crystals, life, Witchcraft

Top 7 Crystals to Hide in Your Relatives’ Homes So They Stop Falling for Weird Toxic Bull@#$%

Good morning!

If you’re like most people, you have at least one person close to you who will occasionally come out with some completely bonkers, destructive nonsense. Unproven conspiracy ideas like, “vaccines are a conspiracy to implant tracking chips in everyone (posted from iPhone)” or “Jewish people caused the oil crisis by always getting their groceries double-bagged at King Kullen.”

(I have heard both of these unironically from actual human people.)

You might think this person is mostly cool, save for one or two beliefs that you’d swear were the byproduct of some kind of brain worm. You might also just be obligated to spend time around them, because you’re a dependent and they’re related to you. Maybe you just hold out hope that they’ll someday become the people they were before they got wrapped up in the fringe. If trying to talk to them or send them actual empirical data doesn’t work, here are the best crystals you can strategically plant wherever you’re forced to interact with them:

Lapis lazuli

Lapis has a hell of a reputation. For one, it’s been used in everything from cosmetics to artistic masterpieces, so it has some strong associations with creativity and expression. It’s also blue, which people who work with chakras will recognize as the color of Vishuddha, the throat chakra. (It rules expression and communication.) This means that it’s a pretty rad stone to have on you when you’re forced to defend yourself against accusations of being a NWO shill or secret lizard person from space.

Lapis has another talent, though. It’s often called the “Stone of Truth.” Its energy is said to help the user uncover hidden truths, both about themselves and the people and things around them. Most of us wouldn’t necessarily consider the idea that multi-level marketing schemes are a scam designed to profit off of people’s desperation to be a “hidden” truth, but you’ve got to meet people where they are.

Emerald

Now, I’m not suggesting that you drop a bunch of dosh on a fancy table-cut emerald to cram under your uncle’s recliner this Thanksgiving. You can get tumbled emeralds that aren’t gem quality, but are still emeralds and will still work for our well-intentioned-yet-nefarious purposes.

The idea here is that emeralds are tied to the heart. People who work with chakras consider them a stone for Anahata, the heart chakra. Even if Hindu tantrism isn’t your jam, emerald has a reputation as a stone for love and compassion. (Like instilling more compassion in the hearts of those around you who have notions about a super secret “gay agenda,” for example.)

According to color magic, green is also associated with growth. This is typically taken to mean increase, as in an increase in prosperity, fertility, and so forth. But green is associated with growth because of its connection to plants and nature — a lush, green plant is a successful, healthy, thriving one. You can empower a tumbled emerald to help your family grow and develop as people before you hide it behind the TV.

Amethyst

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list of calming, meditative crystals that didn’t include amethyst somewhere. There’s a reason for that. This stone is associated with things like divination and meditation, sure, but it’s also very relaxing and enhances a person’s connection to their intuition. (That means that it might be able to amplify the tiny voice inside your grandpa that says that maybe Democratic Socialists aren’t coming to take his toothbrush.)

Amethyst is also credited with increasing the user’s spiritual awareness and guarding against psychic attacks.

Smoky Quartz

Smoky quartz is pretty much clear quartz that, like Bruce Banner, was exposed to radiation and came away with some extra powers. It’s said to be helpful for grounding, as well as filtering energy and transmuting the negative into the positive. This means that it can help keep things on a smooth, even keel when Aunt Karen gets a couple of glasses of eggnog in her and starts ranting about immigration.

Rose Quartz

Ah, rose quartz. Any love-drawing crystal spell or list of stones for heart-related matters is basically guaranteed to include this pink stone. The thing is, it’s good for a lot more than just flowery, hearts-and-chunky-angel-babies romantic love. It’s also very rad for compassion, friendship, and familial love.

Like emerald, it can be helpful for getting people to meet you where you are. It can encourage the opening of hearts and minds. While lapis is a better choice for getting people to see the truth, rose quartz is better for getting them to see people as people, with the same pain, fear, hope, and aspirations as they have.

Black tourmaline

Like smoky quartz, black tourmaline is a weapon against negativity. It’s a very powerful energy filter, and can help neutralize bad vibes. Large specimens (especially ones intermingled with spangles of golden mica) look extremely cool, which means they’re great for keeping in your own living spaces to ensure that nobody’s bullshit sticks around to bother you. Smaller stones are good for keeping on you as a protective amulet, or, as the title suggests, stashing around anywhere you’re forced to be.

As an FYI, crystals that act as energy filters need regular, thorough cleansing. Think of them like vacuums — they can suck negativity up, or even transmute it into positive energy, but that canister’s gotta get emptied sometime. The more crap they come in contact with, the sooner they’ll need to be recalibrated with a cleansing.

Spirit Quartz

Spirit quartz also goes by the names cactus quartz and fairy quartz. These are quartz points (usually amethyst or citrine) that are entirely covered in tiny, druzy points. This makes them all spiky, like cacti.

Spirit quartz help in a number of ways. Amethyst is a stone for introspection and harmony, as was mentioned above. All of those tiny points effectively amplify this energy and send it out everywhere. The druse also symbolizes many tiny units working together in a cohesive whole, so it’s great for fostering feelings of community and cooperation.

