Saturday, 9 January 2016

things i have: anxiety and dirty dishes

(disclaimer: i know the human body is more like 60ish % water. it's a meme so it's funny even though it's not accurate. the whole point is kind of that it's inaccurate. please don't think i'm dumb. oh, look, anxiety!)

i've tried to come back to this blog several times in the past six months.

turns out, every time i'm away from my blog for more than a month, i want to preface everything with an apology.

i automatically start thinking of excuses for why i've been AWOL.

then, i imagine the possible titles of my "oh-look-i'm-finally-returning-to-this-poor-abandoned-blog" post. here, for your pleasure, i list some of the candidates my mind came up with:

A. i'msorryi'msorryi'msorry 

nah, too grovelling; no one likes a groveller. plus, those apostrophes are annoying and break up the rhythm - but i'm not removing them because i'm a grammar pedant. ok, next candidate; 

B. #NewYearSameMe - aka let's see how long it takes me to abandon my blog again 

ugh too long, too defeatist; 

C. well, this is embarrassing. 

oh, wait, i've used that one already. a title that prefaced an entire post about embarrassment. greeeeat!

D. oh, hi! remember me? 

wait, what if they don't? or what if they didn't want to? or what if they've never read this blog before and they're like, "no i never knew you in the first place, idiot", and gaaaaaah this is exhausting, and i can't even remember what i wanted to say in the blog post in the first place, and it's likely that no one will care anyway, making this kind of futile, right? maybe i just won't blog after all.

whew. enough frenzy, right? my brain likes to gang up on me sometimes. anxiety - how charming!

BUT. when i stop and think about it, i can occasionally be reasonable. as in: i am actually not beholden to anyone but myself on this blog. (or in my life, currently. cue me typing this blog post in my PJs at twenty to twelve in the morning... BOOM.) if you're reading this, it's because you wanted to; if you want to walk away now, that should really have no affect on me. I need to write about what I care about or find funny or attractive or silly or annoying; this blog should reflect me. it's my blog. wow, if this is all really obvious to you, i get that it's dumb that this is not all really obvious to me sometimes. i seriously get that. my brain is just occasionally really frustrating. *insert cry-laughing emoji here* what that ultimately means is, i get to post about what i want to post about, when i want to post about it, and if i don't want to post about anything for a really long time, i needn't feel bad about it. turns out, for the past few weeks i've been writing essays on Instagram, and i was just about to write another essay on Facebook when i decided to rather turn it into a blog post.

so. i remember what i wanted to blog about today! (a small victory - cheers from the crowd ensue.) it helps that it's about anxiety, but it's also about my dislike of cleaning things, and my need for distraction when i have to clean things.

you see, i really hate doing dishes. or making my bed. or sweeping. cleaning in general is not something i look forward to. (does anyone?) however, it still has to get done and living alone means it has to get done by ME! (also, if i were to ever in this lifetime theoretically live with someone else, i wouldn't expect them to do all of the cleaning, because i am not mean. i think.)

what this calls for is some level of diversion or amusement to take my mind off the horrible activity in which i'm obligated to take part. some people like to watch series; i can't do this because i am obsessive and like to watch every detail playing out on screen, not just listen to the dialogue. what if i miss important visual cues??! it happens! i'd love to be able to read a book but HAAAA, that's not gonna happen with soapy hands, sadly. audiobooks, then, would be a great option, but they cost money most of the time. music is fun and was generally my go-to all of last year and the year before, but sometimes i won't want to listen to several of the songs on the playlist and it's frustrating to have to stop everything and dry my hands off to skip tracks till i'm reasonably entertained again. my solution to this was to listen to the artists i generally never have to skip through and of which i have a fairly wide collection. my main two artists to clean my flat to were (you're going to laugh) Taylor Swift and John Mayer.

last year, though, i delved into the world of podcasts for the first time ever and started really enjoying listening to Ira Glass's This American Life episodes. i would listen to these podcasts while working on my computer at the department, really getting involved in the multiple stories and the varied perspectives they provided while still getting a solid chunk of design work done. i wouldn't have to stop what i was doing to skip a track i didn't like; i wouldn't get distracted by the flashy music videos on YouTube (happens every time) or stop working to sing along to a ballad and have to reorient myself to what i was working on before the distraction.

i've translated this diversionary tactic over to cleaning since i've been back in my bachelor flat this year, and so far (read: the two times i've listened to a podcast while doing dishes) it's been a huuuuge success. imagine looking forward to washing plates and bowls and cutlery! on Thursday i listened to Episode 225: Home Movies, and this morning i listened to Episode 545: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS. in the car on the way back to Grahamstown, i also listened to Episode 575: Poetry of Propaganda which was SO GREAT. these are from no specific year - Home Movies was produced in 2002 (!), ALL CAPS first aired a year ago and Poetry of Propaganda is one of the podcasts released in December - and yet they're all on par in terms of quality, interestingness, relatability. they all offer vignettes into people's lives - sometimes quirky, sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but always listen-worthy and very often relatable to my own life in some way.

for instance, let's look at the ALL CAPS episode from this morning. first of all, here's the synopsis of the show:

"It’s safe to say whatever you want on the Internet; nobody will know it’s you. But that same anonymity makes it possible for people to say all the awful things that make the Internet such an annoying and sometimes frightening place. This week: what happens when the Internet turns on you?"

the show itself is then made up of several stories (or "acts", as the podcast defines them) dealing with the topic from a variety of angles. this particular episode was made up of four acts, and the one that captured me the most was the final act, called "Mailer Demon". here's its description:

"This story, produced by the podcast Reply All (websiteiTunes), asks the question — can internet bile ever be helpful? PJ Vogt interviews Paul Ford, a man who programmed a website to deal with his anxiety. The website sends him abusive comments all day long."

guuuuuys. the idea here is amazing. i looked up AnxietyBox - the website Paul programmed - once the episode was over (which coincided beautifully with the completion of my dishes washing mission!) and you have to see it for yourself to fully appreciate its beauty. if you go to the website (i mean, go, i'm encouraging you - it's hilarious) you'll see that it's not currently operational, but this is what the old homepage looked like:

I APPRECIATE IT SO MUCH. here are some examples of the anxious thoughts you could get sent:
  • People are only tired of you because you are so deficient and predictable.
  • Compared with everyone else you grew up with you definitely turned out irredeemable.
  • It's unfair that so many people say you're boring.
  • You might as well forgive yourself for being so incredibly unoriginal and fake.
  • All of your friends were trying to describe you and what came up was: a fraud and third-rate.
  • When you aren't around your friends say you are incapable.
  • You are too hard on yourself. I can think of worse ways to be than badly prepared and perpetually scared.
and here's an excerpt from the show's transcript explaining it all - the process of AnxietyBot - really beautifully:

Paul Ford

So let's imagine that I'm standing on the train. I'm about to go down into the train platform. And I look at my phone, and I have an email. And it's from my anxiety.
I mean, here's an email from June 2 in the afternoon. Now here's the subject - 'History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything'. "Dear Paul, so you're probably used to being at the front of the class, and this is a wake-up call that you're not even in the middle. Inform me, are you ready? Sincerely, Your Anxiety."

PJ Vogt

Remember, Paul set it up so that he'd get these messages on average 12 times a day. 12 times a day, his phone would ping, and there'd be a new attack waiting. While he was eating breakfast, ping.
AnxietyBot The simple reason you're not happy is that you're unworthy of saving.

PJ Vogt

When he was at work, ping.
AnxietyBot I respect that you just live your life and don't care if people think you are childish and disgusting.

PJ Vogt

While he was watching his kids, ping.
AnxietyBot  Your mom and dad would never say anything, but they so want to know why you would choose to be unlovable and not smart.

PJ Vogt

When he was getting ready for bed, ping.
AnxietyBot People on Facebook look at your picture and think, in possession of a weird nose.

PJ Vogt

And you made this to make yourself feel less anxious and better?

Paul Ford

Well, that's the thing. So the thing I'm trying to do here is externalize the anxiety and actually simulate it.

PJ Vogt

So what do you mean?

Paul Ford

Well, anxiety, it turns out, like building this little emulator, this anxiety simulator, made me go, oh, this part of me is incredibly stupid. It says the same things over and over again. And it really is like that is what my anxiety looks like. It's not smart. At some level, it's like a little robot that just screams. What this let me do is look at the robot.

PJ Vogt

Seeing the voice in his head, seeing its opinion of him actually written out, it seemed crazy that he'd ever believe that what it was saying about him was true.

Paul Ford

It was immediately effective. And seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. Seeing it was really funny. It turns your entire emotional freak-out into this relentless form of comedy.

PJ Vogt


Paul Ford

Yeah, it turns out that you're not as important as you think you are, nowhere near as terrible as you think you are, and actually fairly ridiculous. It's just so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long, and yet there it was. There was the evidence of it. And so it was like, oh my god, I've been wasting a lot of time with this little son of a b*tch.

PJ Vogt

I feel like something about having it in an email lets you fight back against it.

Paul Ford

You can actually reply, right? I would reply and be like, go f*** yourself, over and over again. So the ability to actually yell back at something, which I think is something that we usually associate with being terrible on the internet, in this case, it's wonderful, because you can yell at the robot and tell it to shut the f*** up.
there are not words for how excellent i find all of this. because i'm on a hand-lettering kick and i found this story so hilarious and awesome, i lettered one of my favourite insults generated by the AnxietyBot (with some cute gummy bears thrown in for good measure):

i filled in the info form on the AnxietyBox website in order to get put on the waiting list for when AnxietyBox 2.0 is launched, and added a message to Paul in the relevant field, telling him how brilliant i thought his idea was and mentioning that my MA degree - the topic of which revolves around depression and anxiety and searching for ways to better communicate about and tackle these issues - is ironically the main cause of my anxiety at the moment. i really look forward to the day when i can get emails from "my anxiety" telling me how useless it thinks i am - and then being able to physically delete that spam/crap/nonsense. Until that happens, best believe every time an anxious thought pops into my head i'm going to picture it as an email that i can laugh at, delete and move on from, each time telling myself:

oh, this part of me is incredibly stupid; 
it says the same things over and over again.

plus, now i have a fun way to pass the time while i wash my dishes. it's a win-win, really. thanks, This American Life!

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