My Year With Executive Dysfunction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Embracing Your Inner NPC

We’re often told to romanticize our lives. That we’re the Main Character in the story and the rest are just extras. We are told to find our light and to shine brightly. And that makes a ton of sense…if you are a raging sociopath who doesn’t care about others. It’s easy to say that we’re the main characters of our own stories but the truth is we just can’t be the main character to everyone’s story. 

I am a comic book character. I live a bombastic life with larger than life stories and a healthy and unhealthy amount of trauma to go with it. To those close to me I seem extroverted, charismatic and am eager to bring my friends along with me on my many desired adventures. I am a shonen leading man complete with dead parents and trauma-induced mental illness. And while I am enamored with the idea of being the main character in even the stories of my dear friends I am also keenly aware of the fact that every opera can only have one prima donna and I don’t realistically want to be the main character of any of my friend’s or anyone else’s narrative. To many people from my best friend, to the lady at the bank, to the guy at the sandwich shop or my coworkers and those I pay to make me feel pretty: I am an NPC. 

An NPC is a non-playable character and in video games they fill in several roles. NPCs can either give you items or goods, be merchants or those that have items, they can help you as members of your party or they can just be truly background characters; static and never moving from their assigned spots. 

Think about a game like Legend of Zelda which is full of annoying charming NPCs who have a myriad of items for you and are there to help you, the main character, survive your death quest to fix the world’s evil or something. Some of them have items, some are just there, some may even help you along the way. 

It may just be the part of my brain that tries to romanticize my own life that makes me nearly obsessively concerned about my impact on other people. It isn’t an entirely altruistic thing; it’s more of a morbid curiosity and nearly paralyzing fear. I am worried that I have left a bad taste in someone’s mouth or that I was the one bad interaction someone had that put them over the edge or something. I am very aware that I am one of possibly thousands of interactions any given person has in a day so I do my best to not just be pleasant but to be overly-accommodating at times because even if to them I am an NPC, I’d like that memory not to be a miserable one. 


I’ve been listening to Nujabes since the mid 2000s with their many hits off the Samurai Champloo OST and was immediately struck by the not just lyrical genius behind many of the songs but the flow and how they could instantly make me feel like I was part of a movie or video game. It was easy to fall into the world of Samurai Champloo in part because it has such an amazing soundtrack that leads you on a journey with the characters and one that is as fluid and hip-hop inspired as the fictional Edo the series is set in. 

I noticed particularly how much I liked their music when I had some of the most aesthetic songs pop up during my commute home from work. It just felt utterly right to be driving (at a responsible speed) down the highway with the stereo on and feeling like I was both my own main character but someone’s NPC. I was at peace with my twoness and the romanticization of my life was not something in conflict with the fact that to many I am an NPC but it was at harmonious one with it. I am the main character of my own story and to my friends, I’m trusted companion, to those I meet I am a seller, confidant, advisor or person crying in a Starbucks. 

My story is still ongoing and told from many different perspectives and I am not the most reliable of narrators. You may be asking why I mentioned Nujabes earlier and outside of it just being amazing music, it’s also helped me realize this duality due to the simple fact that every romanticized character should have an amazing soundtrack. 

So here it is: my OST. Let’s jam.

Walk Cycle
Nujabes – Tsurugi No Mai

Character Theme
Feather

Triumvirate (Me, Ricky & Carlos)
Samurai Champloo – Hiji Zuru Style [Impression OST]

Battle Theme

World’s end Rhapsody

Background Music
Nujabes – Aruarian Dance (Samurai Champloo OST) . Track 03

My Father’s Cult

It’s a memory that has been locked in the back of my mind for a while now, the church my father used to go to. Faith Christian Fellowship, FCF, a large church on the outside of the county line that was a trek every Sunday to go to. We were one of the few black families in a predominately white church and the earliest memories I have of it was that it was radically different from the Catholic church I went to with my grandfather and aunts. It was always loud and rambunctious but personable and welcoming. It didn’t feel like the clinical ritual of the Catholic church but something expressive and bright. I thought things were fine and I was mostly just glad that it also gave my mother; sick with kidney, heart and lung failure something to do and have faith in. 

That was the beginning. 

