This past year has been traumatic, heartbreaking, and confusing for us all. An unprecedented global pandemic struck and caused individuals to fear for their own well-being, and perhaps more painfully, the well-being of their loved ones. The Cut producer B.A. Parker experienced the anxiety of this year on an incredible level, and thus spent the majority of her time looking for ways to escape the suffering. From recreational drugs to TikTok trends, hear about the various ways she tried to break free from reality on this week’s episode of the podcast.
To hear more about Parker’s road to freedom, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also find the full transcript below.
AVERY: So this is it. It’s been officially a year. An entire year under COVID. A bad, hard year for almost every single person in the world. This is not the pain Olympics or anything, but producer B.A. Parker has really been through it. She wants to just get away.
PARKER: Towards the end of last year, I had to go to a gynecologist. I hadn’t gotten my period in two months. I knew I wasn’t pregnant. As I sat there, I was asked by the doctor if I had any stressors. Aside from the world imploding? Let’s see — you’ve got a pandemic, a racial uprising, global warming’s kicking our ass, the election, work is giving me a stomach ache, I can’t visit my family, and my Dad, on Christmas, died from COVID. So yeah, I’ve got stressors. But I didn’t realize that could cause my body to just say “no. ”
Let me tell you: I have six calming apps on my phone, I do reiki, I go to virtual church, I talk to my therapist. None of these things have been able to counteract all the stress. This past year almost broke me. For months, I’ve been feeling like a malfunctioning cell phone that needs to be submerged in a bowl of rice. Assuage me from all this — whatever this is. So, I decided to try to get away. I wanted to get out of my head. Away from everything. So I went to a sensory deprivation tank.
Granted, my only real context for a sensory deprivation tank is The Simpsons. The one where Homer and Lisa lay down in those covered water tanks and go on these spiritual journeys to understand one another. So surely I would reach some kind of spiritual enlightenment? Clearing my head of all unnecessary thoughts. I’d talk to my ancestors or come up with the next Tesla.
PARKER: Cut writer Allison P. Davis tried a tank a while back, and wrote an article about it. She gave me some pointers.
ALLISON: If you just relax and breathe, you end up in this fugue state. No thoughts are real. I really do imagine this is what we were like when we were just floating around that amniotic fluid. You’re not really thinking anything coherent. It’s just whispers of emotions. You’re in this weird, half-waking, half-sleeping place and it’s super relaxing.
PARKER: I can relax. I can totally relax. I need this. I can relax, dammit. Then Allison gave me this warning.
ALLISON: I’m in the clamshell pod, but I have this crazy weave at the time. As you know, this is like a lot of extra hair on top of your hair. Because there’s so much salt in the water to keep you floating, my hair absorbed it. My head kept slipping under. The whole time I was struggling to keep my head from submerging and me drowning. I couldn’t get into the situation because I was like, “oh, no, if I relax my neck, I’m going to drown because of my fucking hair.” Make sure you pull your hair back tight, maybe braid it, and then go to town.
PARKER: Great, so I go into this knowing that basically gravity is racist. Got it.
At the sensory deprivation place, I slid my shoes into a little cubby and sat near a woman who was drinking citrus-infused water and journaling while I watched a video instructing me to rest easy in the tank, but not to drown. I was just laying there naked, floating in an enclosed bathtub full of epsom salt. Wincing at the hidden cuts that I’d missed when I was applying the required vaseline to hangnails and mask-ne. The only thing I could compare it to was the screensaver on an old DVD player. The one where the emblem would bounce from edge to edge. I’d slowly drift from each corner, noticing my reflection above me. Thinking about work that I needed to finish and how my thigh gap looked like the Star Trek logo. I didn’t wanna doze off for fear that I’d miss the signal to get out of the tank and the guy from the front desk would see me passed out, naked in a drained tub, covered in salt. I wanted to do a good job. I wasn’t sure if I did it right. Was I supposed to be changed by this experience? How long were the effects supposed to last? There was a moment where I did enjoy it.
Afterward, I felt compelled to talk in a whisper. The noises outside were crisper. I loved the feeling of the windy day in Brooklyn. That feeling lasted from the front door of the sensory deprivation place to the subway station, when I made it down the stairs and immediately saw a person with their face mask below their nose. My four-block-long victory swiftly became a failure. It was like I hadn’t just spent $100 and an hour and a half literally marinating in my own thoughts. I don’t know why I can’t get out of my own head, or just get out of my own way. To stop thinking about all of the panic and the loneliness and the cruelty and the heartache that’s come from this past year. That would be great. That led me to my next questionable idea to try to get away and escape from my own head.
