Tag Archives: mental illness

s(h)i(t)ck life stuff happens

content warning: self-harm ideation (body horror), mental illness (depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder), eating disorders, health issues related to being assigned female at birth


zine: Cooking With Baggage (& Verve): Lessons From An Ex-Vegan Ex-Chef by Cher Tan (find them on Twitter here. Check out their other zines here.

drink: The Matriarch New England India Pale Ale (NE IPA) (355mL can, 6.5% ABV) by CoConspirators Brewing Co.

music: Ghost Stories For Christmas by Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert

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This is kind of confusing because a new blog post is live on my blog, but that means a completely new one is up on my Patreon. patreon.com/posts/s-h-i-t-ck-life-29478582 ($) Anyway, latest free one: https://eatdrinkstagger.com/sick-life-happens/ Latest Patreon one is @coconspiratorsbeer ‘The Matriarch’ and @palindrome678’s zine ‘Cooking With Baggage (& Verve): Lessons From An Ex-Vegan Ex-Chef visual descriptor: 1. a green beer can with a caricature of a rich old white lady, right to a filled glass of beer, hazy orange-amber. At forefront is the black & white zine, illustrated. 2. The green beer can with caricature of old rich white lady and filled glass with beer, side by side on a wooden chest of drawers.

A post shared by Gemma E. Mahadeo (@eatdrinkstagger) on

I know I’ve been in worse situations before health-wise, but a fortnight ago (edit: mid-Aug 2019), some equally amazing professional stuff happened, and some pretty awful health and life stuff did too.

I don’t know what will happen with the life stuff and its resolution, but I need to learn to deal with that. I’m more worried about the health stuff. I’m officially in a depressive episode again (it’s been a while, so it’s okay, we’re old predictable mates), but the premenstrual dysphoric disorder treatment is just…it’s not killing me, but even when your shrink in absolute sympathy tells you it’s still a bloke’s world, what do you do? Oestrogen patches, epic nausea (again), and menstrual blood that’s not even supposed to exist. It makes me hate being assigned female at birth, why can’t I be saved from my own body?

I’ve been getting a bit more public about identifying as non-binary, and I’ve no intention of changing what I like to call the ‘sack’ I’ve come in…unless my PMDD symptoms are extreme. One recurring fantasy I have is of cutting off my breasts with an amazing Japanese culinary knife (because they’re known for their sharpness and quality, there’s no cultural misappropriation shit happening here), even though it’s the menstruation that brings on these gruesome desires.

Perhaps presumptuous, but I consider the zine author a good friend and colleague. We’re very similar in the kind of ‘Asian’ that we are…we don’t tell our immediate families everything, we’re kind of considered weirdoes by them, and Cher is also infinitely more talented than I am as a writer. Uni education can’t teach you some shit (don’t get me wrong, I’m really fucking grateful for spending my undergrad time reading books I fucking LOVED), and Cher is living proof of that. I wish the Australian writing would get over itself in terms of its love affair with academia wank and just…I dunno, adopt a rescue pet, maybe?

Cher and I also listen to a lot of music that is coded as that meant for white people. We don’t do this deliberately, we just listen to music that moves us?! Isn’t that what music is for? So yeah, they’re also in a punk/noise band, and can’t wait to see them perform in a few weeks. If you can’t already tell, I’m a pathetic fanperson for Cher.

An old joke, but I love dangerlam‘s drawing of me, Cher, and Sonia Nair here because we look like a badarse power metal trio. I was freaking terrified the first time I met Cher, and was having severe impostor syndrome about what the hell EWF was doing programming me with a critic like Son!

Sadly, upon reading Cher’s zine intro, I realise we have a lot of really shit things in common. Yeah, yeah, all Asians are supposed to love food! (sarcasm) Asian parents aren’t exactly the first to pick up on the fact that disordered eating can stem from:

  • a. it feels like the only aspect of your life you have control in (if your family unit is controlling/strict)
  • b. as an Asian child, you’re expected to be fucking perfect at fucking everything – this can bleed into the way you start to look at food; abstention from the ‘pollution’ of consumption looks like a way to emulate perfection, or reaching it?