Amethyst spirit quartz is also said to be particularly helpful for getting rid of negative attachments or entities. It can’t get rid of the weird radicalizing podcasts your cousin insists you check out, but it can help pull their hooks out of him.

As with anything involving crystals, make sure yours come from an ethical source. Sadly, much of the mining trade (not even just the crystal trade — a lot of crystals are byproducts of mining for gold, platinum, lithium, and other materials used by the electronics industry) relies on exploited labor and environmentally damaging methods. Always know where your stones came from, and how they got to you.

Many, if not most, sources say that it’s unethical to perform magic or energy work on someone without their consent. While it’s nice to abide by the rules, sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to get the right thing done. The energetic toll of trying to get someone to be less hateful, or less absorbed in destructive conspiracy theories and hoaxes, is going to be way less than, say, casting a love spell on an unwilling target. Use your own judgment. If you belong to a marginalized group and need to do something to keep yourself safe and sane, do it.

life

Trafficking doesn’t look like you might think it does.

I’m gonna get cranky and serious for a minute.

The Epstein case and Pizzagate hoax brought child trafficking into the public eye.

Well, the “public eye.”

For some sectors of society, human trafficking has been a known reality. People were aware that there was danger, just like they’re aware that breast cancer exists. Just look at the long-running efforts to find answers about missing Indigenous women for one example. Unfortunately, narratives surrounding human trafficking have begun to solicit attention by playing to a very specific type of fear — the fears culturally pushed on middle- to upper middle-class white women. This isn’t an uncommon tactic, either. To paraphrase Henry Zebrowski’s comment about a true crime documentary, “Are ya scared, ladies? Are ya scared?”

Look at it this way. How many posts on social media have you seen about “unpublicized numbers of missing children,” or pieces of paper, flowers, or plastic bags used to “mark” cars for kidnapping attempts, or families being targeted at Walmart, IKEA, or the grocery store? Many of them aren’t even new, they’re just making the rounds again.

The trouble with these stories is that they put forth a picture of human trafficking that ends up doing more harm than good. While concerned about strange people at gas stations, shops, and parking lots, they’re overlooking what human trafficking is, how it works, and what it looks like. These stories overlook these things in favor of a more dramatic image that strikes a chord in the people most likely to make sure they’re posted over and over again. And they do it in ways that might actually be putting kids in danger.

I’ll give one very specific example. There was one mother who was concerned about her kids getting snatched. She always held their hands in public, never let them out of her sight in crowds, and even had nightmares about someone kidnapping one of her children. She paid far less attention to the fact that one of her kids was of a marginalized gender and orientation, mentally ill, and suffering from living in an unstable home. In focusing on the idea of tot snatchers, she had overlooked the things that were actually dangerous.

These were things that a potential trafficker saw. Maybe it was the way the kid carried themselves, their worn, ill-fitting clothes, or the fact that they were walking home down an otherwise-vacant street, alone, long after other kids had already left school. Either way, he crept on this kid and tried to convince them to get in his car for “a ride home.” He even held out his watch as he circled around behind them, encouraging them to get closer, to see exactly how late it was.

Abductors choose their victims the way a hyena picks out the sick and injured.

Luckily, I panicked and ran for it.

I second-guessed myself afterward, too. Maybe he was just trying to be nice. Maybe I was the asshole here, getting an innocent man in trouble. When he turned up the next day with a group of his friends, harassing my local crossing guard to try to find out where I lived, I decided that I was probably right the first time.

Not all kids are so lucky. My experience was an outlier in some ways. For one, this guy was a stranger to me — the majority of kids (76%) are snatched by those they know. (He also could’ve been a garden-variety serial killer, but I’m giving him a very, very small benefit of the doubt here.)

There are other reasons why posts that say things like, “we should be publicizing the numbers of missing children the way we publicize COVID numbers” are severely missing the point. The number of people who aren’t concerned about missing children is vanishingly small, and always has been. Who would this statistic help? The only people who have somehow managed to remain unaware of child trafficking until now are the people who haven’t experienced a reason to pay attention. A statistic isn’t going to do it.

It also plays into several myths about human trafficking. A significant number of trafficking victims aren’t “missing” at all. Trafficking doesn’t require someone to disappear. People forced into labor against their will are trafficked, even if they never go missing. A teenaged girl whose boyfriend exploits her vulnerability to convince her to perform sex work to earn money for him might go home to her unknowing parents every night. She’s still being trafficked.

Not all trafficking victims see themselves as missing, either. They may have genuine feelings for the person trafficking them, and think they are helping. They may not be desperate to leave their trafficker, or seek help to do so. Believe it or not, some may not want their families to find them.

Lastly, of the roughly 800,000 children reported missing yearly in the US, a huge number of them are victims of parental kidnapping — one source claims over a quarter, while the Parents.com page linked above claims 49%. (The discrepancy may lie in the fact that almost half of all kids kidnapped by a parent aren’t considered missing by the other parent.) There’s also the number of runaway and homeless youth: 1 in 10 young adults between the ages of 18-25, and 1 in 30 children between 13-17. This includes kids who ran away or were kicked out. Conflating missing children with trafficked children overlooks a vast array of other reasons kids disappear, as well as a ton of kids who actually are being trafficked.

