3 Fun Activities to Get You Out of The House

So, in an ongoing effort to stave off the effects of depression and anxiety, I’ve been trying to take steps to change my lifestyle here and there to better facilitate my emotional health. I recently started a new anti-depressant/anti-anxiety treatment, I’ve been actively cutting out people and things that may cause me undue stress, and I’m starting to listen more to my own sense of comfort – favoring an “if it feels good, do it” mentality over fretting over what society will think.

But, in addition to all that, I’m also making an effort to try an overcome my mild to moderate demophobia and disdain for social interactions by trying to force myself to go outside more often. The only problem is – and I imagine this a problem for A LOT of people with social anxiety – that unless you need to go shopping or something, there’s often little reason to leave the comfort of your bedroom/living room/personal office (I have very little living space; shut up).

So, I’ve been attempting to find and rediscover some old out outdoor activities to help get me outside, be more physically active, and socializing with humanity again. So far, I’ve come across three viable fun-time adventures to go on.

Urban Hiking

Yes, nature is pretty. But a skyline can be nice to look at too.
Source: Liz Thomas Hiking

My Father is a bit of a mountaineer. He’s hiked along almost every major mountain trail in New Hampshire and he’s been very encouraging to try and get me to join him.

The problem is that I live in the middle of the city with very little time to devote to traveling to the mountains. But who’s to say you can’t enjoy a hike through the city?

Sure, some people may scoff at the idea. But if you find it difficult to get to a nature trail, urban hiking may just suit you. Not only does it get you into a social setting, but you may just be surprised at what you find on your travels. I’ve been on hikes through college towns with lots of shops packed together and found places that I end up coming back to later; thrift stores, cafes, etc.

Most Urban Hikers seem to favor places with lots of stairs and hills to simulate the incline of a mountain trail, but you can always choose the path that best suits your level of expertise. It all makes for a more travel-friendly, lower-risk social activity.

Geocaching

“I found treasure… WITH MY PHONE.”
Source: Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

One part hike, one part treasure hunt, and one part time capsule. Geocaching is the high tech way to wander the world in search of fresh new sights.

What’s nice about geocaching is how accessible it is. People have quite literally hidden these little boxes of surprise goodies that they trade from one cache to the next EVERYWHERE; in cities, on nature trails, in cemeteries, in parking lots – if you can covertly fit a container big enough to hold a logbook of some kind in it, someone has likely done so. As such, there’s no shortage of options to fit your skill level. All you need is a phone with a GPS and the drive to explore.

What’s more, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of coming across an item in a cache with a tracking number on it so you can see where it’s been. On my first outing, I found a keychain from the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore with such a tracker. It had gone up the west coast from the southern tip of California to Washington state, leaped to mid-state New York, and again to New Hampton here in New Hampshire. I then left it in a cache in Maine to complete its coast-to-coast journey and, last I saw, it was somewhere in Texas.

The only catch is that you have to exercise a little stealth while playing as any non-players (referred to, much to the delight of Harry Potter fans, as Muggles) may be inclined to tamper with or even steal the cache. So tread lightly and stay aware.

Battle Gaming

All the action of a Dungeons & Dragons game right in your face.
Source: Wikipedia

Do you miss the days when you and your friends would roughhouse in the yard, but don’t want to risk losing teeth to recreate the feeling? Do you like the look and action of LARPing, but can’t be arsed to deal with all that role-playing nonsense? Well, grab yourself some foam and get into the ring of battle games.

I got into this back in my convention days and it was a blast. Armed with foam-crafted blade and shield (called Boffers) and your nerves, you can now capture the feeling of charging into battle like the warriors of old.

The rules of battle differ depending on who’s organizing the events. Some are one-on-one gladiatorial battles. Others are large-scale wargames with competing tribes and armies. And each has different regulations on how boffers are crafted and what weapons are allowed. Though almost all of them are designed to minimize the risk of injury while letting players go wild.

With foam arrows flying through the air and people shield bashing their way through a crowd, it can get hectic. But with the light bruises comes a sense of pride and exhilaration as you face down the horde and stand your ground against the odds… even if it’s all just pretend and sport.

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The Social Importance of The Selfie (and The Agent’s Selfie Catalog)

In addition to the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year and my official start of summer, today is recognized by us digital denizens as National Selfie Day. And I felt that the day provided an opening for useful commentary on human psychology and sociology.

Remember not too long ago when just the word ‘selfie’ conjured up a bevy of negative images in our heads? We associated the selfie with vapidness, vanity, and egocentric narcissism.

