Cosmic Horror, Pandemics, and Allergies

A few days ago a YouTuber Brian David Gilbert posted a video called Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan ’97, which I’ve embedded below. This video has been sitting with me since it came out. In the video BDG plays a father teaching his son how to use an “expensive” camcorder, it feels like a fairly generic period video. However, when Jake, which given the perspective of the video is the viewer, rewinds or fast forwards Father changes facial hair. Some times his affect changes, but most of the time he does an excellent job maintaining the illusion of the same repeated video, as if Father has forgotten that he already taught Jake how to use the camcorder, by saying the same things. Similarly, Jake follows the exact same actions. Eventually, Father talks to Older Jake, the viewer, directly through the camcorder asking him to stop, that he’s gone. Then the figure appears. It’s more of a negative of a figure. It’s an unmoving void of where a figure should be. Given the context it’s safe to assume this is a stand in for whatever killed Father. Later the Father screams at what Jake can only assume to be a stuffed bunny. Father eventually walks out of the room and then out of the house, ending the video presumably to meet his fate.

That figure and the impotence of the Father has sat with me. Partially, the whole creepiness of it. Will I open a door and that figure be there? However, that’s not really why I’ve been thinking about it. There’s an air of inevitability with the piece. It’s happened and seems to be still happening. It’s repeated so perfectly that it fits with how our lives have been during the pandemic. Personally, it hits even closer for me, though. Given my allergies and that every single vaccine has reported allergic reactions. Some severe. It’s always reported, to me anyway, jauntily, that despite the reactions no one has died. Yet.

There’s a dread that creeps in. That figure, that silent absence screams at me. I know I will have a reaction. It’s inevitable. The only question is what will that reaction be like? Will it be like the last time I had ginger? Where my vision constricted within a minute of eating it. Where I started to pour sweat out my pores. Where I could barely talk as I groped for my Prednisone. Eventually going to the ER for shots of Epinephrine and Benadryl.

Would be the tamer almost constant reactions I have to perfumes and chemicals like the Shea Butter lotion my wife used the other day that gave me a slightly tightened throat and a bit of a cough when I smelled it. Or will it be the last time I had Tooth paste where I had a tightened throat, swollen lips, and numbness in my tongue?

Regardless, that void of a figure will be there. I have to step out side to greet that emptiness that unknown. I know the pandemic, that lurking horror hiding behind the stuffed bunny just out of sight, will likely kill me if I get COVID-19. I’ve struggled the past year and a half to express how I’ve been feeling with these allergies during the pandemic. So, despite the horror and fear of my impotence of that empty figure, I must confront it. But like the father, I can do it on my own terms.

Grief, Depression, and Loneliness

When I was in High school, I was always drawn to The Offspring’s song Gone Away I never really understood why, considering I’d never lost someone the way the narrator had lost someone. Certainly not someone that was close enough to me that I’d want to switch places with them. In a similar vein, I recently read Gideon The Ninth and Harrow The Ninth both by Tamsyn Muir. The first book, Gideon, was suffused with a sense of loneliness, loss, and otherness. There was loss everywhere, it felt like the entire world was dying and decaying in front of the protagonists eyes. While in the second book, Harrow, a direct sequel, it was jarring because the narrator was so unreliable that it’s clear that they were intentionally disassociating rather dealing with her grief.

The music I’ve been listening to during the pandemic has a similar haunted feeling to it. Specifically, Riverside’s Lost (Why should I be frightened by a Hat?) and The Depth of Self Delusion both of these songs are sparse, mournful, and have a strong sense of loss about them. Other songs, like Turn by Magna Carta Cartel describe the anger the futility can days just slipping away.

I got to thinking about these things last night when I read an article in Psychology TodayThe Loneliness of Unshared Grief” which talks about the grief of surviving alone (even when you’re with your family) in the pandemic. The loss of the sense of normalcy. The loss of daily interactions with strangers and of other routines. These, as my therapist has pointed out to me over the past year or so, are normal things we should be grieving. We’re grieving the loss of who we were. In some cases we’re grieving people that we love and care about that we lost. We’re grieving the loss of a sense of safety.

It’s ok to grieve.

You aren’t alone in grieving.

