just the fact that now I’m more aware of music and soundtracks after years of film and television criticism and viewership. I went in hoping to find a simple curiosity behind some of the music choices in medical dramas and what I found were moments that brought me intense joy, 

Surviving Canceling

You may remember that I posted a little blog post on Masons’ Cavies…but you also may not know that the post didn’t exactly go over well…so let’s talk about canceling, cancel culture and how I’ve been since that happened.

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.