[A]sexuality,  Mental [Un]health,  Queer[ness]

Burnt Out & Neurotic: The Toll of Blogging While Ace and Mentally Ill

This post is a submission for the December 2018 Carnival of Aces on the topic of "burnout", hosted by Sennkestra at Next Step: Cake. See the call for submissions if you'd like to participate. 

Over the last few years, I’ve had to own up to the fact that I’m not exactly the spitting image of mental health. Unbeknownst to (or rather, unacknowledged by) me until relatively recently, I’ve struggled with persistent depression and social anxiety for most of my life. As such, debilitating depression/anxiety isn’t new to me. Major depressive episodes? Been there. Anxiety attacks? Par for the course.

It’s precisely that kind of attitude that left me oblivious to signs that, in hindsight, should have made it clear that what I first experienced in 2016 and continue to experience today was/is more than ‘just’ a depressive episode or exacerbated anxiety. Rather, I was/am in the midst of burnout that has been compounded upon by a mental breakdown.

Actually, I feel I should take a step back and rephrase what I’ve just said. Rather than refer to it as burnout that was compounded upon by a mental breakdown, it’s more accurate to say that neither proceeded nor followed the other. Instead, both occured simultaneously as the culmination of years worth of ‘lesser’ burnouts and otherwise nicks & dings to my mental well-being during the course of blogging, vlogging, and organizing as an ace activist.*

I do want to stress that while one particular incident in 2016 may have been the needle that broke this cat’s back, even that incident is part of a larger problem; that is, my own failure to adequately manage my own mental [un]health and personal grievances in regards to blogging about asexuality and aromanticism, so-called ‘discourse’, and toxic callout culture on the social media platform that is Tumblr.

What happened to make this instance of burnout and mental breakdown particularly noteworthy? What has the road to recovery been like thus far? What repercussions to my future as an ace blogger/vlogger will there be in light of my aversion to Tumblr blogging culture?

The answer to all of these questions and more is The Opposite of Fun Times, but of course there is also a tl;dr version, for those interested.


Regarding word choice

“Burnout” is a commonly used catchall phrase to describe various degrees and manifestations of:

  • emotional exhaustion
  • physical fatigue
  • denationalization
  • disengagement
  • reduced feelings of accomplishment

While ‘burnout’ is most commonly used in reference to one’s occupation, “mental breakdown,” on the other hand, is a phrase that is was used in a wider variety of situations, although it has now (apparently) fallen out of favor even among medical professionals. I’m old and out-of-date, go figure. Similar to ‘burnout’, ‘mental breakdown’ used to be a catchall phrase for any instance of acute mental distress with a prolonged period of recovery, during which one’s day-to-day functioning was affected.

In this post, I will be using both of these terms with the distinction being that for me personally, ‘mental breakdown’ implies a level of psychoneurosis that ‘burnout’ may, but does not necessarily, entail.

For me, the wide breadth and all-encompassing usage of the term “burnout” has in and of itself been a barrier to me recognizing and acknowledging what I’ve experienced since 2016 is burnout. Why? Before this particular instance, I had undergone numerous other experiences with burnout which felt like entirely different beasts in comparison.

Unlike past instances of burnout, this time around I’ve found myself experiencing symptoms that seem– at least, based on what superficial understanding of the disorder I have– reminiscent of Complex PTSD…? Which I will be the first to admit sounds ridiculous. Furthermore, as I do not feel myself to have any right to actually claim a [self-]diagnosis of C-PTSD, I need some way of differentiating this experience from past ones if I am to consolidate them all as being “burnout” in my own mind…

As such, I have [begrudgingly] settled for using “burnout” in conjunction with “mental breakdown,” but if anyone out there is better versed in mental [un]health than I and has suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share.

Symptoms/manifestations of burnout and mental breakdown

What stood out first and foremost to me, in terms of realizing my own state of fuckedupness mental instability was an overwhelming sense of panic, followed closely by frustration, anger, and ultimately a sense of apathy and cynicism so profound as to make my normal level of apathetic pessimism seem like sunshine and lollipops.

But wait– back up. What even happened to trigger all of this?

Oh. Yeah. I should probably address that at some point, least the rest of what I’m about to say make no sense.

#KeepJugheadAsexual happened.

To this day, I still do not feel comfortable recounting the details of what happened, as it continues to feel like someone is lurking around some corner of the internet waiting for ‘receipts’ or to ‘weigh in’ on my account of things regardless of what I say. If the details are of interest to you then, by all means, see the linked post above.