KERENSA: So I just started microdosing over the summer. Usually with friends, sometimes by myself, but not super, super often.
PARKER: Kerensa Cadenas is senior culture editor for the Cut and my friend to exchange late-night texts with about Dawson’s Creek. I’ve always thought of her as this cool girl who does cool shit, like casually microdosing as a treat.
KERENSA: It was a way to take me out of my own head, and also it was surprisingly fun. I had some friends who were like, “I can’t believe you’re doing mushrooms this much.” I was like, “yeah, me either.”
PARKER: This whole conversation led me to wonder, Parker? Are you gonna try mushrooms? You, who have yet to figure out how to function when you get just the faintest bit stoned? You, who gets drunk, only to text your mom at 3 a.m. to tell her you love her? You are going to go use recreational drugs?
KERENSA: You and I just need to go see a movie, and I will pass an edible to you.
PARKER: I was gonna take an edible and go to an outdoor movie. Okay, cool. I’m bad at taking edibles. Like, really bad. Last March, at the start of the pandemic, I tried edibles. I took six of them in two hours, because I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that. I managed to have every awful thought that I’ve ever had in the world: God hates me. I’m gonna die alone. What’s the point of the universe if the sun is gonna burn out? Fun stuff like that, all in the span of six minutes. And I forgot how to walk down stairs. Yet, somehow, doing it again didn’t seem terrible. It’s that thing you immediately think of when you think about a temporary escape. Kerensa would be there. I’d be okay. I’d be with a friend who knew her shit.
KERENSA: I never eat the full edible until I know if it’s one I like or can’t handle or whatever.
PARKER: Now, I’m not promoting drug use here, but I’m not condemning it either. I’m just a girl in two face masks going to an outdoor movie in the freezing cold, to hang out with a co-worker she’s seen everyday on Zoom but has never physically met, take an edible and not think about her dead dad for a couple hours. We watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Kerensa gave me a tiny edible. A thumbelina piece of a cookie. It was a slow burn. Then I got in the car share home. Mid-ride, I completely forgot where I was going which is scary. I crashed on my bed and woke up 13 hours later. I guess that was an escape? It also feels like a coma. Altogether unsustainable, possibly unethical, and illegal depending on the state. A friend told me about another option to escape out of my own head. A way that doesn’t involve expensive tanks and drugs. Just an entirely new reality. Created by sheer force of imagination. Trying to get out of my head, to escape from the woes of pandemic life, has felt an uphill battle. Each attempt was more fraught than the next. Then my friend and fellow producer, Alice Wilder, started sending me these TikTok videos. They were of teenagers doing something called “shifting.” Alice just stumbled across this whole world on TikTok.
ALICE: I had a video come across my “for you” page on TikTok that was like, “How to reality shift: Here’s the top methods.” And I was like, excuse me, what?
PARKER: These teens will script out a scene with a whole plot and characters, often ripped from a book or a movie, and then go there.
ALICE: There is this well-established practice that mostly teenagers have taken on. Sort of meditating in a way that gets them to, they believe, mentally shift to the reality of their choosing.
PARKER: They essentially try to manifest that world until they fall asleep and in that sleep, they enter the reality that they’ve scripted. It’s kinda like intentional day dreaming that becomes sleep dreaming.
ALICE: Basically, the idea is that you shift from your current reality to your desired reality.
PARKER: Shifters refer to this desired reality as your “DR.”
ALICE: And your CR is this is your current reality. So your DR is where you want to go. A lot of it’s about Harry Potter. They’ll be like, “Oh, my God, I just shifted in like I went to Hogwarts and I played ‘WAP’ for Professor Snape. He was so horrified, he hated it. Oh my God, Draco smelled so good.” Basically this is the community of people who are shifting. It’s not just Harry Potter. It’s Twilight. It’s anime. It’s The Hunger Games. Why would you want to shift to The Hunger Games? It’s literally a dystopia.
PARKER: There’s no one shifting into Pride and Prejudice?
ALICE: I don’t even know where I would want to shift to.y
PARKER: I like how you didn’t go, “oh this is bullshit” and just went straight to, “where would I go?”
ALICE: Yeah. I respect the process. I think it’s a wild concept.
PARKER: Would you recommend me trying it?
