Beautiful Words Unlike Me.

It doesn’t always come out in pretty words. Sometimes, it comes out raw and untamed, hideous or insane. Or sometimes, just plain words that mean exactly what they’re saying.

But only the beautiful poems get frames. You say they help you heal; you claim you don’t need any help bleeding. The clots in the veins of your wrists beg to differ.

You like poems that scramble the word trauma so effectively, you can’t find it when you read. Poems that hold you at arm’s length like you are only the second person they considered while they were busy getting composed. Gorgeous poems that have me written as an afterthought, under stacks of photographs no-one will ever bother to lift.

I haven’t yet figured out why people love beautiful-looking things more than beautiful things, or why ugly things can sell so easily under beautiful packaging.

I get tired of pretty words as fast as I grow bored of princess gowns and airbrushed skin, or scrolling through pages of women who all look the same.

I like it when words look as plain as I do on most days. I like words I can understand, even when they are not beautiful. I like words that can understand me, especially when I am not beautiful. I like words that are like me. I like words that like me. I like words. Like. “Me.”

-Akotowaa

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Where I Been? (A Spider Kid Newsletter of Sorts)

My name seems to have appeared in quite a few places over the past few months, so I thought it would be convenient to give my blog readers an update on all of them at once. I’m not usually this involved in things, so I don’t expect blog posts like this to be frequent. But, for now, here we go:

Writivism

A few weeks ago, I found out I was longlisted for the 2018 Writivism Short Story Prize. The shortlist was released yesterday and I did not make it that far, but making it onto the longlist means that my short story, as well as all the other longlisted writers’ short stories, are going to be published in an anthology by Black Letter Media later. So, that’s fantastic.

More on the Writivism initiative/competition here. You can follow them on Twitter as well, here.

WritivismLonglistBio
Photo via @Writivism on Twitter

Tampered Press

Poetra Asantewa launched a new art magazine in July, and for its first issue, she got a few people to contribute. My contribution was a very dissatisfying story that we can pretend is sci-fi flash fiction for classification purposes, highly augmented by some lit photography by Josephine Kuuire. The magazine is really refreshing in terms of layout, vibrancy, minimalism, collaboration and the general nature of its content. I highly recommend you take a read – it’s very short – and digital versions are available on the Tampered Press website.

TamperedPage
Photo via @Tampered_Press on Twitter (This isn’t my page, BTW. It’s a poem by Tryphena Yeboah and artwork by Kpe Innocent.)

Paapa’s Technical Difficulties 2

Paapa hMensa, a musical and lyrical legend whom I’ve met once (he probably doesn’t remember it, though, because I was entirely irrelevant then, and it was during his concert, so he was meeting a ton of people at once anyway), released the second installment to his Technical Difficulties EP series, and the title track features me! It’s a beautiful song, going perfectly excellently as it plays, and then I barge in and start talking plenty in the name of spoken word poetry, SMH. I also briefly introduced each song, so my voice is on literally every track.

 

The EP is amazing, it’s been on heavy rotation in my music library since it dropped, and it’s musically even better than its prequel. (Is the word prequel applicable to musical projects? I don’t know.) Paapa is a magician, because I don’t even understand how he managed to achieve that. No Heart Left, ft. M.anifest, is a favorite. You can find his EP on pretty much every major music distribution site. 🙂

#IFKR’s UHNI

The DJ duo, #IFKR, which is composed of Eff the DJ and DJ K3V, released a new EP yesterday, exclusively on the Ghanaian musical platform, Aftown. I introduced that EP as well, with a lot of talking in the beginning that feels very weird to hear because I wrote it years ago and hadn’t heard it for a while. The entire EP has been years in the making, and I can personally vouch for the true banger-ness of particularly Lie B3n which features Ayat, and, of course, the pre-released single Omi Gbono, which features Odunsi. You can find the link to the EP here.

 

Bonus:

I know a previous blog post has mentioned this already, but I compiled Kuukua Annan’s OTC stories into a single PDF and created a new site for the OTC project so ayyy check it out and tell a friend!

 

Okay. Dazzit. Spider Kid out!

-Akotowaa

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Not the Problem

Content/trigger warnings for mental health and some of its associated demons. Not very explicit, so feel free to continue reading if you’re not extremely sensitive.

