Some Thoughts on Depression

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Rewind the tape of life a couple of months: I wake up in my beautiful room in Munich, quickly check some messages and emails, jump out from under the covers, let the window shade snap against the ceiling, grin at the sun (or make a face at the rain), jump in the shower, get dressed, have breakfast and I’m ready to go in 45 minutes. After my 30-minute train “commute” to uni, I eagerly greet the sun as I climb the escalator from the metro to the surface. I’m always super organized and am generally able to get shit done. I prepare for lectures and go over my notes afterwards. I get assignments done on time and they are perfect to my standards. I generally feel like a happy person, I go out for amazing food with my friends, I drive home on the weekend to see my family and our amazing dog. Again, I can get shit done, if I really want to. This is not to say my life at this point is perfect and I’m always a happy, sunny person – but let’s flash forward to today.

The past weeks I have not been able to get anything done, I have never before procrastinated this bad. I avoid doing my readings by wasting time on my phone, and the thing that surprises me the most is that I don’t even care. I used to get anxiety attacks about reading things on time and getting assignments done perfectly. Now I just don’t seem to give a shit. Why?! I mean, I think it’s great that I don’t get as much anxiety over uni work at the moment, but I really didn’t want it to dip into the other extreme? I’m on exchange in Canada right now, I should be having the time of my life, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I should be getting everything out of it that I can – instead I spend the days sitting in bed avoiding readings and skimming social media. This is nuts! The only way I can explain this is by finally facing the fact that I probably have depression and am currently facing a super annoying depressive episode at the most inconvenient time possible.

The worst thing is, I broke up with my girlfriend last week because I felt like our temporarily long-distance relationship (Canada – South Africa, how much further away from each other can you get?) was sapping my energy and not providing enough happiness for me at the same time. I broke up to fully concentrate on Canada and make the best of it. Only that didn’t do shit. I probably made the so far worst mistake of my life because I failed to recognize that the source of my lack of energy and bleak look on life and general feeling of “meeeh I just don’t really care about anything anymore” was not our relationship, but fucking depression. And that thing is nasty, too, toying with my mind and planting thoughts in my head like “You never loved your girlfriend, it’s been an illusion all this time”. Or “You should be strong enough to handle this on your own, you don’t need help, only failures can’t pull themselves out of it on their own.”

One of my biggest problems with it is that I’m a super rational person. If I can’t rationally explain something, it’s hard for me to make sense of it. And I just can’t rationally explain these thoughts and feelings. From a rational perspective, I should be the happiest person on earth: I have the best friends anyone could wish for and super supportive parents on top of that. I had the sweetest and most loving girlfriend, she always had my back and I could talk to her about anything. We had a super deep connection, of the kind that I have never experienced with another human being, ever. My amazing home university sent me on exchange to an equally amazing university in Canada, I’ve been planning this for over a year, and now I’m finally here and I love my courses and I’m involved in different clubs and I’ve already made friends that I know are going to stick for life. Just spelling out all the amazing things that are actually happening to me right now make my current feelings and thoughts appear even more silly. Because from a rational perspective, everything is awesome, right?

So I can’t explain where these negative feelings are coming from, but at the same time I feel like I have to listen to them. Everybody’s always talking about being in tune with your body and listening to figure out what’s potentially going wrong. So I generally take my thoughts and feelings very seriously. But this now has me thinking that the thoughts depression is pounding into my head are actually coming from myself. I have a hard time separating myself from the illness – on the other hand, it really is a product of my brain, right? I’m obviously just super confused. Another thing is, I don’t want to use my depression to somehow justify my actions, along the lines of “Oh that wasn’t really me, it was my depression that broke up with my girlfriend.” But would I really have broken up with her if I would have been “in my right mind”, not influenced by this thing that is apparently a mental illness and on top of that really difficult to grasp?

Today was the first day in weeks that I actually felt productive. I woke up to my alarm at a reasonable time, spent too much time on my phone, as always, managed to shower and clean up (sort of), eat breakfast and kicked my butt out of my room two hours after waking up. I made an appointment with a counselor today – correct, I actually made it all the way down the steps of Maggie Benston Center to Health and Counseling Services without keeling over, stated my business, filled out the paper work, got an appointment and got out of there without embarrassing myself or acting stupid or running away. Then I figured out the automatic staplers in the library, stapled and hole-punched a bunch of papers, printed my ballot for the election in November, filled it out, scanned it and sent it. Went to my courses and back to the library after that, finally finished some readings I had been avoiding all week – I haven’t gotten this much done in days!

