manic pixie dream world
on the anti-recovery zeitgeist, the power of hope, and the myth of the radical sad girl, with friend & girl genius eliza mclamb
this is an edited transcript of a conversation with writer, artist, and Binchtopia cohost Eliza McLamb. the full 80 min. conversation, which includes digressions on online micro-fame, creating and consuming “sad-girl” art, and dating men who think you’re zooey deschanel, is available in podcast form to paid subscribers.
Rayne: Eliza, do you consider yourself mentally ill?
Eliza: Rayne, at one time, I would have said I am extremely mentally ill. I no longer say that. And there's been an interesting journey for me. I actually have talked about this a little bit on the podcast, but I was kind of excited to get a chance to talk about it more fully with you. I grew up with my mother, who’s bipolar I and schizoaffective. So that means that she has like extended bouts of mania and depression and also psychosis, and it was undiagnosed for many, many years. My childhood was very much just… being extremely confused by volatile behavior. My parents got divorced when I was around 10, and I basically became her primary caretaker at that point. There was a period of a few months where she was hospitalized three or four times in two months, so that was very confusing and a lot for me to deal with. And, you know, I took on this role that in hindsight I… I shouldn't have been asked to take on, but that's how the cookie crumbled. So of course, through all of that, I am dealing with what many would have called depression and really severe anxiety, because I'm constantly being put in this situation where everything is so out of my control, and there's nothing I can do as a kid, and also, nobody else is doing anything. So my understanding of mental illness then was as something that is really bad and really scary. And I was constantly witnessing how many systems and how many people don't know what to do with it. In this new type of trauma therapy that I'm in, I am really moving away from the biochemical model for myself when it comes to mental illness, and adopting a framework that that fits for me a little a little better. That's my mental wellness tour.
Rayne: I think we have some parallels. My mother was also very mentally ill, but also very, very physically ill for my whole life. When I was young she got very sick and has been sick for my whole life. I really was like — I felt like a primary caretaker. And also, like a primary sort of mental health caretaker, being an eldest daughter in a family that was going through so much. So it was very similar. I mean, my childhood was marked by a lot of grief, my mom was extremely depressed, my dad was also extremely depressed, that led to a lot of, you know, sort of, like physical decay in our household – it was sort of an aesthetically untenable sort of situation. Now, therapists really do a lot of talking about how mental illness makes it harder to do basic care tasks, like shower or do the dishes, but that wasn’t really a normalized thing at all when I was growing up. It was a very unstable kind of overall environment. And I had a really similar thing where I was put in therapy really, really, really young. And it was definitely very much a damage control thing. And, you know, this is something I want to get get into later, but I feel really lucky, actually, that I never went on meds. I have OCD and that has for my whole life manifested itself as a really acute fear of drugs, in a weird way. So even though I was diagnosed, even though I was prescribed pills, many times I never took them because I was really, like, pathologically terrified of drugs in any form. I don’t think I even told my parents when my psychiatrist prescribed me meds. But something that I always thought was really interesting is that when I was 16, I was manically depressed and anxious all the time, I couldn't leave my room — like it was really bad. And I would go into therapy, and I would be like, “My mom is dying. My grandparents died, my pets just died, I’ve missed like two months of school. I feel like the world is collapsing around me.” And they would be like, “You should try Prozac!” You know? Like, there were all of these very material things happening in my life. Like I was experiencing grief, I was experiencing very material destabilization. And the response really was not to talk that much about any of the things that were happening, but to be like “maybe you should take these pills, so you can be smart again.”
Eliza: Right? So you can function like a normal person, like get back to it!
Rayne: Yeah, no, seriously. It made me think a lot about how mental illnesses is pathologized. And the reasons for which it’s institutionally pathologized. And yeah, I also became really disillusioned with the title of “mentally ill”. Because I felt like it was really thrust upon me as this reaction to material things being fucked up in my life that nobody wanted to try to fix. When did you decide to stop saying you were mentally ill?
