Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Part Two (the People)

 

Hallo, hallo, and happy Monday. Or just normal Monday. Dave says, “Melancholy Monday,” but we don’t really want to entertain anything Dave says. He’ll start to think he’s people. Welcome to part two of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. We’re past the science dump and onto the human side of these disorders. Three volunteers participated in an interview, the questions of which were essentially the same in order to get a scope of how differently these disorders affect individuals.

From the top, I want to give a huge thank you to the participants—whose names I will be changing for privacy purposes.

 

Internal Struggles

The first task I asked of my participants was to try to describe what their depressive and anxiety episodes felt like and whether they differed from day to day. The participants included one male (based in Alabama), and two females (one based in California, and one in Florida). So, going forward, the participants will be called Alabama, California, and Florida. It’s nice when I don’t have to be creative and make up actual names.

Both Alabama and Florida suffer from depression and anxiety. If you remember from the previous post, anxiety and depression tend to show up together, first one, then the other. The symptoms of these disorders also overlap quite a bit. While California suffers from anxiety, her chances of battling depression in the next few years are statistically higher than average.

So, what does depression and anxiety feel like, day to day, for our participants?

Alabama: The depression feels like you’re all alone, no one cares, and you’d be better off not being here. The anxiety makes me feel like I can’t breathe, like I’m going to cave in on myself. I don’t want to be around anyone. It’s different day to day. Some days I don’t want to leave the house and others I’m just fine and seem normal to everyone, but inside I’m screaming.

Florida: My anxiety feels like someone is sucking the life out of me. Having anxiety and anxiety attacks are very scary. Recently I had three very bad attacks where I thought I was having a heart attack and needed to go to the hospital. I ate tums, drank cold water, laid down, and focused on my breathing. It lasted roughly 15 minutes, then the next one came on and same thing happened. I had to take my prescribed medication and eventually fell asleep and slept for several hours. I was okay after that.

My depression is a feeling of just being in a funk and not wanting to do anything or go anywhere. After my dad passed in December 2017, I became really depressed and was diagnosed with severe depression. If I was talking to someone, I would just burst into tears for no reason. I would sleep a lot and didn’t want to take a shower—it didn’t even cross my mind until my husband asked me if I took one that day. The depression and anxiety differ from day to day. Some days/weeks I do not leave my house, I don’t talk to anyone (I used to be a social butterfly and talk to a lot of people, now I don’t). I am withdrawn from life. I don’t sleep well and can fall asleep anywhere from 11 pm to 3 am. At night my mind races and I can’t get it to slow down (even with meds) enough to relax and fall asleep.

California: Anxiety has different types of feelings or levels. Some days it’s no big deal. When I’m dealing with a lot of stress at work, with the kids, etc., it’s harder to sleep. I find my mind can’t stop thinking about whatever the problem is. Sometimes, even if nothing is going wrong, I have anxiety about what could potentially go wrong.

Insomnia and losing the will to do anything are common symptoms of depression and anxiety. These two symptoms feed a cycle that exacerbates depressive episodes especially. You can see this is cases of insomniacs suffering depressive episodes, though they might not be clinically depressed. In the most basic of terms: Lack of sleep can fuck you up. The lack of will to do the things you normally love is crippling. At a certain point, it turns into a lack of will to do anything and the less you do, the worse the depressive episode can become.

Florida: Depression is every day, really. It is just learning to focus on you and say, “Today is going to be a good day,” and accomplish one task. Just doing one task a day helps me a lot and I end up doing more sometimes.

 

External Struggles

Individuals suffering from depression and anxiety aren’t just battling internally. Getting medical help, getting understanding, the pressure of trying to hide the illness is sometimes brutal. I asked our participants when they first realized something was wrong, when they sought help, and what frustrations they encountered while seeking treatment.

Alabama: I was about 12 [when I realized something was wrong]. I was 15 when I started receiving help. Then I stopped, thinking I’d be fine. It wasn’t until ’09 that I received the proper help I really needed. It was a slow, tedious process to find out what I would fit best [in terms of medication]. The first med was Lexapro. It is evil. I became meaner and angrier and gained a shit-ton of weight on it. I was then put on Wellbutrin, and it has been the best thing for me.

California: I want to say in my early 20s I noticed an issue with [anxiety]. Shortly after having kids. I still haven’t sought professional help. I’ve just realized in the past year that I need to do so. I plan to next week. Since I haven’t been “clinically diagnosed,” I’ve self-medicated for years without even knowing. I always drink before bed so that my mind doesn’t keep me awake. I’ve smoked pot before, but all it does is make me paranoid, which makes the anxiety worse.

Florida: I initially had my first bout with depression when I was 16, after my grandmother committed suicide. I lost weight, was tired all the time, slept a lot, cried a lot. We were out of town for a week and all I did was cry and yell to “go home.” The next week I didn’t go to school because I was physically sick. The next time it happened I was in my early 20s and I just felt low and disconnected. I went back to the doctor right away and went back on meds. I have been on/off throughout my life. This stint has been the longest, since I had my back surgery in July 2014. I really don’t know what happened, but I just don’t feel like the same person after the surgery.

The frustrations of being diagnosed are always being asked, “Do you want to end your life? Do you want to hurt yourself or other(s)?” In my opinion, I wouldn’t be seeking help if I was suicidal. I have already been through it, and I know the devastation it causes for a family/others left behind. The thought has never crossed my mind—I never wanted my parents to have to have the hurt of losing a child.

Throughout the process of getting diagnosed and then finding the right medication, individuals have to struggle through fighting certain perceptions of depression and anxiety. This added external pressure sometimes keeps sufferers from seeking help in the first place. Sometimes that turns out okay … And other times, not so much. Suicide is often associated with depression and there are plenty of clinical studies to back that up, but it’s different for every individual. For some individuals, suicide is never a conscious thought—it’s a snap decision (and I hesitate to really even call it a decision). For other individuals, it’s just not an option. And, for some individuals, it’s a plague of a thought. Regardless, it’s not comfortable when you seek help and the first question is, “Are you suicidal?” It is a question that needs to be asked, but it’s also a stigma associated with depression.

