Part 2: Mental Health and Self Care
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
— Mary Oliver
The slow fumbling of the pandemic, charged with a rushed, blurred sense of time has caused an upsurge in mental health complications. Our reality this year has an array of disruptive elements in its becoming — the act of isolation, diminished social contact, and the generally decreased connectedness to the world, while it continues to complexify and rage, has been a catalyst for the undesirable, uncomfortable, and dipping mental health symptoms across communities. In our journeys of better knowing our lives, material things have been found to have a deep psychological impact during recovery processes. Objects often create contexts; these contexts are what allow people to behave, shift, and proceed in ways of self-preservation and self-care. In certain ways, objects contribute to our moments of finding control and meaning while we wade through the uncertainty of the future, unbeknownst to us.
The loosening of our grip on time and linearity has been central to much of the discussion surrounding the pandemic (to know more, explore these perception tests covering the illusion of time and watch this for visuals and musings on the pandemic and temporality). These moments have produced artistic knowledge, and more so, knowledge about human resistance and coping. Anthropologist Felix Ringel explains our encounters with time during the pandemic as a deprivation of ‘temporal agency’ — which is our ability to manage, framework, and maneuver our experience of time. In this theme, we see that objects contribute to our ways of experiencing and meeting this deprivation. They seem to be potent elements in the ways we ‘trick time’, as Roxana Moroşanu and Felix Ringel have termed it. They observe that humans employ strategies to trick time, in an effort to speed up, slow down, bend, manipulate, and turn over the temporality of their lives.
We have actively embraced objects in our temporal strategising; often punctuating materials in the process of grounding ourselves in our daily lives. Here, acts of self-care find unobtrusive objects becoming crucial to their endurance — a timely skin-care ritual, the tender attention to a growing plant, hanging a beloved trinket on the ear. Judith Attfield describes objects to mediate a relationship between the human worlds of the physical and the mental. Perhaps it is here that we see semblances of intimate interconnectedness with ourselves, through our attentive proximity to our materials. Objects remind us that time is passing, that uncertainty can be tangible, grounded, and dealt with. Despite the seeming confinement of being ‘stuck’ in the present crisis, fraying hems of t-shirts, dust collecting on our paperbacks, shrinking tubes of lotion in the winter, reminds us that time continues to propel forward its hours and along with it, our lives. Material rituals and attachments hone our desires for meaning, control, and stability. Still, they have even become poignant reminders of the impermanence of difficult days.
I’ve spent the last couple of months recovering from an extremely debilitating depressive episode, I have very little memory of it but one of the most peaceful times of the day during that time was during the sunset when my suncatcher would cast these beautiful reflections in the corner of my room.
Our house was in a south-facing building, so the sunsets during winter would always direct sunlight into my room. It helped me feel more grounded in the present and gave me something to look forward to the next day during a time when I felt like I had no control over anything. The affinity I feel to this object is incredibly strong, it filled my heart to see something so small create such impactful visual stimuli, even if it was just for a fleeting moment.
I live in a different house now and whenever I feel like I’m not in control of my headspace, I look at my suncatcher for reminiscence and comfort.
as the world got thrown into chaos, very little of my routine life remained. I was stuck in a lurch, neither a student anymore nor a graduate, with nothing of substance to do with my day except sit by the window and stare at the life (or lack thereof) around me.
I’ve always been passionate about skincare, mesmerized even as a child by how those tiny tubes and tubs held the key to transformation. I found solace in them when I could see nothing but doomsday approaching. my days were punctuated by my short routine, once in the morning, once at night. cleanse, treat, moisturize, repeat. with a whole lot of nothing going on otherwise, it gave me a chance to ground myself twice a day.
it gave me something to look forward to. my day began and ended at my dresser drawer for many months, and those few tiny tubes and tubs kept me sane.
The more that I think about this living and delve into the becoming and unbecoming of my anxieties during the pandemic — ultimately resulting in my propagating a plant; its name-family-morphology-microscopy still unknown to me. In a way parallelising the uncertainty and obscurity about the future possibilities which seemed and still seem like a major whirling blur.