But now I’m back to sitting in my bed avoiding the next readings, which are due tomorrow by the way, but I really don’t care for some reason. I apparently also couldn’t care less that I have a presentation the day after tomorrow. Under “normal” circumstances I would be absolutely freaking out right now (yay anxiety, but that’s a different topic). Instead I’m writing blog posts trying to make sense of all of this. And at the same time there’s that awful little voice in my head telling me that what I did today was not enough, because have you even seen your to do list and all the work piling up? You’re such a failure for not being able to pull yourself out of this on your own! Get a grip on your life, will you? Just look on the bright side, it’s so easy to do, you just lack self-discipline because here you still are, doing nothing, wasting your precious life.

Seriously, I hope my counselor knows a way out, because this is just so fucked up.

 

 

Love is love is love is love

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Monday evening a vigil was held for the victims of the Pulse shooting in front of the U.S. Consulate in Munich. (c) Steffi Berens

June is Pride Month and yesterday 50 people were killed and 53 injured during a shooting at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando. The mainstream media is heavily speculating on the killer’s possible ties to terrorist groups, his background and his exact motivations, while usually mentioning the fact that the target was a club filled with celebrating LGBTQ people only in the margins. After reading some of the countless reports on this horrible incident, I focused on pieces by queer outlets and was thankful for all the anger and outrage, but also the comfort that they articulated.

After every shooting I wonder how many more it will take for lawmakers to finally get behind gun control. I’m tired of people bringing out bullshit arguments along the lines of “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” I’m tired of people insisting on the right to bear arms, grounded in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That right might have made sense in an 18th century frontier society, but not in modern-day USA, where there are far too many assholes able to legally obtain the means to kill innocent people going about their lives in schools, universities, movie theaters, health care centers and night clubs. I’m tired of people hailing “American freedom”, while at the same time school children are shot, women are targeted for visiting abortion clinics and queer people celebrating Pride are killed – because in 2016 it still seems to be shocking for women to actually own their bodies or for two people to openly express their love on the street.

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Dozens of candles and roses were placed on a rainbow flag in front of the U.S. Consulate. (c) Steffi Berens

I’m tired of constantly keeping half an eye on my surroundings when I’m holding my girlfriend’s hand in public, of cautiously looking around before and after we exchange a quick kiss because chances are there might be somebody watching us in disapproval. Not that I care about anybody’s opinion, but I do care about the possibility that society can produce some fucked up individuals capable of verbally or physically assaulting people because they dare to declare their love in public. I’m tired of U.S. politicians implementing laws making queer and trans lives even more difficult than they already can be, and thereby sending a message to the public that discrimination and hatred is acceptable and in some states even legal. I’m tired of German politicians hypocritically talking about openness and tolerance but at the same time failing to even acknowledge that the victims of this attack were LGBTQs.

The attack in Orlando is an attack on the entire queer community, no matter what country we live in. Even though incidents like these try to ingrain fear into our heads, our hearts will stand united because love is love is love is love and cannot be killed or swept aside.

 

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

That nothing here is promised, not one day

This show is proof that history remembers

We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger

We rise and fall and light from dying embers

Remembrances that hope and love lasts long

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love

Cannot be killed or swept aside.

from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Awards acceptance speech

 

I Wish I Had Been Born Without

I wish I had been born without a vagina. Not that I would want a penis instead, I’d rather just have no genitals at all. Then I wouldn’t be subject to all the fucked up things going on in the world. I could just be me, walking around this earth without fear of being raped or ever touched without my consent. I wouldn’t have to deal with misogyny or sexism or expectations placed upon me because I happen to have a vagina.

You can declare that you have no gender or that you don’t fit the gender binary, but you can’t declare that you have no sex. Because it’s still there, right between your legs, determined by a doctor the moment it’s visible on an ultrasound. It’s irrevocably stamped onto your birth certificate, male or female, stamped for life, unless you undergo gender reassignment surgery and pay money to have a piece of paper altered, but you can’t get rid of it altogether, you’re still stuck with some kind of sex, stuck with it for life.