Eliza: Well, I think first of all, I share the same experience of never being on psychiatric meds and being very grateful for that. Really, I came to call myself mentally ill because of the internet. Because it's like, oh, here are people that are experiencing a very similar thing to me, and they all have this label, so here's how I can join this community and I can have this label. That's the only purpose that labelling ever served for me, because I never had a diagnosis and I was never on medication. It was truly just a category I could put myself in to make sense of things. I began to understand myself as a depressed person and as an anxious person, and that was comforting in a way because it's like, here's an explanation for all of these existential feelings… but eventually it became sort of a prison. Like, oh, this is who I am as a person, I will always feel this way, I will always have these tendencies and these inclinations.
The therapy that I'm in now is called Internal Family Systems Therapy. It's a form of psychoanalytic therapy developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, and it's proven to be the most effective type of therapy for specifically schizophrenic people. Essentially, it operates on the idea that there is a self who is eternal and ever present, who sits at at the apex of everything. And then your whole self is made up of all these different parts. And all the parts have different roles, and they have different burdens. For example, I have a pattern that many, you know, armchair Instagram therapists would call “avoidant attachment”. But what happens to me is, I start to feel strongly for somebody, and a protective part of me comes out and says, Let's run away from that. And what's underneath that, what it's protecting, is an exiled part that has an experience of abandonment. When I really leaned into it for the first time I was like, holy fucking shit. This is crazy. Because the thing that was so revolutionary for me to learn from this modality is that every part of me has a positive intention. Even when I was in high school and starving myself and hurting myself and running away from relationships, that was a part of me that was trying to protect me. So the whole thing is about building a relationship between the self energy and the other parts. That's really what got me out of my my framework of oh, I'm a depressed person. I'm an anxious person. And it doesn't mean that those experiences aren't real and aren't horrible and debilitating, and totally take you over. It's just that that is a part of you. That is a response from part of you that wants to help, and that you can better communicate with to teach it a better strategy. It's so helpful for me to see it in that in that model, because it's so validating, and it's so hopeful.
Rayne: Yeah, I mean, that sounds really amazing. I think, actually, one of the criticisms I've had with how I've engaged with diagnosis myself is that I often feel like people see diagnosis as a way to exorcise all the undesireable parts of yourself from the self you want to present. Like, you'll see people be like, “Well, I didn’t ghost you, my depression ghosted you.” Or, “it wasn't me that was doing this, it was my BPD, or it was my my OCD.” I did this constantly, and I still do — I used these labels to separate myself from myself. To hold the parts of myself that I didn’t like at an arm’s length. And in the way that we deal with mental illness on the internet and in young Gen Z communities, I feel like there's this tension between this denial of personal responsibility — where people are sort of like, “I can't be held accountable for anything. I'm mentally ill.” — with also the fact that most people have a fundamental misunderstanding of how these illnesses realistically externalize themselves. Other people have no understanding of how to accommodate the realities of mental illness. Frequently you'll see people be like, “yeah, like I support people with mental health issues,” but then have zero understanding — like it's almost been so neutered and so sterilized that there's this cultural disconnect from what the actual material impacts of those illnesses actually look like. And those are two negative and confusing extremes, because it’s like, either you’re being blamed for everything or you’re holding yourself accountable for nothing.
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Eliza: Everything gets collapsed into the umbrella of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar. Things like schizophrenia and anxiety should not be lumped in with each other most of the time. Especially when we look at who experiences it — especially in states like California that have patient dumping, which is where they literally take patients from mental hospitals and just dump them onto the street into homelessness. You look at a lot of the homeless population, it's a lot of bipolar people, a lot of schizophrenic people. And those aren't the illnesses that Kendall Jenner is going to come out and be like, “I've been struggling with this.” But yeah, I don’t want it to be like, “this thing is taking over me and I have no responsibility or control over it.” Not only because that's like irresponsible to the people in your life, but because that robs you of any agency you could have. But also like, yeah, people don't understand a lot of mental illnesses, and they don't know how to support people who are dealing with them.
Rayne: The sort of answer that I found within myself was, yes, these decisions that I'm making that are hurting my family and my friends and the people around me, these are responses that I have learned because of traumatic experiences, these are responses that this thing I call depression is telling me to do. And it is so upsetting that a lot of people can just, you know, think this is just the person that I am. I think that's why my diagnosis was meaningful for me: it was this really easy way to say, This is not the person that I am, I promise, I swear there's something good in me. But I realized that the solution, for me, was to not see depression as like this like external monster that was controlling my life completely separate from myself, that I couldn’t control or have responsibility over, but like you said — this is a thing that, right now, is a part of me. I can have a relationship with it, I can talk with it and figure out why it's doing the things that it's doing. And when it comes to doing things that hurt others, I think that the key for me was understanding that diagnosis is a tool for empathy, not absolvement.
