on aimlessness & anxiety

it’s been awhile since i’ve written anything. it’s been awhile since i’ve drawn anything. it’s been awhile since i’ve felt settled in myself at all. these past few weeks i’ve felt this hyper-anxious, single-minded focus ― i’m a girl on the prowl (for employment). if i’m not scrolling through Indeed or updating my Get A Job tracking spreadsheet, i’m anxious. and i’m feeling the thing even when i’m not doing the thing ― it’s been hard for me to focus on conversations with friends/my girlfriend, on reading or watching things, on doing anything at all besides securing that $dough$. it’s about the money, of course (getting a job i mean), but it’s also about the stability. it’s about knowing i can continue to pay my bills and save and do some fun things. it’s about the boredom that’s come after weeks of looking for a job and not actually having much to do during the day. and not feeling able to enjoy the gift of free time (as i could consider this if i were more Evolved) i have right now, because i’m so focused on needing to fill it again with another 9-5 job.

i’m scattered; this is scattered. like i said, it’s been hard for me to focus my thoughts.

i think we probably do talk about aimlessness after college and i’m just late to the game on this, but truly it is soul crushing how little i know what i want to do with myself. and honestly, not to be a giant pessimistic fatalist (because i know that’s not how you Get Things Done) but looking at climate reports, for example, does not inspire confidence in our collective future, so the question of “what’s the point?” seems to take on a deeper level of meaning than maybe it did for our parents or even for the earlier millennials.

i’ve really been grappling with a lot of identity and existential questions too. and then like, the big C questions ― i.e. on capitalism. trying to find a job and a purpose when all work you do for money is fundamentally involuntary and tied to the continuation of a capitalist system. because we need a certain amount of money to meet our basic needs and to achieve any sort of freedom from capitalism (link to Umair Haque’s piece on the matter; his work is spectacular) that allows us to begin to pursue our actuals “passions” and “interests” i.e. anything that may give us a sense of joy and contentment in our lives. i hate being alive in the time of capitalism. we are, at this moment in history, able to effectively end it. but america is, and has always been, a self-immolating garbage heap of a nation, and thus will never prioritize the safety, health, and happiness of its people.

so then, a big question ― what brings me joy? spending time in nature, wind in tree leaves, reading outside under blankets, drawing pictures while watching cartoons. #bubbline. sometimes baking. taking walks. fall. windy days, rainy days. cuddling. watching movies with popcorn. writing, even if it’s silly and inarticulate, even if i’m not great at self-editing yet because i’m too impatient (working on it) (#Sagittarius).

so then, another big question― how do i want to spend my working days, and is it possible to align my work with what brings me joy? or should i focus on having day-work that i can compartmentalize entirely such that i have enough left of myself to focus on joyous work after job work? struggling with this. i have a few job prospects open now (i’m hearing back about next steps or no next steps today) and they range between 1) something distant from my own self, 2) something with socio-political meaning, and 3) something artistic that i think would really stretch me and help me grow. naturally the last option is the one whose phone interview i think i flubbed.

and a third question ― how do i do good in the world and not check out to just focus on my own self and my own happiness? how do i help to un-do this shitty system and the violence it necessarily imparts to us all? focusing on joining the DSA (despite it’s many and varied flaws), focusing on participating and giving where i can.

i dream more and more of leaving the city and living in a little house in the woods somewhere. not sure how i’d swing that, except that it turns out you can buy nice houses for cheap in most non-new jersey places. kind of thinking that that would be an entirely selfish decision ― running away from the big bad city with all its violence and complications and beauty and humanity to self-isolate as the world falls apart around me.

and on that note! wish me well these next few days as i hear from some jobs and see if this little bit of time is over or stretching along. regardless i don’t know that i have answers to the above, so am working on stepping into the grey aimlessness and holding still there. resisting the urge to move, and move, and move, and learning to stay still in discomfort.

 

on overnight shifts, bodies, New Aesthetics, and being underemployed & worried about it

Here’s my secret. When I’m trying to stay awake on the overnight shift, I online shop. There’s something about the rush of adding things to your cart — even, maybe especially, if you have no intention of ever clicking order. Which is good for me, because I’m currently broke-ish. Or, more accurately, I’m on a fast track to brokesville because this month I went from having a full-time, steady-if-not-well-paying administrative job at a foundation to having a part-time job at another non-profit, one whose work I am infinitely more dedicated to and find much more satisfactory, but one where the hours and pay are significantly less.