There are also children trafficked by their foster or adoptive parents. The situation of “rehoming” “problem” adopted kids is a very deep rabbit hole that’s outside the scope of this post, however. It’s also somehow manages to be even more depressing to write about.

Anyone can be trafficked, but some people are much more likely than others. Human traffickers are like other criminals, they don’t want to go after a target that’s more trouble than its worth. They don’t want to snatch someone who will draw attention. People who have exploitable vulnerabilities — who are walking home late and look lonely and uncared-for, who have been kicked out of their homes for being gay or trans, who run away from an abusive family, who are recent migrants who experience difficulty navigating a new language and country — are the easy targets.

If this was about murder instead, trafficking victims would often fall into the category of “the least dead.” They’re the people who tend to attract less attention and coverage when something bad happens. Few criminals want people to take an interest in their activities.

This doesn’t mean that all kinds of people don’t get snatched by strangers. It does mean that posts and memes focusing on that specific scenario do a disservice to the very people that need to be protected. It’s kind of like posting about how huffing drain cleaner can give you lung cancer. While true, it’s also not a very effective way to prevent lung cancer.

The Epstein case also narrowed the focus to sex trafficking. In reality, human trafficking encompasses far more types of labor. By playing on the media-friendly fear of sexual violence, it draws attention to one very specific type of child trafficking. How many memes about missing children examine the amount of trafficked labor it takes to pick vegetables, butcher meat, mine ore, or sew garments? They don’t, because that doesn’t garner enough attention.

The thing that really shits me is the bone-deep irony of people who purchase counterfeit designer goods reposting memes about human trafficking. Not only do counterfeit goods rely on trafficked labor to produce, they’re a significant income stream for organized crime syndicates. So is sex trafficking. Purchasing fakes doesn’t just save the buyer money — it incentivizes human trafficking and puts money directly into the pockets of the organizations that profit from it. Fake purses create a market for trafficked kids.

Tl;dr, human trafficking is an enormous problem that goes way, way deeper than is often represented. Memes about protecting oneself and one’s family from kidnappers, or publicizing numbers of missing children versus COVID numbers aren’t helpful, and may be actively harmful by misrepresenting what trafficking looks like. Even if they’re well-intentioned, they end up supporting an agenda different from actually ending human trafficking.

Blog, life

This window’s an entire mood, though.

I feel like I’ve kind of left this blog in the dark lately — as much as I keep intending to come back and write more, I am so damn tired still, my people.

Here’s the teal deer:

  • My partner and I moved. This place is endlessly delightful so far, our new space is pretty much perfect for us, but the whole process of pulling up stakes and going to a new spot is still pretty exhausting. And I say this as someone who enjoys moving!
  • I’m coping with a bothersome and seemingly long-term side effect of the vaccine I chose. I knew I was going to have a rough time, I’m dealing, I’m surrounded by wonderful help, but it’s taking a bit of getting used to. Either way, I will gladly take it over a ventilator or “long COVID” any day and twice on Sunday.
  • My partner recently lost someone very important to him. It’s not my place to go into someone else’s personal tragedy, but it has impacted our family. If you aren’t vaccinated, please don’t put it off. If you can’t be, please take every possible precaution to protect yourself and those around you.
  • I have new clients, and a much heavier workload now than I did before. The money’s awesome, and the work is interesting and right up my alley. It taps me out a lot, though, so by the time I’m done with paid writing I end up coming to my “New Post” page with my brain basically the consistency of custard.
  • I’ve been painting a lot. It’s easier on me, and doesn’t tax my brain, body, and creativity the same way that writing does. There’ll be lots of new prints in the shop, and plenty of originals too!

That’s pretty much it. There are a lot of new developments in my life, but most of them are okay. I’m immensely grateful to my guides, the spirits around me, and the Shining Ones that things have been as manageable as they have.

Did I mention how much I love this window? I do. I really do.

I hope you’re all doing well, too.

Also, as a PSA: Ivermectin does have uses beyond killing parasites. That said, the only information supporting ivermectin as a possible treatment for SARS-CoV-2 involved a) an experiment involving primate kidney cells in a petri dish, not a living human, and b) a cocktail of multiple other drugs, not ivermectin alone, c) in a hospital setting in areas where vaccines and first-line treatments were unavailable. It doesn’t have a studied, documented survival benefit for people with COVID-19, and its uses, dosage, and administration are still in the realm of the theoretical. Despite its promising results in vitro against Zika, HIV, dengue fever, or yellow fever, it hasn’t shown any actual clinical benefit against these viruses, either. Remember: In vitro isn’t the same as in vivo. In vitro studies are barely the first step to demonstrating that a medication actually does anything. A lot of things will kill or inhibit viruses in a petri dish, including bleach and flamethrowers. That doesn’t mean that they’ll do so in a living organism, or that the dosages required to make them do so won’t kill that organism.

There’s a theory that ivermectin might help COVID-19 by acting as an anti-inflammatory, but there are already much safer and already-tested anti-inflammatories on the market.

