Life & Other Drugs

Stress Balls, Motivational Posters, and Other Completely Goddamn Useless Things in My Room

February 3, 2017

I’m a high-strung person. I like the word high-strung to describe myself, largely because of its visual acuity. I feel it proffers the mental image that I am tangled up in a high wire above the streets of a bustling city, screaming for my life and unable to get down. Yes. This is how I like to describe my personality.

Now, I make no attempt to hide my anxious personality from others. (Mostly because I would fail miserably if I tried. I’ve been known to let out a blood-curdling shriek when brushed against, tapped on the shoulder, or presented with an innocent breakfast pastry.) Because of this, at any given birthday or holiday, any number of well-meaning friends and relatives are bound to gift me with objects that not-so-subtly say: “Bitch, you absolutely need to calm the fuck down.” I’m talking mini zen gardens; I’m talking self-help books; I’m talking an actual, literal gift certificate for a free therapy session.

Many of these items I merely ignore or give away. (Free massage coupon? No thank you. I can’t imagine anything more stressful than sitting in a dark, perfumed room being rubbed by a complete stranger, and anyone who feels relaxed by it clearly never developed a healthy sense of stranger danger in preschool.) However, some of them have stuck with me through the years—either because they’re aesthetically pleasing, or because I’m holding on to some vague, false hope that some day, it may actually help me calm the fuck down, even a little bit. They never calm me down. In fact, most of these items just make me ten thousand times more stressed. Allow me to explain, with a virtual tour of my room.

Take this Buddha Board.


For those of you who have never been to a distinctly terrible generic gift shop, a Buddha Board is a special canvas on which you can paint with water. The water then evaporates, and the canvas is blank again. So you can paint with water. Again. It’s supposed to be a lesson in letting go and being zen and channeling your inner Buddha and all that other yikesy, culturally-appropriative stuff that tends to come with distinctly terrible generic gift shop merchandise. I’ve had it for a while now, and I have still not learned this lesson. Because SOMETIMES, I’m sitting at my desk, innocently googling pictures of Scarlett Johanssen’s forearms, and I dip that little Buddha brush into water, and I start to trace a little water dragon onto my board. But shocker! The little water dragon ends up being super cute! And then I don’t want it to disappear! But if I take a picture on my phone then I’m disrespecting the central tenet of the Buddha board! So I just watch as my new little dragon friend slowly evaporates into nothingness. There it is. I killed him. And then I burst into tears, and then I paint a new dragon with my tears, and the vicious cycle starts all over again until my tear ducts have crusted up from overuse!

Do you see now?! Do you see the stress it brings me?!

Another example: this adult coloring book.

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Completely unused, because guess what? The only thing more stressful than being rubbed by a complete stranger is sitting hunched over at your desk, coloring in one of ten thousand tiny little scales comprising a giant fish and trying desperately not to making any sudden moves that force your flimsy colored pencil outside the lines! The first and last time I tried to color in a page from this book, I finished one perfect corner of the mandala, panicked about the possibility of not coloring the rest of it nearly as well, and ripped it out of the coloring book as is. Seriously, the half-done drawing is still on my fridge.

The only stress-reducing item that has ever offered me any semblance of solace is this little bucket of Play-Doh.

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It’s squishy. It smells nice. It hasn’t hardened, because I’m so meticulous about giving it some well deserved R&R in its container after a long day of being repeatedly smashed in frustration against my desk. But. Deep inside my perfect little purple ball of Play-Doh, there is a disgusting, menacing secret—a secret that, hard as I try, I can’t help but remember every time I squish that dough through my fingers. A secret that eats me alive, and just stresses me out more.


Yes. An orange blemish, from when I once let my precious Play-Doh mingle with its friend from a neighboring can. A contamination of the pure purple that I will absolutely never let go.

And then we have this book.


I don’t think I need to say much more about it. So what’s wrong with it? Well, take a look at this excerpt:


This occurs in the acknowledgements. I mean, dude, I get that you’re trying to teach me that shit like this isn’t a big deal, but can you at least wait to screw up until like, Chapter 8, when I’ve learned to accept it?

Hot damn. I just can’t catch a break.

Images via Ali MacLeod and via.

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