 

Clearing up Misconceptions

Friends and family can be some of the biggest tools in an individual’s arsenal while going through depressive or anxious episodes. Tools … in the toolbox. Weapons in the arsenal. Mixing metaphors again. The point is, it’s very helpful when the people you surround yourself with understand what depression is, what anxiety is, and are able to be supportive. I asked our participants how their friends and families treated them and what the biggest hurdle is when dealing with these disorders

Alabama: My family treated me like I was angry all the time. Well, I was. Friends are more understanding—they know why and what has conspired in my life to cause it to be worse as I’ve gotten older. I have a few friends that can tell when a really bad episode will take place. My biggest hurdle dealing with these [disorders] are people not understanding why I feel the way I do. It’s like, “You can get over it and be fine.” Okay, that’s not the case. People call you crazy or a nut case—which may be true, but they don’t know what causes it.

Florida: My mom suffers from both depression and anxiety also, my sister has been diagnosed with depression since my dad became ill, my dad was on depression and anxiety meds, my grandfather is on depression meds since my dad has passed. It is hereditary on both sides of my family, unfortunately. My husband has suffered from both also, so he is understanding. [My biggest hurdle is] trying to overcome it, trying to have a “normal” life again. I don’t like taking pills and having to keep track of when I need more and of doctor appointments. I just want things to be okay again. I hate being like this. It makes my brain run slower, and I can’t think of the answers to questions as quickly. Especially when someone asks what I want to do–I don’t really want to do anything. I isolate myself, so I don’t have to be forced into a situation where I have to respond because it’s exhausting. Also eating maybe 1.5 meals a day, having no appetite. Trying to smile or laugh daily. I can’t remember the last time I laughed, seriously. My depression has gotten a lot worse since I lost my dad, too.

California: [Friends and family] treat me normal, I guess. I talk to my mom about it more than anyone and she sympathizes more than anyone. I think she has the same issue. [My biggest hurdle] is trying not to think something is wrong. Every time things are going right, I get scared because it’s too good.

Well, it’s about time to wrap this up, folks. The final question I asked our participants is what they want people to understand about depression and anxiety. I think it’s a fitting place to leave off, since it offers a neatly-packaged take-away to the series. You’re welcome.

Alabama: I want people to understand that we do suffer from the illness and have no control over it except with medication. This isn’t something that can be turned on and off like a light switch. Those who have loved ones that do suffer, try to be understanding—we don’t mean to be harsh or reclusive or angry. It’s the chemical imbalance we were born with, or perhaps a traumatic experience. Whatever the case, educate yourselves on our behalf so you’ll get a better understanding of why we act the way we do.

Florida: It is a real illness, it is not fake. Anyone who suffers with depression and/or anxiety didn’t ask for either one of these illnesses. It can be debilitating for some people and consume their life. I would like them to answer these questions:

  1. Do you enjoy getting up and going to a job every day and socializing with people?
  2. Do you like making money? Could you survive on $500-1,200 a month?
  3. Do you like going to the doctor and being reminded to get medications and when to take them?
  4. Do you enjoy going anywhere and not having a breakdown? Being able to breathe and not gasping for air, or not crying at the drop of a hat?
  5. Do you like to be reminded to shower daily, to accomplish one task a day?

 

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So… It’s nap-time, now, right?

 

 

 

 

Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Part One (the Science)

 

Hallo, darlings. I feel like we had so much fun in our previous discussion on depression that we should do it again! My last post came from a personal place and was definitely one-sided. Well, I’ve decided we need to split the difference between the science behind depression and speaking with sufferers. And not just depression, but anxiety disorders as well. Mood and anxiety disorders have numerous overlapping symptoms and often having one will lead to eventually suffering from the other.

I mentioned last time that depression isn’t an emotion—it’s a state being. So now, I’ll back that up with the—drumroll, please, Dave—science around depression and anxiety. As with any kind of neuroscience, nothing it completely concrete here. Every day we are learning more about the brain. Having said that, the clinical studies included in this post reflect the most in-depth researched and medically accepted causes for depression and anxiety.

 

Serotonergic and Noradrenergic Systems

The prevailing science behind depression and anxiety disorders centers around serotonin and norepinephrine dysfunction. When you first get on an antidepressant, chances are it’s an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), which is usually prescribed before MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) or atypical antidepressants. Depending on who you talk to, SSRIs—though having the least side effects—are probably the least viable option long term. In an overview in Depression and Anxiety, Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., states: “There has been increasing evidence […] that antidepressants that inhibit both norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake (SNRI) are more effective in severe and refractory depression than those that inhibit uptake of a single monoamine neurotransmitter. In addition, patients with major depression treated with dual reuptake inhibitors may achieve remission more frequently than those treated with single monoamine reuptake inhibitors.” Conversely, depressive episodes for patients on SSRIs often hit harder. In the event you think you have depression and are about to look for treatment, be ready for a whirlwind of ups and downs before you get the right meds.

Of course, there’s more to it than just serotonin and norepinephrine dysfunction. In Role of Serotonergic and Noradrenergic Systems in the Pathophysiology of Depression and Anxiety Disorders, Nemeroff and Kerry J. Ressler explain: “There is abundant evidence for abnormalities of the norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5HT) neurotransmitter systems in depression and anxiety disorders. […] The underlying causes of these disorders, however, are less likely to be found within the NE and 5HT systems, per se. Rather their dysfunction is likely due to their role in modulating, and being modulated by, other neurobiologic systems that together mediate the symptoms of affective illness.”