It’s also important to consider that ivermectin is made to kill parasites, which are eukaryotic organisms. Humans are eukaryotic, too. There are dangers in misusing antihelminthics that do not exist with, for example, antibiotics.

It’s still an interesting drug that does more than act as “horse dewormer.” Let’s not get it confused, though — the ivermectin paste sold at tack shops and Tractor Supply is horse dewormer. It’s compounded with binders, flavoring agents, and other inactive ingredients that very likely haven’t been tested for safety in humans. Those using it are inadvertently submitting themselves for a safety study in whether or not FDA-unapproved artificial apple flavoring causes stomach cancer.

Take it from someone who has absolutely been poor enough to have to resort to animal medication in the past — don’t. If you’re gung-ho about experimental treatments, agree to participate in a clinical trial. If you’re hoping for anti-inflammatory benefits from ivermectin, ask your doctor for a recommendation for an NSAID. If you have worms, send your doctor a stool sample. Until it shows an actual clinical benefit, not just a maybe-promising in vitro experiment, please skip the ivermectin. Look into the history of the people and organizations touting it as a cure. Be at least as skeptical about it as you would be about other COVID treatments or preventatives.

life

I tried so hard, and got so far.

I grew my hair out.

Well, attempted to.

This actually met with some success — I got it to about 3″ long, though it seemed to reject any any all input from paltry things like combs, hair spray, or gravity. Instead, it insisted on sticking straight out from my head like some kind of mutant dandelion.

Alas, my dreams of eventually having hair that did as it was told were not to be. I felt like I found one (1), single, solitary, lone hair of a different texture, which put my brain into some kind of search-and-destroy fugue state. Long story short, I ended up staying up until 6 AM feeling through and plucking hairs until I found it. This resulted in a roughly quarter-sized bald spot, a bit of blood, and an appreciable amount of concern on my partner’s part. It wasn’t the baldness that bothered him, just the fact that I was on edge enough to end up unintentionally hurting myself like that.

Obsessive compulsive disorder: It’s not like they show on TV!

And so, in the grand tradition of getting rid of things that no longer serve me, I busted out the buzzer.

Honestly, I love having a buzzcut. The only reason I had attempted to grow my hair out was for a change of pace, and to see if I could. A buzz is the ultimate low-maintenance hairstyle, and it keeps me cool in the swampy DC heat. Plus it’s just less stressful — I can’t worry about how my hair looks or feels if I don’t have any. Unlike the patchy spots from trichotillomania, there’s no hiding a buzzcut, either. If you’ll pardon the expression, a shaved head dramatically limits the number of fucks I have to give.

Really, I don’t think this whole thing was triggered purely by the existence of one slightly different hair. I mean, I have a scar on my scalp that makes an entire chunk of my otherwise-straight mane grow in a 4c curl pattern. The real culprit?

Houses.

*organ music sting*

I love my apartment, but we’ve outgrown it. The longer we’ve lived here, the more we’ve discovered things that are rapidly turning into dealbreakers. If we owned the place, we could just change them. Alas, we do not.

And so, my partner and I struck out on the journey to homeownership. From what we’ve gathered so far, the process for first-time homeowners goes like this:

  1. Scope out real estate in the area in which you’d like to live.
  2. Call a housing counseling agency.
  3. Go through their first-time buyer educational program.
  4. Make sure you have enough money for a down payment and closing costs.
  5. No, not like that.

Stressful, yeah?

Both of us are almost pathologically afraid of debt. (My credit report looks like a 16 year old’s. I avoided student loans by drawing furry porn to pay my way through college.) The idea of buying more house than we can easily afford is, frankly, terrifying. So, short of trying to find a really good deal on a former meth lab/murder shack, we’re taking a detour.

We’re moving to a different apartment closer to the area we want to buy in. It’ll alleviate some of the pressure we feel living here, give us an opportunity to save more, and let us scope out the local culture and amenities.

Fortunately, since this’s much lower-stakes than house buying, I won’t pluck myself bald within a fortnight. Wish us luck!

Blog

I’m rethinking my feelings about spring.

Hi, sorry, I was asleep for the past few months.

(This is not code language.)

So, spring marks the start of some really lovely weather here — the cherry trees blossom, the weather warms up, and the world seems to come alive with birdsong:

Unfortunately, it’s also the start of allergy season. Since my body interprets perfectly normal Earth conditions as some kind of hostile invading force, I have to take antihistamines every day. Not most normal ones, either. There’s exactly one type I can take, and it causes drowsiness. I’m on sertraline, which also causes drowsiness. I also have intracranial hypertension. One of the chief symptoms of which is tiredness. See where this is heading?

(It is heading to take a nap.)

It’s nice to be able to get out more. My partner and I have been spending more time outdoors as more people get vaccinated and the threat of COVID-19 becomes a little less dire. But man, sometimes I get to the end of a walk and want to curl up in the moss for two or three hours.

I’ve honestly really missed writing here. Between paid writing work and tiredness, it’s often hard to find the energy — but I’m trying.

Uncategorized

The Second Birthday

My partner and I listen to a lot of podcasts. He’s into audiobooks, I’m not, but we can generally compromise on podcasts. Besides, over the past year, they’ve been a nice way to have other voices in the house. (Even when some of those voices are telling me about the Ant Hill Kids.)