And this framework helps with interacting with being hurt, as well. I’m sure many people share this experience — a lot of people have hurt me, a lot of men have hurt me, and I’ve been aware that it’s often because those are their own mental illness responses. And it’s often made me give them a lot more leeway than I should have, because I’d be like, “this isn’t them, it’s their mental illness, it’s not fair for me to be upset”. But this understanding of the mental illness model can give me empathy for why they’re acting this way — it lets me know that they’re not evil, they can work on it and be redeemable, they can get better — but that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for their actions. And for me, it’s the same thing. I used to really use mental illness as this shield to avoid anyone blaming me for anything. But that’s dehumanizing, in its own way.
Eliza: I think another consequence of diagnostic categories is we have this whole language of trauma which is largely used as an explainer for why behavior is a certain way. And also we have this culture of academia surrounding psychology that makes us think that the ultimate solution to mental illness is just to figure out why. The goal is just, why is this happening? And once we get there, it’s like, “nice, we figured it out.” That's why I thought I didn't need therapy for several years after I got to college. Because I was like, “I know why all these things are happening.” Like, yeah, I run away from these relationships because I felt abandoned by my parents. Got it, that’s that! That was a part of me that likes to explain things and have a nice little explanation and wrap it up in a box. But what’s wrapped up in the box is a screaming, crying inner child. And she’s saying, like, “okay, you understand why this is happening. But I'm still here.” And it actually removes you from having to do the work of feeling it and allowing those things to be present within you. The diagnostic model makes us think that just understanding and explaining is enough, when it's not. Because if we know anything, especially when we talk about white leftists like ourselves online, I can have my podcast and explain away everything I want and understand why everything happens and know that everything's fucked up. But if I'm not connecting with communities, if I'm not doing the work that I need to do, I might as well not. The point of it is not to explain, the point of it is to experience.
Rayne: That's always been something that I have really tried to make clear. I think on the internet there’s really this huge normalization of not getting better. Like a lot of the sort of culture around women talking about mental illness on the internet is sort of this like, kind of a cyclical, masturbatory, Sylvia Plath, “there's a clinical satisfaction in seeing how bad things can get” kind of thing. And that's always been something that that I have really actively resisted in myself, because I’ve definitely had this impulse to wallow in my own pain. But there's nothing interesting about that. There's nothing radical about that.
There’s this great article, There's No Moral Imperative To Be Miserable by James Grieg. And it talks about how in the 2010s, the sort of dominant mental health zeitgeist was saying that you could pick yourself up by your bootstraps and go outside and get to work. And you can fix yourself, because it's just a chemical imbalance in your brain. If you take the meds, and you capital-D Do The Work, you can get better. And that was very liberal, it was very capitalist, very individualist. And then there was kind of this large-scale criticism to that kind of said, well, that's not true, because a lot of these mental illnesses, these are a product of capitalism. These are a product of the material conditions of the world around us. And I was 100% part of the people pushing this idea, essentially, that trying to get better isn't going to work because my sadness is a result of my material conditions. And this article is the criticism to that criticism. He says, “There’s something insidious about this counter-trend: while technically truthful (yes, capitalism is driving us all mad), the focus on de-individualizing mental health and blaming systems can stop people from taking any measures at all to improve their lives. “It’s the system’s fault,” becomes, “there’s nothing I can do if I’m depressed because it’s the system.” This way of thinking can trap people in a kind of nihilism, whereby any action short of revolution is framed as hopeless… We have become stuck in a false dichotomy of either affording people too much agency (the idea you should pull yourselves up by the bootstraps and maybe start journaling) or far too little—capitulating to the idea that you are doomed to unhappiness based on your relation to capital and that there can be no respite from this on an individual level. When you’re depressed, rationalizing your way out of getting better is the last thing you should be doing.”