To be succinct and concise, I severed a plant and propagated it in a thrift glass bottle emptied of white wine in clearwater. This might seem like a first world problem and to be very honest it is in a multitude of manners. One – to have the privilege of having a room of one’s own as Virginia Woolf would describe; Two – to have access to clean-clearwater; Three – to be able to get away with severing a plant without being prosecuted or endangering my life; among others which are not available to safeguard the autonomy and safety of a chunk of the general population in this nation. But, on deeper observation the threads of anxieties, uncertainty, fear of death is what ties us; in different frequencies and gradients — owing to the privileged positionalities that we hold.
So in my uneven privileged cocoon burdened with an anxious brain my act of resistance, resilience, self-love was by propagation. Finding representation and symbiotic mirroring in the growth and birth of a new leaf-the death of a stalk- the yellowing and decaying of another leaf. This act of resistance — in fact so intrinsically cyclical and paired with my circadian of anxieties; it evolved unconsciously into an act of remembrance, acknowledgement and practice of radical self-love. The simple act of watering-adjusting the water-cleaning the spilt water-gauging the alkalinity of the water acting as a reminder to cleanse, evolve, breathe and regurgitate my thoughts. Making me learn this art of detachment and self-sustenance — peering the sunlight, feeling the warmth in the cold of the pandemic, making a home within a home for myself.
Thus, in my small act of selfish-kindness; this propagation has reminded me consistently — of my existence and the worthfulness of my being.
I wrote this when all I did was lay on my pillow for a week straight, the pillow cover stayed unchanged and so did my intrusive thoughts. This poem is more or less a conversation between myself and my intrusive thoughts as heard by my pillow cover.
i weave my tapestry mimicking the vivacious patterns of your brain on this pillow cover as you sit sipping your tea in your favourite fine china cup as a rendition of someone’s requiem plays but i don’t bother to know whose just like i don’t bother to know your name I’m curious as to what will become of me you sit in front of me with an open head,, a meticulously cracked skull, a full view of your open brain a swarm of bees buzzing around the peach sap flowing in between every interstice of your rusticated brain and it seems to be covered with fungi
your fungi peached brain is who you are and is what you are & im concerned but your dismissal is almost certainly contributing to your knack for denial, denial of your tainted conscience unlike that of your mother’s
i’m watching the sap bleed out your brain, flow past your eyes and settle on your cheeks i watch your mouth, agape,
“what is it you’ve been drinking your tongue is turning purple or is it black”
“-i squeezed the tar out your brain last night, im savouring your predisposition to destruction, immortalising it on my tongue if not my blood”
i watch you stick a needle in your popped vein, like sticking a needle in a centipede, my hands weaving the tapestry on their own accord
“you’re so young too young for erosive skin so young too young for battery bones so young too young to have clogged centipedes instead of frail capillaries and moulds of veins”
you’re dissecting yourself along with the chest space where your heart rests
“-i want you to see what i’ve grown i planted the seed of righteousness like the old shepherd’s i’ve quenched my hearts thirst ive reared an animal within like an old shepherds cane it’s a slave of the open gate
like i’m a slave of your consensus yes yes i feed off your leftovers i walk in your footprints i drool on your pillow covers see what i’ve grown i’ve grown it for you”
you light the roman candles that cast our shadows like spiders on my walls of turpentine and i watch these spiders crawl down to the floor they creep up my legs they’re up my arms the spiders are in my head they’re in your head cover your brain the spiders crawled up your brain
you’re dissecting yourself along with the chest space of where your heart rests and you present your early Christmas gift to me
“-shh don’t touch it with your bare hands they’ve been burned too many times already”
you wrap it up in my fathers ugly grotesque embroidered silk ‘kerchief right after you’ve sewn your skull back on and you take my seat completing the tapestry that mimics the vivacious patterns of my brain on this pillow cover