Shattering Stigmas: Ted Revolutionizes the Toaster by Anonymous

Welcome to the thirteenth day of Shattering Stigmas! From now until October 22 I’ll be highlighting voices from the book community on mental health. I’m co-hosting this event with Taylor from Stay on the Page, Shannon from It Starts at Midnight, and Amber from YA Indulgences so make sure to check their blogs out each day to see different content.

Content Warnings: self-harm, anxiety, alcoholism, death by suicide

When I was a little kid, my uncle used to let me help him color in the black-and-white outlines of his cartoons. He was an artist, and had a side hustle selling greeting cards and art prints. My very favorite was a poster-sized piece called “Ted Revolutionizes the Toaster,” in which Ted, pictured at the bottom of the frame, envisions a behemoth of an invention, all cogs and pulleys and gears — and in the middle of it is a tiny toaster. Before I had the poster hanging in my house and could see it every day, it was always exciting for me to try to find the toaster amidst the chaos. I loved, too, trying to figure out how so much machinery could be powering such a seemingly simple toaster.

When I was in college, struggling with my parents’ divorce and my own identity, beginning my transition into adulthood, and trying to put a name to something I realized much later was anxiety, I discovered that when I couldn’t catch my breath and it felt like a wave was about to wash over me and pull me into the riptide, the most grounding thing I could do was to scratch myself. It reminded me that I had a body, I took up space, I was here. I knew even while I was doing it that it was somehow wrong. But with my pin or my fingernails applied to the inside of my left wrist, I did the impossible — I calmed down. I kept on going.

We were on the opposite side of the country from my uncle and his family, but we knew things were really bad. As a family they struggled with alcoholism and anger and trauma. We worried for my cousins. When my uncle survived a suicide attempt when I was in graduate school, I called him up a few days later and told him that he was my favorite relative, and that I needed him to stay.

He didn’t. My uncle died by suicide a few months after that phone call. I left work early, went home in a taxi, met my partner at our apartment, and completely fell apart.

Three weeks later, I got my first tattoo. After meticulously tracing and enlarging it over and over until I was satisfied, I got that toaster tattooed onto me. It reminds me every day that, as simple as something can seem on the outside — a humble toaster, or a girl in her first year of college — more often than not, it has so much going on underneath the surface that so many of us never think about, or ask to see. In addition to being a tribute to my uncle, I also got my tattoo as a sort of amulet, for protection. Whenever I was feeling anxious or sad or like I was falling apart, I could look at my tattoo and, just by invoking my uncle’s memory, it could keep me safe. I could resist. I could calm down. I could keep going.

Of course, my toaster is on the inside of my left wrist. And I haven’t scratched it since.

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