It’s important not to think of depression and anxiety as something you can through pills at and be done with. These illnesses are more complicated than that and their origins are not singular. Continues Nemeroff and Ressler: “Disrupted cortical regulation may mediate impaired concentration and memory, together with uncontrollable worry. Hypothalamic abnormalities likely contribute to altered appetite, libido, and autonomic symptoms. Thalamic and brainstem dysregulation contributes to altered sleep and arousal states. Finally, abnormal modulation of cortical-hippocampal-amygdala pathways may contribute to chronically hypersensitive stress and fear responses, possibly mediating features of anxiety, anhedonia, aggression, and affective dyscontrol.” When dealing with depression and anxiety, it is important to rule out symptoms that are caused be a secondary problem.

 

It’s in Your Genes … And Environment

I’m assuming we all know the nature vs nurture argument, especially pertaining to mental illnesses. And, as with most cases to which this argument can be applied, the likelihood of suffering depression or anxiety are both attributed to nature and nurture. Nemeroff and Elizabeth B. Binder, M.D., Ph.D, explain: “Susceptibility to depressive or anxiety disorders is now well established to be due to the combined effect of genes and the environment, with heritability estimates for these disorders ranging from about 30% to 40%. The CRF system, being highly responsive to the environment, has been posited to serve as a key interface between environmental stressors and the development of depression.”

Research based on Hopelessness Theory and Beck’s Theory further back up this claim. The team behind Cognitive Vulnerability-Stress Theories of Depression: Examining Affective Specificity in the Prediction of Depression Versus Anxiety in Three Prospective Studies posits that: “According to the cognitive vulnerability-stress component of HT, a depressogenic cognitive style is hypothesized to interact with negative life events to contribute to increases in depressive symptoms. In HT cognitive vulnerability is conceptualized as a tendency to make negative inferences about the cause […] consequences, and meaning for one’s self-concept, of a negative life event. Similarly, BT posits a vulnerability-stress component in which dysfunctional attitudes are hypothesized to interact with negative events to contribute to elevations of depressive symptoms. In BT, cognitive vulnerability is conceptualized as depressive self-schemas containing dysfunctional attitudes, such as one’s worth derived from being perfect or needing approval from others.”

For non-sufferers, it is important to realize that depression and anxiety are not normal emotional responses. They are abnormal, and out of sufferer’s control. Saying something like, “Relax,” or, “You’re overreacting,” to someone who suffers from depression or anxiety only serves to alienate the sufferer more.

 

Complex Illnesses

I wanted part one of this series to really show that depression and anxiety are not personality defects, not cries for attention, not someone being overly dramatic or sensitive. Although, sure, there are some of those types of people scattered about. Depression and anxiety stem from the very genetic level of the sufferer. And from there, it’s a cycle. You’re genetically predisposed to negativity and so you find it everywhere, which doubles down on depressive or anxious episodes.

Part two of this post is going to balance out the science with the human aspect. We’ll be getting a peek into the lives and struggles of individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, or both.

Be on the lookout for part two next Monday!

 

 

Depression Is …

 

Hallo, darlings. I’ll skip with the “long time, no talk” jabber and dive right into it. Today, Dave and I are bringing you a super fun topic: depression. And since Dave is sitting in the corner chewing Barbie heads like a feral man-child, I guess I’ll be doing most of the work. This post is coming a bit late following the media blowout of the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade—don’t start with the conspiracy theories, Dave—but this post isn’t exactly about suicide (most of which are not media worthy). Since depression can lead to suicide, the two topics can often go hand in hand.

Anyway, since this is already getting pretty dark, what say we get started!

Right, so, depression means different things to different people. Those who have never experienced it typically don’t understand it. Those who have experienced it … well, they don’t typically understand it either. I’m going to avoid the neurochemical and/or physiological aspects of depression, because that’s not really what I want to focus on. Also, because I’m not only referring to clinical or diagnosed depression. What I want to focus on is being depressed, the state of depression as it affects an individual.

 

Understanding the Cause

To understand the cause of depression, you have to be able to understand that in some cases … there is no cause. Sure, the whole chemical imbalance or specific brain region trauma/abnormality blah blah blah—yes, those are identifiable causes for depression. But, in some cases, depression just is. It’s there. You can follow the thread of it back to the onset only to find a wall. So, then, why are you depressed?

In my opinion, that is one of the most harmful questions for someone going through an episode of depression. It’s an ignorant question asked from—likely—good intentions. And yet, if the sufferer has no identifiable cause, it’s a question that’s impossible to answer. Trying to answer it can make the sufferer feel inadequate, even stupid. It’s such a simple question, after all. One the sufferer likely asks his/herself throughout the depressive episode.

 

Understanding Depression

Depression and sadness are often used interchangeably. While sadness can become depression, the two are not the same (shocking revelation). Sadness is an emotion; depression is the pushing down of your entire personality. “I feel sad,” vs “I am depressed.” It seems an insignificant differentiation on the page (or screen). It’s not (another shocking revelation).

Now, I’m just your average country bumpkin (sarcasm), so explaining how depression feels is hard. In fact, the only way I can think to explain depression is through a more creative route. So, give me a second to dust the cult off my creative writing shoes (shameless plug for upcoming book Commonality Sanctum) and let’s see if I can’t wow you with some poetic prose. But not actually poetry because, you know, I have a reputation.

 

Depression is …

Depression is despondency, but it’s more than that and it’s less than that.
Depression is the lack of fire, the lack of fight.
Depression is the loss of will, the loss of passion.
Depression is the total blackout that blinds you to who you were before the episode and who you want to be again.
Depression is laughing for hours with your best friend and then, in the five seconds of conversational stillness, getting lost.
Depression is wanting to go home … but you’re already there.
Depression is staring at the wall, because what else is there?
Depression is the stone on the stone on the stone on the stone on your chest, weighing you down.
Depression is not caring, because caring requires a spark of something that isn’t there, not right now.
Depression is waiting around for the episode to end, but you aren’t holding out much hope.
Depression is, “I don’t want to do this.”
Depression is, “I can’t do this.”
Depression is, “Why even try?”