However, while that stigma has persisted to an extent, I feel people are slowly understanding the importance of the selfie in a modern society. The simple act of taking a photo of yourself says so much about you and your life.

For a start, it’s a proclamation of pride in your achievements – no matter how small. By going out into the world and snapping a photo of you at the beach or in the crowd at a concert, you are proclaiming to the world, “I was there. I saw the world HAPPEN in front of me and contributed to it.” A brief look at history will show the need to document our actions. Selfies are just a new evolution of this process that replaces long-winded words with an image that speaks thousands at a glance.

What’s more, it’s a statement of self-love – a form of love that seems in sadly short supply these days. I’m part of a body positivity group on Facebook; body positivity being a big deal to someone like me who is about to begin a gender transition. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to receive loving encouragement from friends, family, and kind strangers when coming to terms with my appearance. And judging from the response of others, I sense I’m not alone in that feeling.

So, make it a point today to go out, put on the best you that you have, and proclaim your existence to the world. Show – don’t tell – that you are here and that you matter.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper National Selfie Day article if I didn’t celebrate along with you. So, for those that don’t or can’t follow my actions on Twitter here’s a collection of my recent selfies. I wish you all a lovely day celebrating your beautiful selves.

The Agent on Homophobia, Meme Culture, and Millie Bobby Brown

Millie’s face in this scene looks like mine when I heard the news.
Source: Hello Giggles

It’s not often that I wake up first thing in the morning and know EXACTLY what I’m going to talk about this week… I just wish I didn’t HAVE to.

For those that don’t follow celebrity happenings, Millie Bobby Brown, the young actress best known for playing Eleven on Stranger Things, was bullied off of Twitter yesterday because of memes circulating around the web using pictures of her and spouting off homophobic rhetoric. This was especially damaging to her since she is well known for being a powerful supporter of the LGBT+ community.

… I have SEVERAL complaints.

First, I want to address my attitude towards people leaving social media over bullying. Normally, I reprimand people for doing this as it shows the opposition that they can get whatever they want if they’re dickish enough. But, in this instance, I think Millie may have made the right choice. The sort of harassment that she’s experiencing right now is especially damaging when you’re as young as she is. So removing herself from that environment, at least until the meme runs it’s lifespan out, was probably the best choice she could have made.

That brings me to the culture of memes in general. Let’s not beat around the bush here; memes are the LOWEST form of entertainment. Any brain dead schmuck with a pirated copy of Photoshop can parrot the same unfunny garbage as 5 million other people and call themselves an artist. The only reason these things gain traction is just for that reason; they cater to and are (mostly) produced by the lowest common denominator. As such, the ‘insights’ they share will almost always be the same sort mouth-breathing troglodyte thinking that seems to have been dominating the landscape lately.

Which is exactly why THIS unfunny hack job we’re talking about now is centered around homophobia. It seems pretty obvious that one blinkering jackass who enjoys the smell of their own beer farts thought it would be hilarious to make an anti-gay meme during Pride Month of all times and centered around a young person that has supported the community for a long time because they lack the number of functioning brain cells – most likely having died through multiple college benders – to understand how comedic juxtaposition is SUPPOSED to work (Or at least I HOPE that’s the explanation because the alternative is that they were ACTUALLY hoping this would destroy the LGBT+ community… somehow…). You need a punchline in order for a ‘joke’ to exist. So where is it here? Where’s the goddamn joke?

I know it sounds like I’m just angry and fuming right now, but I actually am that upset. Stuff like this – people that think that being offensive just to get a rise out of people qualifies as comedy and probably claims that “Mel Brooks could have gotten away with it” while failing to understand that even he had the common decency to not make light of lynching when he made Blazing Saddles– has been going on for far too long.

The sad part is that you can’t just ‘get rid’ of thinking like this. there’s always going to be some colossal, cretinous clod-hopper who thinks insults and threats of violence alone with no real comedic exaggeration are the height of humor. But we CAN make it clear to them that they have crossed a line. We can shame and abandon such ignorant people and leave them to rot in obscurity and their own intolerance.

On the unlikely chance that Millie sees this, know that you did nothing wrong. You’re just an unfortunate victim of cruel, uneducated sub-humans. I hope that someday, you’ll come back to us fully healed and ready to make us smile again. Until then, we’ll wait for you.

As for the rest of you, congratulations; you attacked a harmless community on their day of recognition, earned the ire and hate of the world, and made a 14-year-old girl cry. Your parents must be beaming with pride.

The Thought Dump Returns: More Random as Hell Thoughts

… Screw you too, writer’s block.

