A Sheep’s Last Day

Tabaski, “The Sacrifice Feast”, is one of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year, and is celebrated on August 31st and September 1st in Senegal. As part of my homestay experience, I was included in holiday preparations and celebrations. It is traditional that every Senegalese family purchases one (or a few) Tabaski sheep to sacrifice and eat. Unlike the thoroughly dead and frozen Thanksgiving turkeys I am used to, the sheep show up to the house alive.

While at first I was excited and naively curious, I was quickly filled with the shock and deep discomfort upon being faced with the death of my family’s sheep. The night before Tabaski, I walked past the sheep on the way to my room, and its cries filtered through my window for hours.

Hearing, seeing, and smelling the death of a fellow being was life-changing and important.

A Sheep’s Last Day

He stands in the dark, alone. Sturdy horns pointed forward in a majestic curl. His heavy ears rest on them- aside from the occasional flick as they shoo a mosquito.

His pale eyes can’t see much through the darkness yet they scan for familiar shapes of white fur that resemble his own.

Instead, cement surrounds him on all four sides. A house looms over him. Windows open and close. Lights turn on and off, flickering in the corner of his eye. Voices drift over his head, but they speak the foreign and unsettling tongue of humanity.

He baahs incessantly. Awaiting the returning call of his herd mates. He hears nothing. 

His nostrils flare and his keen sense of smell renders itself useless as the scent of his fellow hooved creatures is nowhere to be found. 

Trapped in the panic of his solitude, his heart rate increases and blood pumps through his body with extra force. His muscles are swollen with adrenaline and fear.

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He pushes against his pen but to no avail. A rope tied to his left front ankle pulls him earthward. 

All too soon his fear and confusion will be put to a bloody end. When the sun rises, he will be slaughtered and hacked to bits.

A night spent confused and alone, torn from all he knows, will soon turn into a hot morning murder.

Will he gaze at the sun as the blood and life drains from his gashed throat? Will he drift into the pale blue African sky as he leaves a pile of meat and bones behind?

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Prozac vs. Xanax: An underfunded University of California research study

IMG_2836By Josie Clerfond with contributions from Natalie Silver

If you are at the point where you can hardly write a professional email without 4 shots of espresso, a 2-hour nap, and a tearful phone call with your mom, you may be experiencing what us college students call “burnout.”

If the word “reading” triggers an immediate spike in your heart rate, and the sight of an online submissions folder makes your vision blur with terror as you approach the edge of blacking out, you are experiencing burnout.

If sitting down in the library to write a paper causes you heart failure before your fingers can even click your mousepad enough times to open Google Docs, you are experiencing burnout.

The University of California system fundamentally does not sit well with many people, including the two subjects of this article. Not only because it is a giant, cumbersome and elite-ridden bureaucracy, but because the stress it induces has been shown to powerfully shape its student’s brains for the worse. Burnout is a leading cause of generalized anxiety, panic, and depression in college, and may lead its victims to believe that they have biochemical issues residing within their brains (which they probably do, by year three).

Burnout and its associated waves of irrational anxiety and mental paralyzation can make everyday tasks exceedingly difficult. Since–under our current socioeconomic framework— a lifestyle change isn’t always possible, we took part in an underfunded study comparing two anti-anxiety medications: Prozac and Xanax, as treatments for some of the worst symptoms of student existence.

How, you ask, could two seemingly nice girls from loving home environments end up on regimens of mind-altering pharmaceuticals? Well… this is a question we have as well, and may be better directed to ever-supportive and sympathetic leadership heads such as Janet Napolitano.

Disclaimer: All drugs in this study were legally obtained.

prescription-drugs-and-my-generation-amelia-abraham-232-1415058926Review # 1: Prozac.

I think there should be a warning on the packaging of the Prozac bottle that says, Caution: this medication may significantly impair your ability to give a fuck. I mean this shit is amazing. I have never, I repeat NEVER given less of a fuck in my life. For someone who’s primary issue is giving too much of a fuck, especially when it comes to school, this was the cure. Prozac is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, which means that it makes serotonin molecules hang out longer on your little brain synapses. Serotonin plays a role in many processes in your body, like sex drive, appetite, happiness, and it helps you poop. When it comes to the way you feel, serotonin “hanging out for longer” can stabilize your mood.

Now that does come with a drawback. A life-altering drawback. Prozac stunted my ability to feel anything. I was a cool ass cucumber every second of every day that I took it. That meant that whenever someone told me an exciting piece of news, the greatest response I could muster was a monotoned “woo.”

Or, if something scary happened, like a car pulled unexpectedly into my lane while I was driving, I FELT NOTHING. I just numbly and automatically slammed on the brakes thinking “Hm. That was ignorant.” unconcerned by the potentially dangerous accident that could have occurred.