 

Like I said at the top, super fun content today. If you know someone who is suffering from depression, reach out to them. If you are a sufferer having an episode, just keep in mind there are numerous crisis hotlines. And remember, the storm will pass, but you have to be alive to appreciate it.

 


 

Review of Stellar Fusion, by E.L. Strife

 

The first in E.L. Strife’s Infinite Spark series, Stellar Fusion follows an elite military-like team on its mission to save Earth from the Suanoa, who have already subjugated numerous alien species. The team’s leaders, Sergeants Nakio Atana and Jameson Bennett, must overcome their differences and work together if they have any hope of keeping their team alive. The stakes are raised even higher when they discover the slaves being held on the Suanoan vessel. While among these slaves, Atana begins to piece together mysteries from her past.

Stellar Fusion is an action-packed space opera—the stakes are high, the relationships are intense, and the heroes are over-the-top. Strife creates a world that is fun to explore and inhabits it with unique species and interesting characters. The concepts explored are simultaneously familiar and unique. It’s a book that makes you want to know what’s going to happen next.

As much as I enjoyed Stellar Fusion, I do have a few issues to address. At times, the prose could get a bit confusing—unclear descriptions, curious word choices, and lots of POV hopping. While the story itself is good enough to overcome these issues, there were times it detracted from the overall readability.

All in all, Stellar Fusion is a fun, fast-paced space romp that’s definitely worth a read. I look forward to the next installment.

 

 

Italian Inspired Cabbage Rolls

 

 

Cabbage Rolls
Servings: 4
Per serving:
370 calories
27g (46%) Protein
13g (22%) Fat
19g (32%) Carbs

 

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Ground Beef (the leaner the better)
  • 2 ½ cups Broccoli Florets
  • ¼ tsp Minced Garlic
  • ½ medium Purple Onion (diced)
  • 12 oz Pasta Sauce (of your choice)
  • Olive Oil
  • 8 large Cabbage Leaves
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan Cheese (optional)

 

Hallo again, little kitchen dwellers. I chose today’s recipe because… well, honestly, I’d already written most of it out for a friend and so it was the quickest and Mondays are my busiest days, so here we are. These cabbage rolls are easy and pretty quick to make. Also, quite good. And, you know, healthy. But let’s cut the chatting and get right to it. Are you ready?

  1. Grab a skillet and set in on a burner, then turn that burner to about medium to medium-high. When the skillet gets all nice and toasty, throw your ground beef on it. While the beef is cooking, go ahead and blanch the broccoli florets. After the great blanching, chop the florets up. You want pretty small chunks, so maybe dice instead of chop. Once the meat is about 95 percent done, drain it, throw it back into the skillet, and add the broccoli.
  2. If your purple onion isn’t already diced, then make that shit happen. Grab a new skillet and heat about ½ tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic. Sweat the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add your onions (which at this point should definitely be diced). Sauté onions for about three minutes, then add them to your beef and broccoli mix.
  3. Pour pasta sauce into the mix until heated throughout. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Side note: If you want to fancy it up a bit because the sauce you chose just isn’t giving you the flavor profile you want, then feel free to add your preferred herbs/spices.)

  1. Cool, so, set your meat mix aside and grab a large pot so you can start boiling some water. You should have eight large cabbage leaves that have been thoroughly rinsed so you don’t die of dirt and pesticides and such. Boil each leaf for about 3 minutes (or until leaf is soft). Depending on the size of your pot, you can boil several leaves at once. This is your show, do it how you want. As long as it’s right. I mean, I’m going to assume you know enough to make educated decisions. Are your leaves done yet? Jesus, finally!
  2. Add about ½ cup of the meat mixture to each cabbage leaf. You want them full, but not exploding. As you roll the cabbage leaf, remember to tuck in the ends. If you don’t know how to roll a cabbage leaf, check out this 20 second video.
  3. Since technically these are already fully cooked and ready to eat, the finishing cook is really for texture. Mine, pictured above, were finished off in my air fryer, which gave a crispy texture to the rolls. You can also finish them for about five minutes on medium-high in a skillet with a little olive oil (suggested). Or, you could finish them in the oven on 325˚ for about seven minutes. Totally your call here.
  4. Top cabbage rolls with parmesan cheese (optional).

 

 

 


 

 

 

Review of Return to Wonderland, by Tanya Lisle

 

Tanya Lisle’s Return to Wonderland catches up to Alice years after she first fell down the rabbit hole. She has since endured a barrage of doctors and learned to put her adventures in Wonderland behind her. She’s finally free to attend the prestigious Lucena Academy to get a fresh start—and make friends her own age.

Unfortunately, a purple-haired boy appears at the school, revealing himself to be the Cheshire Cat. He speaks in riddles about how Wonderland is a much different place than when Alice last visited and tempts her with a visit back.

Lisle managed to modernize the world in and around Wonderland in a way that doesn’t detract from the story. It feels like a legitimate expansion of the original and, though a children’s book, is not boring or cumbersome for the adult side of the reader equation. It’s a very quick and easy read. The quality of prose is engaging, and the book has great pacing overall.

Alice is an easy character to cheer on. Her moments of doubt and her bout of nerves when meeting new people are easily relatable during the target age-range for this book, and her strength makes her all the more endearing. The supporting cast, Adrianna and her brothers specifically, feel like parallels of characters in Wonderland—so they are at once new and familiar. The Cheshire Cat himself seems to represent the changes in Wonderland. As the story progresses, Cat’s actions mirror in the normal world the changes occurring in Wonderland.

There are, of course, familiar faces in Wonderland, as well. As Alice goes through Wonderland she begins to see the changes of which the Cheshire Cat hinted. Although she is more prepared for Wonderland this time around, the changes present fresh new problems for Alice to navigate.