One of our favorites is Hey Riddle Riddle (seriously, it’s adorable and hilarious). On one of their recent episodes, Erin Keif mentioned the idea of the Second Birthday.

To paraphrase, it’s something like this. You ask people if they’re okay giving up eight months or so to save lives, and most of them will say yes. They’ll endure it without much complaint. Sure, celebrating a birthday in lockdown isn’t much fun, but what’re you gonna do?

Then the Second Birthday happens. That’s when it starts to feel less and less like there’s an end in sight.

I’m lucky enough that it isn’t that likely that I’ll have to spend an actual second birthday in lockdown, but the Second Birthday isn’t so much about actual cake and presents as it is a feeling. To be honest, I’ve had a weird amount of ups and downs for a year where every day has been pretty much the same. Some lows, I can blame on The Ennui. I’ve also had my share of “I’m learning another skill!” “Let’s know languages!” and “CLEAN. EVERYTHING.” highs. Lately it’s different, though.

Part of it might be February in DC. Things have wound down from the doorknob-humpingly ludicrous events of January 6th, but there’s still tension. Tension, and cold, gray weather. As I write this, there’s an abundance of snow on the ground (well, an abundance for here), but the knowledge that it’ll be slimy gray slush by tomorrow still pulls at my mind like a fish hook.

Imbolc was earlier this week for many Neopagans, signaling the start of the lambing season. We’re about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, in a kind of spiritual Wednesday. Still, while this time might be a drag for people, the turning Earth goes about its business. Daylight hours keep getting longer, snowdrops poke their heads through the chilly ground, and the new lambs come when they will.

Here’s hoping for a happy and peaceful Second Birthday for everyone.

life

A man, a plan, a sledgehammer.

I’m firmly of the opinion that most people would benefit greatly from cultivating four disciplines: something physical, something linguistic, something creative, and something that pays the bills. It doesn’t really matter what those things are, as long as you’re able to keep at them. Some people can luck out and become multilingual professional musical theater actors and knock out all four at once. The rest of us, not so much. Still, even if you never become fluent in another language, even if your creative endeavors never turn into a profitable side-hustle, it’s okay! The real goal is to improve your physical health, release endorphins, and maintain your neuroplasticity.

Admittedly, I had a hard time finding a physical activity I enjoyed. My body’s been through a lot, between chronic CSF headaches, joint pain, deconditoning, this one weird, twisty rib that pops in and out ever since I got run over, etc. Activities that weren’t boring usually put too much stress on my body. Activities that were gentle enough didn’t keep me mentally stimulated. Then a friend introduced me to shovelglove. (Note: The original page contains some ableist and fat-shaming language.)

The teal deer is this: You get a sledgehammer. You wrap the end in a sweater so it doesn’t heck your floors. For fourteen minutes a day, every day except weekends and holidays, you pick it up and you move it. It isn’t important how you do this — pick motions that feel good and get your muscles working. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re consistent. If it starts to feel too easy, buy a heavier sledgehammer.

As a concept, it appealed to me for several reasons:

  1. It only requires fourteen minutes a day, and nothing at all on weekends or holidays. That’s barely a blip in my schedule.
  2. It’s really freeform, so it’s hard to get bored. Turn it into an imagination game. Crank up Finntroll or Turisas, pretend you’re building a forest stronghold and fighting off bandits, and the fourteen minutes’ll be up before you know it.
  3. The movements feel useful. I never really enjoyed regular weight training because, while it’s certainly effective, the motions feel repetitive and arbitrary. This feels natural and functional, like my body is learning to do things (row a boat, chop wood, battle alien invaders) that I might actually have to do someday.
  4. You only need two pieces of equipment: a sweater, and a sledgehammer. One, I had in my dresser. The other, I got from a hardware store for like $10.
  5. It can be as intense or as gentle as you want.
  6. It makes me feel like a sexy barbarian.

I also enjoy it because I feel like it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with some kind of melee weapon, even if you’re not actually practicing a martial art with it. My partner has some pretty serious training in a variety of martial arts. I can at least brain a dude with a maul if I need to.

The only piece of advice I’d give is this: Engage your core. If you’re not familiar with the movements you choose, and aren’t careful to protect your back, it’s very easy to wrench something.

Other than that, it’s a fun, effective way to exercise, and one I actually look forward to. I’ve been able to achieve visible results — while before I had the noodly appendages of a heavy reader, my biceps and triceps are larger, more defined, and just generally better at doing stuff.

Plus spending fourteen minutes a day feeling like a Klingon is pretty rad, in itself.

life

Un/Whee

I can feel it.
Unreasonable.
Heavy.
It settles like an old velvet duvet — familiar and stifling.

“ENNUI,” I say out loud, “I declare an ennui!”

One thing I’ve learned about my mental health is that names are power. If I feel a panic attack coming on, saying, out loud, that that’s what’s happening makes it a tiny bit easier to deal with. This feeling is different, but I name it anyway.

I can always tell when it’s happening. It hits me when I’m in the middle of living life, and it’s like the color’s been sucked out of the world. Looking at interesting or beautiful things no longer inspires me. I don’t want to do anything. Nothing seems enjoyable. A tiny, evil thought in the back of my mind lies to me, telling me that this is it, I’ve reached the world’s level cap, life is about to be a long, tedious slog to the finish line.