If you enjoy the feeling of heart racing excitement as you drop down the top of a roller coaster; if you bask in the adrenaline that pulses through your veins as you eat up the fear and edginess that is life, Prozac ain’t for you my friend.

Also if you enjoy orgasms, Prozac ain’t for you.

However, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the superpower of not giving a fuck. It was life changing to experience a version of myself that had zero social anxiety and minimal empathy for anyone. My self consciousness and nervousness about interacting with people I didn’t know dissolved. And I’m not even a very socially anxious person in general.

One day, when I am going to a meet and greet with former Zaddy in chief Barack Obama, I’ll take Prozac beforehand to counteract any natural feelings of intimidation. Barry will be wooed by my apparent ability to have it all together. I, uninhibited, will ask for his hand in marriage—which he will of course reject due to his undying loyalty to Michelle. He will, however, offer to write me into his will below Malia and Sasha but above Bo.

Review # 2: Xannies and essay writing.

Why should we need to be euphoric to get work done? More importantly, why aren’t we always euphoric when we’re doing important work?

Xanax. Xanax is the answer to these questions.

I popped a xanny (I’m sweatin) in order to write papers. Just kidding, I took like half a pill with the goal of easing my panic and inability to focus. A few of the peers that I told were befuddled:

“I’ve never hear of Xanax as a study drug. Why don’t you do Adderall?”

Alas, anxiety and neurosis are just two of the many aspects of my life that the majority of people don’t understand. But there I was, living my truth, taking anxiety meds to get my homework done.

The result; a subtle, magical, post-coital calm. Xanax assured me that I don’t have ADHD—even though my anxiety convinces me that I do. Within 30 minutes I was unfazed, trigger-free…lucid. I could read an essay prompt, hail an Uber, click on emails from my bosses, check how many steps I’ve walked and be like “Oh, great.” I felt like a normal, capable human being.

I’m SMART believe it or not. I’m only aware of it and able to exploit it when I pop a xan though.

I’ll liken the experience of taking Xanax to the following metaphor. Imagine hearing gangsta rap for the first time, and thinking “What the fuck are they even saying?”


If you took a Xanax you’d process things in an orderly, practical fashion.

“OK wait. So he just woke up in the morning, so he’s gotta thank God. Got it, totally makes sense.”

“But wait…he’s not sure, today seems kinda odd. Okay, that’s why he’s rapping about it, got it.”

“No barking from the dog. Yeah that’s strange.”

“No smog. In LA? Definitely weird.”

And his mom cooked breakfast without bacon. Hmmm okay…tell me more…”

Today IS a good day. And dude, I love Xanax.

Conclusions.

This study has confirmed that while drugs can’t fix your entire life, they can be useful tools for people with anxiety. Drugs change your thought patterns, and your thought patterns affect the way you interact with the world. It remains to be seen whether Natalie and Josie can find a cure for existential dread and debilitating dissatisfaction with patriarchy and capitalist society. For now, they are seeking psychological asylum in Hawaii and Senegal, respectively.

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The F Word

If just one teacher in the history of my life had said “Yo, honestly, fuck this class! It is arbitrary, and if you fail it won’t hurt either you or me on a personal level!” I believe I would be a more psychologically stable person today.

Firstly, the profanity would have resonated because I’ve had a strong connection with the word “fuck” since 3rd grade. But more importantly, it would have opened a life changing door… giving me the opportunity to grapple with and accept failure.

To this day, that door has not been opened. As a junior in college I struggle with fear of failure and sometimes debilitating daily anxiety about school. Sophomore year proved almost impossible to get through, with my stress becoming so chronic that it deteriorated my health. On multiple occasions I was so sick that I had to seriously consider options for discontinuing school. Ultimately, I didn’t drop out. For fear of failure.

This vicious cycle is not new to my life. It is an unfortunate repeat of what happened in high school, where the fear-mongering tactics of my elitist and excessively prestigious school turned me into a burned out, insecure graduate. Yes, Davis High, I am giving you a shoutout even though you don’t deserve one.

Back to my original point. I am so afraid of failure because it is the great unknown. My rational self longs to say “Yo, honestly, fuck this class! It is arbitrary, and if you fail it won’t hurt ANYONE on a personal level” but my rational self also doesn’t know what would actually be the result of tossing my papers into the air cathartically and walking into a test unprepared; an action which would have been a great decision on multiple occasions. I have no accctuuaal idea. Would your professor yell at you? Cry, perhaps? Would you leave the lecture hall in handcuffs?

What would it feel like to see the letter D on a paper with my name on it? Since elementary school, I’ve imagined it would feel kind of like the mouth sweats you get right before you throw up. It would feel like getting demoted to the “dumb” section of math class with the other brown kids I tried so desperately to avoid. At North Davis Elementary it would have meant being stripped of my social status.