Well, I’m overdue for some spring cleaning anyway. So let just fire off with a bunch of thoughts that have randomly cropped up lately until I can reach a point where my individual thoughts can fill up a blog post on their own.

I’m losing my passion for politics

Folks, please. Can we just fix the obvious problems TOGETHER before things get worse?
Source: Wall Street Journal

You know how sometimes you get into a routine of seeing and hearing the same thing so often that you start to get bored with it because there seems to be nothing new to add or to experience and so you start to lose interest and are seriously considering bowing out of it all together?

Yeah, that’s me with politics right now.

It seems like every political story that comes my way these days focuses on the same damn things; Putin is shifty, Trump is a clod-hopper, and some knuckle-dragger with an automatic weapon is wiping out a crowd of people. I’ve already talked about all this or can’t say anything that hundreds of better-suited people have already said. And despite that, those in a position to do so REFUSE TO CHANGE IT. It’s exhausting.

But, the thing is that I know this is what a lot of less moral people are counting on; they want people to get worn out so that they’ll stop questioning them and just roll over. So, while I may not have the passion to TALK politics here, I’ll definitely say my peace and defend my stance elsewhere.

Gendered bathrooms are bulls***

Finally, someone who cares about the real issues.
Source: Nola

So a while back, while I was cleaning the bathrooms at the welcome center I work at, I had a harsh epiphany.

See, the way we have the bathrooms set up here, there are technically two women’s rooms. Should the men’s room ever need to be closed for cleaning, one of the cleaning staff can shut one of the women’s rooms from there side and unlock a door granting access from the men’s side – effectively turning it into a temporary men’s room.

But we get a bunch of men – at least one every night – that’s so rigid in the idea of what the men’s room should be that they panic when they don’t see a urinal and refuse to believe the sign pointing them where they ought to go. One group even slammed me with transphobic comments about being “in between” genders in response.

Firstly, urinals are pointless. I know this because no man has ever had a house with a urinal in his bathroom and he can get by with just a regular toilet.

Secondly, a chat with a co-worker about this incident and we came to the same conclusion; why do we even need gendered bathrooms when the stalls make any attempts at peeking inside obvious (yes, I know about the cracks in the doors, but that appears to be a uniquely American problem that can be easily fixed)? We could easily get away with a giant room of stalls that would make cleaning worlds easier and remove a lot of anxiety for trans-folks that worry about which one to use.

In short, if your the sort of person that freaks out about not having a dedicated device that allows you to stand while peeing, it’s probably not big enough to warrant the need to stand in the first place.

Gendered clothing is ALSO bulls***

“Closer than you know/love each other so/androgynous.” <3
Source: Irish Times

One of the things my mother and I do is look for clothing online together since she enjoys the finds and I’m always looking to expand my wardrobe. Of course, we often run into the sticking problem of men’s versus women’s sizes (#GenderQueerProblems).

The way men’s and women’s clothing are designed has little to do with gender in my experience and more to do with the way they hang on you. Men’s pants for example (because pants were what we were looking at last) tend to fit more loosely and shapelessly where women’s seem more like leggings than pants – clinging tight and shaping the legs and butt (which I love because my legs are one of the few things on my body that I ACTUALLY like).

So why can’t we have a universal sizing system without gendering that just focuses on the cut of the clothing instead? Maybe then we wouldn’t need conversion charts and cheat sheets from the internet to help us find a decent pair of shoes (seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a pair of cute pumps in a size 16?).

Metalhead Adulting: Why Aggretsuko Just Plain Works

Dragonball Super would be more fun if Goku belted Death Metal while going Ultra Instinct.
Source: Giphy.com

As usual, I’m late to the party on this one. But that’s not to say that I’ve been sleeping on Aggretsuko. I’ve been watching (and rewatching) it for some time now. It’s the first time that I’ve been genuinely excited about a Netflix series since Castlevania.

But where my interest in Castlevania was fueled mainly by nostalgia for the games it was adapted from, Aggretsuko is an original property reworked from a set of shorts and given an actual plot. Normally, adding plot where none was meant to be is just asking for trouble. So, why does it work?

Well, among many things…

The writing (the animal symbolism, especially) is clever

The titular Retsuko is a Red Panda; a species known for being more active after dark (she works long hours and goes to the karaoke bar at night) and being highly territorial despite its cute appearance (the series revolves around her Death Metal-fueled ranting and raving).

Her co-worker Haida, a Spotted Hyena is never seen laughing like we’d expect, but that’s probably because he’s lovestruck, loses his nerve around her and can’t loosen up (males in hyena clans are ALWAYS submissive to the women and their cubs).