 

 

 

 

Fajita Power Bowl

 

Fajita Power Bowl
Servings: 4
Per serving:
575 calories
43g (40%) Protein
32g (30%) Fat
33g (30%) Carbs

 

Bowl Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Riced Cauliflower
  • 1 cup Cooked Black Beans (you can use fresh, canned, or dry)
  • 1 large Red Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 large Orange Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 large Yellow Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium Purple Onion (thinly sliced)
  • 4 tbsp Sour Cream
  • 1 tsp Minced Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 packet Fajita Seasoning
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

 

Guacamole Ingredients:

  • 4 oz Avocado (after peeling and pitting)
  • ½ medium Purple Onion
  • ½ medium Tomato
  • 1 medium Jalapeno
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 tbsp Cilantro
  • ¼ tsp Dill Weed
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

 

Alright you beautiful cooks … no, chefs! Let us begin. First up: The guacamole! Now, I make my guac using a food processor, but if you don’t have one (we’re equal access here at the blog that apparently discusses everything) I would suggest a blender. If you’re using a blender, I’d advice blending the onion, tomato, and jalapeno first, then adding the avocado, cilantro, and lemon juice. Otherwise, here were go!

  1. Add avocado (peeled and pitted), purple onion, tomato, jalapeno, lemon juice, and cilantro to your food processor (see above fore blender suggestions) and pulse until smooth. (Side note: For creamier consistency, add more avocado. If you’re looking for more of a salsa-guac, add more tomato.)
  2. After your guac is at your preferred consistency, mix in salt and pepper (to taste), dill weed, and oregano.
    (Side note: I like to add a pinch of Hellfire Salt for a smoky flavor.)
  3. Got your guac all to taste now? Good! Go put that shit in the fridge!

 

Now, lets move on to the bowl components. First of all, you’re going to need to rinse out your food processor so you can rice some cauliflower. Unless you bought that shit already riced at the store, in which case, I mean … that’s cool. Why put any effort into it? Just kidding, I know you’re busy. Anyway, let’s get moving!

  1. Get your steak. Rinse it, pat it as dry as you can, then rub a little salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a skillet to high. Once the skillet is hot, add in your olive oil. Once the oil is nice and hot, place your steak into the pan. Let it hang out for about two minutes on each side, then remove it. You don’t want it completely cooked yet, just a nice sear on the outside. You’ll be finishing the cook on it later. For now, just set it aside on a plate and forget about it. Don’t slice it. Just leave it, whole, on a plate somewhere, and forget it.
  2. The pan you just seared the steak in? Keep it on that hot burner, and don’t rinse it out yet. You’re about to do some sautéing in it, so if you think you need to add a little more olive oil, go for it. First, add your garlic to the pan and sweat for about 20 seconds. Add onion slices. Sauté onion for about 1 minute. Add red, yellow, and orange bell pepper slices and sauté for another minute, constantly stirring. Turn the burner to down to medium, stir in salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about five minutes, then turn the heat to low and forgetaboutit.
  3. Get another pan. Heat that mofo up on medium-high. Add a smidge of olive oil to the hot pan. Once oil is hot, add cauliflower. Stir constantly. Cook for about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Go back to your peppers and onions. Take them out of the pan and set them on a plate. Slice your steak (can be as thin or thick as you want), then add it to the pan from which you just removed the peppers and onion. You should not need to add any oil at this point. Turn heat to medium-high. Add ½ cup of water to the pan and half of the packet of fajita seasoning. Stir thoroughly. Once water is boiling, reduce heat to low. Cook until water is absorbed. This should give you medium-rare steak slices. Once done, remove from pan.
  5. So, your cauliflower and your cooked black beans. You want to mix these together. I’d suggest using the steak and peppers pan if it’s large enough. On medium-low heat, mix cauliflower and black beans. In a bowl, mix ¼ cup water with the remaining fajita seasoning until the seasoning is completely dissolved. Pour seasoning into cauliflower/black bean mix. Cook until seasoning is completely absorbed. Remove from heat.
  6. Now the fun part! Assembling the bowl! Divide cauliflower/black bean mix between four bowls (or containers, if you want to save a serving or three as leftover meals). Add the pepper/onion mix, again dividing four even portions. Next, add the beef slices. Plop on your sour cream, then top it off with your homemade guac. Voila! You’re done!
  7. Eaaaaat iiiiiiit.

 

 

 


 

The Subject That’s Making a Killing

 

Serial killers! We’re interested! Why? I’ve been meaning to write this post for a little over a week now, but I’m a writer so … procrastination is part of the job. Luckily, I’ve got Dave here to keep me on track. Sometimes. Well, when he feels like being a productive member of society.

So, serial killers—a topic that never goes out of style. In fact, we tend to make celebrities of serial killers. You want proof? Look no further than the numerous podcasts, books, documentaries, and movies that discuss the lives and works of these murderous bastards.

In his 2017 article, Why Americans are so Fascinated with Serial Killers, David Schmid says:

Without wanting to minimize the difference between celebrating fictional and real-life serial killers, the impact of Silence [of the Lambs] demonstrates vividly the American obsession with serial murder, which by the 1990s had developed to a point where the serial killer had become a dominant presence in our popular culture, a figure that inspired not only fear and disgust, but also a mixture of fascination and even a twisted kind of identification.

Consider the fact that Charlize Theron played the homely Aileen Wuornos, that Jeremy Renner played Jeffrey Dahmer, that former teen heartthrob Zac Efron is set to play Ted Bundy. That attractive A-listers are playing such loathsome characters is a Hollywood gimmick to capitalize on people’s interest in serial killers. People tend to like—and are better able to sympathize with—attractive people. On top of that, we’re juxtaposing the character onto the actor and if we like the actor, that only makes us more receptive to sympathizing with the character—you know, the serial killer.

 

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Oh, God, Kermit! Why!