For me, meals at my house as a child till I moved out of home were sheer hell. I can recall this even from my London childhood. Because there was no choice over what I ate or portions thereof, I somehow got really good at being a closet pseudo-anorexic: just restrictive enough to not register as having an issue. In Year 9 (when I had my first year-long major depressive episode), I got my arse kicked for hoarding sandwiches with SEVERAL layers of ham in them, rotting in my school bag. I got picked on so much for lunches I didn’t even want to eat. I was too scared to throw them out at school, and knew there was no way I could throw them out at home. I didn’t exactly have a lot of spatial freedom – till I started uni (thank god). As a teen, I also developed irritable bowel syndrome: just another way to piss off my mum because she didn’t exactly take well to the suggestion that it’s stress-related. To be honest, neither do I. I wanted to be tougher than that, so I ignored all my mental health issues because that was what strong people did. I would grow up strong.

Not that it mattered. My mother was too angry at me for x, y, z to register that I even had major psychological issues start early (anxiety, depression, possibly PMDD), and my father worked too much to notice…anything. For them as psychiatric nurses, mental illness didn’t hit people you weren’t treating. She isn’t big on empathy (she no longer calls as my health issues are worse than hers).

Also like Cher, I learnt to cook pretty late in life – maybe at 19, when I first moved out in second year uni, from Marie Claire cookbooks before Donna Hay got famous, authored by her! Yep, I’m that old. Sometimes, I’d return home to try and cook for my parents. My father once took a look at a chicken pilaf I’d made, shook his head and pursed his lips and said he wasn’t eating that. I was gutted, but not surprised. My parents are not people to pay me compliments.

Cher once cooked for me and it was fucking fantastic. Nothing fancy or major, but it was about the setting and experience: sitting on a balcony, drinking tinnies, sitting on milk crates. I scarfed down my serving of her dish.

A far cry from the human who didn’t learn to really enjoy food until I was put on an antipsychotic called quetiapine (Seroquel). In smaller doses, it’s great for chronic anxiety (which I now realised was the sort that came with PTSD) and hoo boy, did I gain weight taking that med! To the point where cholesterol levels were an issue. You will not have any control over what you crave. My main ones were rich fatty foods, meat, cheese, lots of beer. Decent cheeseburgers. Why didn’t anyone tell me food could taste this amazing?!?!

Mirtazapine, an antidepressant also great for chronic anxiety, can do the same thing. My main craving for that (which was also depression eating because I was in an abusive work environment for the first half of 2018) was matcha flavoured icecream. Hit me up with all the tubs.

I love that Cher isn’t into any of that ‘authentic’ bullshit and, like me, just embraces when something tastes damn good even if it’s not part of the recipe. Likeomg, you mean you can change or adapt recipes to your liking?! No fucking way!

I want to try making Hainanese chicken rice (no way can I pull that off, unfortunately), the palak chicken paneer on cauli mash (because I am the world’s worst South Asian Indian diaspora kid ever that actually wants to cook Indian cuisine. My brother, I’m sure, wouldn’t give a hoot about learning *wink*), and the Singaporean-Malaysian-style chicken curry because roti c(h)anai is the fucking flavour bomb.

Seriously, reading the zine, I’d forgotten about my beer, but I did make tasting notes before starting to read, so we’re all good. I constantly harp on about how I have no formal training when it comes to beer tasting because a lot of me does feel like a fraud in that respect. Having said that, I’d LOVE to take the cicerone (beer sommelier) exams now that they hold some sessions in Melb/Aus, but it’s just another dream. It’d be great to write more eloquently on something I love so much but would I stop writing in a way that communicates my love and wants to share that love with you readers (for which I am grateful – for every single one of you, don’t you dare forget it)?

Check out the above IG embed for the photo of The Matriarch and the full (!!!) beer glass next to it, mmm-hmm. I can’t move it. It’s stuck there (ie. it’s too tricky, soz!).

I love The Matriarch. It’s a beer I’ve demolished many a of tinnie of, expect to demolish more of, even on tap. It’s not going to kill your palate with bitterness so it’s a great intro to folks who say they hate beer but are willing to give something new a go because…they’re ace and not coeliac (I have a wonderful mate who is, and it breaks my heart that I can’t wax lyrical on amazeballs beers with him. Gluten-free options exist, but they’re slim). Clint aka. Pocketbeagles is an amazing designer and all-round fab human (he was once super-nice to me when I was crying in public at a Froth launch) but I don’t have the guts to suggest to him to maybe do a non-white CoCon character…I’m a coward. A burnt-out one.

