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.
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.
I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.
There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.
But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it.
Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well.
I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain.
Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling.
I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.
That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly.
I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
An insight into my semi-chaotic mind and world.
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.
I’ll take this moment to say that I know this topic is difficult to cover and I struggled with this all during the process of writing it. But know that I would never post something without giving in a great deal of thought and I think it’s a narrative worth exploring. I am sorry for those who are affected by topic negatively and my goal is never to cause emotional pain. I’ve been touched by the specter of suicide in my life, I’ve lost someone close to me this way; know that I am not writing this for the sake of a hot take or just because I can. I gave this post time to become what it is. I left it, came back to it and returned to it before deciding it was worth discussing. Once more, I apologize if this post finds you in crisis and I sincerely hope that you find healing and comfort.
June 8th, I got a lot of messages on my phone. It wasn’t because I was paneling, it wasn’t because I was at A-Kon, it wasn’t because I was back in my corner of Texas: it was because one of my idols died. Anthony Bourdain meant the world to me. Even in death, he still does. But I got messages from those I love and that love me asking if I was okay. There’s a bit of a terse statement that suicide is contagious and in so many ways, it is. It’s like a virus, a miasma that lingers in the air and poisons those who are most vulnerable to it.
I wanted to talk about celebrity suicide in an attempt to help me work through some of my own grief.
Celebrities ending their own lives is not new or recent. Unfortunately, many famous people leave us through accidental means like car wrecks and accidental overdoses. But far too many leave us intentionally. And when I say “celebrity” I’m willing to be very open in this definition so this covers anyone who is “famous” and “important”. Bourdain’s death hit especially raw after the recent suicide of Kate Spade. And the flood of support that comes and then quickly leaves after the suicide of someone famous is almost just as exhausting as the grief that comes with that loss. Suddenly, folks who normally would have much more puritanical views on suicide and mental health are “advocates” only to return to their staunch views once the zeitgeist fades and moves on to another Kardashian storyline. And that’s what makes celebrity death so frustrating. When Chester Bennington died, I was distraught. His music helped me work through some of my own dark demons and knowing that he suffered so much in plain sight was disheartening.
But there is one thing that the recent string of celebrity suicides is that it has brought to light a very ugly aspect of supporting those that are mentally ill: sometimes, the illness is too much. The suicide rate in the U.S. has been steadily ticking up for the last several years and the amount of celebrities that unfortunately take their own lives helps shed a light on the countless others whose death did not make a large ripple in the pool. It’s one of the reasons 13 Reasons Why is so intoxicating, to people that are not mentally ill, it’s a valid and important part of the conversation. To people who are mentally ill, it’s just another television show that does a damn good job at glorifying suicide which is a dangerous game for anyone who has danced with those thoughts before.
This time seems different, though. This time around seems different. It has seemed different since Robin Williams died. We lost such a funny and bright man. How could he experience any sadness at all? But his death reminded us that oftentimes, it’s the people smiling the most who hurt inside. Bourdain was similar: so many said that he had never seemed happier.
Even writing this post was really difficult and I had to ask more than one person about the ethics of writing about such a thing. It always seems a little egotistical to write about such a subject after someone dies. It’s the main reason there’s an Avicii post deep in my document cloud that will likely never be published: it all just feels like a way to turn tragedy into narcissism. That isn’t my goal, however. I’m a big believer in fighting stigma by confronting the evil (most of the time) note that I was glamorize or glorify the act but I will continue to prop up the people who we have lost. Because each death is a tragic loss. There is a void left behind knowing that Anthony Bourdain will not be able to enchant us with tales of exotic lands. There’s a void left knowing Kate Spade will not design another piece that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a woman on the go. I am sad knowing Robin Williams won’t make another generation laugh like he did mine and the one before mine and I am heartbroken knowing that Linkin Park will never be the same. That pain is valid and sure, it’s egotistical going through and writing about it but I am hoping that in talking about it candidly will start a conversation and in my opinion and experience: a conversation can be life-saving. Check on your friends. Check on all your friends. Be there for everyone that you know and love.
Know that I am here for you even though I’m far from a professional.
I’ve seen this sentiment echoed a lot recently so I’ll mimic it here: I won’t share the hotline number. If someone is really in danger, they can find it. It’s not wanting to find it. Instead, I’ll offer again my love, my support and my empathy. I’ll offer my heart.
And to Mr. Bourdain, god, I am so sad that there will be many who don’t get to see your special brand of cynicism, wit and humility.
I’ll end on one of my favorite quotes of all time, it’s one of yours, Mr. Bourdain; and it’s one of the few quotes I’ve ever considered permanently putting on my body.
“Happiness is the absence of cynicism.”
Rest well, Mr. Bourdain and to all the others that have joined you in your rest. The world is a little less awesome because of your collective loss.
This post is going to be difficult. This one’s going to be personal. It’ll be a bit controversial and it’s going to get into territory that no one likes talking about. I apologize in advance for offending anyone and that is never my goal and I’ll link some proper resources below on how to better deal with some of the topics brought up in this post.
So let’s get down to it. Let’s talk about mental illness, emo music and when a song is more than just an anthem.
