writer burnout

(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)

Here are just a few of the (paraphrased) headlines I’ve read recently: Gas Stoves are Indoor Pollution Hubs and Giving Children Asthma, There are Dangerous Levels of Lead in Dark Chocolate, Candles Release Toxic Fumes When Burned, Your Perfume is Liquid Poison, Those Period Panties People Bought Because They’re Less Toxic than the Tampons Soaked in Pesticides We Stick up our Vaginas Are Now Being Sued for Containing, You Guessed It, Harmful Chemical Substances Known As PFAS.

Fun stuff! Even more fun when you consider that I actually don’t read the news—a habit I developed in early sobriety and try to keep whenever possible—so these were just snippets I stumbled upon from other people and social media. I can’t imagine the laundry list I would’ve accrued if I actually went searching for more information.

Information is good. Information is helpful. But right now, information is crippling us. We have too much of it, at all times, and it’s all very, very bad.

I’m an addict. I don’t do shit in moderation, and this includes consuming dark chocolate. Y’all… I’ve been carrying around a bar of 85% dark chocolate for months now calling it my emotional support chocolate, taking little nibbles of it to reward myself for every thousand words written, a difficult task crossed off my list, a good workout, going on a first date, or you know, just existing. I looooove my emotional support chocolate. My emotional support chocolate just gets me, you know? I’d like to think we get each other. <3

When I saw the Dark Chocolate Contains Unsafe Amounts of Heavy Metals article, I was gutted. I felt betrayed. I asked, can I not just have this one single vice? I gave up alcohol, drugs, and general debauchery, and now you’re telling me my emotional support chocolate is attacking my internal organs? This is also how I felt learning that perfume and fall candles were full of toxins, too. Now that I’ve un-fucked my brain, I have a list of items and activities that provide me with a nice, healthy dose of feel-good chemicals. Simple pleasures, if you will. And it seems like every day I’m on this earth, one of these mundane joys is exposed as yet another thing that’s slowly killing me.

If we cut out every single item labeled toxic from our lives, I’m not sure we’d have anything left.

But, Maggie, there are non-toxic alternatives! There are safe lists and better choices! Haven’t you ever heard of Whole Foods?

Haven’t you ever heard of grocery bills??? The non-toxic stuff, in addition to being double the price of the delicious poison, is often attacked for only being slightly less toxic, if it’s even better at all. Clean, sustainable, natural, toxin-free, and all those other pleasant-sounding labels are anyone’s guess on whether they are valid or merely clever marketing.

Does that mean we just give up? Buy whatever we want and eat whatever we want and burn every fall candle from Bath & Body Works all at once, because fuck it?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think one thing I could stop doing is eating 2-3 85% dark chocolate bars a week. (Ugh. Do I have to, though?) I’ve also moved to using a period cup (it’s really very convenient once you get the hang of it), cleaner beauty and skincare products—as well as paring down my routine significantly, and buying organic, hopefully-better food and cleaning items whenever possible. I also don’t burn so many candles. Sad. At the same time, I still wear perfume when I go out. I still use deodorant with aluminum in it because I just can’t stand the feeling of my own sweat in my armpits, and at this point it’s too late for me to change.

Rant Time: The way the Toxic World conundrum is framed is actually quite genius. Because the truth of the matter is, chocolate, along with many of our other staple food items, only contain unsafe amounts of heavy metals because our soil now contains unsafe amounts of heavy metals. And this is because (a very small group of) elites are poisoning the shit out of our planet and facing absolutely zero consequences and every single reward for doing so. Now they are throwing this reality back at us as an individual (read: consumer) issue, a problem of consumption that we can solve with alternative consumption. Instead of buying Toxic Item #1 from Generic Company owned by Transnational Megacorporation, we are told to buy Sometimes-Less-Toxic Item #2 from Good Company owned by Transnational Megacorporation. Meanwhile, Transnational Megacorporation is responsible for 20% of the world’s pollution and carbon emissions and the entire reason Toxic Item #1 is so damn toxic. So while media outlets, owned either by Transnational Megacorporation 1, 2, or 3, are feeding us lists of safe and unsafe products, we are trained to gaze inwardly instead of outwardly. We police each other instead of policing them. We are paralyzed in the middle of a grocery store aisle. We fret about taking too long of showers or leaving the lights on or eating meat or using cucumber melon body wash, but no matter what choices we make, our money is only feeding the beast, and our individual choices are swallowed up by a system that does not care if we live or die with poison in our veins—only that we never stop consuming, never stop working, never stop believing it’s all up to us to fix the world they’ve ravaged.

You are not killing the planet. Do not allow yourself to go insane trying to single-handedly solve climate change and detoxify every single square inch of your environment. Making better choices is fantastic. There are truly cleaner, more ethical and sustainable products out there. But if you’re a black-and-white thinker like me, and you tend to catastrophize, you need to weigh not only the physical risks of your consumption, but also the mental ones. If your mental health is suffering because you’re doom scrolling holistic health media and trying in vain to clean swap every item in your bathroom cabinet and refrigerator, then it’s time to take a step back and remember:

Stress is the number one toxin in our lives, profoundly affecting every single one of our bodily systems. It’s also one of the only toxins we have any semblance of control over.

I know we can’t help living in a stressful world, having to work stressful jobs, or dealing with stressful health problems and relationship issues. I understand that sometimes, life is shit and we’re going to feel like shit. That’s been the case for all of human history.

But there are things within our control, things that are a lot more empowering than deciding which products to buy. We can choose how much time we want to spend on social media and who we want to follow and learn from. We can ask ourselves: do I want to follow accounts that make me feel anxious and helpless about the state of the world, or accounts that make me feel hopeful and powerful?

We can also really sit with ourselves and finally be honest about what we can actually do to make the world a better place, and what is completely and utterly out of our control. This is an important task. Because once we decide what is within our capacity to change or improve, we can start to let go of the existential dread of information overload at our fingertips. I can support local organizations that make a difference in the lives of my community. I can write books and articles that birth something positive into the world. I can take care of my own mental and physical health, so that I can be fully present and engaged to help any family member, friend, or stranger who needs me to be there for them.

We are a microcosm of the world. It’s only by saving ourselves first that we can have any hope of saving anyone or anything outside of ourselves.

I can shop local when possible. I can buy less products. I can meditate, journal, read, play, give hugs, speak kindly, smile, rest, and create. I can make myself stronger and healthier even in a world that tries very hard to make me feel weak and doomed. I can try my best, but also decide that sometimes a little poison is part of the fun.

Life will always be a dance of selfishness and altruism, joy and suffering, light and dark, aimless fumbling and purposed striving. I cannot personally dismantle our current system of unending exploitation and violence, and no, I cannot, vote with my money for a better world. I could let this fact cripple me, or I could accept it instead.

At a certain point, our sanity is a choice we have to make.

General Updates: Still working on the birth control article! It’s an intense one, so it might take me a couple more weeks with the release of The Claimed approaching. Please continue to reach out with your experiences on hormonal birth control and/or coming off. An additional article will be releasing next week loosely titled: How I Deal with Big Feelings as Someone in Recovery. Due to the personal nature of the subject matter, including a peek into my dating life, this will only be available for paid subscribers.

I’ll be opening up a discussion thread for this article using the chat feature on the Substack app. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts or questions! Also, Substack Support still hasn’t resolved the email reply issue, so if you reply directly to this email, I will never see it. You can contact me by email here.

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(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe, like, or leave a comment.)

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