If only I had been allowed to get the D.

Hehe. But seriously, if only there had been some teachers who didn’t teach their class as if it was the New Testament of the Bible, and their final test was Judgement Day. If only I could have felt safe in looking stupid, instead of morally obliged to reach perfection. Ultimately, stupid is an okay thing to feel. And fail is not the appropriate word to describe an increment of academic achievement.

Editor’s note: Josie no longer has shingles and is probably not going to drop out of college. 


 

My week with a face peel gave me empathy for those who suffer from disfiguring acne

~Why do bad things always happen to me, Episode 1~

“What happened to her face?” Is a question which I’m sure arose upon my entering into any public space. My tender brown cheeks were coated with a thick layer of dark scabs, which were at one time bright pink streaks of chemical burn. My forehead was smooth but covered in a thick layer of shea butter, and my eyes were bloodshot and dejected. How, you ask, did this happen?

This travesty was by no means my doing, nor did I have any involvement in the giant dermatologic blunder that would seal my fate. I was receiving a “fayshal” (as we say in California) as a benefit for my summer job working in a salon. The service was free, and uncharted territory for someone like me who is unfamiliar with professional procedures such as eyebrow waxes and “extractions.” In all honesty, I don’t even believe in facials nor their ability to perfect the skin. I think they are nothing but a sickly satisfying way for wealthy middle aged women to spend their money. Nonetheless, my aesthetician was newly licensed and raring to practice her skills in reforming my dry, sensitive, and mildy pimpled skin. I feigned interest.

“*gasp* ‘Oh my god’”is not something you want to hear when someone looks at your face mid treatment. It is what I was lucky enough to hear through the incredible burning sensation I felt on my skin. I had figured this feeling was a normal part of the exfoliation process. Boy was I wrong.

Long story short the chemicals used seared through my face at an alarming rate and corroded my skin. This happened because of my use of prescription acne cream which thins the skin and lowers its defenses. Briana (the aesthetician) had asked if I was on any medications but failed to adjust the treatment accordingly. Rookie mistake.

Giant red blotches of erosion spread across my face like lava, causing me pain and massive anxiety. Would I have a face tomorrow? Would this scar? Would life as I know it come to an end? After many google searches and consultations with my mom who is a practicing PA, we determined that the peel had simply gone “deeper than expected” (which to me sounds like a twisted sexual joke), that the peeling process over the next few days would be gruesome, and that I would probably be left with smooth skin underneath. I had accidentally just gotten type of peel that old ladies get to erase years worth of wrinkles off of their face. Great, by the end of this I’ll look 12!

Then came the shame. The “my face is going to look totally fucked for a week” kind of shame. In the absence of a sleek, healthy looking face, I experienced complete emotional and moral decay.

I stared at myself in the mirror for hours. Huddled in my bedroom, I texted my mom furiously as catastrophic thoughts whizzed. Not only was I sure it would scar, but I had never seen myself so disfigured. Though I’m not one to recognize my attractiveness, it suddenly became obvious in retrospect. I didn’t realize what a pleasing face I had until it was suddenly hideous.

Leaving the house was excruciating. A couple of days later my housemate finally convinced me to go to Safeway (and I damn well needed to because in my state of emergency I had run out of food). I had an absolutely miserable time. As I slumped through the aisles in my sweats, fluorescent lights shone down on me and illuminated my shame. I could feel people taking second looks as I passed by. I shuddered every time I sensed eyes on my scabbed cheeks. I heard their thoughts. “Is she a burn victim or is that cystic acne? Either way, YIKES.”

Every ounce of confidence I had in interacting with strangers was gone. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. When the guy checking out my groceries told me to have a nice day I didn’t look up at him. I grabbed my things and ran, forgetting what I was even there for because I had spent the entire time thinking about my face.

I was entirely consumed by my disfigurement. My femininity, flirtatiousness, and humor in interacting with others was gone. That’s why I’m writing this, actually. I feel I walked in the shoes of a woman with severe acne. It’s something I had never felt tangibly before, but I was thrust into a paradigm where my physical appearance worked against me. Where was I supposed to get my confidence, or my joy, knowing that others could not possibly find me desirable? Furthermore: what do these thoughts reveal about the disproportionate effect that a woman’s looks have on her social interactions?

A few square inches of skin transformed my life and my integrity. No longer a happy-go-lucky girl seeking adventure, I was stuck at home for days on end, paralyzed by embarrassment. My face turned me into a depressed agoraphobic. Next time I see someone with a severe skin disorder, I will know they are just like me. It is crushingly hard to be a woman in this society. And it is crushingly hard to be a woman who is imperfect.

Editors Note: Josie’s skin has healed to its pre-injured state. Her psyche, however, is still in the process of healing.

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