Irrepressible Thoughts of Death Barbie

Barbie, Stop Listening to the Narrator

I’ve worked hard over the past month on some spectacularly human problems. The tendency to have an existential crisis every 1-2 years. The surprising way that my moods cycle in exactly the same way every month and every year and yet still manage to stab me from behind when I’m not paying attention. How to deal with the voice in my head which won’t stop presenting grievances when I am trying to just chill. The creeping feeling that I will never be happy “here” wherever that is. Guilt over having normal human boundaries.

Table of Contents

The Year Wound Down

a woman's face divided,
my darker side illuminated, depression AI art

The entire waning three months of the year, for me, are a slow descent into madness, accompanied by a touch of amnesia. This also mirrors my monthly cycles – a week or two of complete enthusiasm and effectiveness followed by a normal week and then a skittering across the emotions of apathy, terror, anxiety and finally rage (thanks, PMDD). Not every cycle is this bad, but some are enough to rock me to my core.

I have learned and re-learned a lot of coping tactics. I have read hundreds of books. I’ve attempted to daily habit myself out of depressive episodes. Reasoning to myself or guilting myself also are two failed but commonly attempted remedies. Incidentally some things that have helped are meditation, medication, supplementation and exercise.

We’re Not Supposed to Talk About That

We’re not supposed to talk about these things. For fear of proving the stigma correct, legitimizing 19th century men’s concerns of “female hysteria” and inability to manage our emotions. But fuck all that – I want to be honest with you. Because my coaching and my blog and my life is all about authenticity, which includes painful transparency.

I’m not one of those coaches or corporate people who claim to have it all figured out. It’s just that I have been through some heartbreak, burnout and mental health struggles and learned a few powerful self-care tactics along the way. It’s possible to be both vulnerable and strong, to be learning while you are teaching, and to be able to shed insight for others on things they are too close to. If anything, I hope to inspire you, my reader, to do things that are scary, even when you feel that you are not ready.

Stereotypical Barbie: I’m not mad, just disappointed

Barbie at computer, AI art of Margot Robbie as tech Barbie

I’ve now watched the Barbie movie three times. I’ve allowed the disappointment of the movie’s shallowness to wash past me, enjoyed the tunes and the goofiness of Ken and Alan, and overlooked the preachy and shmaltzy attempts to wrangle the plot into something that makes sense. I’ve even tried to forgive the Barbies for refusing to implement equality when they had a chance. I guess if they have no genitals or family units, it seems pointless to indulge the opposite sex in anything. Of course, the option of a female-run world of perpetually young golden girls living in dream houses is hard to pass up.

Regardless of the suboptimal treatment of the subject, the artistry of Barbie has enchanted my creative life. I’ve been thinking, as I tend to do, about these themes… Death, feminism, patriarchy, codependent relationships, tropes, existential dread.

sullen depressed existential barbie, as imagined by AI

Thoughts of Death Ain’t so Bad

Authors of the Tools, Stutz and Michels, advocate thinking about yourself on your deathbed as as a personal motivational tool. They call it Jeopardy. (Check out a documentary by Jonah Hill about Stutz on Netflix)

Stick figure illustration of the Jeopardy tool, credit Stutz and Michaels

Imagine yourself old and shriveled up on your death bed. How will you feel about how you are spending your time? Does the older you want to scream at you to do something better with yourself? They suggest you use this fear to motivate you to do what you need to do.

Do you push thoughts of aging and death from your mind? Or do you look upon your transient life bravely?

Many of the spiritual masters instruct this type of reflection to help us appreciate the journey more fully. Alain de Botton describes one of the many roles of art to help us understand the poignancy and importance of savoring those sad and unpleasant moments, giving them the respect they deserve rather than hoping for one consistent yet dull swath of happy days. Barbie’s days were all consistently happy, monotonous and meaningless. She never encountered challenges which required her to grow. What was the point of it? What was she made for, she wondered? (Spotify link)

Without Downs there are No Ups

Maybe I tell myself this because it’s more soothing than wondering what it’s like to be normal. What’s certainly not helpful when I feel down is to berate myself for feeling depressed because “it’s certainly not that bad” and “other people have it worse.” That’s as unhelpful as blaming my mood on my spouse or my workplace, regardless of how much they may contribute to my stress levels.

My Roommate is a Spaz

Michael Singer challenges us in his book The Untethered Soul to reconsider that voice in our heads. He says the running commentary is an attempt by our psyche to protect us from the flow of reality, to parse it and make everything ok. We put a lot of responsibility on that little voice, to explain everything, convince ourselves that people like us and that everything’s going to be fine. It’s not fair, really. Because it’s a lot of work for a lil psyche to do. And none of these thoughts will protect us from reality.

He says to consider that the voice in our heads is like a roommate who won’t stop jabbering. We can be aware of what they are saying or that they’re talking, but we just observe rather than engaging and identifying with the thoughts as truth. Most everything that voice talks about is planning, obsessing, being insecure or otherwise useless.

Think about it. Who is the one that’s talking? Who is the one who is observing the one that is talking? Thoughts can be as transient as the scenery outside the car window. It’s only when we engage with the thought and occupy it that we identify with the voice and hunker down. Singer says that when we just observe, and observe that we are observing, we enable ourselves to sit behind the voice, so to speak.

When your mind starts telling you what you have to do to make everything inside okay, don’t buy into what it’s telling you. The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay.

Michael Singer

Solution: Transcend Yourself Rather Than Fixing Yourself

Barbie decided the solution to her problems was to go become human and get a vagina. Her entire personality was a genre. She was stereotypical. There is massive irony in the idea that the object which has been cast as the stereotypical vision of what a woman should be is 1) less than a woman and 2) also experiencing existential dread. It’s very strange that the solution to her lack of a purpose was to slap on Birkenstocks and get surgically altered to become MORE feminine.

Instead, she could have stopped listening to the narrator (or the nagging voice in her head) and stopped asking for permission for things. She could become a W.I.T.C.H. A woman in total control of herself. It’s in reclaiming agency over our own lives that we stop being a victim and start living again freely.


Venus von Willendorf 01

Want to learn more about freeing yourself from patriarchy? I have a few favorite resources.


Ken imagined as housewife, AI art by Mandy Steinhardt

Borrow any of these books free from the Internet Archive or purchase them to read.

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Mandy Career Coach
Mandy Steinhardt, a Raleigh career and life coach, empowers women to break free from "good girl" syndrome and reclaim their power. Through one-on-one coaching and supportive women's circles, she helps them heal from past hurts, rediscover their strength and beauty, and create a life filled with purpose and balance. Whether you're feeling lost or uninspired, she's here to guide you to the career, pay and lifestyle that is perfect for you.

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