Freelance! Wag! Babysitting! Cafe job! I thought to myself, pre-fast-track-to-brokesville. The possibilities seemed endless and easy, somehow, as if jobs and money are something that materialize when you need them and fit exactly to the mental picture you crafted for yourself for the period after Quitting Your First Job. I think it’s going to a bit harder than that, and absolutely more stressful. Especially given that to freelance write I need to have a computer, which means buying a new computer, which means parting with a solid chunk of my savings account. Alas. There’s always money to be spent, it turns out, even when there’s not much money to come by.

Anyways. There’s something weird about buying new clothes, shopping online, imagining endless Potential New Aesthetics for yourself. I find myself buying more and more clothes when I’m feeling bad about my body, as if to take control in some way over how it looks when I feel uncomfy with how it looks, when I hate how it’s shaped and where it’s soft. It’s pretty easy psychology, to be honest — find the void and fill it with something meaningless that feels controllable. The void is my body, the control is buying clothing. I’ve been trying for the last year or so to be more normal about my body, i.e. less rigidly controlling, less anxiously obsessive about it. Anxiety meds have helped a lot, like, a lot a lot, with the obsessive thought patterns, but there’s still the great swath of my brain that oh-so-typically wants nothing more than to be lithe, lissome. A perfectly controlled, perfectly thin being. Basically my bank account suffers madly to account for the fact that I have Body Issues™.

Anyways. It’s 1:26am and I have to be awake for another 6 hours and 34 minutes to finish this shift, then an hour+ home to bed, hopefully hopping in around 9:30am to sleep for 6 hours and then off again. This week is two night shifts back to back — they’re quiet and lonely and kind of surreal. Being awake at 3am, 4am, 5… no one else is. The world feels weighted and sleepy around you, even in New York. Back to staring longingly at my Urban Outfitters cart (my secret shame!!) and shopping for semi-useless Halloween-themed desk accessories :~)

Happy Thursday morning, y’all !

Mental health in the U.S. requires structural change, not individual action. (CW: mention of suicide)

In the wake of last week’s news of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who died, back-to-back, by suicide we are left to grapple yet again with mental health in America and what it means about all of us when even seemingly hyper-successful people struggle to stay afloat and stay alive.

It’s proof of how far the capitalist mentality has seeped into the American consciousness that the immediate reaction to any death by suicide is to agitate for increased individual responsibility “reach out to your friends, check in!” becomes the national cry, as well as consistent invocation of the suicide hotline. The onus remains squarely on the individual for the mentally ill person or the person who has died, the implicit accusation is that health and recovery would come if only they could do more work to reach out and get help. And, despite what the more able and compassionate among us might say (or tweet) about being available to support their suffering friends, in reality, most of the time most people are too bogged down in the day to day emotional strife of living in America to be able to extend their emotional resources to a friend so seriously ill as to consider suicide. People have limited emotional capacity, and that’s okay the trap we’ve fallen into is thinking that the primary responsibility of healing mental illness in this country is on individuals.

In actuality, all of us are struggling constantly to stay afloat some have the resources to do so more easily or successfully. Individual resources are finite, community resources may stretch further, but truly the state has the greatest capacity to effect change for the most people. Universalized access to additional supports such as therapy and medication, access to jobs that pay enough for folks to eat and live well, access to free time and nature, safe housing, and so on, would immensely improve mental health in America.

We can’t ignore the fact that there are many overlapping structures that disallow mental well-being reasons that folks who are already prone to mental illnesses will experience them more severely, and reasons that situational mental illnesses abound as well.