Eliza: We see this happen all the fucking time in history — the pendulum just swinging aggressively to the opposite. We’re talking about like dissociative feminism as the backlash to the girlboss feminism, and it’s like, yes — the girl boss takes her Prozac and shows up at 8am to do her little fake email job. And then the, like, dissociated fleabag girl is wallowing in a pile of her own piss, shit and vomit and taking a selfie.
Rayne: I literally remember six months ago making a video on Tiktok that ended up being very popular, which I feel a little bit bad about, where I was really critical of therapy. I talked about how therapy cannot change the fact that I don't make enough money, it can't change the fact that I have climate anxiety, it can't change the objective terribleness of the world around me. And, to be fair, this is true. Therapy, and the psychoanalytic industry as a whole, is often a tool of the state to sort of put a band-aid solution over these problems to get people back to work. But for a long time, I kind of used that knowledge as an excuse to not go to therapy and to not even try to get better in any respect at all. And then, shortly after I made that video, I went to therapy. And I felt so much better. Suddenly, I'm going outside, I'm being kind to the people around me. My life is better. My loved ones’ lives are better. And that’s not to say that therapy is going to work for everybody or even anything close to that, but it’s more about this acceptance of the possibility of getting better. A slightly unrelated thing to this, I think, is especially in leftist communities, it is often really treated as though there is a moral imperative to be miserable. Like people act like being angry and sad and miserable is a revolutionary act.
Eliza: Truly, and that framework is harmful and more places than one, especially when we talk about leftist spaces. This is very different from critiquing prominent leftist politicians or whatever, but it feels like anytime there's a little win, you know, like Amazon unionizing or something, there's not really a celebration for it. And, you know, obviously, we have to take the wins in stride and keep going. That's the whole thing. But I think there has to be a moment of, like, knowing that this was a really cool thing that has happened. If we don't create space for that to be celebrated and recognized as an objectively good thing, we just get into the circlejerk of — honestly, mostly relatively privileged white leftists — just being like, everything sucks. Everything will always suck.
Rayne: There’s almost this idea that taking any moment of joy in the small steps that we're admittedly making is like, this liberal anti-revolution response — that we just have to be dragging ourselves outside across the finish line with anger and spite and self-hatred. But the thing is, misery is anti-revolution. I think sometimes people get into their heads that being sad or angry is a cogent political response in and of itself. But this is ultimately a symptom of the isolation and the individualization of capitalism, you know — to think that something occurring entirely inside your head is politically useful or even political at all. I mean, yeah, I mean, I do think that bettering yourself and getting happier is a politically useful response. But that's because that often ends up not being an individual act. It ends up bettering the lives of everybody around you. And you'll see these tweets that are sort of like subtly back-patting about how pessimistic they are, jacking themselves off because they’re nihilistic and black-pilled and they get it. Because pessimism has become this substitute for awareness. But it's not revolutionary to be miserable. It's radical to, like, go outside and talk to people. To talk to your neighbors, to organize, to make dinner for the people in your lives. Like, it sounds kind of ridiculous, but those are subtly revolutionary acts, and misery and isolation is the antithesis to all of that. And that's not to say you're a bad person for being miserable, either; anger and discontent have the capacity to be combined with hope and community in a way that can be extremely revolutionary. I mean, that’s basically the basis of any powerful revolutionary movement. But the idea that the state does anything except actively benefit from your disillusionment and nihilism is a fantasy.
Eliza: Yeah, it's just that idea that hope and optimism — that admittedly is so much easier for people like us to have than pretty much any other group in the world — is what makes us happier. That’s what makes us better people, as long as we don't sacrifice it for the awareness. But it's like, both can exist at the same time. Like, the classic conundrum of the internet is not believing that two things can be true. Everything is fucked up. And I benefit from so many things. And it is my literal duty to work against all of these systems. And yet every single day, I think things can be better. And I think I can be happier. And I think my neighbors can be happier. When you have that optimism for yourself, you have that optimism for the world — and it doesn't have to careen into terrible manifesting bullshit. It can just be true that assuming that you love this community and that this community will love you and support you … truly creates the community that will love and support you.
