A few weeks ago I was involved in what could have been a near-fatal car accident on Atlanta’s I-85 North. I was driving (something I typically endeavor to avoid), and merging into an adjacent lane with a car in my blind spot. Fortunately one of my friends was in the passenger seat, and she very calmly informed me of the whole blind spot situation, temporarily saving us from a collision. That is until I, of course, panicked and swerved very violently back into the lane from whence I’d come.
On paper, this isn’t a huge deal. Nothing of consequence happened after this. But for the briefest of moments, the tires beneath me made a garish sound I’d never heard in real life before, and I felt sure the entire car was going to give way and flip or careen into another adjacent lane where I was sure to be t-boned. But it’s like I said: nothing of consequence happened. The garish sound stopped and the car did not fall apart in my hands, while the dumb asshole on my right drove blissfully off into the distance.
As I began to calm down, and the adrenaline began to roll off me in waves, I felt a quiet sort of relief take its place, and an even quieter voice that seemed to say, We spend so much time worrying about something like that happening. Would it really be so horrible to just get it out of the way?
I’ve heard this little voice enough times to recognize it as an intrusive thought. Ironically, I hear it loudest in traffic-related incidents, mostly when I encounter a red light and find myself wondering what would happen if I just plowed right through it.
What am I supposed to do about that? Maybe seek medical attention. Maybe not write an entire essay about it.
I tell this story not to worry anyone that knows me, but to suggest that things like this happen rather often in polite society. We’ve spent so much time carefully building our world, securing shelter, 9-5 jobs, and whatever else is at the base of our pyramid of needs, quietly evolving away from that part of us that craves violence and chaos. We forget that we once killed each other with our bare hands, or that in some parts of the world, we still do.
I’m not saying I want to suddenly up and join those pockets of society. But the older I get, and the closer we all get to an apocalypse, the more I can feel my grip on what is good and normal begin to slip away from me. And this is scary for a lot of reasons. I was raised with the idea that I am, in one way or another, setting an example. I am representing something or someone no matter what I do. My family, my sex, my race. And to that end, I was raised to be good. To love my neighbor. To resist anger.
I feel myself buck under that expectation now more than ever. My aversion to it all actually reminds me of a meme. You’ve probably seen it. It involves Princesses Peach and Daisy, with the latter leering towards her companion, a pretty unhinged look in her eye.
“Are you tired of being nice?” she seems to ask via the crunchy text at the bottom of the frame. “Don’t you just want to go apeshit?”
That question sounds a lot like the baseline for most of my intrusive thoughts. Very little is keeping many of us from saying whatever nasty thing we actually want to say to the person we secretly hate. Or just accidentally tearing our own lives apart. In fact, some might even argue that doing either is a bit cool now. Edgy, even.
This phenomenon, this embrasure of toxicity and unlikability, has lately been coined as a “Fleabag Era.” It’s called that because it’s only for women, and much like the show of the same name, men just don’t get it. It’s a newer thing, living mostly on the TikTok profiles of girls who want to romanticize the act of drinking oat milk and wearing bras that don’t fit, but it’s a bit more than that. It’s a term to describe one's intrusive thoughts overriding any semblance of an inner monologue. It’s willful self-sabotage. And it’s really more performative than it is instinctive.
I’m absolutely fascinated with people’s need to glamorize their own self-destruction. I mean that, really, in the least judgmental way. Our brains are so powerful — they’ll take any route to spare us from pain. We as humans cling so rabidly to our realities, we are so resistant to change, because it could mean pain down the line, however temporary. So we sit in the pain we’re currently stuck with, and our brains just rewrite it in our heads.
That might be why I resist leaning into my Fleabag era. That, and the fact that #fleabagera on Tiktok is absolutely flooded with white girls — and an overabundance of white girls can put me off from almost anything.
(For anyone wondering, the black girl equivalent is most definitely a Rob from High Fidelity era. This revelation did make it even harder for me to resist, as I already spend so much of my time trying to align myself with Zoë Kravitz in every possible way.)
I think that, if I am going to change, it should be in a different direction. For all my violent, chaotic urges, and all the thoughts I think but never act on, I still feel as if I need to represent something more than just Mitski and binge-drinking. I still feel something barring me from an all-out disaster.
Even so, the idea of change is very frustrating for me too. This is due in part to my failure to learn any of the lessons the universe has thrown my way. I swerve, I flail about recklessly, but I don’t think I’ve successfully merged into a different lane. Not really. Most times I feel like I’m straddling two separate paths: one that sees me becoming this delicate, divine version of who I am now, an angel steeped in love and light, and another where I’m just trash. Just angry and messy, feral, violent — but still otherworldly in a way.
(See? Not even I am exempt from delusions of glamour.)
I’ve been slightly obsessed with the concept of the divine feminine for some time now. I feel myself drawn to it in equal parts as I am to the concept of destroying everything around me. Torn between the two. In some ways, I feel like life should be a cycle of destruction and rebirth. I think about myself like a would an avenging angel sometimes, a machete in one hand, the Holy Grail in the other. (Don’t tell me that this reeks of a god complex. I already fricken know.)
I find myself drawn to media where the woman is able to be both, to be ethereal and despondent, to be Magdalene, to be Ophelia, to understand everything that weighs their flesh down and to rise above it, to evolve away from all the gritty realities threatening to crush them.
The older I get though, the more I know that the kind of transcendence I want only happens in movies. I don’t think catharsis is a thing I can experience either, not on my own. I don’t even think I can really achieve divinity while in this body, but that’s a rabbithole I can’t really go down without triggering an existential crisis.
I’m not really sure what a Fleabag Era would even solve. In fact, if I really went apeshit I think I would regret it. If I destroyed everything in my life, physical or otherwise, if I let that rage inside of me take over, that monster, that avenging angel, I would eventually snap out of that and feel disappointed in myself. I could always break something. That’s not exactly strength. I think the strength comes from not breaking it. From unclenching your fists. From picking up the pieces of whatever’s already broken.
That helps me realize that I actually have changed, just not in the way I think. I don’t destroy like I used to. There are days of near-destruction, but there are also days where I feel ethereal and euphoric. I may be straddling two paths, suspended between angel and devil, but maybe that’s exactly where I’m meant to be.
I feel this the most when I buzz my hair back down to the close-cropped peach fuzz I’ve been working with for the past month (I shaved my head this past October, on the first of the month, for symbolic reasons). I feel like I could go either way. I could be nice. I could go apeshit. Or I could hover somewhere in between. I could create my own era, one unique only to me, one I won’t have to share with anyone else despite my affinity for oat milk.
It’s not a one hundred percent win. Few things in life are. It’s a compromise, a wild, desperate pivot to keep myself alive. It might even be a rebirth of some kind. I might not always be willing to choose it, but I owe it to somebody to try. Not my family or my sex or my race. My future self, maybe. A version of me that knows what to do with that wicked little voice in her head, the one relieved when things fall apart. I’ll find a way to feel relief when things go well instead. That, I think, is how I’ll know I’ve really changed.