Part I

It is dangerous and destabilizing to be deprived of something or someone identifiable to blame. This is the kind of problem that gives birth to itself, and one that often serves to protect, rather than re-examine, the system from which it emerges.

The journal entry that would eventually turn into this essay was composed on my third day of suffering from a headache that had consistently followed me into unconsciousness at night and been the first thing to greet me in the morning. The headache had rendered nearly all my sleep for the past two nights ineffective and continued to resist every dose of painkillers I threw at it.  My brain felt like what I imagined sentient bacon would experience as it sizzles in a frying pan. My hands had lost the ability to be still, trembling as if I had recently overdosed on caffeine. Hyperactivity is so far the severest way my body has learnt to express extreme exhaustion, so all my symptoms on that day were a clear indication that my wellbeing was in the danger zone.

On the second day of suffering, my headache had been bad enough to incapacitate me for half a day. Here is a sketch of what my incapacitation looks like: I am locked in consciousness, yet unable to do anything with it. Sleep refuses to claim me, and I am stuck with the pain. I toss and turn in bed, and my mind is a mess of interfering signals. The ability to concentrate on any task is beyond me, and an action as simple as keeping my eyes open is impossible. It is particularly during moments of incapacitation that I see the tragedy of how micromanaged my life in college is; being unable to work for half a day screws me up for at least a week. But on that second day, I could only think about how screwed-up I was. It was only on the third day of suffering, when my brain could at least make space for other things alongside the pain, that I began to truly feel it.

The feeling came in the form of an anxiety attack, like a psychological cyclone that my body didn’t know how to process. Its only physical manifestation was a heart rate that reminded me of the thundering of a helicopter’s wings, and even that description doesn’t feel like nearly enough to do justice to what was occurring within.

I don’t often have identifiable triggers for my attacks, but this was one of the few times the triggers were clear as the most cloudless Californian sky. For one thing, I had expected my headache to disappear by the morning after its arrival, yet it had not. Then, the next day, I had been incapacitated. By the third day, it still hadn’t let me go, and my academic progress had been stagnated, causing me to panic because I couldn’t afford that stagnation in the face of a growing backlog of incomplete assignments. With every second that I remained non-functional, my to-do list loomed larger and more menacing in my mind, as did the fear that I was in danger of failing school outright. This was it, then: the headache that would destroy my future, and I was powerless to stop it. The cycle this produced was maddening: the paralyzing panic increased the panic levels, because my inability to work due to paralysis was the cause of my panic, and so on and so forth.

It was only the fourth week of the semester, but I already wanted to die. Again. This was neither the first, second nor third semester of my life where my will to live had plummeted into the negatives on a hypothetical scale. I disintegrated into tears.

 

Part II

Sometimes, when I am in intense emotional pain, I feel as if I am in danger of cardiac arrest – and in those moments, the unlikeliness of that occurring to a mere teenager is irrelevant to me. Nothing and no one can convince me that what I am experiencing so tangibly isn’t real. Out of concern for myself, a couple of weeks prior to the headache, I went to see a doctor for a physical check-up. When he asked me to explain why I’d really come, I told him only the amount of truth I believed was presently relevant. Even so, what he heard was enough to prompt him to tell me to consider returning to regular psychiatric counselling, and that there was a chance I would be prescribed some medication. Of course, to save time and trouble, I told him certainly, if my situation demanded it, I would recommence therapy, and if necessary, I would take the meds.

In truth, I had no intentions of sending myself to a therapist’s office anytime soon and wouldn’t even dream of conceding to medication. I couldn’t say this out loud, because I’d have had to justify why, and I didn’t yet have the words. Only later, on that third day of suffering, would I acquire the tools to articulate the roots of my antagonism.

The tools were unexpectedly handed to me through an assignment for my psychology class, contained in an excerpt of William Ryan’s book, Blaming the Victim. When we think of blaming the victim, what usually comes to mind is a more extreme manifestation; the kind that most remotely conscious people would be able to spot the logical faults in. An example of such is on Ryan’s first page: a suspicious inquiry as to what exactly Pearl Harbor was doing in the Pacific in the first place, anyway – because obviously it wouldn’t have gotten bombed if it hadn’t been there when the bombs hit, right? But the real subject of Ryan’s writing is later shown to be the more insidious, perhaps even more entrenched version of victim blaming that goes largely ignored; the kind that is so normalized that we are nearly blind to it. The quality that I think makes it most dangerous is how apparently well-meaning it is; it is devoid of malice and claims the betterment of individuals in society as its goal. Unfortunately, its ultimate flaw is that it is, in Ryan’s words, “a perverse form of social action designed to change, not society, as one might expect, but society’s victim.”