Rayne: I remember on TikTok or something I was talking about how I was trying really hard to get better and how I had accepted that, you know, there was nothing virtuous about being miserable, and that I had to try to get better for me and the people around me. And someone commented on my post, and they said: “For intelligent, aware people, telling them to be happy is like telling them to close their eyes. We have a moral imperative to keep our eyes open.” And I was like, good God. Fuck you. Like, fuck you up the ass. I was like, actually, I have a moral imperative to not kill myself, dumbfuck. Like, I have a family.
Eliza: Hahaha, what the fuck am I gonna do for society if I'm six feet under? Like, I'm not gonna be organizing shit. If you want to get so fucking logistical with it and take all of the soul out of my human experience.
Rayne: Totally, and this reminds me tangentially of this other thing that we want to talk about, which is dissociative feminism, as outlined in Emmaline Cline’s article The Smartest Women I Know Are All Dissociating.
Eliza: Sure. I mean, we talked about this on the pod a few weeks ago, kind of in the same vein as bimbo feminism, which doesn't seem like it'll be in the same vein, but it's this similar idea of overly aestheticizing your own politics. To me, dissociative feminism is just like, okay, I've reached a point where everything is so bad and so miserable that, to me, checking out is actually a revolutionary act. And me being hot and sad is politically meaningful. And I’m wearing smudged eyeliner to brunch. But honestly, in the same vein as bimbo feminism, only a skinny white girl can wear smudged eyeliner to go about her day and dress like shit and still be seen as hot and cool and not a mess, like 99% of the population would be.
Rayne: In the article, Cline says, “I’ve noticed a lot of brilliant women giving up on shouting and complaining, and instead taking on a darkly comic, deadpan tone when writing about their feminism. This approach presents overtly horrifying facts about uniquely feminine struggles and delivers them flatly, dripping with sarcasm. Maybe it’s a curdling of the hyperoptimistic, #girlboss, “Run the World (Girls)” feminism of the aughts, characterized by an uneasy combination of plaintive begging and swaggering confidence that gender equality was just past the horizon line. But Sex and the City and Cosmo tutorials on how to come didn’t make much of a crack in the bell jar. So instead we now seem to be interiorizing our existential aches and angst, smirking knowingly at them, and numbing ourselves to maintain our nonchalance. Let’s call it dissociation feminism.” I wrote an essay touching on some of this stuff called standing on the shoulders of complex female characters, where a lot of it was about the fact that I found that it was really difficult for me to talk about or even experience my mental illnesses, even internally, without romanticizing or aestheticizing them. Like, I would be living outside my body, watching myself cry, noticing that my mascara was streaking just right.
Eliza: Yes. Oh, for sure. I mean, the amount of times have cried to music alone, just like having that as a soundtrack. Like, sitting in my car, Halocene by Bon Iver going in the background. And it's like a crisp December morning, and like, my mascara is streaking. And like, yes, I'm miserable. But I'm also outside of my body thinking like, wow.
Rayne: Yeah, I know, like, wow, someone would be so in love with me right now, if I were functional enough to maintain a relationship.
Eliza: One of the most devastating feelings of my entire life is being in a relationship with a man, and, you know, 2, 4, 6, 8 months into it, having the rug pulled out from under me and realizing that I'm just an idea to him; that he doesn't conceptualize me as a person. That is a horrifying, I think uniquely feminine feeling. Having that proclivity to sort of market yourself, you know? I take on different roles in different relationships, and it’s always this dance of trying to figure out who men want me to be. Like, am I going to be the cool, edgy, no feelings girl? Is that what you want from me? Or do you want me to be the nurturing mommy artist type? We fall into it every single day, because we are constantly rewarded for being a shell of who we really are to satisfy someone who was never interested in really seeing or capturing our full humanity.
Rayne: I feel like I was really cognizantly aware at a really young age of the fact that I was serving as my own product and my own marketing team. It was like a full-time job when you're like 15 or 16. I don't even know how I was doing it all that young. But I was really, you know, very deftly crafting this facade of a woman who was like, crazy, but sexy, and unstable, but just in a way that made your life exciting. And it felt like, and this is something I said in the essay, being able to define myself that way felt freeing for a while. Like it felt like, you know, I don't have to turn myself into a girlboss, I don't have to hide my mental illness completely. But then, eventually, it starts to feel like a trap. Because you do realize that you are flattening yourself, you're turning yourself into this one-dimensional version of yourself. And I remember having a point in my life where I realized I had bought into my own fetishization. I had convinced myself that I could be crazy in a way that was cute, but eventually, you're just crazy.