It actually started innocently enough, I was listening to Camisado by Panic! At the Disco more recently than a young professional should be and I was very struck by the point and premise of the song:
Can’t take the kid from the fight, take the fight from the kid.
What a horrifying image of parents removing the will and spirit of their ‘spirited’ child through the use of power medications and repressive therapies. But there’s some context to this narrative the song is trying to lay out. By the time a person is sent to a medical treatment facility for mental illness, the individual is already a danger to themselves or to others. And while there are likely parents who are absolutely exasperated by their unruly teenagers, there is no sane parent out there who views medication and medical treatment facilities as a means to simply control their children. Not to say it never happens, but it is far from the status quo.
There’s an interesting concept that being young means being fraught with anxiety, depression and mental illness. There’s an idea that high school is somewhat synonymous with depression and concerns about boys, girls, image and status.
But is that really the case? Now, there’s plenty of research on the fact that SSRIs (the standard for anti-depressants) aren’t always great for teens and that oftentimes the best way to help a teen who deals with anxiety, depression and dark thoughts is to just listen to them. But in lieu of being listened to, Brendon Urie is sympathetic enough in a pinch. But really, therapy and strong friend bonds and a nurturing home life are the best medicines but those aren’t always guaranteed in a home. And truthfully not enough parents and guardians are attentive to the needs of their moody teens. I know many times I found more comfort from Brendon Urie than I never did from my aunts. And while it felt good in the moment to commiserate with Tom Delonge and Gerard Way they don’t replace counseling, meditation, prayer and oftentimes: medication to help ease the burden of depressive symptoms.
I also take great issue with that era of emo punk’s glorification of self-harm and suicide. It was a topic that made so many parents and psychologists uncomfortable that for a time, I wasn’t even allowed to listen to that. It didn’t stop me. I still absorbed a great deal of that culture but always felt conflicted about anything that made suicide sound like a noble effort.
Being raised Catholic, suicide was the worst possible thing. If you take your own life, some Catholic cemeteries will not even let your body rest on their grounds for fear of tainting the rest of those asleep with Christ who died due to other reasons. But the idea of the suffering artist didn’t start in the mid 2000s. People have long since assumed that to be creative, you must be ill and many artists (too many) will go off medication to finish a novel or start abusing illicit substances to complete an album. And we tend to collectively glorify the artists who died young and by their own hands. My own blog header is based on a Sylvia Plath poem and she famously committed suicide after struggling with bipolar disorder for most of her life. And many have began to question if we remember her because she was genuinely a great writer or because of her well-documented descent and struggle with mental illness. I choose to see her as a great artist and I do my best to balance that she was also a sick woman. I lament that she didn’t live longer and regret that we didn’t get to see more from her. And as a young teen, while listening to Simple Plan, I also thought heavily on Ophelia: every angsty teen girl’s idol. Ophelia killed herself in Hamlet because she couldn’t have the man she wanted or the life she wanted. And while fueled by Helena and strawberry pocky, the idea that simply languishing in sadness didn’t seem so bad as an emotional teen.
And what’s strange is that it really seems to be just this era of emo punk. I can’t say that these songs were any more or less emotional than let’s say Haru no Katami or even Blue. So what was lost in translation between In the End and Sakurabito. And even more modern hits from these bands are still just as emotional without the glorification of self-harm and death. Panic!At the Disco is an amazing example of watching a band grow from the halcyon days of I Write Sins Not Tragediesto more mature swoon-like swing of Death of a Bachelor without losing any of the emotion, sentiment or catharsis that comes from song.
And despite the melodramatic leanings of my youth: there is one thing that I know now for sure. There is nothing glamorous in suicide. There is no beauty in a life ended too soon. There is nothing glorious about choosing to end life. I have lost people to suicide in my life and I can confidently say the only product of suicide is grief, misery, regret and the immense loss of potential and promise. The specter of Death and Grief haunt families and those who have suffered a loss at the very hand of those they interred are doubly then haunted by that same Revenant.
There is nothing spectacular about ignoring medication for creative endeavors. There is nothing artistic about choosing to suffer. I cannot tell you how many of my friends and those closest to me used these anthems instead of therapy. Used them to rationalize anxiety and make light of depression. Used them to make seductive talk of ending life and just how wonderful it would be if we could all just disappear. We were foolish kids who were looking for an escape. And many of us that continued on into adulthood did grow up to be more well-adjusted or at least to find better coping mechanisms for serious emotional concerns.
And if I could go back, I’d at very least tell a younger version of myself all of those things. I would never tell teenage Amanda to stop listening to songs like Promise and Violence. But I would tell her to frame those emotions better. I would tell her that she really wasn’t alone. That her emotions were valid. That her feelings were important. I would let her take solace in the comfort of musicians but also encourage her and her friends to seek actual and real help. I would ask her to keep on writing and working on costumes and do things that actually, physically helped her feel more secure in her insecure world. But I could never take back the feeling of someone understanding me, even if it was a celebrity who shared that emotional blankness like a cheap call girl. I would never want to take back the fact that I felt accepted and understood. I would never say to stop punking or to give up. I’d say to hold on and to let the music flow: just with a little more maturity and emotional temperance.
There are plenty of valid and legitimate resources for those struggling with mental illness and depression. Here are just a few of them on top of the countless hotlines and call services you can use to get real help.