Blaming the victim works something like this: Akotowaa’s competence and resilience in handling the pressure of being a college student in an American higher-ed institution is faltering; it is affecting her ability to function like her normal peers. We could help her by providing her with psychiatric counselling or setting up a meeting to discuss support with a dean. In this framing, I am the victim, and no matter what good intentions there are behind it, it makes me the problem to be solved. The problems that caused mine automatically get a free pass when it is decided that I am the thing about which something needs to be done. Consequently, the conversation that is not happening here is the one that questions how healthy it is for an educational institution to demand so much from any single human being, to place so many requirements and responsibilities on anyone’s head. Surely, there must be a difference between creating an atmosphere of adequate challenge and overwhelming students to the point of rendering them dysfunctional.

 

Part III

I have never been drunk, and I have never been high. I do not even use substances – so it alarmed me slightly when I found myself suddenly wanting to abuse them. I have been almost desperate for something – anything – that at the very least can turn me off, shut me down, suspend my consciousness. I am aware that these thoughts are self-destructive, and probably should not occur to a mentally sound mind. I do not, however, believe that these thoughts occur to me because there is something internally wrong with me. I know that I often feel like I am living a life without adequate agency; people tell me where to go, what to be, how to use my time, try to get me to follow instructions robotically, and dump responsibilities on me seemingly without regard for my humanity. After all, isn’t the life of a college student in a prestigious institution meant to be rigorous? And don’t all low-income members of its society have to work their sanity off trying to make money to support themselves as well? And God help you if you’re an African international student, no less, and heavily dependent on financial aid. Heaven rescue you if you have a naturally rebellious, wildly creative, and usually uncooperative brain to top all that.

Once, I had a discussion with a fellow African international student who made a point about how it’s almost as if you need to have the excuse of being unwell – for example, presenting professors with a doctor’s note after having gotten into an accident – just to be treated as human. The point I am driving at is that sometimes it feels as though harm (both self-inflicted and otherwise) is the only way to snatch back, for a moment or for permanence, the agency, or even the humanity, that the rest of the world has been wresting away from you.

I care deeply about mental health issues and every individual affected by them. Nevertheless, I have begun, after perhaps three or more years since I was first diagnosed with depression, to reject being considered mentally ill. There are far too many circumstances outside of myself that are provoking my reactions, and most of the time, I just can’t see how the causes of many of my psychological problems are personal problems of mine.

Sometimes, when I talk to friends, the reassurance they try to give me is some variation of “You are not alone.” And I always want to reply, “Well, isn’t that the issue, then? That everything we are experiencing is so widespread and occurs so frequently that we’ve come to regard it as normal?” When they try to respond to my complaints with suggestions they honestly believe are helpful, I can’t help but notice that all the suggestions still involve doing something about me.

 

Part IV

It was almost – but only almost – shocking to me when I discovered in a psychology class two years ago that for ages, mental health medicine hasn’t really known what it’s doing. Explaining away depression as a serotonin problem is something I would call a crutch – and for those who need scientific explanations like this to believe in, I suppose it is comforting. For me, it has been primarily destructive.

For at least five years now, I have internalized so much blame. My first instinct, whenever I am struggling, is to start from the point that I am the problem. I tell myself that I am struggling because I am not as intelligent as my peers, and that I am weak. There’s lots of evidence if I’m looking for it: my mates are Resident Assistants and athletes and STEM majors with rigorous schedules, who get internships in Silicon Valley and attend conferences whose titles alone humble me intellectually, and they have stellar GPAs. I don’t do even half of what they do, so why am I still constantly exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain?