Marginalized groups experience discrimination and micro- and macro-violences that degrade their mental well-being this includes racism, ableism, and homo/transphobia, among others. Poverty is a big contributor to mental illness, and includes not only the fact of being poor, but also the things that prevent people from gaining wealth or financial stability. Access to jobs is connected to houselessness, which is connected, for example, to addiction, to homophobia and transphobia in the home that force queer youth into the streets, and also to racial, homo/transphobic, and classist discrimination in the workplace. Also connected to joblessness is lack of access to higher education due to the exorbitant and ever-rising costs of college, and lack of access to even primary education in areas with high high school dropout rates. And all of these individual factors contribute to mental health problems too. Social support that would allow folks access to education, job training, mental health services, medical care, and so on, do not exist or do not function in a way that meets a massive need for them.

When people are in a place to reach out and ask for mental health supports, they often face continued discrimination in trying to seek therapy people of color are selected against by therapists in America, who as a group are largely white and tend to select white and female clients. Queer and trans people face a dearth of therapists who are affirming of their sexualities and genders, and may end up avoiding therapy to avoid the invalidation and emotional violence they might suffer. Mental health medication is prescribed by psychiatrists who, if you have health insurance to begin with, are frequently out-of-network, making their hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour costs a huge barrier to those who need medications to manage their mental illnesses. There is very little state support or subsidies for mental health medication.

Structural change is necessary if we truly want to improve mental health in the U.S. This is not an all-inclusive article mental health is complex and layered, and there is no simple “fix.” But there are factors we can begin to address with policy and programs that would up the baseline for mental health in the U.S. Focusing the conversation on individual actions to prevent suicide obscures a greater need for conversations about what will truly help mental illness on a national scale structural change and social supports.

Consider, too, whose deaths we see and whose deaths we do not see, and remember that American society has been intentionally constructed so that this is the case we don’t see the homeless, we don’t see the mentally ill, we don’t see queer people, we don’t see people of color, we don’t see the poor so when people who are high in the public eye die by suicide and open up this important conversation, remember whose voices are left out and bring them to the table.

the bodies of our leaders: mental and physical health stigmas & talking about Tr*mp

When someone steps into the public sphere, how much of themselves are they giving over to the people they’ve committed to serving? Public criticisms of Trump frequently descend from nuanced political debate to ridicule of his physical and mental health. Arguably, some discussion of Trump’s health as it aligns with his ability to perform as president may be warranted. As an elected official, and one with an incomparable amount of power, “we” empower him in theory he owes it to us to use that power in the way that will most benefit us. If the highest ranking official in our government is physically or mentally unable to do that job, does it not fall to the people to demand that he make changes such that he become capable, at risk being removed from his office? But if it’s on us to do so, certainly it’s on us as well to examine our cultural standards of mental and physical health and what it means to apply them to our elected (and potential!) leaders.

Our bodies are one of few things we tend to feel are under our ultimate control. We’re wrong of course sickness, genetics, environment, race, gender, sexuality, trauma, and so on work together to determine how our bodies behave. But one of the essential lies our culture tells us is that Wellness can be achieved if only we restrict, if only we exercise in just the right way, if only we buy the right supplements, if only we exert an iron will and bend and shape our bodies into lithe, pure things. We can stave off illness and ugliness and, ultimately, maybe, our mortality. So is the promise of the Wellness movement and the frenzy that accompanies it, driven largely by able-bodied wealthy white folks. But the perception of control and the satisfaction that comes of controlling one’s body are real can we hold our presidents to some standard of mental and physical wellbeing, taking away this one last thing, control over food and body, when the president is already asked to give up control over so many aspects of his life?

Importantly, we have to acknowledge that to hold Trump or any president to a level of health is to hold him to our very American definitions of health. In America, to be physically healthy is basically just to be not-fat. Aesthetic Wellness is in; fatness remains massively stigmatized. We hypermoralize body size and body fat and food choice. Early in Trump’s presidency, descriptions of him in bed at 6:30p eating McDonalds and yelling at unflattering news reports of himself were heavy in circulation. The food he chooses to consume is monitored and mocked, as if to lambast him for what he eats is to throw a dagger straight to the center of his moral ineptitudes. When he underwent a presidential health exam, the results of which have historically been released (at least in part) to the American public, there was a veritable outcry about whether or not he’d fudged his height to escape having his BMI land in the “obese” range. Picking at Trump’s weight and physical health has become a national pastime, an outlet for the unparsable rage we’re confronted with as our politics and culture become more and more farcical — but it’s grounded firmly in fatphobia and in classist ideas of what foods and bodies represent moral Goods (thin bodies, kale) and which represent moral Ills (fat bodies, so-called fast foods).

