Health

I'm a Bad Bitch with Shame and Anxiety, OK?

I decided to delve into my shame and anxiety with writer Safy-Hallan Farah, and also ask her some questions about her own shame and anxiety.

by So Sad Today
Jun 11 2015, 6:07pm

Illustrations by Joel Benjamin

I met the writer Safy-Hallan Farah online, when she interviewed me for The Awl. By the time we were done with the interview, I was enmeshed in her Twitter feed.

The first of her tweets to woo me was: "tbh if you're not a cancer, check your astrological privilege. our sign is named after a disease that has killed millions of people."

I then became enthralled by a multi-tweet miniseries she did about skinny white girls, which included "skinny white girls peak everyday" and "show me a skinny white girl who was popping online a few years ago and i bet she's a walking tragedy right now."

Safy seemed to love So Sad Today. But I wondered if she knew that behind So Sad Today was a skinny white girl? Could I still be cool? I decided to delve with her into my shame, and also ask her some questions about her own shame and anxiety.

So Sad Today: I laughed at your series of 'skinny white girls peaking' tweets. I was like 'yeah, fuck those skinny white girls.' Then I was like, oh no, I'm a skinny white girl. Would you think So Sad Today was lame if you knew she was a skinny white girl?
Safy Hallan Farah: No, because I like your personality—well, I like So Sad Today's personality and I like your tweets. I think you're funny, very self-aware, and very on-brand for what you're doing. The only time I ever felt like you had a weird tweet, I think you deleted that like within seconds. And also, even before you came out, I knew who you were, because I feel like So Sad Today was always an out secret, just like in Hollywood, when everyone is like "John Travolta's gay!" but he'll never come out, even though everyone knows? It's kind of like that with you.

What if So Sad Today is a skinny white girl but was chubby as a teen (like, her stomach was bigger than her tits and at 14 she was like 'yo where the fuck are my tits and also why don't I have pubes and where the fuck is my period?') as well as at various other parts of her life. Would that lend some cred back to the skinny white girl?
I can relate to this. I didn't have tits. I was a chubby kid. I'm still a chubby kid. I didn't have the body hair I expected to have, like, at 14. I didn't get my period until I was 14. But it was cool. I was growing. I didn't stop growing until I was 21. I'm 5'10".

OK, so I want to ask you something as a white girl (well, I'm a Jew, so, like beige). Not to put too much pressure on you, or ask you to speak for a whole culture. But just, human being to human being. Your opinion.

So, I feel sad about what is being revealed to me about the systemic racism in this country. I want to help the movement. But how do I be the best ally I can be without appropriating anyone else's pain or speaking for anyone else's struggle? I ask this, because I went to some of the Eric Garner protests in Los Angeles a few months ago and felt really empowered, moved, and almost high from the energy of the crowds. But then I felt kind of weird about that after. Like, am I having a catharsis over something that is not mine to have a catharsis about?
First of all, that is a very normal feeling. I think that in the history of movements and protests, people are energized by that because the system is so exhausting. And when you see people banding together and being like, this is bad or let's do something good or whatever the sentiment is, then you have that feeling like you're energized. Me, personally, I've never been to a protest, because just like you I deal with anxiety. I feel like I don't want to ever put myself in these kinds of anxious situations. Especially as a black Muslim woman, I feel like it would be not fun? Also, I think about stuff like how I'm perceived, especially in Minneapolis, because Minneapolis is a very weird place with very interesting dynamics, and I don't want to ever look like I'm a "politically active" person, because that could get me branded in a weird way that I'm not interested in.

Now do I like to share resources and links and share my time and energy with people? Yes. But you'll never catch me at a protest, partly due to anxiety and partly due to what I think it says about me and the way people read me. I'm not a very political person. As much as people would like to think I'm political because I have opinions, I'm not political. If I feel like something needs to be said or someone needs to be uplifted, I use my platform for that. I don't have a huge platform myself, but the little platform I have, I try to use it for more than just myself. Do I think there's something wrong or appropriative with you having a cathartic moment at a protest? No, because what are you supposed to feel other than bad? Like, there should be at least some good out of it. It is healing and it is affirming to be around people who agree with you and are trying to change things that are bad.