Whenever something has gone wrong in my life, I have tended to be the first to jump to the conclusion that I am clearly deficient in comparison to “normal”. Now that I have decided that I am not, I refuse to settle simply for words of self-empowerment and affirmation, as important as they are for people who have truly internalized the idea that they are damaged. For me, nothing short of structural change – change in the societies that produce such ideas in the first place – is ultimately satisfactory. Those other solutions, though they may be easier, still commonly fall into that benevolent victim-blaming category of proposals that seek to change society’s victim rather than society itself.

I have said before that it is dangerous and destabilizing to be deprived of something or someone identifiable to blame. This is how my misery transformed into anger: in my personal quest to identify some target, I finally arrived at a semi-satisfying abstraction of people to blame: everyone who was trying to blame me. That is how, on the third day of suffering, I began, furiously, to write.

There are fires being lit under me, and I am getting burned. The whole world tells me to go and get such-and-such ointment for the burns. It does not seem to occur to anyone that if there were not a fire being lit under me, I would not be suffering from severe burns. It does not seem to occur to anyone to turn off the fire. Nobody believes they have the power, or the power to find anyone that has the power, to turn the fire off. It’s so much easier to blame, for instance, an individual’s serotonin deficiency, or call me ill for wanting to do something to/for myself that makes me feel less like a mindless marionette.

I do not understand why it took me so long to truly comprehend that it isn’t my weakness that is responsible for the skyrocketing suicide rates at many of the most reputable higher education institutions. I’m not at fault for my school’s mental health facilities being so overbooked that the only options given to the remainder of the student population seeking counselling is outsourced therapy. What is absurd is that the sheer number of students breaking hard each semester hasn’t yet seemed to spark an active, seismic revolution. The very foundations upon which these problems are built needs to be shaken up, but I’m not sure many others see this as an emergency.

Maybe we are scared that a revolution might cost much more than anyone is willing to pay, because the closer you get to the roots of some problems, the more colossal and impossible to tackle they seem. For example, if I am not the problem, maybe it’s my school. But how can my school be to blame, if it’s forced to be as “competitive” as other high-class schools to be considered in the same league as them? Maybe the problem is that there’s something institutions these days are pressured to live up to. But how is that anyone’s fault but the corporate, capitalist, promiscuously meritocratic societies the institutions want to keep up with? And can we really blame these societies for having become all these things, when, maybe, this is just “how the world works”? And more “correct” we get, the more abstract we get, and furthermore, the harder it is to pinpoint anyone we can call responsible for anything. In just this paragraph, I have gone from zoning in on an individual (me) as the problem, to the vast an abstract problem of “the way the world works”, and it is difficult to see this, at first glance, as a useful approach to solution, because of how impossible the task of overturning “the world” sounds. So, it becomes that much more appealing, for instance, to blame individuals for serotonin deficiencies. This is exactly how we fall into the damaging cycles: as long as our targets of reform are wrong, the problems will never go away.

One might say I am irrationally optimistic, but I genuinely believe the right kind of change is possible.  The status quo’s primary weapon of self-preservation is the ability to make humankind forget that the status quo itself is human-made. What human made, I firmly believe human can unmake. Unconsciously, we end up perceiving the status quo instead as “divine,” so to speak, and beyond our control or influence, thus resigning ourselves to thinking there is nothing that we can do about it, so we redirect our energies towards its victims. It’s like sprinkling a healing substance on a diseased tree’s leaves even though the source of the tree’s sickness is the very soil upon which it’s planted. Any system designed to get you trying to “fix” the wrong thing is a problem that gives birth to itself.

I will generally agree that I am depressed and have been for years. I insist, however, that I am not mentally ill — at least not in this regard. I should not be faulted for dying when something outside myself is killing me. To begin the process of generating useful solutions, I’ve had to train myself to start from the premise that I am not the problem. It has been important for me to write all of this because, until enough people come to similar conclusions, and finally decide collectively and individually to do something about it, things are either going to stay in these miserable states or get far, far worse. (In both cases, the capitalists win. And, especially since the depressed, suicidal billionaires don’t seem to be having much more of a good time than I am, I am certainly not here for that.)

-Akotowaa

Bulldozer

Perhaps you see humans as complex figurines, complete with sophisticated AI so that we can talk back to you when you speak.

Perhaps you see life as a blank page offering you creative license, so you write and you draw until all the marks melt into chaos.