*Patreon-only tasting notes appear here*

As a queer person of colour, however, there are a couple of things about the brewery that I try to ignore (seriously, this lot cannot put a foot wrong with the beer they make) or when I try to be vocal about, guess who isn’t listening? Um, only the entire cishet white beer industry. Why the fuck does no one ever talk about 2 Brothers?!?! No really, whitemansplain it to me! Is it ’cause they’re Azn bros? Their Kung Foo rice lager is a killer accompaniment to a wide variety of Asian cuisine.

Doctor’s Orders Brewing (on hiatus at present) do this thing where they don’t brew from a set, fixed location all the time and they refer to themselves as ‘cuckoo’ brewers. Cuckoos (cheeky bastards!) lay eggs in other birds’ nests!

CoConspirators Brewing Co. frequently refer to themselves as ‘gypsy’ brewers. Unfortunately, most of the Australian beer media industry doesn’t give a shit that this is considered pejorative. In parts of Europe, it’d be like saying the ‘n’ word to someone from the African diaspora, but Aussies love travelling! If they don’t see or live this, then is it really true? I had to block an Anglo-Aussie male on Twitter who got into this very discussion with me. Never mind that I was fucking born in Europe.

I’m tired of shutting up about these issues. I got emotionally flogged by various folks as a result of giving a speech at the launch of the Shifting The Balance report led by Diversity Arts Australia. This was one of the few times people were paying attention to this small feminine-presenting creative of colour and it wasn’t something to be forgotten after the event. So yeah, I know the (Anglo-)Australian beer industry don’t give a hoot for my opinion, but damn, it breaks my heart that I’ll never see a face like mine on the cute CoConspirator can labels or tap badges. I try to laugh it off, but it hurts.

I’m also going to assume you know my choosing a beer called The Matriarch isn’t unintentional. It stands for a lot of things that oppress me, in society, and culturally. My personal protest is to never become one. That’s all I can do with my brand of intersectional feminism.

The music choice? It’s because Christmas isn’t warm and fuzzy for everyone. I recently tried to explain this to a gorgeous woman I matched with on Tinder. She unmatched me when I told her that Christmas and family dynamics were stressful for me. I’m not surprised, but phwoah, it stung! White queers don’t really like me (or the ones I’ve been on first dates with like to pas-ag or neg on me).

I’m so sorry this was so long! If you got this far, thanks so much for reading (and you Patreon lot, I am bear hugging you in my mind’s eye). Corny but true: en route using a ridic expensive pool rideshare, I thought to myself “Gem, every second, minute, hour, day, week, year you survive is triumph. Try to focus on surviving second by second, then minute by minute. The rest might start to feel a bit more doable.”

P.S. oh okay, there was this one time a person of colour featured on a CoCon beer… and let’s face it: West Indian rum is pretty fucking special.

If there’s any breweries that want to make a beer called ‘The Poet’ and put my ugly yellow-brown mug on it, let me know! People of colour have dreams too, y’know.

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blood and tunes and fruits not always of wombs

zine: Fruits of My Labour #3 ‘bloody oath (available from Junky Comics, Brisbane)

drink: blood orange gose (orange ale) (4.2% ABV, 355mL can) by Anderson Valley Brewing Company (California, USA)

music: Wet Lips (2017) by Wet Lips

It turns out after reading through all the possible choices of yesterday’s zine, there was an option to go perv at potential bookshops, some cool supernatural action, and kebabs after drinking and dancing despite dinner beforehand.

I’m also trying to get through my Shazam queue which is hours of songs long. It feels like forever since I got to listen to music that isn’t in my car CD player or designed to help me settle into sleep (Hildegarde von Bingen and Grouper, I’m looking at you babes). Tonight was either going to be The Slits’ Cut, but I went with Wet Lips to keep the blood/bleeding theme consistent *wink*.

Anyone that has ever menstruated has most likely experienced the following: shame, stains, not having sanitary products at hand, cramps, dejection, more shame (particularly because Catholics love that shit and think all pubescent females are dirty), and more misery.*

The flies and/or ants really have it bad for my beers: they keep flying into my bloody full glasses, grrrr. Screw it – I’m not tipping my beer this time (hoping the ABV will save me), but if I get sick then you know why. Goses (singular: gose, pronounced go-suh) are supposed to be fairly low in alcohol content but this one’s fairly hefty. And yeah, it’s sour, not really that salty and there’s a healthy presence of blood orange, in a pulp and cloudy fruit juice kind of way.