Why is it that we place so much importance on genitals? Who ever started that? Who was the first to say, I have a penis and therefore I shall be more powerful than people that don’t, in fact, have a penis. Who ever put the idea into the heads of humans that they shall be classified into two groups, and two groups only, based on the stuff between their legs. Who ever invented these expectations that required the ones with vaginas to be frail and emotional and vulnerable and passive and have humans come out of their vaginas and who ever said the ones with penises are the ones to be strong and courageous and active and entitled to power over the ones with the vaginas. These concepts are bullshit and it’s tiring to fight against them, every fucking day of our lives, fighting to be seen as more than just creatures with either a vagina or a penis, just fighting all the time to stay alive without going insane.

And who ever said the ones with vaginas are to love the ones with the penises or the ones with penises to love the ones with vaginas and who ever made it an abomination for the ones with vaginas to love the ones with vaginas and the ones with penises to love the ones with penises, who ever said that it should be abnormal, that those ones should be punished by laws made by the others and that thing called heteronormativity, that thing that hurls itself in your face every fucking day of your life and tells you that you’re not normal, not normal, not normal.

And who ever said we should all be normal, normal is boring, but not being normal can suck the life out of you and at some point you almost wish to be normal, but then again being normal would mean to not be yourself, so you’d rather die than actually become normal, but maybe there just needs to be a new normal, but that won’t happen anytime soon, so yeah, anyway, it’s exhausting.

Übergriffe in Köln – ein Startschuss?

Oberbürgermeisterin Frau Reker schlägt eine Armlänge Abstand vor, das Internet lässt daraufhin einen Shitstorm los, diskutiert dann aber doch, ob diese Aussage nicht völlig aus dem Kontext gegriffen wurde. Währenddessen frage ich mich, ob die Übergriffe am Kölner Hauptbahnhof nun das “Ende der Zivilisiertheit” bedeuten oder ob endlich der Startschuss für den Feminismus in Deutschland gefallen ist.

Ich sitze im Fernbus von Mainz nach München. Ich bin todmüde und schlecht drauf, weil ich nach einer Woche Freunde besuchen und Silvester feiern wieder nach Hause fahre. Die Aussichten sind nicht besonders rosig: 6,5 Stunden eingepfercht zwischen Nebel und Regen hinter der kalten Fensterscheibe und Frau mit überdimensionalen Kissen, die ihren blöden, leeren Kaffeebecher im Netz vor meinem Sitz hat stecken lassen. Wir schaukeln der Dämmerung entgegen, mit halbem Ohr höre ich dem Radio zu, bekomme irgendwas von “Köln”, “sexuellen Übergriffen” und “Vergewaltigung” mit. Heilige Scheiße. Im Laufe der nächsten Stunden und Tage erscheinen unzählige Artikel diverser Zeitungen und Blogs auf Facebook, meist mit einem Titel nach dem Motto “So ganz genau wissen wir noch nicht, was in Köln vorgefallen ist, aber wir schreiben mal trotzdem darüber”. Manche Posts sprechen auch von Vorfällen in Hamburg und Stuttgart. Ganz vorsichtig wird erwähnt, dass die Übergreifer möglicherweise nordafrikanischer oder arabischer Herkunft sind, woraufhin sich in den Kommentaren Leute tummeln, die das “Ende der Zivilisiertheit” in Deutschland prophezeien. Schuld daran seien natürlich Flüchtlinge, die “ihre rape culture” in unser hochzivilisiertes, westliches, perfektes Land einschleppen.

Auf die Idee, dass rape culture vielleicht kein ausschließlich ausländisches Phänomen ist, scheint bis jetzt anscheinend noch keiner gekommen zu sein. Vor allem die Männer, die sich über die Übergriffe empören und im gleichen Atemzug dafür plädieren, “die Fluchtis in ein Lager zu sperren”, um zu verhindern, dass in Deutschland ein “arabisches Frauenbild ausgelebt wird”, hätten sich garantiert nicht zu Wort gemeldet, wenn die Täter Deutsche gewesen wären. Überhaupt gäbe es keinen solchen Medienaufstand, wenn nur wenige Frauen inmitten des Silvestergewühls ein Problem bekommen hätten. So ein paar Missbräuche und Vergewaltigungen zwischen Böllern, Raketen und ungesunden Alkoholpegeln sind ja normal.