It's weird, but protests are way less of an anxiety trigger for me than one-on-one intimacy with another person. At least at protests you can move around a lot and yell. I think I'd rather march with thousands of strangers than have coffee with one person whose judgment I fear or who I'm scared of alienating (which is basically, like, everyone).

OK, let's talk about your "glo up." On your Tumblr, you said that you started doing the work of loving yourself (for real) last summer. I've been thinking a lot about self-love lately, because while I kind of never understood the point of it, I feel like I am now being forced to love myself. Like, my anxiety and depression have been so bad in 2015 that I've been forced to slow down (I'm sort of doing this), not expect so much of myself (I'm sort of doing this), eat better (this hasn't happened yet), and a bunch of other stuff. I guess I always thought that self-love was a feeling, but now I'm starting to think of it more as an action. Tell me more about the work you are doing.
When I don't feel so great about me, I acknowledge and interrogate why. I don't swim in self-pity as much. I do what I can to build myself up. What I mean by building myself up is I try to nourish my body. I try to read and internalize positive affirmations and imagery. It sounds really hokey but it's helped me master my emotions more and manifest goodness for me and my friends/family/colleagues.

'Glo up' is a term coined by Chief Keef. It means to more than grow up—to grow up to the point where negativity can't phase you for that long, you look better, you feel better and everyone can tell. The glo up encompasses the personal and professional. The way I see it is I've really invested in myself since July of 2014. I say 'no' when I want to, I'm not self-sacrificial anymore, I don't trust as easily and I've started really actually writing? I was writing before last summer but mostly through Tumblr. Now I write for a lot of different publications. But the glo up isn't just about me. ALL MY FRIENDS ARE THRIVING. It's about radiating positivity and love and manifesting greatness for the whole team. My team is made up of wonderful friends, mentors, and colleagues. It takes a village to foster a glo up. It's really about building everyone up. I think rap lyrics—not just Chief Keef's lyrics—really help facilitate the glo up. I'm always like "team us we ain't worried about them" or "my squad good, we don't really need a mascot" to myself because these lyrics are the truth. It's powerful to focus on yourself and your friends. It's like ARMOR from all the negativity, hatred, and spirit killing out there.

Safy-Hallan Farah

It doesn't sound hokey at all. Rap lyrics as mantras are definitely the way to go. When you say that you aren't judging yourself as harshly, how were you able to turn that around? Like, is the first voice in your head still one of self-criticism and then there is a second voice that tells that first voice to chill out? Or at least, the second voice examines it to see if it is really true? Or has the first voice also changed and gotten softer, gentler, more kind?
It's weird. I think I over-analyze everything, which doesn't help. What I used to do but am learning to do less of is over-analyze everything that is going wrong in a way where like I come to the conclusion I'm the worst seven out of ten times. I would almost always reach that conclusion. And when I wouldn't, I would be over-analyzing and being over-critical of others. I'm still an over-analyzer and I'm still very critical but I just try to be fair. I have to be kinder to myself and I have to look at others with a kinder eye, too. It's very easy for me to hate myself. I think that's kind of the default for a lot of people because it requires almost no work, just like it takes no effort to hate other people.

So you're, like, still the worst sometimes but not as often? That's cool. I'm still usually the worst. But I feel inspired by your glo up. Can you share some more rap affirmations that you like—maybe some that don't include the squad, for those of us with social anxiety?
An old friend of mine had this mix we used to listen to a lot in her car. The mix had a song by the Roots called "Rising Down." I love that song because it has this line that's like "I don't wanna floss, I just lost my passion." I interpret it like this: stunting/flossing is EXHAUSTING. It gets tiring. I love stunting on people and I went through a phase in 2012 where my stunting was mainly about looking cute. I got into makeup and used to straighten my hair everyday. That got exhausting. I don't have time for that shit. I lost my passion. Right now I'm burned out from stunting with regards to, like, writing. I've lost the passion a little. It's exhausting. I like this lyric because it's really about preserving your energy, especially within the context of the whole song, which is about a politically and otherwise chaotic world.

