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. 

What Bejeweled Taught Me About My Anxiety

In the days when my mother had a job and did work in an office, there was one interesting constant that I remember and that was the game Bejeweled. The gem matching game was installed on her desktop; likely something to do when she had down time in the office. Mother was a receptionist and she did inevitably have down time; it was also great for me because on the few days I had to be in office waiting for her to get off of work after school. I loved the game as it was mindless entertainment and my mother loved it as it kept me quiet as she finished out her work day. 

My relationship with video games is a complicated one. I like things that help me escape the realities of existence. I like mindless things. I like distractions. I like to escape. It’s one of the reasons I obsess over games like Pokemon and Cooking Mama. I am a neurotic little monster so anything that lets me escape into a world that has fewer problems, idealized people and simple tasks that can distract me: I’m all in. There’s a reason my CurryDex in Pokemon Sword is as stellar as it is or why I have such a great high score in Cooking Mama. It’s easy to want to keep trying to make the same thing over and over again but if I fail; it’s difficult to beat myself up over. If I don’t become champion of Galar, it’s okay; that’s not tied to my self-worth (but let’s be real; I easily defeated Leon and I am proudly Galar’s champion). It’s one of the reasons I like playing fighting games alone; the stakes are low. I don’t have to worry about losing to someone else, the only person who stands to lose or stands to be affected is myself. 

So when my mental health recently became the worst it had ever been and I found my phone once more devoid of all games after finally giving up on Pokemon Masters; I downloaded Bejeweled on a whim and the process of playing Bejeweled has taught me a lot about myself, my anxiety and my mental health. 

Bejeweled is a puzzle matching game so it’s great to keep my mind on something that isn’t the futility of life, how many errors (most likely imagined) I made during the day, how miserable I am, how alone I am and how much I miss my parents. I responded well to the patterns, the colors and the need to continue to feed my starved brain some dopamine when I felt I did a good job or cleared a level. It mostly became a mindless thing to do while laying in bed and waiting for sleep to take me. 

Bejeweled recently added a feature that was fascinating to me which was a Zen mode. Zen mode is an endless, you cannot lose version of the game that allows the anxious to just swipe jewels forever in hopes of easing worried minds. In Zen mode there are ambient noises and something I did not expect; positive affirmations. Now, many know that positive affirmations don’t always work for the anxious. It was hard to believe that I was worthy of good things or a magnet of success when I barely felt like leaving my bed. 

Recently, I’ve been taking my mental health more seriously and those steps mean taking a good hard look at myself and my thought processes and Bejeweled has brought to center all of the things I can’t stand about myself. One is the negative self-talk and worthlessness; not being able to believe those positive affirmations. Another is getting lost in the forest for the trees; I’ve noticed that I’ll get stuck on a level only to come back to it hours later and find that the solution was right in front of me. And a third was impatience. I get ahead of myself easily and I get easily discouraged because I don’t feel a great deal of self-worth. 

I didn’t think that a simple game would be better at shining a light on my emotional issues than years of therapy would be. I didn’t think I could find so much comfort in a simple gem matching game would help me find something to do when my mind raced and when my thoughts turned cruel and hateful. I didn’t think that Bejeweled would be the thing that distracted me and kept me grounded when I was stressed out and miserable. It became something to keep my hands busy, my mind focused and my soul at ease. 

And as my mental health improves (albeit, slowly) it’s easier to find those little affirmations less disingenuous and more relatable. It got easier to sleep. It got easier to teach myself to let my thoughts wander to other things that weren’t self-loathing. And I do hope it continues to get easier. The last few weeks have been complicated. I faced a lot of backlash over a post I wrote, honestly, one of the first times that’s happened on my blog. I had the anniversary of my father’s death as well as work stress and other personal things that make my already hectic life more hectic. 

There’s a place in the world for mindless distraction. There’s a place for the anxious for mindless entertainment and a certain comfort in routine and simple pleasures. It’s nice to let my mind wander now as I play Bejeweled to calm down, I feel less hopeless and less strange. Remember when I mentioned that I quit playing Pokemon Go? Maybe I was hasty. There’s nothing wrong with having something that gives you an anchor. And if my relationship with Bejeweled ever becomes such that it is a distraction from people, then I’ll delete that game from my phone as well. But for now; it’s a nice vacation with ambient sounds, positive affirmations and an endless sea of colorful gems to keep me occupied in my darkest hours. 

Thoughts from UshiCon, Austin and a local Sake Brewery

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

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

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

Back to the bullet points: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all next con. 