When there’s no more space left to make messes on, do you simply turn a new leaf? And what about the crippled characters of the previous chapters? You will leave them to treat their own wounds. You will come back to them when you are ready, but only if you feel like it.

Perhaps you go through life like a bulldozer, ploughing ahead and leaving destruction in your wake. No one taught you how to dress infected wounds quickly, before the gangrene sets in. No one taught you that there was a difference between damaged buildings and damaged bodies; fractured monuments and traumatized minds.

You may be right in thinking it is beyond you, to singularly bear the responsibility of restoring a demolished city. But the limits of your strength never seemed to be a problem for you each time you thought it wise to try lifting a mansion at a time, and had them all crash down, one by one, whenever your knees buckled.

-Akotowaa

I built an OTC blog.

Hello there. As you might have surmised from the title of this post, I have built an OTC blog. Its URL is akotowaaotc.wordpress.com and I have no doubt people are going to be getting confused because of how similar that URL is to this one. But ah well.

The reason I built an OTC blog is because I think the project is now too big for this blog. This is a good thing; it’s been the intention ever since the release of the first Kuukua story. Its first phase was the 8 Kuukua short stories I released monthly from May to December in 2017. The second phase is going to be a different product than the type I’m usually associated with, so I have no way to predict how the audience (that’s you, my loves) is going to receive it. Thankfully, I don’t have enough energy to be too concerned about that right now. LOL, I just want to launch it and then go to bed.

In the mean time, keep your eye on the OTC site, tell a friend about Kuukua and Yaw if you like them, and, if you’re interested in the forthcoming second phase, you might want to prepare for it by refreshing yourself on (or introducing yourself to) Kuukua Annan’s escapades, via the Complete Kuukua Collection PDF that’s now live on the site. The art, by the way, is by Kaz, who also did the art for If I Could Kill My Feelings…. I’ve been privileged to work with two of my favorite illustrators (Kaz and Xane Asiamah, who did the original Kuukua illustration) on OTC, and it’s not even close to done yet!

Issa litness.

Spider Kid out.

Some Things Don’t Translate.

Once upon a time, I used to fall silent because I felt like no-one was listening. I thought that if I could just make them pay attention, they’d finally see my point of view, and, without a doubt, understand everything I told them, down to the smallest detail. During this period, my silence was still optimistic, and the barrier to utopia was made of flimsy cardboard. After a few good shoves, I could bear witness to its glorious demise.

These days, I fall silent because I feel like everyone is listening. They listen like there’s nothing in the world they’d rather be doing, and as though they’d hate nothing more than to respond where I can hear it.

They listen like eavesdroppers perched by slightly-cracked-open doors, and all they hear is all they want. The rest, they dismiss from discourse like they fear how unfiltered truth might taint the texture of gossip.

By my speech, they readjust the benchmarks of their aspirations. My words let them know exactly what they must now resolve to surpass.

These days, I am silent because I suspect my suffering satisfies people more than it should. Thank God there is still something wrong with her that nobody seems able to fix.

Once upon a time, I believed words could work like magic spells. The right ones could cause a ripple in the world’s fabric, fixing the desperately broken. According to my recalibrated beliefs, my words only call attention to the unfixable, those things that people would rather not be reminded exist; the commonest ailments, experienced so often that I look like a disrespectful egoist for insinuating that I, in particular, absolutely need to find a cure.

He who once listened and heard has now constructed a concrete divider between us, refusing to move it even while I yelled myself hoarse. I, in turn, quickly grew tired of having my only company be the miserable echo of my own voice.

There is no reason I should continue to speak in a language it seems only I have the dictionary for. It is inconsequential, how many of my words others recognize, when the meaning of every full sentence is always, invariably, lost on them.

It is wonderfully ironic, I think, when a person whose whole world is words deliberately forgets how to use their voice.

-Akotowaa

Beloved, Beware of Emotional Manipulators.

For about five years now, I’ve experienced a series of unrelated incidents that my brain only this year connected to each other because they shared a couple of common traits: firstly, they were always between myself and male human beings; secondly, they all involved emotional manipulation. Reflecting on these incidents, I’ve had to ask, “How much of the blame I placed on myself was actually deserved?” The answer usually turns out to be: “Much less than I let myself believe at the time.”