Her boss, Director Ton, is a Hog who abuses his power and has little-to-no respect for women; a LITERAL male chauvinist pig.

These are just a few of the ways Aggretsuko plays with and/or subverts the stereotypes we attach to animals. It’s the sort of writing that you kick yourself for not thinking of yourself because it’s kind of obvious and works so well.

Of course, they also use that writing for clever humor as well. I’m actually surprised that so few people I know got how funny it was that Washimi, the company president’s secretary, was a SECRETARY Bird and that the director of marketing Gori was a Gorilla (get it, Guerrilla Marketing?)

It speaks to modern American work culture

This is the thing that EVERYONE talks about when they mention Aggretsuko. And to be fair it’s a big damn deal.

Retsuko’s plight is that of everyone between the age of 18 and 40 today. She spends her days at a job where she isn’t respected or compensated enough for the effort she puts in and what little time she does have to herself forces her to choose between her passion projects or a social life.

Think of it this way; the average American works 47 hours a week. Spread out over a standard 5-day work week, that’s about 9.5 hours a day. Subtract the recommended 8 hours a day we’re recommended for sleep and that leaves you with a mear 6.5 hours to do your daily chores around the house while likely running on fumes after work. And if you’re an office drone like Retsuko, you can expect to put in overnighters and be called into the office on weekends. And judging from her apartment, she also not being paid very well; another issue working adults face with increasingly infuriating frequency.

All of this culminates in the average person over 21 having little in the way of time, energy, and resources to focus on their own goals and becoming truly self-sufficient. The result is being forced to fight a constant losing battle to maintain mental health under the pressure of social responsibility; a scenario my generation refers to as “Adulting.” … which, hilariously, actually does have a Metal anthem dedicated to it.

Speaking of metal…

It also speaks to modern Japanese music culture

Let’s not forget that this is anime and, as such, draws its perspective from a Japanese point-of-view. So what is uniquely Japan in Aggretsuko?

Well, Japanese comedy has always been quick to poke fun at office life as anyone who enjoys slice-of-life anime can tell you. But I honestly feel that most people overlook the significance of Metal in Japan’s Pop music culture.

You see, one of the great things about Metal that has kept it alive through the years is that it’s highly adaptive; changing not only with trends but with the culture that picks it up. Norway gave us the second wave of Black Metal in the 90’s. German bands like Rammstein shaped Neue Deutsche Härte (lit. “New German Hardness”). Even us Yankees saw what New Wave British Heavy Metal was doing, pumped up the tempo, and made U.S. Power Metal.

But to see why Death Metal is so important to the modern music scene in Japan, you first have to first understand the place of J-Pop Idol Groups.

The Pop scene in Japan is the definition of corporate manufactured music. They are marketed as being cute role models first and music seems to be a tertiary thought. That would be offensive enough to a music snob like me, but the groups are VERY strictly maintained to an almost draconian degree. Members of the group “graduate” (read: are kicked out of the band) after reaching a certain age. They cant drink. They can’t smoke. They can’t even have boyfriends. And if they get caught breaking any of the rules, they’re publicly shamed online before being given the boot.

Naturally, a lot of people took exception to this. It’s not right that these girls be bullied for wanting to live a life outside of their jobs. Plus, some people don’t mind the controversy; they WANT to root for the bad girls that stick it to the man. This resulted in J-Pop taking influences from Death Metal’s aesthetics, sound, and counter-cultural drive to mock the shallow absurdity of the Pop Idol scene.

Thus we saw the rise of the Anti-Idols. Bands like Necronomidol and Babymetal have been leading this movement that pushes against the Pop music zeitgeist that has been dominating Japan for years and results in a sound that I can only describe as the cutest little girls covering “Awaken (Mustakrakish)” by Dethklok.

So how appropriate is it the same genre of music that inspired the Idols to throw two proud middle fingers at the industry would also be the sound backing Retsuko’s battle cry against her corporate overlords commanding them to, “choke on my rage?”

3 Things Everyone Needs To Understand About Clinical Depression

A cliche at this point, but this is still a relevant chart.
Source: Imgur

So, I’m going through a LOT of overwhelming B.S. right now. I’m unsatisfied with my living and working situation, there’s a lot of various panic and concern going on in my family, I’m worried for the well being of many loved ones, and I’m starting to lose faith in myself and my abilities.

Basically, it’s the worst time ever for depression to hit.

Of course, every time I or someone I know goes through one of these depressive episodes, someone has to start up with their s*** thinking that they’re helping when they’re really just belittling us with classic catchphrases like, “what do you have to be sad about,” “just go outside and walk it off,” and my personal favorite, “it’s all in your head.”