Otherwise, suffice it to say that I had feels about press headlines and hashtag advocacy for/about the Archie Comics character Jughead leading up to the premiere of Riverdale, which I expressed in a post originally posted on Tumblr. An anonymous person disagreed and took offense with my feels. Said person went on to vent anonymously on a popular ace blog and what felt like a lynch mob (full irony intended) ensured in my ask box, eventually spilling over into reblogs, response posts on & off Tumblr, and tweets that overwhelmed this queer-and-Tired-ass cat.

Now back to those symptoms/manifestations.

Following The Jughead Fiasco®, there was a noticeable uptick in online advocacy for representation that was explicitly both aromantic and asexual. Which is all well and good, mind you, aside from the fact that (for reasons that are unlikely to make sense unless you are familiar with the details of the Fiasco®) #jughead, #riverdale, #aroace and similarly related words and hashtags quite literally became triggering for me. Due to the uptick in advocacy inevitably centering around Jughead, I found myself forced to unfollow certain people/blogs and block specific keywords/hashtags to make my Twitter feed and Tumblr dashboard browsable. When the weight of browsing my social media accounts continued to wreak havoc on my anxiety levels, I eventually resorted to uninstalling the Tumblr app from my phone entirely to be free of the notifications that continued to be pushed out to my phone well after I had withdrawn myself from any and all discussion of Jughead.

Not to make light of my own mental dissonance, but have you ever seen those Snickers “Hangry” commercials in which someone literally becomes someone else because of their hunger-induced anger…? The hunger element of that aside, the word “irritable” took on an entirely new dimension of meaning in light of how instantaneous I could change from a relatively ‘chill’ state of apathy to inappropriately extreme negativity and unkindness that was entirely out of character for me even on my worst of days. I can only compare such level of disassociation mixed with spite for the world and whoever/whatever happened to be in my cross-hairs at the time to the transformation that you see in those Snickers commercials, sans hunger and Snickers bar of course. The only reason I am even self-aware enough to be able to remember and criticize my actions in hindsight is because people around me commented on my behavior.

And then there were times when– fully self-aware and in control of my own feelings– I precariously released my anger and frustration in small bursts of steam out into the void that is the internet, least I metaphorically (yet also literally) self-destruct. Venting was and is a way in which I deal with frustration, but alas. When you have a sizeable(?) internet presence within a relatively small internet community, you aren’t afforded the leeway of being a human being with feelings and needs that involve venting on the internet, apparently.

Having said that, I wasn’t angry/frustrated all of the time. The range of emotions through which my mood fluctuated tended toward exhaustive, negative extremes, but there was also: the perpetual exhaustion; the loss of self-worth in a way that was inexplicably different from The Usual; the cognitive fogginess that noticeably slowed not only my thoughts but my speech; the random tears; the social paralysis amidst other aces offline; and– most shocking of all for me personally– the stammering as I second-guessed words quite literally as they came out of my mouth even while teaching English in front of a packed classroom.

In all of my years of living with anxiety, that last physical manifestation of it was something new, unexpected, and utterly frustrating/embarrassing. Awkwardly, I’m writing this as if it were something of the past, but this is something that I continue to deal with, even though things have improved.

Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I cannot and do not blame everything that I have been experiencing over these past 2 years on a single “happening” on Tumblr. After all, the lesser occurrences of burnout and mental setbacks which proceeded it aside, Life did not put itself on hold just because I couldn’t hold myself together. Various other Life Occurrences have added insult to injury along the way, but I can and do blame that specific Fiasco® for being as the initial shock that sent subsequent aftershocks reverberating through my life both in and outside of activis for years to come.

“Recovery”

June 2017 saw me sink to [what felt like] a record low; the physical symptoms/manifestations of my mental [un]health had begun to disrupt my performance at work and in everyday life to a point that was no longer admissible even to me as me having a handle on the situation, as I had willed myself to believe. Admitting to myself that I needed professional help and actually acting on that admission was a very difficult first step to take. Internalized ableism makes for fun times, amiright? However, once I did manage to overcome that initial hurdle and start taking antidepressants, I began to notice positive effects within the first 3 months. Even so, as with anything, the medication was not a linear road to recovery and even now, 1.5 years later, I continue to roll my eyes and scoff at every mention of “remission” that my psychiatrist continues to make.