I’ve been doing a lot of grieving myself. Not just from the pandemic, but also my allergies. I have lost most of freedom of movement because I don’t feel safe walking outside. Wood smoke sends me into anaphylaxis. I used to love to walk at night. The calm and quiet would let me work through whatever I was feeling. It was a way that dealt with some of my depression, my grief of nightly parental strife – that loss of emotional safety at home. When my nephew was living here, I used daily walks to help him work through his anxieties and stress from school and family. I can’t do that with him any more.

I am grieving over the loss of food. I have a diet of about 6 things. Well, I’m sure I can eat more than that, but I feel so unsafe eating them that I simply avoid them. I’ve learned that this is something of an eating disorder, I mention it in my Book Review: The End of Food Allergy by Kari Nadeau, I’m scared of trying food I used to love because it might “attack me.”

I’m grieving of all these things. I’m also grieving about the pandemic.

It’s cathartic to read or watch videos that make you feel grief. It might help you process your grief. To give a name to what you’ve been feeling. The reason why you’re angry. If you like video games I recommend playing Gris, because it’s definitely about a woman going through the stages of grief and is a gorgeous game.

Managing Self-Isolation

Since October, I have been in a form of self-isolation because of my allergies. Now, many of you don’t know me, but my allergies became very serious in October and I went to the ER for anaphylactic shock related to eating Ginger. Subsequently, I became so allergic to my dogs, that my throat would feel like it was closing up if I was around them for more than a few minutes. I became unable to walk them, as I’d accidentally put their dander on my tongue whenever I’d be trying to open a plastic poop bag. Which lead to an immediate allergic reaction and needing to use an inhaler.

Furthermore, because of all my food allergies, I couldn’t eat out. I’d have a reaction to almost every food except for breakfast food. I’m allergic to Citric Acid, which is in just about every food known to man. I also had to avoid touching my wife because she often kisses the dogs and eats foods I’m allergic too. This creates an additional barrier that you may have to deal with if you actually get sick. I was, however, able to go to work and the grocery store (in fact the latter had cleaner air than either work or home) so I wasn’t entirely self isolated, but basically was isolated.

Here are some of the things I experienced that you should expect the longer you’re in self-isolation:

  1. Loneliness
  2. Depression
  3. Stir craziness
  4. Frustration
  5. Anxiety

Here are some tips on how to manage these:

  1. To combat loneliness I would play video games with friends. I’d talk with them using Discord. I strongly recommend getting on the phone with people on a regular basis. It will help. You can’t get them sick over the phone and they can’t make you sick. Plus, you’ll be helping other people deal with their loneliness in a way that they may not realize they need.
  2. Meditate – I use an App called Headspace, there’s a 30 day trial. I recommend using this to help deal with some of the anxiety, frustration, and depression that comes from being self-isolated. I’ve talked about how I’ve been using it for close to 2 years in other blog posts to fight depression. Ironically, it can also help you feel less lonely (there’s a program on dealing with loneliness in it), because you aren’t mediating alone. You can literally meditate with others remotely in the app.
  3. Make a comfortable space. You’re going to be stuck in your home for a while. make sure that you are going to be comfortable. I had a comfortable chair and my computer in my office. I had an ottoman and side table as well. This allowed me to read, listen to music, and drink coffee/tea/alcohol in my place of self-isolation. Make sure you’re able to distract yourself and/or keep yourself busy.
  4. Find a hobby to spend your time on. I had two hobbies that have helped keep me sane. The aforementioned video games and writing. In the immediate aftermath of my ginger reaction, I wrote about 200 pages in a book I’ve been working on for about 2 years. I was able to finish it. I was focused alone and dealing with some shit. Putting that down on paper can help you process what’s going on around you. If you want to write a book, I suggest Scrivener. If you want to blog, setting up a free WordPress account could be perfect. Otherwise, pen and a notebook work just find. My wife has jumped into doing more art stuff. Most of these things are fairly cheap and can keep you busy for a long time.
  5. Change up your routine. This one is tough, but making slight changes to your routine can help keep you busy and reduce anxiety from being isolated. I suggest watching videos for a while, then switching to something else, like a book or articles, then moving on to one of your hobbies. This way you keep your mind occupied and from getting stuck in a rut of the routineness of whatever you were doing before.

I hope these ideas help you with your self-isolation. I still combat my own depression over my self-isolation with my allergies. So this list is far from perfect. I know some people are going to be hit really hard by the self-isolation and will have serious financial concerns on top of the above symptoms. It’s important in those cases to find inexpensive types of entertainment. Regardless, you must do self-care and meditation is a cheap easy way to do that.