 

But, what sparks that initial interest? Why do we all recognize the names John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and H. H. Holmes, the noms de guerre Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, and Boston Strangler? Why are these boogeymen so prominent in our culture?

 

Media Influence

Society’s interest in serial killers is not recent and, in fact, started well before the term ‘serial killer’ was coined. “When the crimes of H.H. Holmes […] came to light in 1894, it seemed that America had its very own version of Jack the Ripper. The fact that Hearst newspapers paid Holmes $10,000, an extraordinary sum at the time, for his confession testifies to the immense public interest in the case,” says Schmid. The mystery serial killers present forces us to ask our favorite question: Why?

This is a question media platforms were only too happy to answer. In his 2017 article, Our Curious Fascination with Serial Killers, Scott A. Bonn, Ph.D. explains, “Highly stylized and pervasive news media coverage of real-life serial killers and their horrible deeds transforms them into […] celebrity monsters.” Add in the fact that fictional serial killers are now just as pervasive in pop culture as actual serial killers and things start getting, dare I say, catawampus. “Exaggerated depictions of serial killers in the mass media have blurred fact and fiction. As a result, real-life killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and fictional ones like Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter have become interchangeable in the minds of many people.”

This mingling of fact and fiction helps us distance ourselves from feeling threatened, as we can now place this larger-than-life monster in an entertainment context and forget that there’s around a dozen distinctly not-Hannibal-Lecter-type serial killers operating in the US at any given time. Much like going through a haunted house during Halloween, we can watch movies about serial killers and enjoy the thrill of fear, but ultimately that fear is removable, it’s distanced. It’s only entertainment.

 

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Are you not entertained?

 

Prevailing Theories

One theory regarding our interest in serial killers is that the topic tickles our survival instinct. That instinct, when it comes to serial killers, revolves around that pesky question again: Why? According to Bonn:

The average person who has been socialized to respect life, and who also possesses the normal range of emotions such as love, shame, pity, and remorse cannot comprehend the workings of a pathological mind that would compel one to abduct, torture, rape, kill, engage in necrophilia, and occasionally even eat another human being. The incomprehensibility of such actions drives society to understand why serial killers do incredibly horrible things to other people who often are complete strangers. As such, serial killers appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in all of us—that is, survival. The total disregard for life and the suffering of others exhibited by serial killers shocks our sense of humanity and makes us question our safety and security.

 

Another theory is that, well, we’re kind of morbid. In Andrew Hankinson’s article, This is Why We are All so Obsessed with Serial Killers, criminologist Elizabeth Yardley explains: “It’s that train wreck, car crash sort of thing, where you don’t want to look but you do anyway. It’s something we call ‘wound culture’. We’re drawn to the trauma and suffering of other people and there’s an awful lot of that around serial murder.”

The idea that we want to see something gruesome—as long as it involves someone else—can be repugnant, but the evidence is there to support it. There are myriad videos of beheadings, automobile accidents, extreme sports accidents, and websites like Documenting Reality. Just Googling a serial killer will pull up images of crime scenes and victims. Media, survival instinct, and wound culture may play roles in our interest in serial killers, but my own theory is that our interest strikes a little closer to home.

 

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Wait, empathy can cause physical pain? No thanks, I’m out.

 

There but for a Head Injury go I

It’s estimated that about one percent of the general population suffers from psychopathy and four percent from sociopathy. Sounds small, but that’s over seven million people and over 300 million respectively, worldwide. That’s a lot of goddamn crazy. Not all psychopaths and sociopaths are violent and—specifically in the case of sociopaths—violent tendencies have a lot to do with upbringing. I don’t want to dwell on the nature vs nurture aspect—because Jesus Christ that would last a while—but many serial killers have the common thread of shitty, sad, abusive, and in some cases downright horrific childhoods. Another common thread? Head wounds.

An abusive childhood and a head injury … Things that could happen to anyone. We tend to see these commonalities and dismiss the neurochemical or neurophysiological aspects of psychopathy and sociopathy. According to Bonn, “The serial killer represents a lurid, complex and compelling presence on the social landscape. There appears to be an innate human tendency to identify or empathize with all things—whether good or bad—including serial killers.” The more similar we are to an individual—whether real or perceived similarities—the easier empathy becomes.

This empathy leads us to question our own capabilities. Professor Alexandra Warwick states: “Being interested in why other people do things is always being interested in what we’re like ourselves. The projection onto others and the consideration of what that is, it’s absolutely about what we’re like. Are we capable of those things?” There’s something about tapping those dark thoughts that’s enticing. Everyone gets angry at one point or another and many people have reached the point of rage. For the most part, we shake it off and move on. But what if we didn’t? What if we couldn’t?

Our interest in serial killers is a mirror of our interest in our own darkness. “Could I murder someone?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Are my own morals keeping me from this behavior or is it the law?” “Could whatever drove that other person to murder also drive me to murder?” They are questions you don’t want ask out loud, and yet it’s a curiosity that bubbles up. “Arguably, the serial killer identity is a mirror reflection of society itself,” says Bonn. “As such, there are things the rest of us can learn about ourselves from the serial killer if we look beyond the superficial ‘monster’ image depicted in the mass media.”

Since the question “why?” isn’t likely to be answered anytime soon, society’s interest in serial killers probably won’t be on the wane for quite a while.

 

 


 

Review of The Scavenger, by J. L. Willow

The Scavenger is a YA coming-of-age story that revolves around four primary characters: Catherine, Samuel, Frank, and Nathan. After a series of teens OD, Nathan, an NYPD investigator, works to find the culprit dealing a new, deadly strain of marijuana. Meanwhile, Frank, a long-time drug dealer, already has his next client in his sights. He uses Samuel to peddle the drugs to high schoolers. Their next target? None other than Catherine.

