The Habitual Consumption of Stress

There are two things that I am certain that everyone – or at least the folks I have engaged with in my lifetime – do.  (1) We consume in order to prove our own worth: buying a new suit, spending money (however much we should or not) at the same stores and eating spots as our peers, working into our lifestyle the same beauty habits (masculine or feminine) as our peers – and (2) we consume in order to drown our own stresses from consciousness.

It is this latter habit of ours that I am most concerned with, though if I were being honest, I believe the former is innately subsumed in this as well.

What my coping strategy for the moments where my mental health is deteriorating: I go to the library and get a few books on whatever subject pleases me, I get quickly melting ice cream and walk with it to the beach as slowly as my mind will allow, I sit in the grass and write and dream.  This is now.

Before, it looked something more like: buy pie, eat pie (all of it, at least once a week); binge watch some terrible, sex-heavy series on Netflix; drink wine and martinis (not excessively, but just enough to begin warranting concern).

Even now, however, the desire to consume in order to distract, rather than slowing down my life and finding the root of mind mind’s dysfunction, is near second-nature to obey.  It takes a conscious effort on my part – a clap of the hands, a stomping of the feet, a self-directed jabbing of the finger – before I will relent and allow my mind to delve into its own depths.

What is in that, I wonder?  What is there in my experience that makes me pile on top of my sorrow a liberal spritzing of ethanol, donuts, Reggaton at my favorite club, ASMR food YouTube videos, and several helpings of content from spirituality and conspiracy theory blogs?

It is easy to consume.  In this society, it is constructed as a moral obligation to consume.  It is the pivot point for the new angels and demons: those who consume and labor enough to pay back the government for the privilege of bread and un-poisoned water (for the lucky, it seems) are the reference point we desire for the upstanding citizen; for the ones with invisible and visible disability alike, for those who rebuke labor exploitation to the point of wandering instead of working, for those who stay home and “tend their flock” rather than those of corporations, there is enmity.  How dare they deviate from the norm that lines “our (certainly not my)” pockets with gold and green!

Certainly they are the reason for my depression, for my inability to find work, for the pain of the one who was assaulted in the back alley (although, she was wearing pants that showed her ankles…/s).  How dare anyone, man or dog, consume bread without “earning it?”  What is earning?

I have been, technically, unemployed since mid-February, as a result of my legally, “medically and psychologically” mandated, strike from my doctoral program at UCLA.  My self-removal from that program took a weight off of my shoulders so immense I may as well have been named Atlas without my knowledge.  But of course, in our world, vacuums are terrifying: it wasn’t enough that I could liberate myself from one burden, other more dispersed weights were needed to present a counterbalance.

Basically, I needed money, or at least more of it.  The future was indeterminate, and I – thus – became the living embodiment of a fear most swallow down into the darkness of their stomachs.  This was a status I was fine with, but unfortunately as Sartre said, hell is other people (L’enfer c’est les autres).

The push to be constantly overworked as a sign of good faith for future “goodies” (read: credit good enough to rent a shitty apartment in Los Angeles, eating, and otherwise not dying immediately) was a stress that presented itself the day I lifted a stress away from me that may have destroyed me near completely.

It didn’t matter.  People constantly unloaded their own employment-based fears on me: how will you live? aren’t you afraid? why couldn’t your fear tether you to your own pain like mine did?

And eventually myself worth plummeted, and the stress that I had thrown off was finally counterbalanced by my own shame and self-depreciation.  I fell again into depression and my mind was consumed with questions of money, the lack of it, and what I would tell people who I normally went out with for lunch or drinks when I came but asked only for water and crackers?

Consuming is a public good, and a social requisite.  The one who begins her isolation from her friends is the one who orders a salad while others planned a three-course meal.  The one who hasn’t bought new clothes in a decade, and indeed feels a kind of shame in spending money on them.  The one who presents herself as exceptional or under-performing relative to the station of her friends.

Perhaps this is all in my mind – and that assumption wouldn’t be without merit – that the questions in people’s eyes turn from “How was your day?” to “Do you need help?” in the fraction of a second that one turns away from the frowning server and back to one’s companions.  It is the switch that I abhor the most, the one that many pretend is invisible until the one who has committed such a shallow sin has spoken it into being.

But I’m rambling again.  Still, here is tangible proof that I can refer myself back to whenever I do what I did yesterday: saw a sweet potato pie, bought a sweet potato pie, finished sweet potato pie before the day was out, lamented lack of pie afterward.

I looked into myself, saw a dissonance and addressed it, in my own way. I tried.  At least now I know where the stress is projected and can know the pie is meant to be enjoyed, not projected upon.  Life is a process of consumption and expulsion that I can’t escape.  But at least I can know where the lever is to turn off the flow of stress.  I can enjoy life without being overthrown by it.  I can eat without regret, in the silence of peace.  I can eat.

And really, it was a bomb ass pie.

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