On Being a Crybaby

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. 

Maybe being a crybaby isn’t so bad after all. 

About My Cactus

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

I have nearly loved Toi to death. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Taking Care of and Treating the Self

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your your spirit it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” -Eleanor Brownn.png

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:

  1. An insight into my semi-chaotic mind and world.
  2. 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.

That’s self-care.

Be kind to yourself and others, dear readership.

 

When I Say “I’m Tired”

“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned.png

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:

“Ennui, malaise, the patriarchy, microaggressions, racismhomophobia, sexism…I can go on.”

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.

 

Why I’m On My Phone While On The Bus

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ― Albert Einstein.png
There’s a woman on the bus route I take into work because I refuse to drive and face the evils that is downtown traffic. She’s an older woman and she’s very nice. When she catches me before the sun rises on my way to work, I’m normally on my phone, with my headphones on. She usually compliments my dress: I have to pause my music to address her and we smile and nod and go about our day. One day as she praised one of my many dresses, she said something that stuck with me.
“Go back to your little world.”
That phrase hit me like a ton of bricks and not just because it was dismissive. It did so because if you were anything like me as a teenager: you’ve heard this before. My aunt would often chastise me for being on my phone or listening to music (then with the help of an iPod or CD player, yes I know I’m old) in car rides or during any time of stress. There was a lot for me to tune out back then.
So hearing that from another person honestly was emotionally hurtful. I never mean to appear aloof (except for all the times I do). And in that spirit of explaining myself because this blog is where I air my laundry, Here are a few of the reasons if you see me in public that I may be on my phone.


I’m Avoiding Unwanted Attention
I’m fortunately enough to be only passably attractive which means I do not get catcalled often but the times that I have were exhausting, demeaning and tiresome. If I’m on the bus early in the morning, I do not have the time or energy to deal with a man who wants to chat with me or a woman who wishes to chat about the wonders of a certain flavor of Jesus.


The World is Loud
There is a certain social contract that reads if the sun is not up, thou must not rant about thine boyfriend’s sister’s hairdresser. The world is noisy and loud and by the time I lug my undead corpse from my apartment, I do not want to deal with such things. I face enough noise in an open office: my morning and evening bus rides are a great time to decompress and get ready for the day or for bed.


I Am Anxious
I’ve joked about getting one of those little vests that some small dogs get that say “I am Anxious”. I would love one of these. I’ve been very candid about having anxiety and the world is terrifying. The noise is scary, my own thoughts are scary, existence is scary: Swedish EDM and Pokemon Go make the world a little less scary. It gives me something to do. I can sync my heart to the beat of the drums and I can focus on catching Pidgey rather than did all my bills get out okay or if my parents are resting comfortably in the afterlife.


As a social media manager, I’m always worried that I am not present enough. I worry that I’m too attached to my phone because I know proper etiquette means not being on my phone all the time. I give my little cousin a hard time for being on his phone while also swiping messages away from my smart watch. I want to make memories that last and sear images into my mind that will remain with me for the rest of my days. I also want to play Jurassic World Alive and save the dankest of memes.
I will continue to try and find a balance between staying alert and protecting my mental health. In so many ways, the screen is just another buffer. One of the last arguments a former friend and I had was over the fact that I was active on Twitter while I didn’t talk to him. I flat out had to say it didn’t take effort to post on Twitter while it did to speak to him. Introverts like me do not gain a ton of power from people and noise is exhausting and takes up a huge amount of my energy. I regain some of that power by disengaging via podcasts, audiobooks, writing, reading or playing games on my phone.
Escapism isn’t new but that doesn’t mean I will be rude. If someone does address me, I speak to them. I remove my headphones. I make good eye contact and I do all I can to keep my phone off while at meals, especially if I am with someone else. I don’t play Pokemon Go unless I am with someone else who is playing or I am by myself and I tend to only reply to messages and then promptly turn my phone face down on the table again. It’s a good compromise just in case I need to answer a call or message urgently (a hangover from having chronically sick family members all my life) while also forcing myself to be present in the moment.
So, to the woman on the bus who told me to “go back to my world”; I will, happily. Like Alice in her return to Wonderland, I will return to a world that is more comforting than the one I currently face. Like the teen I was who used music to hide cruel things said by family, I used a tool to help ease some of the pain of my current reality.
There’s a little bit of insight as to why, if you ever catch me out in public, I may be on my cell phone if you do.

You Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” ― Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety_ A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin (2).png

Another post about Pokemon Go? Really? I know, I know. This may be suprising to no one that I’m still talking about this little game but hear me out.