Mental health in America is defined even more nebulously. To be mentally healthy, besides presenting as someone with no overt struggles with anxiety, depression, and the like, seems to be a designation that belongs mainly to cis straight white men.  Mental wellbeing seems to be equated in the mainstream with this idea of “rationality” who is capable of making a “rational” choice, who should be followed, trusted, believed? Whosoever gets to lay claim to rationality is another interesting if self-evident question women certainly don’t; our “hyper-emotionality” precludes our ability to be rational. And “rational” choices are essentially those which uphold the mainstream power structures choices and statements that uphold the white supremacist cis-patriarchy that is American power. Choices and statements that undercut this mainstream power structure are thus viewed as “irrational,” “hysterical,” “fraudulent” whether they come from women demanding accountability for the perpetual sexual violence our nation supports, people of color demanding accountability for the perpetual racial violence our nation supports, low-income folks demanding accountability for the flawed economic structures supporting ever-growing wealth gaps, and so on. To be mentally unhealthy is a designation only given to white men when to do so actually functions to uphold their power as in the many, many cases of white male gunmen in school shootings and incidents of mass violence, who are called mentally ill in a way that disallows a fuller conversation about the violent intersections of white male entitlement and toxic masculinity. In our conversations about the president, Trump’s rationality is at once questioned by his detractors and assured by his supporters.

Obviously people are fulfilling certain needs by critiquing Trump’s body and brain. Criticizing someone’s physical appearance is a universalizing, accessible form of criticism you don’t have to engage critically, you just get to express your rage. And feeling rage at the current state of our politics and the person and people leading them is inevitable if you’re a person who is impacted by their leadership (many people) or a person with any level of basic empathy (hopefully many other people).

Picking at Trump’s mental (un)health gives people something to blame, a simple explanation for the complex, layered bigotry he regularly spews and espouses. Much like other situations where an empowered group is exercising their power through violence white male gun violence, white supremacist violence, sexual and gendered violence pointing to mental illness in the perpetrator gives us a simple answer to a complex problem. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea that Trump’s violence is the natural outcome of someone who exists at the top of so many power structures and is thus completely removed from the lived reality of most other people. It’s easier to see this as anomalous, something alien to the rest of us and our society, rather than contend with the arduous work of deconstructing the power structures at the core.

But critiquing Trump in such a way only serves to hurt already marginalized communities people with mental health issues and people who are overweight or obese, factoring in as well the overlap of these two with racial and class dynamics in the U.S. These kinds of criticisms of Trump add further stigma without adding any real value to the conversation these are surface level critiques that avoid any real engagement with the many layers of Trump’s bigotry and violence. In addition, if our view of health is bigoted (it is) how can we uphold it as any kind of standard? Where is the line of “healthy enough” to be president or to serve as a leader? If we’re upholding a fairly arbitrary and biased definition of mental health, it adds weight to the millstone telling folks with mental health problems that they are incapable of doing difficult and important work. And as we should know but collectively seem incapable of recognizing, weight is not a determining factor of health. Trump’s weight is not what’s making him a horrible president and person, and Trump’s mental health is a red herring as to the real cause of his bigotry and violence.

This all said, Trump does seem fundamentally unstable but is this because he’s legitimately mentally ill in a way that precludes his ability to do his job, or because he’s never been in a position where he had to be “stable”? He’s always been empowered to act however he wants and he’s still just doing that. To a degree, his ability to function within the bounds of “normality” is imperative to his position as the leader of our country, and it’s worth discussing whether or not we can set levels of acceptable behavior for our most powerful leaders. But in our discussions and critiques of Trump, we need to be aware of how the stigma around bodies’ mental and physical health does damage above all else. And how in this case it is further stigmatizing those who live in fat bodies and those who live with various mental health problems, rather than adding useful context to our conversations around Trump’s presidential viability.

 

*Piece inspired by conversations on the She’s All Fat podcast (season 2, episode 8, “Our Fat President”)