Be safe out there. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Wash your hands.

Depression, Trust, and Therapy

When you have depression, it’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to open up to people and explain to them what depression is, what it’s like to live with, and what the causes of your depression are. So, when you find someone that you can trust and feel like you can open up to, it’s a revelation. You feel like there’s someone in the world that you can truly be yourself around. Often this is a friend. Of course, you have to be careful not to over due the depressive talk, because you could bring them down and eventually push them away.

It’s understandable, when shits bad and all you talk about is your problems, it can eventually come across as whiney, especially if the other person is in a similar situation. If they have depression, they will get it, if they don’t have depression, they will be as support as they can for as long as they can, but eventually, they’ll say something like “get over it.”

So, if you’re lucky enough to have a good health plan (in the US) and a good salary, you might be one of the lucky people that can afford therapy from a licensed professional that will never say “get over it” to you. They will help you work through your problems and do so in a safe place. You can tell the right professional anything and they will help you deal with that. In the cases that they cannot help you, something’s outside their expertise (like gender dysphoria) they might refer you to a specialist in that field.

The important thing about all this, which helps to build trust with the therapist, is that everything about these visits is safe and secure. No one need know that you are visiting your therapist, but the people that you tell. However, if you cannot afford that sort of help, then there are apps that are supposed to help you. One such app is Better Help. However, if I was using it, I’d immediately stop. They share “anonymous” data with third parties, according to a Jezebel report.

One of the companies they share this data with is Facebook. Which is a huge red flag for me. Facebook, if you have an account (and to some extent even if you don’t) has a huge amount of data about you. It uses super cookies to continually track you even when you aren’t on the website, it buys data about people to build profiles, and it uses sophisticated tools to build shadow profiles for people that are not on their service.

I had Facebook for years, basically from the day it came to The University of Pittsburgh, up through 2016 election, so basically around 10-12 years worth of ever decreasing data. Even deleted, they probably kept something about my profile. Since they know that I don’t have a Facebook account, they are able to build a profile about me from data they acquire from other sources. It’s likely they scrape websites, like Good Reads (where I review most of my books) and loyalty rewards (I don’t have any at stores like Target) to build a profile of things that I’d want to buy. They sell ads, so they use this information to understand what someone my age might want to buy and to sell better targeted ads.

They have developed a profile about me, from anonymous data. This means, they have sophisticated tools to de-anonymize data. Given that, according to the article, they know when people are depressed and upset, they already have a set of users that they’ve flagged as candidates for mental health support. They have the tools to associate data from Better Help with an actual person. I don’t know about you, but I do not want Facebook to know anything about my mental healthcare.

This, to me, represents a vital break in trust between patient and mental health provider. I trust that the only people that know about my care are those I tell, my doctor, and my health insurer. I trust this, because it is the law. The law helps me feel safe and allows me to have better trust in both my insurer and my doctor. The law, HIPPA, requires YOU to consent to any data transfer and asks for it before it can even occur, every time. So, you might consent to share the minimum amount of data, but that data is more than sufficient to do harm, in the long term.

People seeking help are vulnerable. They can be preyed upon. Even a good therapist who doesn’t like dealing with a specific health insurer can make you feel preyed upon. A company as unscrupulous as Facebook will target you and take advantage of you. It’s dangerous and must stop. If you use Better Help, look for an alternative. If you use Facebook and you can stop, you should stop.

Book Review: Immortal Hulk Issues 1-25

Link to Book  Image result for immortal hulk5/5 Stars

Alright, this isn’t my normal book review, but these comics moved me in a way that not much media. From what I understand the Author, Al Ewing, originally planned the Immortal Hulk only to be 25 issues, it’s now gone beyond that by a handful and looks like it will continue to move forward. However, I think this initial arc will likely be the most impactful of the Immortal Hulk stories. Or at least of telling a story about the costs of abuse on individuals, their relationships, and society as a whole.

So, most of you are used to seeing Hulk and Incredible together. Well, that character was killed. Bruce essentially committed suicide by way of Hawkeye. After some Avengers tomfoolerly Hulk was brought back to life by the Grand Master during a chess match. This resulted in the Hulk becoming the Immortal Hulk.