I call it “ennui” because it defangs it, at least a little. Mental Floss points out that ennui has “connotations of self-indulgent posturing and European decadence.” It’s an oppressive existential apathy that’s hard to take seriously. Ennui isn’t as weighty as Depression, or as toothy as Anhedonia. If these neurotransmitters are going to attempt to seize power over me, they’re going to have to try harder than that. My absurdity is potent and not easily overthrown.

This feeling is scary, the lies it tells me are frightening. So, I name it something that makes it sound, to me, like the pseudo-deep affectation of a second-rate philosopher. As one of my friend’s uncles used to say, “Are you bored, or are you boring?”

Part of the trouble is that it isn’t enough to not be boring. I’d even argue that very few people are genuinely so. “Sonder” is a wonderful, if little-used, word that the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines as:

[T]he realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

With that in mind, being legitimately boring takes effort.

My partner argues that this is neurochemical. It happens too regularly, with no special reason. I could be having a perfectly lovely day, capped off by sitting on a roof and watching the sunset with a slice of Baltimore Bomb pie, and suddenly the pinks and oranges look flat and muddy and the chocolate tastes like glue.

This joy-sucking specter sticks around for a few days, perhaps a week, before being distracted by something shiny and sweeping off to go find another haunt.

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight
finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blasé princesses indict
tilts at terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,
while bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.

Sylvia Plath, Ennui

I haven’t found a way to make it leave sooner (or, even better, keep it from bothering me at all). Energy cleanses and other rituals help remove some of the background static, but the ennui doesn’t budge. It’s another cycle to understand and endure, as surely as brilliant orange autumn turns to gray winter. The best I can do is give this unwanted guest a name, speak it out loud, and know that it never stays forever.

life

When CBT doesn’t cut it.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been through some stuff — including several attempts at cognitive behavioral therapy. Here’s why it didn’t work for me, and what I did to get to where I wanted to be.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the gold standard for treating anxiety disorders. It’s a reputation that isn’t entirely undeserved — there’s a load of research demonstrating its effectiveness, both combined with medication and on its own. It’s often the first thing that a doctor will suggest when a patient presents with anxiety problems.

CBT relies on recognizing thought patterns that we have that don’t line up with reality. The underlying concept is that, when we can identify distortions in our thinking, we can prevent or intervene in those distortions and keep them from negatively impacting our feelings and behavior.

But what do you do when CBT doesn’t work for you?

If you’re me, that means feeling like a failure and going into a deeper anxiety spiral first.

I first tried CBT through a workbook. It was helpful, but definitely not a substitute for going through it with an actual therapist. So, when that opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.
And left feeling like my anxiety was entirely my fault.

I was able to identify distortions in my thinking, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that identifying and reframing them didn’t actually seem to have much of an effect. My first therapist eventually cut me loose when I failed to make substantial progress after a few weeks, and oh boy did I feel like a lost cause.

There’s definitely something wrong with the messaging surrounding CBT. Because so much of it relies on the patient identifying and reframing cognitive distortions outside of therapy sessions, CBT comes packaged with a hearty side of moralizing — if it isn’t successful, it’s because the patient wasn’t willing to “put in the work.”

That’s not true.

When medication doesn’t work, you try a different one. When other modalities don’t work, you try another therapist or another type of therapy. When CBT doesn’t work, it might not have anything to do with your level of effort, willingness, or ability to get better.

Why CBT Wasn’t the Answer for Me

Don’t get me wrong, cognitive behavioral therapy has been enormously helpful for tons of people. I suggest that everyone at least try it, because it can be great for reducing some anxiety symptoms. There are two big reasons why I didn’t achieve the results I hoped for:

  1. It offered behavioral strategies for what might be a chemical and genetic issue.
  2. It didn’t help my specific worries.

Panic disorder can look like anxiety, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it. Panic attacks show up seemingly out of nowhere, and the idea behind treating them with CBT is that a panic attack happens when we catastrophize a sensation — like shortness of breath, or palpitations. This might be the case for some people with panic disorder, but may not be for all. Unfortunately, accepting the premise behind this treatment is what leads to some of the “victim blaming” mentality surrounding CBT.

If I’m bopping along, feeling perfectly fine, and suddenly get hit with a full-blown, unable-to-breathe-or-move panic attack, there’s no time. That overwhelming, unprovoked rush of adrenaline isn’t mitigated by identifying and reframing my thoughts. While cognitive behavioral therapy was helpful for reducing some manifestations of my anxiety, it wasn’t helpful for my panic attacks — the whole reason I was pursuing CBT in the first place. If I didn’t think my way into them, how was I going to think my way out of them? CBT gave me something to do for the twenty-odd minutes it takes for a panic attack to resolve anyway, but it didn’t actually seem to change anything. I couldn’t just think myself better. Knowing it was “just” a panic attack didn’t stop the chest pain, shortness of breath, terror, or inability to move.