Today I want to talk about risk, anxiety and taking the shot.

In Pokemon Go’s recent update, you (the trainer) are on a hunt to track down the legendary Pokemon Mew. Your journey to track down Mew involves completing a bunch of mostly mundane tasks in the game: spinning PokeStops, catching certain Pokemon, going after gyms and finishing up raids. But the recent tasks often involves attempting to catch elusive Pokemon like Ditto who hides in plain sight. The thing is, Ditto never appears as it is. You have to try and catch a common Pokemon and hope that it’s the rare pink blob. And I’ll emphasize rare and try: Ditto is not common and never has been. There will be many wasted attempts on common Pokemon and that will stress me the math out. On top of that, it often means hunting specific types of Pokemon and attempting different throws which will mean plenty of trial and error, many wasted Pokeballs and lots of energy expended on a game that I’m probably too old to still be playing.

Risk is something I’ve never been fond of. It’s one of the big reasons I love and hate paneling. I have to put in a form and it’s almost never a promise that I’ll be in. I have to trust that I’m good enough at what I do to secure a spot. Anxiety means hating the unknown. And most of life is hilariously unknown. Because of those things, I do my best to remove as much risk from my life as possible. Well, the unnecessary risks. It’s impossible to remove all risk and that’s what makes anxiety at times so painful. But it means that I am super careful even when doing something as simple as playing a video game. I go after safe bets and do my best to never go into a bout that I don’t feel prepared for. And losing in a game is one of the best things I’ve found to help me cope with my anxiety. Losing in Street Fighter makes me face challenge head on. Trying to be Champion in Pokemon keeps me honest and makes me train my whole team and go only when I feel I can handle it.
Losing keeps me humble but it also stresses me out.

While normally, I’m pretty good at being mature and celebrating when my friends win fair and square (seriously, you should watch Carlos and I duel. I’m usually so proud when he defeats me.). But in some games, it actually causes me a fair amount of emotional distress. Picking up Street Fighter again to play against the boys has been an emotional rollercoaster! I feel inadequate for losing and not picking up motions despite me being excellent at this game when I was younger. I’ve gotten over some of that stress but I do my best to continue to get good enough to one day defeat one of the boys.

But it isn’t just video games that are sometimes affected by my aversion to risk. I don’t often try new television shows either. That’s a bit of a double reason, though. I use television often times as noise so it’s comforting to have a rerun on in the background while I write or sew. Something new will take up all of my attention. But I’m also afraid of being bitterly disappointed by a new show. I’m scared that I won’t like something and that there’s something wrong with me for not liking something that is popular. I pick safe bets and franchises that are familiar because there’s no chance in being disappointed by a rerun.

It also means being afraid to try new foods or new bars. I’m scared that I won’t find a safe menu item that won’t reveal the fact that I’m a secret picky eater. I’m afraid I won’t like a drink as ordered. I’m worried that I’ll be bored during movies because that’s not socially acceptable.

But without risk, there is no reward. I remember hearing that a lot from Carlos during this most recent panel season. A convention took a while to tell us whether we were in or not and I spent weeks in emotional limbo. Carlos spent a lot of time telling that I would miss all the shots I didn’t take. I’ve heard that before but it always rang hollow to me. Even when I was younger and playing softball, I would rather walk to a base than strike out. Sure, you miss some but pitches are unpredictable and stressful. You never know which way that ball is coming, so sometimes it’s best to stand still and calculate that risk first, right?

If I didn’t take a risk on paneling, I wouldn’t have found it to be one of the most rewarding things in my life. If I didn’t take the risk of moving away, I wouldn’t have found my own voice and my own two feet. If I didn’t take the risk of removing and adding people to my life, I would never have found the support group that I cherish.

And that doesn’t mean I don’t get to relish in some of the thrill of the unknown. I never know how any one panel will go and the thrill of the stage can be as exhilarating as it is exhausting.

You do miss all the shots you don’t take. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand or empathize with the fact that risk is utterly terrifying sometimes.

I’m still hunting for that Ditto. I’m still trying those tasks in the game that make me uncomfortable or take me out of my comfort zone. That isn’t all bad. I couldn’t imagine that when I picked up Pokemon Go years ago that it would end up being so therapeutic. It became one of the many ways I connect to the people I care about. But the game makes me focus on a goal and task and that is very useful for someone who struggles with the abstract concept of just being alive on this planet.

UPDATE: I did catch the Mew.

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