Coincidentally, Wet Lips’ first song on their self-titled album is called ‘Shame’. There’s also one called ‘Hysteria’, and one called ‘Period’. The album is over almost as fast as I can down my fly-attacked beer.

Bloody oath‘ begins with the reminder that not every woman menstruates, or has a uterus, and this is important. As also explained in my lengthy endnote below, some people will experience shame and trauma around the good ol’ Auntie Flo (who actually has an aunt Flo?!).

There’s lots of colourful illustrations, and the zine begins with a piece about how periods are portrayed in (seemingly) predominantly feminist films (Clueless, The Hot Chick, Ten Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and Juno). It does finish by mentioning that the series Broad City deliberately does not use periods to shame or as an opportunity to belittle or make fun of those who have periods. That’s kinda the show that Broad City is though, yeah? Who doesn’t want a bond like the one Abbi and Ilana have?!

Then there’s a great piece about using sponges for convenience from the viewpoint of a sex worker, but consider my mind blown! Possibly TMI but if you have PMDD, overnight pads and super tampons can only absorb so much. You will fuck up your sheets. You will be grumpy about it in the morning even if you’ve woken up every 2-3 hours to change your chosen products.

It almost makes me miss the times my body (I assume – it is a side effect, but not many people talk about it) has just stopped having periods for months, or having them sporadically because of fairly regular ECT. From experience, it’s taken about a 9-12 months for some sort of cycle regularity to return. I have also noticed that PMDD symptoms only really became obvious in the last four or so years? Not that I would’ve noticed before: too busy being chronically depressed, hehehe SIGH. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a healthy supply of self-hatred, but the way PMDD morphs my sense of self and sense of what my body is…it makes me hate being born with female reproductive parts so, so much. I start to get fantasies about ripping out my ovaries with bare hands and about how cool that would be (that is not cool – I’m just explaining how…intense the body dysmorphia can get). I don’t want biological kids, so it seems pretty bloody unfair that you can’t just up and go to your GP and beg for a hysterectomy.

The hormone drop post-birth would probably be too much for my depression. I don’t ever want to entertain the notion of not being able to care for a baby while having to convince myself to hide just how much I want to die.

No, it’s not an easy thought to sit with, but a lot of what mood disorders are are very lonely and isolating. And there are times when you’ll burn out even the most empathetic, understanding mate, lover, or family member if you voice any of these concerns. I’ve had people tell me my depression is nothing compared to the loss suffered by an acquaintance having an ectopic pregnancy. Society values reproductive-related health more over mood disorders – provided you’re reproducing, or wanting to.

So what the hell did people do before menstrual cups, synthetic sponges and Thinx underpants?! Cloth pads/rags! The next essay is about what to not do when using, preparing or laundering reusable cloth pads. God, how did people cope back then, honestly. And how ace would it be if free bleeding were socially acceptable. I get nosebleeds all the time and when they have happened in public (common), people have been freaked out and worried (I find it intensely embarrassing), but if you get period on your clothes (which admittedly leaves me mortified), it’s somehow seen as gross, or dirty.

Because this zine is Brisbane-based, there’s some info about the Brisbane Period Project and there is also one for Melbourne too! They donate products to the homeless and those who can’t afford sanitary products, and are trans-friendly. Anyone who needs their service is welcome. Also a timely reminder that thank goodness sanitary products aren’t subject to tax anymore in Australia! What the hell took so long?!

Natural, plant-based remedies were also used back before modern pharmaceutical privileges were available, and there’s a page about some of these options for pain relief, anxiety, generally encouraging the related muscles to relax the fuck down. It sounds like most of these were used as tea/infusions or as essential oils.

Last three contribs I’ll mention: there’s some great info on why folks can miss their periods (obvs, if you’re concerned about irregular or missed periods, please see a doc you trust) and are pretty certain they’re not expecting (ovarian cysts), an excellent playlist (fuck yeah!!!) for ‘music to bleed to’ (I’d like to add The Slits’ Cut and Wet Lips’ self-titled to that!), and an excerpt that acknowledges that some Indigenous and Eastern spiritual traditions treat fertility, womanhood and puberty with a sacredness and reverence we’re not exposed to today.

Bodies are amazing. They could get so many things wrong, but for the most part do a loooooooot of things well. But aliens are still not going to visit us, our minds and sense of consciousness is far too daft for them to want anything from us.