Sunday school there was different. We said a pledge not just to the flag of the United States but also to the Christian flag. We only took communion every other service as they said catholics ruined it by taking communion so often. The children there didn’t play video games and didn’t watch TV like I did. They didn’t read the books I did or even lived like I did. They were sheltered and that was coming from a kid who was already excessively sheltered. I made friends, sure, but all the friendships felt surface level, even as a child. 

Dad blended in perfectly into the community of mostly older white men, something most black men simply didn’t do. Mom was welcomed in with open arms as as a unit we were accepted but I wasn’t accepted. I was quirky and strange thanks to unseen turbulent home life and due to the restrictive nature of children around me. I liked all the things they were told not to like but that friction didn’t stay in place for long. 

Faith Christian Fellowship was an anti-science church. They thrived off of faith healing and creationism and showed videos that explained that Genesis was a real factual account of how the world began and that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time and had “proof” of it in the form of footprints and ammonites and pseudo-science and it was there that I began to fall in line. I was a lover of dinosaurs and paleontology and a naturally curious child so being able to see this as a giant puzzle that was some secret conspiracy that others did not want us to know was tantalizing to my little mind. I was able to make friends that way though I never gave up Pokemon and Harry Potter

I was willing to tell my Catholic aunts that they were wrong and that they took communion too often and I found my the church that I was baptized in and received my sacraments in boring and stuffy and wanted the cheap thrills of Christan Rock and pseudoscience and speaking in tongues and people just falling out after being touched by The Holy Spirit. I rejected Catholicism with my mother and we fell deeper and deeper into the church. 

Tithing was also incredibly important to the congregation as was just general monetary support. Pastors Force sold CDs, books, Bibles, all kinds of things and 10% of a tithe was the bare minimum accepted. We were told that the more we gave, the more we’d receive and as Pastor Force flaunted nice suits and nice watches and nice shoes my parents ignored bills and medicine to keep up with the Joneses and continue to pay the church. Pastor Force always made it sound like the church was one dollar away from closing despite the fancy earthly pleasures he had and that was enough to keep my parents engrossed and giving along with the rest of the congregation. 

There was a dove hunt one year that I never understood. I am still shocked by how many evangelical churches that have dove hunts. Aren’t doves God’s messengers? Why are they being shot, wrapped in bacon and grilled for the congregation to eat?

I spent many a formative Sunday at Faith Christian Fellowship with my parents learning and unlearning things and one thing that actually popped into my mind not too long ago: a latent memory that made me realize something that I had known all along but dared not to say. 

My father was in a cult.

Rapture Drills. There were Rapture Drills. We were preparing for the Rapture. You know, the event where God just decides He’s done with it all and yoinks up all the humans on Earth that are good and leaves those that are bad on Earth to suffer. Think the Left Behind series but somehow worse. We would prepare for the Rapture by praying and climbing under a chair for safety. 

A chair. 

That is what was meant to protect us from Divine Intervention and Rapture. A chair. 

I’m not sure why we needed protection from the Rapture; in theory, we were supposed to go up to Heaven, too. I think it was meant to protect us from earthly debris but we regularly held these drills. They were at random, of course, because we never knew when this would happen and they happened often enough to form a memory of them that remained locked in my mind for over a decade. 

My father died while we were at that church and the church quickly flocked around me and my mom. The church supported my mother even as she gave up her child, dated a drug dealer and told me that I was to be obedient to my mother even though she was willing to risk her safety and mine for the sake of tainted love. 

The church did eventually abandon my mother as she fell away from really all organized religion as her agoraphobia grew. I had also fallen out of love with most organized religion, mostly burned from the experience in my father’s cult and still disillusioned from what I knew about Catholicism. I made a choice to bury my mother Catholic as she was baptized, married and had her other sacraments within the Catholic church. I found much more solace and peace burying her within the church she was married in than I ever did at even the thought of dragging my family into FCF. 

I don’t think I’m a cult survivor or anything grand; it actually didn’t take long for me to either bury the memories of this place with maladaptive means and frankly just suppressed those memories. It wasn’t until recently that they started to become unlocked that I realized the gravity of the situation I was in. And to be clear I’m not some kind of anti-religious person; I don’t think Christianity or even Evangelical faiths are inherently cultish; just saying that if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck and flies like a duck; you may be in a cult. 

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. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 67- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

In this episode, hosts Tori and Amanda discuss Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, some not so great old timey racism and get down to the real meaning of Fall: paganism.