Aber selbst manche Frauen versetzen mich mit ihren Aussagen über die Übergriffe in Erstaunen. Eine Journalistin vom deutschen Zweig der Huffington Post stellt fest, dass sie sich “auch ohne kriminelle nordafrikanische Asylbewerber als Frau nachts nicht alleine an einem Bahnhof herumtreiben” würde. Und damit sieht sie kein Problem? Wie zum Teufel kann man behaupten, in Deutschland seien Frauen und Männer ganz vorbildlich gleichstellt, wenn sich Frauen offensichtlich nicht zu jeder Tages- und Nachtzeit frei in der Öffentlichkeit bewegen können, ohne Angst haben zu müssen?

Hier kommt dann auch Frau Reker und die Armlänge Abstand ins Spiel. Völlig egal, ob die Aussage aus dem Kontext gerissen wurde und die Oberbürgermeisterin nur auf bestehende Hinweise der Polizei verwiesen hat, das Problem ist immer noch dasselbe: Frauen sollen ihre eigenen Verhaltensweisen dem Verhalten der Täter anzupassen. Wir sollen keine hohen Schuhe anziehen, um im Notfall schneller fliehen zu können, keine kurzen Röcke, um die Phantasien irgendwelcher Männer erst gar nicht anzuregen, wir sollen nur in Gruppen auf die Straße gehen, auf unseren Alkoholkonsum achten, und, wenn es nach den Kölner Verhaltensrichtlinien geht, nun auch eine Armlänge Abstand zu Fremden halten. Und das nennt sich dann “gesunder Menschenverstand”. Für mich klingt das nicht nach gut gemeinten Ratschlägen, sondern nach einer massiven Einschränkung meiner persönlichen Freiheit und ganz klar nach Beschuldigung der Opfer. Natürlich sind die Täter Schweine etc., aber hätten die Frauen sich mal besser geschützt! Bekäme ein Fuzzi von der  US-amerikanischen Waffenlobby diese Geschichten zu Gehör, würde der garantiert noch hinzufügen, dass das alles nicht passiert wäre, wenn die Frauen bloß bewaffnet gewesen wären.

Einen Augenblick lang dachte ich, dass die Übergriffe vielleicht ein Startschuss für den Feminismus in Deutschland sein könnten. Dass endlich mal ein paar Leute aufwachen und merken, dass Frauen verdammt nochmal immer noch nicht gleichgestellt sind, dass mit unserer Gesellschaft irgendetwas richtig verkorkst sein muss, wenn Frauen nicht auf die Straße gehen können, ohne Angst haben zu müssen. Dass irgendwas nicht stimmen kann, wenn Frauen mit Ratschlägen bezüglich ihres Verhaltens konfrontiert werden, über die sich ein Mann nie in seinem Leben Gedanken machen muss. Aber offensichtlich werden diese schrecklichen Vorfälle mal wieder nur dazu genutzt, um Hass gegen Einwanderer zu schüren. Stattdessen sollte man Deutschland selbst – und wenn man schon dabei ist, auch der ganzen Welt – mal einen Spiegel vorhalten und sich fragen, wie im Jahr 2016 so etwas überhaupt noch passieren kann.

 

From Ghana to Vancouver to Paris to Insanity

I’m once again on the brink of going completely insane. Tuesday my application for a semester abroad in Vancouver is due. I’ve obsessed over this whole thing for more than half a year now and I’m getting so close to actually ridding all of these stupid forms and papers from my desk and my mind – and at this very moment I’m totally chickening out.