Thanks soooo much Junky Comics for recommending this as a zine to pick up/take home. Apologies to regular readers – I apparently have a lot of feelings (to lovingly borrow the line from the girl with a heavy flow and wide-set vagina in Mean Girls).

*************

*In case you’re wondering, I wrote ‘Stain, guilt‘ about this very phenomenon. Becoming part of the menstrual clan, no matter what particular cishet white non-intersectional feminists tell you, is not a cause of celebration for some folks. Since my diagnosis with PMDD, and my cycle being made irregular post-ECT, it’s made menstruation a consistently more miserable bodily experience. I joke that it’s a pretty goregrind experience (it’s not normal to use up a months’ worth of sanitary products in a week). The only thing I’ve ever been lucky with in this regard is a high pain threshold (when I do get cramping), like go me. It’s more painful on the bra-caged boobs when they go all ‘go-go Gadget enlarge/swell’.

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if failure were a colour

I’m pretty mad at myself today (well, technically it’s no longer ‘today’ but Friday just after midnight). I was supposed to be in the city for Midsumma to play Bartók folk songs on my melodica as a ‘temptation’ for a performance/reading I’ll be doing later in the month.

The problem with afflictions like heatstroke, is they can’t be reasoned or argued with. I’d driven down from outside Castlemaine, and thought it was air pressure changes that caused me to momentarily get dizzy. I’d deliberately not practised too much on the melodica so that I wouldn’t be puffed out. I’m physically fit enough for that to not happen. Halfway into the city from my parents’ place, I turned back, told my father what happened and went to bed for a few hours. We’re both migraine-prone, so I rested on his advice, had dinner, and I feel oddly naked without any of the books I’m in the midst of reading.

Zine reading time. Tonight’s zine is ‘Tenderness Journal’, a largely visual art-based project from 2015 that Clara Bradley curated. It turned out we had a friend in common – I didn’t know this till attending the exhibition/launch at Grey Gardens Project that year. I submitted a sonnet – imaginings on longing and grieving the loss of love, both offline and online. It’s weird to think that that has become something to define, document, experience, in my lifetime.

The post title – I was thinking about how much of a failure I felt at not making it into the city to play my instrument, and how if failure were a colour, it would definitely not be a pastel anything! I love pastel colours, and was also reminding myself of how slow I was to pick that the cover of ‘Tenderness’ has bare breasts. It wasn’t till quite some after that I noticed that?!

What am I drinking? I’m deliberately avoiding alcohol because at the beginning of my week, my mood dipped a bit, and it’s usually not a good idea to console oneself with central nervous system depressant anything, so I’ve just been gulping down strong yet milky mugs of T2 French Earl Grey, which is…okay. The leaves are far too dry, and the supermarket spoils me by having a fresher British organic one which I do plough through.

It’s not a pleasant reminder to read ‘Tenderness’ because I was unwell, but functional, and everything felt stained with the ache of surviving. At times, I remember looking okay – fine, even, but struggling desperately to stay mentally afloat. It was probably harder because I wasn’t doing it for my sole benefit. An ex-housemate knew that occasionally I muffled my bawling to sleep with my pillow. My partner at the time knew I drank too much to help me sleep, but didn’t realise that his default belief in entitlement to existing made it near-impossible to contemplate getting well. Living for him…it was automatic, easy, it happened so effortlessly. I had disparate areas of life that were all so spectacular in how awful I was in them. I tried so hard too, and barely did anything well.

Perhaps that’s not how it seemed, or was, but that was how it was experienced. At outsider ‘presenting’ an inauthentic life but somehow not being caught out. ‘Tenderness’ seems to encroach in these spaces, where the vulnerabilities of honesty and adoration exist, admit themselves to exist, and – if tenderness were music, it would be a cadence that threatens to resolve its dissonance, but doesn’t. It just – leaves you hanging, longing for its resolution.

The visual art captures this in its recording of textures – cotton long johns, where the shape of male genitalia is discernible and alluring because it is not able to be seen, we only get hints. Writings on what falling in love is like and how it differs from loving – it only ever seems clear that we’ve fallen in love once it is not reflected back at us.

My cat has come back and is now sleeping on my bed. When I think of tenderness and its sort of love, I think a lot about my cat – how when I first met her, she belonged to someone else. We were both emotional orphans of a sort! She touches her paw to my hand, often. I brush the tip of my nose against the velvet of her ears. I feel loved in a way I no longer expect from another human. Perhaps true tenderness is safety and sanctuary.

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