One reason I’m writing this is because I’m so tired of being the target of emotional manipulation. Another is that, since emotional manipulation tends to be super insidious and often (almost surprisingly) unintentional on the part of the manipulator, identifying some clear manipulation techniques is useful for developing strategies to resist it real-time instead of just regretting moments in hindsight. I figured that writing this might help victims, potential victims and people who might not even know they’re perpetrators to start developing an awareness.

One of the earliest telling signs that a person is prone to manipulating may be observed through how they receive you into their lives. I recently met someone in person for the first time, and at some point, I found him looking at me strangely. When I asked about the gaze, he told me that he was trying to decide if I could be one of “his people.” This made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t yet say why, because I didn’t quite know what exactly about it was unsettling. (I do now.) My wariness became justified not too long after that meeting, when he (probably unconsciously) displayed emotionally manipulative behavior. When I was sixteen, I was introduced to a man who was so excited about my existence that he started going on, to me and other friends, about how he’d found his future wife. My sixteen-year-old brain thought it was amusing, I guess. What it actually was, was problematic. Because if a person meets you and immediately starts talking about what you could do for them or be to them, it usually means they are not seeing you as you are. They are overly focused on the person they either want you to be, wish you were, or what void in their lives you might fill. These kinds of statements might not strike you as dangerous when you first hear them, but they play out in ways such that when you turn out not to be their “ideal person,” manipulators may start resenting you for not living up to what they thought you should be (to them). The tragedy is that if you don’t quickly recognize that the standards of “ideal person” they constructed in their minds were never meant for you to aspire towards in the first place, you might start internalizing the insult and blame manipulators try to place on you for falling short of them. Really, they have no right to be angry at you and every right to be angry with themselves for the false image of you they constructed in their minds—which is, of course, not your business.

A more obviously telling sign of manipulators is when they try to tell you what/who you are. This is just as dangerous a red flag on the day of meeting as it can be two years into a relationship. In a similar way to the aforementioned sign, it’s a method of imposing their own (often inaccurate) perception of you onto the person you truly are, under the guise of “knowing you better than you know yourself.” Even if they just met you. Anyone who would rather tell you than ask you about yourself, and then, when you attempt correction, say something as silly as, “You really are [insert characteristic here], you just don’t realize it” or, “You’re just using the wrong words to describe yourself, but we’re saying the same thing” should put you on your guard. Recently, there’s been a New Yorker comic-turned-almost-meme floating around on social media showing an annoyed woman tolerating an enthusiastic man, and the caption is “Let me interrupt your expertise with my confidence.” And truly, there are people whose confidence will blatantly disregard the fact that they’ve known you for ten minutes whereas you’ve been yourself your whole life.

The two paragraphs above cover warning signs of manipulators, and now I’m going to delve into a few features of manipulative interaction itself.

It shouldn’t be surprising that an emotionally manipulative interaction may be saturated with compliments. Compliments are tools of power and are used to enforce unequal dynamics almost as often as they are used in genuine, heartfelt ways. Their power lies in how pleasurable they are to receive; we may fall into the trap of becoming so grateful and softened by those who are manipulating us that we acquiesce enough to either give them what they want, believe whatever falsities they say, or accept a hundred percent of undeserved blame. Recently, a man who had been displaying aggressive, patriarchal and suppressive behavior towards me became ruffled by the fact that I wasn’t just sitting down and taking it, that the attempts to suppress me weren’t working. But it really did throw me off when he addressed my resistant behavior like this: “Last year, you were so intelligent, so bright.” Compliments in the past tense, no less. I knew exactly how this tactic was supposed to work: I was supposed to be thrown into introspective anxiety about how my intelligence may have somehow dissipated over the past few months instead of how my confidence to challenge oppressive horse-crap had grown. I was supposed to regard my legitimate reactions to things that merited getting upset as my “brightness”—whatever that is—having dimmed. Generally, I was supposed to feel awful for refusing to let nonsense go by unchallenged. (Like my morda.) Recently, also, a man went off on me about a matter that I didn’t think he had adequately processed yet. Since I knew from experience that telling men they haven’t finished processing something doesn’t go down well, I did the sensible thing, which was acknowledging that even though I hadn’t done anything objectively wrong, what I had done had hurt him emotionally. So, of course, I apologized. Basic, pacifist decency. He still hadn’t finished processing by this time, but his immediate response was to declare how impressed he was with my maturity for having apologized. I shouldn’t have to explain why his “compliment” annoyed me so much that the safest thing I could do about it, given that setting the email thread on fire wasn’t a feasible option, was to ignore it. I want to briefly re-hash that a lot of manipulation is not intentional/conscious—but it’s still useful to know what not to engage. Like these “compliments.”

