How I Tend My Aquariums and My Mind

I’ve had aquariums at home since elementary school. My mom used to raise angelfish, although we had a variety of other freshwater friends as well, including mountain minnows, swordtails, plecos, betta fish, and a dwarf frog.

One of the angelfish felt enormous to me, large as my face (though it certainly wasn’t), and its iridescent body was spotted much like a Dalmatian.

The Wonders of Livebearer Tanks

Today Chase and I keep a 20g livebreeder tank (along with betta tanks, as I shared in the videos from last post,) complete with Mickey Mouse and iridescent blue platies, deviled snails, Marimo balls, and a Mr. Pinchy:

When our alpha parents had their first babies, Chase spotted them first; I didn’t believe him, but he took this recording and…, well, see for yourself (the audio captures the moment I saw them!):

Livebearer tanks help us understand the importance of environment. These tanks do not succeed unless they’re heavily planted, so they provide ample hiding places and precious oxygen for baby fish…

…and they evolve very quickly. After the tank is established, (which we did fairly quickly due to recycling a filter from the 10g tank,) plants begin thriving, and fish start breeding; until the ecosystem’s developing, complicating parts sustain a more delicate and delicate wilderness that, if left intact, displays the wonders of life;

and if left to fall apart, displays the fallibility of abrupt environmental impacts.

It sounds like I’m about to break into a climate change speech here.

But the therapeutic effect I receive from tanks doesn’t have to do with the climates at large—although, it’d be easy to extend that argument—as much as it has to do with climate within the individual.

I like to think of my mind as they tanks.

Sledgehammering the Metaphor

Fishkeeping requires balances, checks, and re-balances; and that balance is maintained through the interaction of many fish, plants, algae eaters, healthy bacterium, salt, filtration, nutrient-rich soil…

My autistic brain requires balances, checks, and re-balances, (a lot more than most because of a combo attack of taking in more sensory information than normal, and having an amygdala that responds to stimulation poorer than normal); and that balance is maintained through the synapses between neurons—as well as the many other cells sustaining the mind-body-consciousness—which I’m able to provide through food, meditation, writing, reading, socializing, and contributing energy towards a world I believe in.

How the Metaphor is Helpful

Social anxiety, depression, arithmophobia, sensory sensitivity…

These are all issues that disrupt the balance of my mind’s fish tank; and those issues are creating unnecessary byproducts (💩)—so I’ve got too much shit, and not enough snails to clean it up—which enhances the problems at hand, thereby creating a whirlpool. For example:

I have a weird relationship with food ➡ rooted in my depression ➡ which results in a 2 am binge ➡ to soothe depression ➡ but then I don’t eat when the sun is up because I’m ashamed of the binge ➡ more depression ➡ also more anxiety ➡ especially in social situations, where people see me eat food ➡ more social anxiety ➡ I’m ashamed of my ineptitude to go to social events ➡ more depression ➡ I have a weird relationship with food ➡ which results in a 2 am binge ➡ etc.

The whirlpool can feel very debilitating, very fast.

But there’s this cool thing about fishkeeping!—you can add chemicals to adjust the water (anti-depressants); then you can work on small, environmental changes to get the water back in check in the long-term (cognitive behavioral therapy); and you can repetitively clean any algae bloom or other gunk, to speed up the healing process (stimming); you can also adjust the lighting, if there is an issue with the plants (sensory rooms);

You can mend a fish tank.

And you can mend a mind.

Also, fish tanks are just relaxing to look at. Who doesn’t find watching fish therapeutic?
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Kourtnie View All →

Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at or

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