I had two key issues with The Scavenger: structure and believability. The Scavenger follows four different first-person POVs and a random third-person POV of two of the characters it’s already following. The narrative never stays with any one character long enough for the reader to connect. The short chapters mean we’re switching characters too quickly. If the book had an additional 100 pages or so, this might be less of an issue for me. Each character had an intriguing history that was mostly hinted at instead of really fleshed out.

The book’s plot, the catalyst of ODs leading to the climax, is believable and a good subject to work with. However, believability stops with the drug causing the ODs: marijuana. While marijuana can cause dependency in some young individuals, it’s not widely considered addictive. Also, according to the DEA, there has never been a marijuana overdose. Technically, the marijuana in The Scavenger is a new, high-THC strain laced with cocaine. Ingesting a high content of THC does have side effects, including increased anxiety and paranoia, lethargy, hunger, cotton mouth, sleepiness—generally the effects of smoking a blunt. Of course, lacing marijuana with cocaine does make a dangerous combination because it stresses the heart, but it’s questionable as to if that would increase addiction. A healthy teen would have to smoke a lot (a lot) of cocaine-laced marijuana to OD.
(Side note: Cocaine isn’t invisible, so the buyer would be able to see that the weed was laced)

Having said that, if you suspend your belief (or have never really dealt with drugs) then this won’t be a problem. It wasn’t enough of a problem for me to put the book down and, as I said, it’s a good premise overall.

The Scavenger is easy to read. It’s well written and the relationship between Catherine and Samuel screams “teenage hormone-driven relationship.” There are great moments throughout the book and if this is J.L. Willow’s first novel, then I can only see her work getting better and better.

 

The Shill and the Purblind (renewed)

 

Hallo, my succulent little morsels. I’ve previously posted bits from The Shill and the Purblind, which is the first in my fantasy series. My goal with this story is to present mental health issues in the context of a fantasy novel. Because of that, I’ve decided to take it from a 3rd person narrative to 1st. So, here are the first two revamped chapters (as drafts).

Enjoy!

 


 

Chapter 1—Einar the Ungelīc

I sit back on my haunches, elbows resting on my knees, and take in the view. The top of the scorched-black hill offers a good vantage point into valley of the dead. Heat rises in soft waves from open bodies, turning the cold air foggy. Even the rain takes on a red glint as it crosses the warm front.

“And for what was this done?” I ask.

“Blood feud,” the androgynous wind hisses behind me. “Wergild unpaid.”

I stand and stretch. “What has this to do with me?”

The air pressure changes sharply and I shiver.

“There are others,” says the wind.

The air in front of me moves, mini-cyclones distorting the scene to show something new. The ice country. Ísigstān castle. Two figures.

“The king,” the wind whispers. “And the slave.”

Reluctantly, I watch the scene playing out before me. The old, haggard king, with white skin and whiter hair and coal-black eyes, so insecure he wears his crown in his own bedchamber. He squirms and thrashes atop a young, painfully thin woman. She stares out at nothing with dead eyes. Her muscles and joints all locked with the attempt not to move, not to push the elderly king away. Her silver-white hair spreads around her head like a fan, the ends dipped in black. A scar runs along her face, from cheek to cheek, right across the bridge of her nose.

I touch the ragged edge of one long ear, not even noticing the motion until the wind laughs from behind me. The bedroom scene fades as the valley of the dead reappears. I drop my hand to my side and cock my head. “Let the feud end here,” I say, motioning to the valley below.

“It will not,” hisses the wind. “It cannot.”

“Then find another. This is beneath me.”

More laughter at this. Laughter that starts at one shoulder and blows around to the other. I feel the wind become solid enough to touch my face with threatening fingers. Then nothing.

“Nothing is beneath you. Go to the slave. Take her to the eard-stapa wiga.”

I look over sharply, trying to pin the voice with my gaze. Useless movement. The wandering warrior. “You’d have me run in circles. For what? Kill them both and be done with this.”

No!” the wind picks up to a whistling scream with the word, then abruptly dies. The new quiet left in its place is unnerving. “The slave must kill the king. After, can the slave be killed.”

The muscles in my mid-back stiffen. I breath deep, commanding my body to relax. “Send another,” I say through clenched teeth. My lips peel back from my teeth, the upper right corner pushed into a snarl.

The wind screams, howls. It spins down the hill, picking up the dead and throwing them aside. I watch this tantrum. In the end I will do as I was bid. Without reason. I am never given a reason. But defiance is irresistible. Even considering the punishment to follow. So, I watch and smile and enjoy the whirlwind of corpses.

I will go to the slave.

I will take her to the eard-stapa wiga.

And once she kills the king, I will wash my hands of her.

 

Chapter 2—Idun Verdandi

My mother was a slave. The recitation comes as a form of habit more than conscious thought. My mother tried to hide me. She cared. She cared. She cared. My mother tried to steal me away. She cared. She cared. She tried. She died. She died because she cared. She cared. She cared. My father did not care. He died just the same. She tried. She tried. They died.

No one deprives the hēahcyning of his property. The high king is all. He is all. He is death. My nails bite into my palms. He is soon dead.

There is one truth I have known from the beginning: In the cold of Ísigstān, the only way to truly keep warm is through hate. Having been born a slave in Ísigstān kingdom, in the house of the Vetr Sun, living in the very same castle as the hēahcyning himself, I am nearly always warm.

I hug my knees to my chest and lean back against the ice-flecked stone wall of the chamber as the other slave girls sleep. I will not sleep. Not if I can help it. I fight the exhaustion washing over me.

To sleep is to give in to the night fevers.

I recite the story again, my warmest story. I brush my hair toward the front of my face to give myself some semblance of privacy from the sleeping slaves. I blink hard to squeeze out the welling tears. Don’t let them catch you if they wake. Don’t let them catch you.

I watch the silver-white strands that hang in front of my eyes. Dull, stringy. From shoulder to waist the hair is in worse shape. The black dye, a slave marker, dries the hair. Turns it brittle. The more valuable slaves—those more usable, treated like pets, treated like whores, and pranced around in front of nobility—can keep half the natural growth. It is no comfort.