*Spoilers ahead!*

Hulk is still on the run, as is normal in his comic books, but there’s a decided different tone about the chase and the fight. Mostly, because Hulk isn’t just chased by the military, but he’s chased by the ghosts of his past, literally, his father (who Bruce Banner killed) attacks him. There are also multiple Hulks in this. The ones I’m going to discuss are Devil Hulk (very intelligent, but well, evil), Savage/Child Hulk (The Hulk in the MCU, dumb and innocent), and Bruce Banner. There are a few others, but I’m not going to bring them up here.

I’m going to present a few key scenes that I think really convey a theme and discuss the themes below. The first scene that resonated with me is a scene where Bruce’s father comes home to find Bruce playing with a toy that’s significantly more advanced than what he should be playing with. This enrages his father, who lashes out at the boy. He throws a full glass of booze at Bruce. He slaps the boy, then demands Bruce’s Mother go with him leaving the boy. He then becomes the Breaker-Apart. The first signs of his rage.

The second scene that hit me is when Hulk goes to hell (it makes a lot of sense in the story, believe me). However, when he’s in Hell, he looks sickly and is wasting away, so he doesn’t look like the hugely strong being we’re used to seeing. While down in Hell, he and his reporter sidekick (McGee), begin to meet people they’ve lost. One of the people Devil Hulk comes across is Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce’s Father-In-Law. Devil Hulk flies into a rage while being the deadman and turns into Savage Hulk. Afterwards, McGee stops the Child Hulk and Hulk responds by saying “Why does Hulk hurt, why is Hulk always hurting.” Tears are streaming down his face. Rather than hugging or supporting the child Hulk, McGee demands to speak with Devil Hulk. Devil Hulk responds that Ross could have been a father to Bruce.

After going through Hell, Hulk finally finds Bruce. He’d been held captive by his father in Hell. Bruce wants to give up and stay in Hell, never going back to earth. Just ending it. The Devil Hulk offers a hand, Bruce asks why, Devil Hulk says “Cause I love you kid.” Bruce looks at him with tears in his eyes. Hulk continues, “Someone had to.”

The next scene is one where Bruce meets his ex-wife Betty Ross. She’s angry that he didn’t immediately reach out once he came back to life (it’s been about 8 months at this point). At first she’s really welcoming, but during their conversation she decides to end it. However at this time she’s murdered by someone chasing the Hulk. This of course enrages Bruce and he chases after the bad guy. An issue later we find Devil Hulk fighting the abomination, who eventually blinds Hulk and cuts off each limb – at this point Hulk is Child Hulk. We suddenly see Betty as the Red Harpy, her own Hulk manifestation. Child Hulk begs for help and love, instead Betty decides to literally rip Hulk’s heart out and eat it.

Eventually this all ends in the final chapter, where the Hulk becomes the last being in the Universe and is given immense powers as a guardian in the next. However, being Hulk, he consumes and disrupts everything. We see near the end that the Hulk is massive and is clothes lining planets, destroying them. The Great Breaker-Apart he is called. A being sees into the Hulk, inside there’s an infinite number of Bruce’s screaming in pain. There’s a great Hulk crying that out in torment. In the end, the Hulk is all that is left. Alone.

To me, this is a story about abuse. Emotional. Physical. Bruce was diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder, which is clearly a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. The gamma bomb turned that trauma into a literal monster, the Hulk. The series indicates that without strong support of people around us to counter that trauma (specifically the McGee scene in Hell), that Trauma will turn us into monsters. That we then turn everyone around us into Monsters. That there’s parts of us, however monstrous, that need love and support to get through it. If we don’t get it, in those opportunities, someone else will provide it that might be malignant. Bruce created the Devil Hulk as his ultimate dissociation, where even the Hulk would turn to in his deepest pain. Bruce turned to that Monster, who wants to tear down society, because of Bruce’s pain.

There are things about the Devil Hulk’s plan to destroy society that make it the right target for his scorn. Society as a whole drove Bruce’s father to act the way he did in some regards. We often reject people in pain, in many cases they disgust us – in some cases because they remind us of our own weaknesses. Furthermore, the world itself inserts its demands on us, which in many ways are more important than our needs. Hulk NEEDS love while he’s in Hell. McGee isn’t able to give it because she’s afraid, but also because she’s in literal Hell and Devil Hulk is the only one to fix it. So Hulk dissociates so he can deal with the world. Trauma isn’t dealt with. Devil Hulk becomes dominant.

This is a really sad comic. It’s amazingly written. The art is fantastic. I strongly recommend checking it out.