It also didn’t help my obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Yes, I know that it isn’t logical or helpful to check the stove burners exactly five times each before leaving the house. I know that it doesn’t make sense to smell my hallway every hour to make sure there isn’t a gas leak. Even forcing myself to not do these things so I could achieve “mastery” over them did nothing to reduce the torment.

(I’m not alone, either. The NIH says that, “Unfortunately, CBT doesn’t work for up to half of people with OCD.” As it turns out, spotting activity in different areas of the brain may be a helpful predictor of what therapy might be the most effective for a specific patient. Not everyone with OCD has the same level of activity in the same areas.)

It didn’t help my cyclical bouts of minor depression, either. This was largely because they’re another thing I don’t think my way into, they just happen. I already recognized that they don’t last forever, but they were still as frequent and as soul-sucking after CBT as they were before it. Womp-womp.

My other problem with CBT was that there are some outcomes that just are catastrophic. If I’m afraid of performing in front of a crowd, it’s relatively easy for me to say, “What’s the worst that can happen? What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of bombing and embarrassing myself. That probably won’t happen, but what would be the outcome if I did? It won’t kill me. Nobody’s going to physically attack me. I’ll probably never even see these people again, so, if the worst actually did happen, its impact on my life would be momentary, at best. The people in the audience might go home with a funny story to tell about me, and that wouldn’t be so bad. I can defang the situation by being willing to laugh at myself.” It helps!

This was less helpful for me for, say, health anxiety. “What’s the worst that can happen? I die and it hurts the entire time. That probably won’t happen, but what would be the outcome if I did? I die, it hurts the entire time, and my loved ones suffer in the process. If I’m wrong, I’m fine, but if I’m not, it’s literally the worst possible outcome.” There’s only a slight chance that I have some potentially fatal undiagnosed health issue (something that I’ve actually experienced), but, if I do, I’m still 100% dead if I don’t act on it.

It wasn’t helpful for the anxiety surrounding a past sexual assault, either. I’ve been through that. I know how awful it was. The feelings are a product of experience, not catastrophizing. My reframed thoughts felt like lies.

In short, it wasn’t a great fit for me.

There are other issues with CBT, too. A big one is that it’s a bit of a darling for insurance companies. They love it because it doesn’t take long (a few weeks, as opposed to months or years for other therapies) and doesn’t cost much to cover. For this reason, your insurance company is likely far more willing to pay for CBT… and not much else. For a patient with significant trauma, a genetic predisposition to mental illness, neurotransmitter imbalances, chronic illness, life stress, or any number of other contributing factors, a couple of sessions and some homework probably isn’t going to cut it.

Another is that, even though CBT puts the patient in the driver’s seat, the therapist is still important. If you’re working with someone who comes off as uncaring, off-putting, or smug, you might not be in a great environment for you to learn and implement the therapy. This can be especially difficult if you’re working with someone who emphasizes the techniques over everything else — there were definitely times when I felt more like a collection of behaviors, and not like a human being with my own traumas, genetics, and brain chemistry.

The underlying premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is that your thoughts influence your behavior and mental health. If your therapist hammers at that to the exclusion of other factors, you could be missing a big part of the picture.

I’ve read some other interesting theories on why CBT doesn’t work for some forms of anxiety. One of them proposes that executive function shuts down when anxiety gets too high. Some people are able to engage their cognitive techniques before this occurs. If you already have trouble with executive function, or your arousal ramps up too quickly, this can’t happen in time. In those cases, your brain needs to rely on automatic self-soothing mechanisms that trigger relaxation via the parasympathetic nervous system and the release of oxytocin. I can’t speak to this personally, but it would explain a lot.

What I Did Instead

So, cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t work. What’s next?

After feeling like I needed more therapy to overcome my feelings about “failing” at CBT, I looked at other options. I still had medication, so that was helpful, but not as helpful as it could be combined with therapy. I knew that part of my problem was that my ex-therapist’s approach seemed very inflexible — there was no room to consider what other factors could be contributing to the problem. Every negative feeling had to be proceeded by a thought, and, if I couldn’t identify and “fix” that thought, I was doing it wrong.

So, I read over the “About” pages of a number of psychologists, eventually settling on one who mentioned methods other than CBT. And I lucked out.

The therapist I ended up seeing — with whom I’ve been very happy — uses CBT as part of a larger collection of therapies. We’ve worked on my past trauma. We’ve worked on my self-esteem. I get things to read and homework to do that have helped me grow, not feel like a failure for being unable to think my way out of a panic attack. We’ve explored everything from my diet (did you know that fenugreek could contribute to depression? I didn’t!) to physical relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation. I feel like a person, not like a disjointed cloud of thoughts that need to be corrected. My panic attacks are less frequent and easier to deal with, and I can recognize the signs of an impending bout of depression and take steps to make it less disruptive to my life.