Flashback to about 2.5 years ago a few months before high school graduation: It’s going on midnight, I’m sitting at my desk in front of my laptop, which is covered in Word documents planning out my “I need to get out of Germany and do something crazy NOW”-trip to Ghana. At this point my imagination has transitioned from the phase where you see every damn thing through rose-tinted glasses to the phase where that utopian image is brutally shattered. This is normally also the stage where fear kicks in. Major fucking fear. In the case of Ghana this fear arrived about a week before departure while packing and repacking my brand-new globetrotter backpack (with too much medication and not enough t-shirts). I was scared to death. After almost a year of planning this trip, it had suddenly occurred to me that I would actually be leaving my family, my home, my dog, my nice and comfy safe spaces and my comfort zone for Eight. Months. Turns out, those were the best eight months of my life up to now and I would have killed myself for not getting on that first plane from Munich to Hamburg. But by the time I boarded the second plane to Dubai, I was already exhausted, and ready to bawl my eyes out. Since I was crammed inside a metal bird with too many strangers at that moment, I saved the bawling for the first week I spent in Ghana. I went through the first culture shock in my life, and it wasn’t pretty. But after that first week, things began to be totally awesome. I started adapting to the new circumstances and basically learned how to survive on my own in a strange country with amazingly awesomely weird people (my fellow volunteers, some of whom are still my bestest friends) around me. And after two months of that I went to the US and to Costa Rica and then back to the US and I survived it all and it was the coolest time ever!

Flash-back-forward to today: My illusionary pink bubble (wait – I hate pink. Let’s make it orange or something.) was viciously shattered by a documentary we watched for our Canadian Culture seminar about the punk scene in Vancouver. I suddenly realized that Vancouver was actually a city. And cities are seldom perfect environments for dreamers and  idealists and people with a completely skewed picture of foreign places, as myself. (For some reason, I would usually describe myself as a pretty hardcore realist, but somehow this feature just disappears when it comes to traveling.) Cities are dirty, cities can display radical inequalities, cities can be dangerous – life can be dangerous! I think I’m actually suffering from Paris Syndrome, only like a year in advance of the actual encounter.

So I have to turn in a whole stack of papers on Tuesday. My letter of motivation still needs a more creative introduction, something right between “a semester abroad would greatly benefit my academic advancement bla bla boring” and “Vancouver: The L Word was shot there (which means Kate Moennig touched Vancouver soil!) and Tegan Quin lives there – by the way, they also have this great university I’d like to spend a semester at!”. I haven’t gotten past those extremes yet. Since our department has this amazing invention called the Writing Center, I thought I’d stop by there to get some feedback on my letter and my resume. If only these people would actually show up to their official office hours postet on their official website hosted by the official American Studies department of the official Faculty of Language and Literature Studies of the totally official University of official Munich, I would have one less problem now. Since nobody was there, I wrote an email to make an appointment for this week, which has not been replied to and also I got mixed up with the times so they might actually ask me to come at a time that I actually can’t really make but ACTUALLY I asked for this time, but – I probably won’t be able to make it. You still with me? The bottom line is, I hope they never answer that email, I hope it went straight into the spam folder and will sit and rot there until one day after many years someone will clean out that spam folder and curiously wonder if that pathetic person actually ever made it to Vancouver and survived there for four entire months. If you’re from the Writing Center and reading this (which is highly unlikely): DON’T ANSWER THAT EMAIL! I BEG YOU! I can’t stand when strangers have to make an extra effort for me (such as replying to an email and then having to reschedule because of my temporary mind fog and stupidity), and even less do I want to actually deal with a stranger that has had extra effort because of me. And that, people, is another episode in the life of a person with chronic worrying-syndrome and (social) anxiety.

To make matters just a little worse, I started scrolling through my Facebook feed, because I’m pathetic and don’t have anything else to do with my life, and came across the headline: “The Feminist Celebrity of the Year could be a straight, white man for the first time”. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! I need to sleep. Desperately. I’m so done with this world right now, I need to go create my own.

 

I’m a student. Majoring in thinking too much with a minor in worrying.

The new semester just started and with the first week not even being over yet, I feel like work is piling up way over my head. Not necessarily work that has to be or can be done right at the moment, but deadlines for the future that are mandatory to meet. That’s why they’re called deadlines. Ignore them, you’re dead. Forget them, you’re dead. Cross them, you’re dead. Thinking about them will eventually kill you because your body and mind won’t be able to take the shakiness of the worry any longer. Dead. Literally deadlines.