Another lyric I love is "yeah you got some sweet and low but really are you eating though?" from Childish Gambino's "Sweatpants." I love this lyric because it makes me think about all the people who have a lot going for them on the surface but who seem so unfulfilled? A lot of writers aren't eating! They have a lot of nice stuff (followers, bylines, etc.) but I don't really want their lives or want any of that nice stuff. I'm really fulfilled over here. I'm really eating in the "I ain't missin' no meals," Nicki Minaj sense.

Oh, god. I feel like Childish Gambino can see right through me. Like, he knows I'm deep in the Splenda game—literally and metaphorically.

Stunting is exhausting. Sometimes, when you lose interest in things that you used to enjoy, people start to worry about you. Like, it's a big question on depression questionnaires: have you lost interest in activities you once enjoyed? And it can be seen as a sign of an existential crisis. But maybe that existential crisis is actually good. Maybe it's your soul's way of eliminating the bullshit so you can glo up. Like, glo or die?
Yep. Stunting I think is exhausting because it's showing off, because it's performative. I love feeling great about myself but I'm a writer, so I also REALLY WANT APPROVAL. Stunting in this warped way is another form of seeking approval from others, albeit more aggressively. It's like, 'HEY LOOK AT ME I'M THE SHIT. DO YOU SEE ME BEING THE SHIT???? HEY YOU!!!!" It feels wiser to just cut out all the spectators and stunt on yourself. The glo up, in its purest sense, is about stunting on yourself and aggressively courting your own damn attention.

Trying to impress other people can definitely burn you out. But some people stay on that hamster wheel forever. It's a really nice way to avoid feeling your feelings. I love avoiding feeling my feelings! But when you're stunting for yourself, you have to know who you are and what you really want. That's more real. And it's scary.
You're very successful. Do you stunt? I get the sense you do but everything you do seems so effortless and self-deprecating, it feels like you're not as concerned with looking accomplished or great in front of everyone.

I definitely have stunted to avoid facing the reality of being alive and the reality of death. Like, if X thinks I am hot then I don't have to think about death. Or if Z knows that I have accomplished this thing, it really matters. I feel less ephemeral. I feel witnessed. Stunting is a beautiful distraction. And I think we all want to be seen on some level. At the same time, I recently got burned out on stunting for others. I didn't want to get burned out, because the stunting protected me from deeper fears and questions. But it happened and now I'm like, "Fuck." Now I actually have to make meaning for myself. The act of writing, itself, has always felt meaningful. But the publication—by the time that happens, it's always been very stunty. I think this is part of why I'm really interested in your glo up. I'm sort of searching.
Are you worried about other people's insecurities? My thing now is that I'm hyper-aware of the fact that a lot of my stunting has contributed to my own suffering in recent months. I don't want to make anyone feel insecure, even though stunting, when it's done for others, is about making everyone STEW over your accomplishments, your beauty, etc.

I'm worried about everything. And I don't want to hurt anyone. Wait, do I? I wonder if the suffering of others is implicit to successful stunting.

I think one way to appear less stunty is, like, when you announce something cool that you've done, to do it in lowercase and, like, throw an emoji in there. I feel like there might even be certain emoji that implicitly chill out the stunt. Like, the spaghetti emoji and the sheep emoji are def not super stunty. Whereas, the shooting star emoji might bait the haters.

In all seriousness though, I would hate to see you not stunt at all. Your bravado is wonderful. I think it's a big learning curve in terms of how much we take in "the haters" and other people's criticism and utilize it to evolve, and how much to stick to one's own vision and just be like fuck it. You come off as brave, so it's interesting to note that behind some of the stunt there are questions regarding the stunt itself. I guess that's how it always is. We always think everyone else knows what they are doing. That's why it's refreshing when people take off the mask sometimes and are like, Gurl. I have no idea.
I feel 100%. Namaste, So Sad.

Safy-Hallan is a writer for Nylon and Pitchfork, among other publications. She lives in Minneapolis.

So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of a biweekly column on this website.