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. 

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.

 

Catharsis vs. Reality

ca·thar·siskəˈTHärsəs%2FSubmitnoun1.the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions..png

I have a weird love-hate relationship with the Netflix hit BoJack Horseman. It’s probably one of the smartest shows ever with the some of the most realistic depictions of social issues, mental illness, addiction, gender and orientation topics. On the other hand, watching this series puts me in a weird emotional place. In so many ways this show feels like it’s taken from my diary in dealing with topics of dealing with distant and less than ideal families, loved ones with dementia and the fickleness of time and memory and finding out that the world isn’t and will never be enough.

I’ve now watched 4 seasons of this show and depending on when this post goes live I’ve either finished season 4 and am probably crying or I’m still in season 4 and probably crying. And each time I watch this show, I don’t know if I can say I enjoy it. Carlos and I watch it: it’s one of the few things we can agree on. And one of the biggest things I end up always saying about BoJack is simply:

“This is too real.”

This show is a reality for so many and in more ways than I like to admit; a reality to me, as well. This show for me is emotionally draining and exhausting and authentic. And even though they are all feelings I’ve felt and in some cases situations I’ve lived: it doesn’t help me work through any of these resolved or unresolved feelings. It doesn’t help me feel distanced from the pain of these instances. It just forces me re-watch these situations with weird anthropomorphic animals.  

BoJack Horseman isn’t cathartic. Watching Fullmetal Alchemist is cathartic. Reading Grendel is cathartic. Working through a good book of poetry or going on a walk is cathartic and is a good way to work through negative feelings.

But my desire to want a medium with which to work through problems rather than face a realistic portrayal of actual concerns does not mean I don’t value this show. This is probably one of the most important shows on TV right now. Who else has a realistic  and nuanced view of an asexual man in a basically leading role who doesn’t have to die and isn’t the butt of anyone’s joke? What other show handles the fickle nature of political stances and trending ideas and media? What other show is willing to sucker-punch you in the gut emotionally like this with no filter or concern for how you the viewer feels?

The most intense, wonderful and jarringly existential show in recent memory is about an anthropomorphic alcoholic horse coping with lost fame and the fact that there probably isn’t a grand reason to be alive or to be anything.

I’m tired every time an episode finishes but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop watching.

A Million is a Statistic

“I don’t want to sound Pollyannaish, but I hope that out of a tragedy like this something good will come. I hope we understand we’re one family.” Madeleine Albright

The world currently is a place wrought with tragedy and undeniable acts of terrorism both domestic and international, human brutality and immense sadness. I’m not here to discuss any of these in great detail; it makes me very sad to do so.  I am here to discuss something very unique about a world filled with so much senseless tragedy: how I react to it.

I was born in 1990 so local and national tragedies are not unfamiliar topics for me. 9/11, Colombine, The Oklahoma City bombing. But those times were different: I remember in those instances distinctly feeling hopeful. In those times of tragedy, communities banded together. We supported and loved each other. We knew in our mutual love and support we could guard ourselves from such terrible actions. As communities, friends and families we rallied together, loved and supported each other we inspired such greatness and poetry that would stand to testify to our resolve to not be broken down by these at the time isolated actions of misguided and often times truly evil renegades.

I am older now and the list of national tragedies I’ve seen has only grown with my age. The Aurora Theater Shooting, the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Sandy Hook shooting. But these had started to take on a new view in our nation’s collective consciousness: a very concerned apathy. We simply had not progressed as other developed nations had. We still faced national tragedies to such a degree that it was rare enough to lament but common enough to let slide past our normal daily new feeds. We didn’t pause for as long as we did just a few years ago.

It was another school shooting.

Think of the power of that statement. Another. There has been more than one? There has been so many that this one incident of immense tragedy and reckless violence that it is considered to be in league with other instances of mutually destructive evil?Yet we as friends, family and countrymen still came together. We sang songs, wore ribbons, used hashtags. All of those were a balm on the pulsing open wound of our nation’s bruised ego.

And all the while my continued battered optimism as I watched my country struggle through another national tragedy (another incredibly powerful and loaded statement). But in that tragedy I was inspired by the words of my President and other community leaders. My friends reminded me that we overcame such things before and we will again.

Certainly, it will be okay.

A new wave of national and international tragedies though have me thinking and what has come to be the most interesting and sad part of it is how I’ve been responding to such evil. I’m utterly gobsmacked. I am lost for words. I revert back to childish whining and tears because I can no longer bear the realities of these horrific acts. I am a writer, I am seldom at a loss for words. The recent tragedies of the day have left me speechless. Once words return I try and combat my profound sadness with the same cynical humor I have perfected as a shield in years of hardship. As these horrors continue to amass and abound I hope I can once more be eloquent and inspiring in my terror. The tired apathy my President displays when talking about the great failing that is gun violence in our nation is heartbreaking but it’s the same tired apathy we all share in such matters. We’re becoming numb to it. What we will tell our kids about the 2000s? 2010 and onwards? I don’t know if I could promise future generations the optimism our Boomer parents feigned for us. And who knows? Maybe we will come together. We will do so and be stronger. To be numb, you must first feel pain and in that feeling is the recognition that something has to give.

As The World Mourns

Insignificant things make the news all the time. Bigfoot Marries Local Woman. Bird Pecks Elderly Man in Park. Snow: It’s Cold. 

Really insignificant. Especially in the long run. But this isn’t meant to be a critique on the news media of the day. (That’s coming later, rest assured.) this is about mourning. 

Not too long ago, I was met with some very sad news. Colonel Meow passed away. Now, a great bit of referencing is required. So here it is, and don’t expect it again. Everyone lucked out this time. Colonel Meow is a cat. Not my cat. But an Internet Cat. Made famous by memes, blog posts, Twitter Pictures and Youtube Videos. He was striking. He was intense. He was fearsome. And a Guinness World Record Holder. He was fabulous. He was terrifying, but he like all of us, was mortal. He met his fate not long ago. 

Now, I’m not here to bash this event or trivialize it, an owner lost a beloved pet and the world did lose something that connected countless individuals over one single cause. I was genuinely saddened by this myself. As one of his dedicated ‘minions’ a title I only share with that of Mr. Spike Spencer, I did too feel a certain loss when Colonel Meow passed away. It was like I lost someone, too. It was like I as well lost a beloved pet. And I’ve felt that pain before, it’s all too real. 

What struck me though, was that I was not alone in this grief process. The Colonel had millions of other minions. And we all lost our valiant leader one that day. I was amazed by some of the comments people left. And as much as I wanted to be a cynical judgmental person, I couldn’t be. I mean, this was the death of a cat that made it to most of the major news outlets. CNN reported on this, CNN! No matter how badly I wanted to judge. To snark. To tease. I couldn’t.  I was in the exact same boat. I was upset, too, over the exact same cat. 

Loss is loss, we learn that early on. Everyone experiences it, we all deal with it differently. It is written into the collective unconscious of the world to know that loss affects us greatly. We attach to things for different reasons, each of which is our own to have. And it shouldn’t be judged. When a life ends, everyone loses something. The Six Degrees of Separation that connect us by a gossamer thread of chance, luck and happenstance only shrink as we further connect ourselves to others in this Wide World. 

The passing of Colonel Meow reminded me loss doesn’t alienate us. It reminds us who we are still connected to. I was one of many grieving minions who through support was able to continue to move on through my day. The Colonel would prefer things that way. He wouldn’t want us to mourn. He’d demand scotch. 

Rest in Peace, Colonel Meow. You have plenty of loyal minions here to keep the mission alive.