It seems like I don’t really worry that much about IF I can meet the deadline. Because life still poses enough quirks for me to wish to pursue it, I will move heaven and hell to make a deadline. What I worry about is HOW I will meet the deadline. First of all in terms of the quality of the product I am supposed to deliver. If you know anything about me, you will know that I can be a notorious perfectionist. Which can make life really really difficult. Also, I consider my writing a piece of myself, it’s a visible product of my brain, which is basically my most treasured possession. It’s a product of my thoughts, my opinions, my experiences. So it’s got to be perfect if it is going to represent me in the outside world. This puts a hell of a lot of pressure on me, but on the other hand, I love writing for the very same reason. It’s a form of communication that allows me to think about what I want to say for as long as I need and then conveying this in a manner that will truly and accurately represent my thoughts and opinions and experiences. I hate having to represent myself through oral communication because this usually involves not saying everything I want to say, saying it in a way that can easily be misunderstood, saying things I don’t want to say due to lack of time to think about what I really want to say. It sucks. I wish I could communicate in written form exclusively for the rest of my life. It would sure as hell spare me from some of my social anxiety.

I don’t just worry about the quality of the product I am supposed to deliver, I also worry about the quality of my self during the time of production. This includes physical and mental health. Since I will do pretty much anything to meet a deadline AND deliver a perfect-to-my-standards-because-that’s-basically-all-that-really-matters-but-sadly-sometimes-my-standards-are-based-on-the-standards-of-the-person-implemeting-the-deadline-but-then-amplified-by-like-a-million-product, I worry that in the course of all that, I myself will go to hell (not literally though). My body will be put through sitting at a desk or in a super uncomfortable wooden contraption made with the intention of people spending hours on it in a lecture hall, me not having enough time to think about nutritious healthy food to cook and me worrying about shit all night (or staying up all night writing stream-of-consciousness-type blog entries) and not getting enough sleep. And my mind will be going washing-machine-spin-cycle-crazy 24 hours a day about meeting the fucking deadline with a fucking perfect product without going fucking crazy.

I have roughly 15 assignments to fulfill this semester, all with different deadlines, sometimes three with the same deadline, some involving stuffing things into my brain and then spitting them out on paper, others including talking in front of a group of people I don’t know very well and therefore provoking anxiety feelings from the moment I am informed about the deadline to the minute I finally get it over with. Most of these assignments are essays stretching over just a few pages, which should be no big deal, actually, since I love writing, I prefer it over talking or spitting stuff, come to think about it I really shouldn’t be worrying about those at all. I mean, there’s a lot of them, but how hard could it really be?

Maybe I’m actually worried about something completely different and am just projecting that worry onto the looooong list of Essays To Write. I’m applying to our university’s exchange program for a semester abroad in Canada. Which means I have to take the IELTS language test at the end of this month, which I should really be studying for, but a voice in my head is constantly telling me “come on, how hard can in be to write, listen to and speak ENGLISH for crying out loud”. It also means I still have to complete my letter of motivation, stating what exactly I’m planning to do over there and why the hell I’m wanting to do it. And I have to get two letters of recommendation from my professors, which requires once again oral communication skills and of course perfectly engaged and smart behavior in their classes so I get a good recommendation. Talk about pressure. Plus the person in charge of the department for foreign exchange stuff is a, well, um, somewhat difficult person and regarding my first encounter with this man who may lack even more social skills than me, but in a way that makes him arrogant and unfriendly instead of painfully self-conscious, I hope that I never have to interact with him on any level ever again.

And another thing that worries me is my application to a job as an assistant at the women’s equality office. Because it involves trying to sell myself and my qualifications to somebody that I have never met. And I suck at selling stuff. I couldn’t sell a lifeboat to a person drowning in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Also it will in the future involve people. New, strange people. People of authority. Yikes. That’s a sentence right there to scare the crap out of an introverted person with social anxiety, if not admitting them straight into a mental institution.

So why am I doing all of this if it worries and downright freaks me out so much? Good fucking question. I guess one could call it an attempt to live and maybe even succeed in spite of myself.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”

Disclaimer: I will not apologize for any typos, incoherent sentence structures, elaborate debaucheries, hyphenated neologisms or occasional swearing. It’s 1:23 a.m. for crying out loud and I’m too tired to proofread anything right now.