Still, that mark of ownership is much less humiliating and much less permanent than the other—the brand inflicted on slaves in early childhood. The brand that runs from one cheek to the other, curving over the nasal bridge in a down-turned crescent.

Many of the slave children die from the brand. I was not granted such mercy.

I touch the smooth, raised skin of the brand before my hand falls heavily away. Tiredness eats at me. Sleep will soon take me no matter how hard I fight. Another choice made for me.

I grab the piece of cloth I ripped from my bedding and place it in my mouth. I let a corner piece of the cloth stay pressed between my lips so that, once I awake, I can yank out the rag before I choke. For nearly a month, I have slept this way. If my night screams ever wake the hēahcyning again, I’ll pay with my flesh.

Was I not already paying that price?

I fight to keep my eyes open. The wind kicks up outside. I feel the gusts come in through the small, high-set window. The window will close over with ice soon. Again I take stock of my warmest story.

I feel myself begin to drift. The skin on my arms starts to burn, handprint shapes glowing along my biceps.

Every night, this is how it begins.

*****

Sweat breaks from every pore. My skin is too cold, but inside … Inside I am on fire. Around the rag come whimpers that I can’t suppress. My chest burns and every muscle in my body is wound so tight I think I might burst. I shoot up from the straw-stuffed mattress. I scream. The rag muffles it. I try to close my eyes, but I can’t. It is here. I feel it. My stomach turns, trying to empty itself of something that’s not there. Out of the corner of my eye I see a tall, dark shape. I do not know what it is or what it wants. I have to move. My stomach clenches painfully. I have to move.

I leave the bed, nonsense syllables spilling around the rag, and clumsily put distance between myself and the shape.

I have to get out. I have to get away.

I stumble my way to the door, feet dragging. My heart is beating too fast, too hard, and the pain of it radiates through tightened muscles.

Not here. It should be here.

The door is gone.

I walk along the wall, trying to feel through frozen-numb fingertips. Beads of sweat run in lines down my neck. I am too hot, too cold.

I need to get out.

There is no door.

I circle the room, each time getting closer to the shape, each sweep showing me a little more. The shape is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Humanoid with large white eyes and red running under its skin. What is it waiting for?

I can promise you … A voice. Its voice. It whispers around me, through me. Sleep.

The word is a command I sense more than understand. The tension in my muscles evaporates so quickly that I find myself on the floor before I realize it.

Then there is nothing.

*****

Pain spikes like lightning through my shoulder, jolting me awake. I cough, gagging as I pull the rag from my mouth. I am … on the floor. The edge of the door slams against my shoulder again, and this time I cry out and scramble backward on my hands and feet, the cold, rough stone scratching against my palms and calloused feet.

Why am I on the floor?

“What are you doing down there, stupid girl?” Grettna, the keeper. Her head pokes around the door. Her words are at odds with the warm tone of her voice.

“I … I am not sure,” I answer. I look around and see that all the girls are starting to rise from slumber. One by one, they all looked at me.

“Come on then,” Grettna says, holding her hand out to me. I take it and let her lift me to my feet. “The rest of you, sod off.”

The air comes to life with the rustling of scratchy wool blankets and the girls quickly shuffle out of bed and file out of the room, heading next door to the wash stall. The last girl hesitates. Vera, short and thick of frame, if not of actual meat, looks down at me. Her silvery eyebrows slope together, concern flashing in her black eyes before her short, black hair sweeps over them. I nod, but Vera hesitates still.

“Get yourself gone now, girl,” Grettna says.

“I am fine, Vera. Go on,” I say, and it is a good lie. A slave must learn to be a good liar to survive here. Vera finally nods and leaves me and Grettna alone.

Grettna sets down the basket of clean blankets and sits down, her legs out to the side of her. Her hair is wrapped up on top of her head, bound by rope and mostly covered by a towel. A few black tendrils poke through. She takes my hand, dragging me back down to the floor. I go readily, not trusting my legs to hold me any longer.

“It’s happened again, hasn’t it?” Grettna asks softly, gently, her whole demeanor changed  now that none are here to see. She does not wait for an answer. “What did you see?”

“I don’t know,” I say. I try to remember, shake my head. The night escapes me. I remember feeling the burning on my arms, but nothing after. “I … I don’t remember anything.”

Forgetting might be a blessing.

“Is there not something that can be done?” I ask. “There must be something the Red Folk can do.”

Grettna cups her hands around mine and squeezes. She smiles sadly, pitifully.

“Slaves aren’t to be bothered with by the Red Folk, ye ken. We’re just not worth it, love,” Grettna says.

“I am exhausted, ealdmóder,” I say, taking my hands from hers. “What good is a slave who cannot work? And what happens if I wake the hēahcyning again? How long do I have to live if I can’t control myself?” I hold up the cloth, still damp with spittle. “This will not work forever.”

“I kennit well, girl” she says grabbing my arm and squeezing. “Don’t think for a second I haven’t thought about yer fate. ‘Course I have.” She drops my arm and runs her hand across her brow. “No, the Red Folk will be of no use to you. But someone else might.”

“Truth, ealdmóder?” I ask. I try to keep my voice level.

“Aye, girl, truth. Another slave, though he wasn’t born to it.”

“How can he help if he is only a slave?”

“He was an apprentice to the Red Folk before …” she said, waving a hand around the room. Before his fall. “If we can get the two of ye some time and some privacy, then maybe he can help.”

“Maybe …”

I look down at my hands as my fingers work the skin around my nails to open small wounds that sting. Grettna takes my hands in hers again, stilling my agitated movements.

“Don’t you lose hope yet, love. We’ll find a way.”

“Yes, ealdmóder,” I say, extracting my hands so I can embrace her. “We will find a way.”

 

 

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