CBT doesn’t work for me. It’s the go-to treatment for anxiety because it’s very focused and able to produce results in a relatively short period of time, but the same things that make it work so quickly also force it to exclude other factors that can contribute to a patient’s mood. If you haven’t tried CBT, at least give it a shot — it teaches valuable skills. If you have tried it and you’re feeling disheartened, that’s natural. You aren’t a failure. There are plenty of other therapies out there that can help. They might take longer, you might have to try a few different things out, but they work. You’re worth the time and effort.

art, divination, life, Witchcraft

Bustin’ (Disappointment) Makes Me Feel Good

Yesterday, literally the same day that I posted that tarot reading, I got a bit of disappointing news. I don’t want to get into the details, but it turns out that an artistic opportunity that I’d been pretty excited about isn’t going to happen for me. C’est la guerre. Even amid fulfillment and happiness, it’s a bit much to expect everything to be a slice of fried gold.

Still, understanding that fact doesn’t really banish the bad feelings. Here’s what did, though:

I set a timer.

I gave myself ten minutes to be completely self-indulgent in my complaining. After that, the grumpling grace period was over and I had to keep quiet about it. This serves two purposes:

  1. It keeps me from dwelling on whatever’s bothering me.
  2. It keeps me from becoming insufferable to absolutely everyone around me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I use this time. I flop dramatically on furniture. I go full Howl’s-Moving-Castle-goopy-wizard. I get to feel my feelings, I can be cartoonishly whiny until I laugh at myself, and other people won’t secretly wish they could lock me in a dumpster.

I did some agitation pedaling.

My partner calls it “having the zoomies.” I call it having more energy than I know what to do with. Sometimes it’s from anger or annoyance. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes, it’s because I ate four bowls of cereal for dinner.

All that corn syrup and riboflavin

Either way, ten minutes of furious living room biking usually sorts it out decently well. I work myself up to my top speed, and hold it as long as I can — all while mentally focused on a goal I have. When I get to the point where I can’t sustain it anymore, I release the energy toward that goal.

Sweat is also cleansing. Sweating can be a sacred act. There are reasons why so many cultures have traditions built around inducing a good sweat.

Singing along to Turisas is entirely optional, but it helps.

RA-RA-RASPUTIN, RUSSIA’S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE

I took a bath (with friends).

(No, not human ones. I don’t think any of them would talk to me afterward.)

When it comes to spells to fix a disappointment, I think they should be spontaneous. It’s not really the time to go worrying about moon phases or astrological timing — if you have needs, fulfill them. Emergency magic performed from the heart can be just as effective as a meticulously planned ritual.

Water is the element of emotions. It’s cleansing. It’s healing. It’s a great way to kill some time doing something that’s objectively good for you. It was late at night, so I didn’t have the energy to make myself a full-on brew, but I do pretty much own my weight in various teas. I boiled some water, added two bags of peppermint and one of chamomile, and asked for their help.

“Peppermint,” I said, said I, “I feel like complete ass and would like that to not be a thing anymore. Peppermint, clear my energy from all that’s dragging me down, and, with chamomile, fill that space with luck and prosperity.”

If you’re putting it in a bath, the garnish is probably kind of excessive

I held my projective (dominant) hand over the vessel, and did the energy thing. When I felt that it was good enough, I asked the brew if it was ready.

“If this be done, and done well, push my hand away from the vessel.”

(Fortunately, I felt the familiar little energetic “push” against my palm. I don’t think I had it in me to sit on my bathroom floor and troubleshoot this spell.)

I poured the brew in a bath full of warm, fresh water, dumped in an unmeasured buttload of Trader Joe’s $1.99 sea salt, stirred it with my projective hand, and called it good. As soon as I stepped in, feeling the silkiness of the water, smelling the fragrant peppermint-and-chamomile steam curling up from the surface of the water, I began to feel better.

I also had a bright, unmistakable vision of a wolf’s face when I closed my eyes, but that’s probably going to take some further research.

I followed the advice I’d been given in the first place.

There’s a lot to be said for the idea of conceptualizing things as happening “for” you instead of “to” you, though that can be tough to remember in the moment. Personally, every setback I’ve ever experienced — every call I never received after a job interview, every breakup — has always led to something better within the space of a few weeks, like clockwork. I don’t force positivity on myself, and you shouldn’t either if you’re really not feeling it, but I try to keep this track record in mind.

Anyway, all of this is to say that, when the sun is shining and everything’s going great, sometimes a minor bump in the road can seem bigger than it is. Tarot readings function as more than a prediction and an energetic snapshot of your life. They’re also advice. Yesterday’s advice was to celebrate, spread joy, and not let my emotions overrule my discernment. I have a lot to celebrate (I sold a painting recently! I can hike longer trails! I did a bunch of paid writing!), I’m hoping this post might be helpful to someone else who’s feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and, logically, I know this disappointment will pass and be forgotten before long.

I turned it around.

Creativity is deeply personal. When you put yourself into what you make, it’s hard not to take rejection pretty hard. Most of the time, though, that rejection has nothing to do with you — because creativity is so personal, there’s no accounting for what people want. What I consider my best work is almost never as popular as the things I’m not nearly as attached to.

Similarly, this situation in no way impugns me as a person or a creative force. So, worn out from pedaling, freshly minty, and completely called out by my own tarot deck, I went to varnish some paintings.

I don’t want to suggest that vigorous cycling and a bath are the way to deal with, say, a house fire, the loss of a loved one, someone stealing your car, or a loved one burning down your house and stealing your car, but these techniques can help shift the energy around the things that occasionally show up to heck your day apart.