Another tactic used within manipulative interaction is exceptionalism. (Note: I will now use the verb “exceptionalize,” which, apparently, does not officially exist, but such irrelevant facts cannot deter a lexivist.) The way this tactic works is that by exceptionalizing you, a manipulator makes you believe you’ve done something exceptionally awful, either because of who you are specifically, or who you are in relation to them. In the same incident I mentioned in the previous paragraph of a matter not having been processed well, the man said something like this to me: “If anybody else had said this, I wouldn’t care, but because it’s you…” When I read that, I clocked out. There’s an ad hominem fallacy in the argument, which is not to say that it’s an invalid reason to get emotionally hurt—but if you’re hurt more because of the person something came from than the actual thing that came from them, it’s not the person’s problem. Think about it. If a person presented something badly, that’s something they can address; if a person has been wrong in an argument, it’s something correction or learning can fix. But if nothing about a person is as problematic for you as who they are (or who they are to you, or who you’d have liked to assume they are to you), well, they can’t very well decide to not be themselves, now, can they? Related: if something I’m used to giving isn’t something you’re used to receiving, it doesn’t quite mean I’ve done something awful; it might mean that we don’t understand or haven’t had a chance to get used to each other yet—in which case you’re being manipulative for trying to make me feel awful for simply not being the person you wished I was before you found out who I am. See previous paragraph about people who try to tell you instead of allowing themselves to discover who you are. Exceptionalism is designed to generate undeserved shame and guilt. Each time someone appears to be exceptionalizing you, even if it’s inappropriate to ask the person in the moment, try to ask yourself, “Okay, but have I actually done something wrong or not?”

During interaction, a manipulative person may try very hard to victimize themselves. Sometimes, that’s fine, because they really are victims in a sense. It’s only not fine when you’re being painted as the perpetrator when you aren’t. Some people, you see, have issues—issues they had before you even walked into their lives. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. Your relatively new presence might lead them to (un)consciously peg you as a scapegoat, someone to blame when none of the responsible people are currently available or had already left their lives before you came into it. But truth be told, some people too are just plain old trippin’. One time, a man made several aggravating moves on me over several weeks, and one day he finally did something that had me hitting my threshold. Once again, since setting something on fire wasn’t a viable option, I chose instead to walk out of the room until I felt stable enough to return. A week later, this man who had been aggravating me (very intentionally and strategically, I might add) confronted me about the walk-out moment, feigning innocence and telling me something like this: “I lost sleep the whole week, just remembering your reaction. I felt so hurt by it.” I didn’t respond, because it was not worth responding to. Why would a person who owes me an apology for lowkey-highkey abusive behavior be expecting either apology or explanation from me? Sense biara nni mu.

The last tactic of manipulative interaction I’ll stress on is insistence—specifically, insistence on provoking an emotional reaction out of you. The only way I can explain this is by hypothesizing that emotional manipulators derive temporary satisfaction from being shown evidence that their manipulation is working. Insistence takes many forms, but it’s kind of like this. Manipulator: “What you did was hurtful.” You say nothing. Manipulator: “Like, really hurtful.” You’re still saying nothing. Manipulator: “Nobody has hurt me so badly in years.” Lots more nothing from you. “Like, it sent me into deep depression for three days.” And so on and so forth. Dissatisfaction breeds frustration, which sparks continued attempts. It’s stressful to endure, but I’d still rather not give into it.

I’ll conclude by mentioning that there are people who may be open to being informed that they’re manipulative. However, especially considering how powerful the male ego is, bringing this up may spark a violent reaction. Others too might accept it only eventually, since heightened self-awareness comes in its own time. That said, it doesn’t have to be your burden to “fix” people. It doesn’t have to be your burden to engage in fruitless endeavors. In fact, and especially if it’s the healthiest option for you/the relationship, it’s fine to disengage. Bottom line? Please be safe, and please have sense.

-Akotowaa