ALICE: Yeah, what’s the worst-case scenario? These YouTubers I watch pick a safe word. So pick your safe word, Parker.
PARKER: “Banana bread.”
PARKER: Alice and I decided that as a cool zennial and old-ass millennial, respectively, we were gonna try to shift. We just needed a little guidance toward our desired realities. Totally normal stuff.
ALICE: The first person that I interviewed was Kristin, who’s a first-year college student. She has this great YouTube channel where she talks really frankly about shifting and gives advice and commentary. The place where she shifts to is this anime called My Hero Academia.
KRISTIN: I actually shifted to something called a waiting room, which is a place between your current reality and your desired reality. I picked it based off of an anime. I like Victorian manners and Victorian-era stuff. I just picked a room that was that theme and I was like, Okay, I’m going to wake up there. I’m going to have a butler and they’re going to wake me up and they’re going to serve me tea. That’s literally what happened. I didn’t expect it. This dude walked in and I was like, “who are you?”
ALICE: And, they’re like, “I work for you.”
KRISTIN: I was like, “What? I didn’t hire you. What do you mean?”
ALICE: What kind of tea did you have?
KRISTIN: It was called Earl Grey. It tasted so good.
PARKER: I gotta say, this had something going for it. It didn’t cost anything. It was not illegal. Unlike the other things I had tried, it did not seem very grown up, very Brooklyn, or kind of elitist. It felt more like these kids had managed to find a cheat code by escaping through their own minds. Plus, Earl Grey. Real or not, I wanted what they had.
ALICE: I love When Harry Met Sally. It’s my comfort movie. I wanted to shift to the wedding reception at the end. I loved the idea of being at this big festive wedding reception. To get to celebrate something good happening.
PARKER: My desired reality. That sounds swell actually. With a script, a chant, and a nap, I could wake up in a snowed-in log cabin by a frozen lake. I’d be listening to Coltrane, while eating waffles with Daniel Kaluuya. Alice and I exchanged voice memos over the course of a couple of weeks, trying to chronicle our process of learning to shift
ALICE: I tried shifting last night using the Raven Method, where you lay in a starfish shape and you count up and down to and from 100. Nothing happened, but it was a wild experience. My limbs felt really heavy and I felt a tingling between my eyes.
PARKER: The tingling I think is just your third eye.
ALICE: I’m gonna try again tonight.
B.A.: Too much of my scripting already has been me describing a living room in the cabin. I’m like, “so it’s open-concept and you can see the kitchen is right behind the living room. You can see everything. There’s a fireplace and rows of windows.”
ALICE: You’re supposed to breathe in and out and intersperse affirmations like, “I have shifted. I am in my desired reality. When I wake up, I will be in my desired reality.” I did not shift and then I got frustrated that I was not shifting.
PARKER: I have my script next to me, and I’m going to adjust my pillows and get them to the starfish method. One, I’m going to shift. Two, I’m going to shift. Three. I’m gonna shift.
[BACK TO INTERVIEW]
ALICE: Do you like this reality?
KRISTIN: No, not at all. I absolutely do not like it. In this life, I can’t really be what I want because I don’t really know what I want. Everything here just seems so boring and monotone. It’s always been boring to me. So over there [shifting] I can have the life I want. I can help people. I can have a career that I actually enjoy. I don’t have to worry about the money because I just care about the career and I can be truly happy. That is why when I heard about shifting, I was like, Okay. I fell into the trap of trying to use it for escapism, but I realized that was also probably the reason that I wasn’t shifting. I was just so obsessed with the idea that it’s the only thing that matters in my life. You try to literally escape this reality. I think a lot of people automatically try to cancel out this reality. You can’t do that. I mean, this world is hella traumatic, if I do say so myself. You have to accept it in order to move on or to be able to go wherever you want.
PARKER: All this time, I kept thinking about ways to escape. That, somehow, was preventing me from actually escaping. I was so focused on needing to get to my desired reality, right now. Then this past year can finally fade away. What I’m looking for is something smaller. Something that looks a lot like relief. It’s been a year. Over 500,000 are dead in the U.S. None of us have had time to grieve. [We’re] so focused on the future when restaurants and movie theaters can open at full capacity that we haven’t been allowed to just sit in the loss. To process what is ongoing. I have to face my current reality every day, and it sucks. I think trying to figure out what can sustain us right now is a noble pursuit. I need something. We all need something. Even if the tank, the edibles, and the shifting didn’t work for me. In each case, at least I got a nice nap out of it.