Well, I’m fed up. I’m converting that soul-crushing despair into white-hot anger and dispelling a few of the myths that have been keeping me and people like me down for years all because people are too lazy or too ignorant to take the time to understand a serious psychological disorder.

Depression isn’t just being sad

Everyone gets sad sometimes; that’s just a fact of life. But the thing to remember is that sadness can be overcome quite easily. It’s one bad day or an unfortunate event that eventually passes.

Depression is MUCH more severe.

A depressive episode is so intense that it saps your ability to function and even perform daily tasks; you lose drive and hope. And you would lose hope too if you had to endure an inexplicable sense of apathy for weeks or, more often,  even months.

Depression is so much more than just inexplicable sadness; it’s a complex neural imbalance that not only drains a person’s will but affects people differently and to different degrees.

Coping with depression isn’t the same as treating it

I was diagnosed clinically depressed when I was about 8 years old. I have bounced around from one medication to another with none producing the effects I needed or, if they did work properly, quickly resulted in diminishing returns as I grew more resistant to them. I came to the conclusion that finding a non-chemical solution was a better alternative. So, I started building up a philosophy to help cope with those thoughts and feelings that crop up during a depressive episode. In fact, I’ve shared a good chunk of that philosophy with you right here already.

But please note that I said, “COPE with;” not treat. My depression is still very much active – often times without anybody noticing it beyond listlessness and exhaustion.

Because depression can affect everyone to different degrees and in different ways, coping isn’t always an option. Belittling people for needing to rely on an anti-depressant to achieve a balanced mind so they can function is akin to mocking an amputee for using a prosthetic limb instead of hopping around on one leg.

Being active can help… TO A POINT

One of the things that I got a lot when I was dealing with depression in my early days was that I wasn’t physically active enough. They kept telling that if I exercised and got my dopamine pumping, I’d feel better.

And yes, the dopamine from physical activity can help stave off the symptoms of depression (again, coping is NOT treatment), but it’s rarely an ideal solution.

First of all, depression often places you in a state of apathy where you can’t be motivated to act making it difficult just to get started with a workout routine (hence why I refuse to spend money on a gym membership like so many suggest to me).

Secondly, don’t forget that, at the end of the day, dopamine is a drug – a highly addictive drug that often has diminishing returns if you’re swimming in the stuff constantly. Addiction leads to desperation. And when the primary method of getting a dopamine boost is physical thrills, you may be inclined to do more reckless things to get your fix. Have you ever seen those thrill seekers that do stupidly dangerous stuff for fun? Yeah, that’s what dopamine addiction looks like.

In conclusion, don’t treat people with depression like sad sacks looking for attention. They really are going through hell and you just can’t see it. Also, don’t ignore your depression if you’re a sufferer. If you find that coping isn’t a working option for you, talk to a doctor or therapist as soon as possible.

Take care of yourselves, know that you’re loved, and remember – whatever you’re feeling right now, it’s not your fault.

Celebrating My Girlfriend’s 1-Year Gender Affirmation Surgery Anniversary

So, one year ago today, my beloved Marie (who you may recall inspired a recent article here) underwent her gender affirmation surgery at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York. To mark the occasion, she shared her story with us, her closest friends and family, to give us an idea of the process.

I won’t be reciting her story verbatim here as I feel that should be her choice to share something that personal. That said, the story did get me to continue considering my own gender identity exploration. I’m still on the fence about GAS at this moment and I feel I really shouldn’t be as neutral to something this big as I am.

I’m not going to give a long-winded essay this week like I normally do because there’s actually very little insight that I can give. Every stage of transition for a transgender person is different after all. Some are perfectly content with a purely social transition – changing their name, pronouns, and choice of dress. Others engage in hormone replacement therapy to feminize or masculinize themselves. And if they do opt for surgery, they may only have breast augmentation/chest masculinization, only alter their genitalia, or both.

What I can do, however, is direct people to information. This way, those considering transitioning can get a better feel for how they want to continue on and those who are confused or even scared by the idea of someone transitioning can have the process demystified and they can start understanding the other persons position a little better.

So, I urge you all to check these two articles that were supplied to me. Firstly, this Teen Vogue article details the reasons and methods behind transitioning as told by a medical professional in the field. Secondly, for those considering vaginoplasty like Marie, this video shows the process (warning: even though it’s a computer animation, it IS still surgery and may be difficult for more squeamish viewers to view).

Happy anniversary, hon. And may we all be so blessed as to live in the way and shape that we choose for ourselves.