This WordPress site is a revitalization and reimagining of a quiet little blog that I created as a coping mechanism when I was at a pretty low point in my life.
It was 2019. My dad was dying of cancer, the number of viable academic jobs in my field had crossed the threshold from “threatened” to “endangered,” and I had basically been shuffling like a zombie through my life one day at a time for nearly a year. I had already spent about three increasingly burned-out years too long as a lecturer trying to convince myself I could still “make it” as a real professor if I tried harder.
The symptoms of my as-of-then undiagnosed ADHD were only ever going to get worse if I continued to handle them the way I was accustomed to (i.e., pretending that they didn’t exist or trying to generate motivation by mentally flagellating myself for my fundamental deficiencies as a human).
In 2018, I had sought professional help for what I framed as depression, but publicly I just kept working throughout my minor breakdown.
A year later, I still didn’t feel that it was reasonable for me to ask for accommodation from anyone who wasn’t a licensed mental health practitioner. Even if I had been willing to ask, I wouldn’t have known what to ask for.
“I’m using most of the limited energy I have to project an image of health and competence while I’m around other people. Would you mind terribly if I just lie down and stare at the ceiling for awhile instead of performing for you?”
When I wrote above that I was taking life “one day at a time,” I don’t mean it as an inspirational adage. I don’t mean that I was proactively challenging my anxiety by focusing my attention on my most immediate tasks and prioritizing the present moment over the unknown future. I mean that I was almost always in survival mode, doing adaptive triage on what should have been routine tasks without being plugged into any larger sense of meaning or motivation.
. . . Am I coming across as kind of a downer?
There has to be some silver lining here, after all.
Even though an awful lot of context is underspecified, maybe you started thinking about reframes or solutions that I haven’t introduced above.
Maybe you started marshaling counterarguments, or maybe you thought something like, “Sounds like you should have…” or “I would have just…” or “Why wouldn’t you…?”
“Were you getting enough sleep and exercise, or maybe eating too many processed foods?”
“Remember that you can always reach out. That’s what I do when I’m feeling stressed.”
“Self-care is so important. It’s a shame when people don’t choose to prioritize themselves.”
“I know people with ADHD who have incredible careers. It’s not like it’s an excuse to be lazy.”
“Life can be hard, but you have to keep pushing through. If you choose to mope around, of course you’re going to be unhappy.”
“I read an article about resilience, and I think that concept might help illuminate some things for you.”
If I’m coming across as defensive, it’s because I am.
I’m tired of feeling like my story is a hypothesis that claims my experiences as evidence and my explanations of them as a series of falsifiable conclusions.
I could provide detailed counterarguments for all of those dismissive responses above. Good ones, too.
But those good arguments are irrelevant as long as they function as answers to irrelevant questions.
In early 2019, my mental health was not exactly stellar, but at least I could do normal things and experience a full range of emotions again.
That meant I was able to get angry again.
Not just irritated or crabby or defensive about petty things, but really fired-up mad.
Among the many, many large-scale things to be mad about, the pervasiveness of toxic positivity in my social media was really getting under my skin.
It shows up everywhere: headlines, articles, public comments on news stories, private comments on people’s posts, and most notably in the form of inspirational image macros.
It’s no wonder I had internalized the message that my bad feelings shouldn’t inconvenience anyone else.
It’s no wonder that I had decided I should “power through” crippling depression.
It’s no wonder that I had concluded from a young age that I was causing my own problems by not having better feelings.
My fresh anger felt motivating, but I didn’t really know where to channel it. Still, it felt like I should be able to confront toxic positivity more directly than climate change or white supremacy. (Not that I can’t take actions to confront the latter issues, and not that my engagement with the former will Solve the Issue, but I’m picking my battles.)
It didn’t feel reasonable to start beefs with random friends and family members on social media just because they had decided to click “share” on nice, simple messages that made them smile, clearly with the intent of brightening someone else’s day. What kind of miserable asshole does that?
So I did what any conflict-avoidant introvert would do:
I wrote out my frustrations in an increasingly unwieldy Google doc that no one would ever see.
The exercise of putting my negative feelings into words also helped me to journal more productively about other issues. Still, the “rants about pithy image macros” document remained a special separate place where I could be as angry, bitter, sarcastic, long-winded, and cantankerous as I wanted to be.
At some point, I thought, “Wow, this is a lot of material – now if only I could write like this about something that matters.”
And then, at another point, I thought, “Some of this is actually pretty funny.”
And so Pith Rant was born.
I started low-key publishing the rants as unadvertised blog posts almost a year before the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States.
I’d sometimes post links on Facebook, but I kept privacy settings pretty limited because I was nervous about offending the people who had shared the image macros that I’d written angry rants about.
I wasn’t actually mad at those people. I was mad at something bigger, and they happened to have shared something that had tapped into that vein.
But throughout my life I’ve had a pattern of experiencing other people’s general anger as specific anger at me, so I was loathe to impose that experience on unsuspecting acquaintances.
I’m working on that.
When I get mad at people over silly things because I am hungry or tired or uncomfortable, it’s not hard to recognize the cause and reign in my reactions. I can generally remind myself, before (or shortly after) I snap at someone, that I just have an unmet physical need.
After I eat something, or rest, or address whatever is bothering me in my body, the anger is gone.
At first I thought Pith Rant was driven by that same kind of incidental irritation.
I assumed I was just petty mad that these “helpful” messages weren’t sufficiently courting me as a potential audience member. Buy a girl a drink first, huh?
But this anger is deeper.
The first time I saw someone share the following tweet, it took my breath away. (I’ve embedded the original message, but it’s worth clicking to read the whole thread, and for She-Ra’s sake, don’t be a dick if you want to use the link to tweet a reply).
It’s entirely possible that I cried.
I had been feeling ashamed of feeling mad, and of expressing it.
Just admitting that I experienced intense anger for a reason felt like a guilty pleasure.
This tweet perfectly described what makes that fired-up anger so distinct. That kind of anger isn’t just an indication that I haven’t learned how to handle life more responsibly.
There’s so much I love in this world, and I’m angry at all the ideological gaslighting, abuse, and neglect of so much of it.
So many Inspirational Image Macros work to minimize, negate, and deny discontent with the status quo.
The more material I collected, the more I noticed consistent patterns, and I kept coming back to themes of structural inequity and injustice.
The reasons for my rage are reasonable.
And the insistence that first I have to learn how to stop being mad, or at least stop expressing that anger in an angry way, is a diversion from the real issue.
(I recognize that versions of this argument have been made in various media on various topics, so it’s not like a fully original thought that I Alone Created. I just encountered it in a specific context where it really resonated.)
So often, I default to assuming that I am the problem. And sometimes I am the problem.
But I work on my problems: tenaciously, passionately, and perpetually.
All the self-work in the world isn’t going to do anything other than make me feel better if institutions and infrastructures aren’t forced to address their problems.
And I don’t think they will do that all on their own. So people need to apply pressure. And for that, we need to understand our anger sufficiently to channel it to its source.
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