Eliza: Yeah, no, that's so true. And then the men who go around saying, like, “I love fucked up girls, I love girls with a dark past.” That's never what they fucking want. They don't want you to like call them at three in the morning, snot coming out of your nose, being like, ‘I think there are bugs in my blood.’ They want you to say some like fucking John Green Looking for Alaska bullshit about the ephemeral nature of life and then, like, smoke a cigarette.
Rayne: They're not down like they think they are.
Eliza: Do you find that you sought out male partners that you felt that you had to take care of, in some sense? Or did you seek out male partners who were utterly despondent or whatever so you could be like, their bright shining light and reason to live?
Rayne: Hahaha. Well, like we said, I have a problem with thinking that diagnosing something is the same as fixing it. I love to diagnose myself. So when I figured this one out, I felt like a star! For most of my life, I’ve deliberately sought out men who display the traits that I hate the most about myself — like, who have shared mental illnesses with me or who are similarly destructive. And I’ve realized it was really because I felt like if I could love them, it was proof that someone could love me. And, in a way – if I want to be gentler with myself – to sort of take care of myself by proxy, by taking care of someone I saw the worst parts of myself in.
Eliza: That's a good one. That's a hitter. That's a real hitter. Yeah, that's interesting. I feel like I almost went in like a masochistic direction, in which I would choose men who had no ability to think outside of themselves and meet another person's needs, so that I could prove once again to myself that no one could ever meet my needs in any way. It was secretly validating, like — Oh, I'm not crazy for feeling like I'm too much. I definitely think the pressure to be the sole light in someone’s world is a uniquely feminine thing as well. I know all sorts of people experience it, but truly, like, throughout all media, there’s obviously this structure of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She gives the best blow jobs and she makes the world a beautiful place. And I definitely was like in my Manic Pixie Dream Slut era for a really long time, in a way that provided me some comfortable distance from myself. Because I think that's the other thing that people don't realize about women in these situations, too, is that we know what the fuck we're doing. We are self-aware. And that's part of the gratification of it. It's like you're performing on Broadway, and the New York Times is giving you a rave review.
Rayne: Exactly! There were times when I would like I would hang out with a guy or I would be in a social setting. And I would get home and I would be like, excellent performance today! This cycle was like a big thing for me in high school. By the way, I feel like I have to mention this, that I'm in a really loving and perfect relationship right now. I’m really lucky. No relationship is perfect, but I feel really lucky that I found a person who I feel really does see me as a human.
Eliza: That's such a horrendous – like, “I’m lucky I found a person who sees me as a human being.” Oh, God. God, come save our queens!
Rayne: Hahaha, I would feel bad if I didn't mention that I am in love with a wonderful man. But I remember, I loved MPDG movies. I still do! But I mean, I remember especially when I was like, 16, 17, I would see these movies, and I think I was really attracted to the idea of being this light. Being this girl who could come into this man's life and just light it up. She's manic and she's quirky and she's weird and every second with her is exciting. And I totally played that part. Like I would take guys on weird adventures and we'd walk around the city all night. But the thing is, I was really used to seeing these movies where the only glimpses you get of these women are when they're performing for these men. You don’t see them when they’re alone. And it all seems really great when you're only seeing it through that lens, when you’re seeing her through his eyes. But then I realized that, like, those movies don't show when the woman gets home and is alone and is still manic and weird and crazy. It's less functional when there's no one there to want to have sex with you.
Eliza: Yeah, no, that's really true. And I think just so many people don't have a capacity to allow other people to be complicated. And that goes all the way back to our talk about like diagnosis and identification. And about people, especially on the internet, failing to see how two things can be true. Men often have this conveniently packaged idea of what a woman is, that is — and once again, I'm not giving any of these men slack or blaming women for this, but it is often reinforced by the woman herself because that’s what we’re taught to do. And so they're utterly unprepared to deal with any type of exhibition that sort of goes outside of what they think is appropriate.