As I hinted at earlier, medication was not my own means– or even my go-to means– of recovery. Avoidance of triggers and restriction of social media proved to be helpful in moderation, but equally debilitating in the extreme. Venting online (when done tactfully) helped, but in-and-of-itself became yet another source of stress due to paranoia/anxiety. Once I had achieved some resemblance of stability, I gradually forced myself back into the local ace community, first via Japanese Twitter, then by getting over myself and hosting events, organizing Pride happenings, and just generally shifting what little energy and ability to focus I had to Japanese ace communities and gender-related YouTube videos rather than preoccupying myself with Tumblr or English language ace communities. Doing so wasn’t easy, but was worth the effort.

What I feel has helped the most, second only to medication/generalized self-care, has been physically (and otherwise) distancing myself and my blogging from Tumblr. Moving QAC from a Tumblr-based blog to a self-hosted WordPress blog was something I debated doing for a long, long time. Finally doing so not only provided me with a great pet-project and distraction from otherwise self-destructive thoughts and tendencies, but has also provided me with the basic infrastructure necessary for future pet-projects under a self-contained domain name. Granted, I still have a lot of work to do and have yet to even take advantage of what this new blog has to offer me– once again, Life is getting in the way rather than putting itself on hold– but I’ll get there. Eventually.

Long story short, long stints of social hibernation, peppered with occasional tantrums, ample self-awareness and eventual proactiveness with the knowledge that steps backwards were bound to accompany even a single step forward is what has gotten me to this point that I find myself at now in terms of recovery. While forever still a work in progress, being able to even write this post is, for me, evidence enough of just how far I’ve come.

*pats self on the back, Full Sarcasm intended*

Future ace blogging: apathetic at best?

For all the progress and recovery I’ve made, I continue to find myself at a crossroads in terms of continuing to blog about asexuality. “Recovery,” after all, does not mean that existing anger/frustration will be forgotten, nor does it mean that whatever hurt feelings were there will be undone.

Regardless of how much personal growth and recovery I may undergo, the issues** that angered, frustrated, and eventually hurt me back in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 not only continue to exist but are just as prevalent today. That fact alone is cause for frustration in and of itself, but what even is the point of returning to blogging after recovering only to once again be faced with the exact same issues and circumstances that led to a mental break and burnout to begin with…?

Over the past year or so, I have come across several posts by people who are clearly exasperated, lamenting what they consider to be the “stunted growth” of ‘the ace community‘ (by which they usually mean the Tumblr ace community) in the face of circa 2016 Tumblr discourse. If the linked posts aren’t enough of a giveaway, I personally cannot stand this assertion. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again:

sure, Tumblr ‘discourse’ / exclusionists are A Factor that is getting in the way of us addressing community issues, but to consider it “The Number One Factor” is both laughable and insulting to me. such a claim does nothing but make the person with such sentiments, usually aces, feel absolved from any accountability they may have regarding whatever problem they’re seeing affecting the ace community.

Yes, people are being burnout by ‘the discourse.’ Yes, that stifles discussions that could otherwise be happening within ace communities. Nevertheless, some of us have persevered on in the hopes of encouraging discussion of important topics within ace communities in spite of the discourse. Some of us have found ourselves more often than not under attack not by so-called exclusionists or ‘aphobes‘, but by fellow-aces while trying to do the very thing that others claim the discourse inhibits.

Ah, but said attacks are never seen as such under the guise of Tumblr Call-Out Culture (cw: violence), of course, which not only views such actions as permissible but to be encouraged. Yes, ‘the discourse’ has left many Tumblr aces hypersensitive to any form of criticism, internally derived or otherwise, but that is neither a valid excuse nor justification for the collateral damage that callout culture espouses.

At times, it feels as if in order to continue being an ace blogger/activist– which I, in fact, want to do– the onus is entirely on me, the blogger/activist, to better manage my own time, money, and mental [un]health without any right to expect… well… anything on the part of the communities in which I strive to be active.

Sure, no one ever asked me to do what I do. In that sense, anything and everything that subsequently happens as a result of my own choice of actions has entirely been brought upon myself– which, according to some, means I have no right to complain or expect anything more.

If there is one thing that I have learned these past few years, it is that I literally cannot afford to continue putting my own well-being, among other things, on the line to discuss issues that I know are important to more than just me, even if I want to for personal reasons.

Because doing so is the first step of many on the road to burnout.

* I still do not feel myself deserving of such a title, but eh.
** Ah, issues. So many issues. Linking to everything would require time spent digging through external bookmarks than I do not have at my disposal right now. You know. Despite the inordinate amount of time I’ve spent on this post already.

YouTuber and Blogger, Vesper is an American expat currently living in Japan.

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