Rayne: If I may get a little Freudian with it… that feeling has always reminded me of that really formative moment in a lot of mentally ill young women's lives when like your dad or your mom will be like, “What happened to my happy girl?”
Eliza: Yes. Oh, so true.
Rayne: I think that’s why it hurts so much. Like, it's almost this feeling of like, you're performing wrong. You were supposed to be this other person, and you realize that you're like, a broken machine, and you're not capable of performing the way you're supposed to.
Eliza: Yeah, and the ratings are tanking and audience is walking out, they’re throwing tomatoes. Totally. And it's like, yeah, it's horrible on both sides, because it's like, Okay, now this person doesn't see me as a person. Also, I contributed to that. Ouch. Like guilt, shame. And also, I'm not even doing the thing correctly that I was trying to do. It didn’t end up helping me.
Rayne: Exactly. And I mean, sort of tying this back to feminism and revolutionary political activity: I have seen a lot of women, for actually a pretty long time on the internet, really try to convince themselves and convince others that their sadness is almost a form of political revolution. Like, the artist Audrey Wollen, who pioneered Sad Girl Theory, was like doing interviews with like NYLON saying that being sad was the most radical thing a woman could do. There's a really, really excellent criticism of that whole dynamic called all alone in their white girl pain. And I read it, and I was thinking about my own my complacency in that, and I really realized that there just is absolutely nothing radical about being entirely self-involved. Sadness, this depressive solipsistic sadness, is often such a narcissistic thing. And the thing that Safy said in this essay is that all of these women in 2014 acted like they were on the vanguard of political activity for being depressed and white and pretty, but then when Black Lives Matter happened, where were they? When the protests were happening, all of these girls posted poems on their stories. They weren't the ones getting arrested. They weren't the ones fighting on the front lines.
Eliza: It's hard, too, because I don't think sadness is a meaningful political action. But I do think sensitivity and observation can be. And sensitive people are often the people that experience supreme sadness. We're talking about how quickly all these things can tumble into nihilism, but sensitivity is also what keeps us perceptive and caring and engaged and involved. And we can appreciate that people who are highly sensitive also have a proclivity to be immensely miserable in periods of their life. But the key is just knowing that that’s not the whole thing. That sadness is not the thing that should feel like a contribution to the world in and of itself. It's a subset of this larger, beautiful and connective thing. It’s so much better to expand into identifying as a sensitive person versus closing in on accepting that you are an incurably sad person.
Rayne: I do think there is something so fundamentally life changing, and, in many ways, revolutionary, about not dissociating. Like, about being fully in touch with your body and your mind and everything around you. There's this line from this P.E. Moscowitz article about medication where somebody says, “It’s like you’re in a car, and you have this ‘check engine’ light, because your car is about to fall apart, and someone comes up and is like, ‘I have this great solution.’ And they just turn off the light. And meanwhile your car is smoking and on fire.”
And that's a really great metaphor, I think. They're talking about being the experience of being prescribed SSRIs to mask more fundamental systemic issues, but I think it also really applies to dissociation in general. Like, I found in myself that my solution to having all these really difficult things happening around me, these disconnects in my body and in my life, was to just dissociate. To be like, well, This is sooo yass. This is so slay. And stick my tongue out and do a peace sign or whatever. And it was just like, I was turning off the check engine light, but all of that stuff was still gonna be there. And one day my car was gonna explode.
Eliza: And we also have to learn how to be open with people around you when that's happening. Because if you're surrounded by people who can't handle you saying that something is wrong or that you need support, you’re never going to get to a point where you can accept it in yourself. You need people who can say, “I can hold this for you.” Because you can't fix it yourself. You really can't. Especially if you have a problem with dissociating, you need to feel like there are people around you who can handle it. It doesn't mean like, you know, you’re finding people to plug up your holes. It's just someone literally holding space for you. I think you owe that to yourself to seek out, because it is more comfortable to seek out people who want to make you an idea — who want to flatten you into a caricature that you can play into. And then, your biggest fear is just fucking up the tap dance. It’s not about presenting a big, complicated human emotion that someone might not understand. And I think seeking out important relationships with people who you trust to be able to hold some of that is so important. We deserve it.