Category Archives: Invisible Illness

Of Chronic Illness and Unicorns

Life is like riding on a magical flying unicorn.

Getting a chronic illness is like that unicorn getting a puncture or losing an engine or something.

Okay, that didn’t make a lot of sense.

I originally devised this analogy with a hot air balloon, but then I thought about how fun it would be to draw unicorns with rainbows and stars and stuff, and I had a long and sensible think about how important it was to me to be clear so my audience would understand me which, in hindsight, wasn’t all that long and sensible, and now I’m finding that the unicorn is far too square to be hammered through this round hole, and what I’m trying to say is that this whole analogy is going down.

But that’s kind of the point.

When you get a chronic illness, your life becomes a nonsensical descending unicorn and the only way to keep it in the air is to carve off big heavy chucks of yourself and throw them away.

If you’re not too ill, you might be able to keep your career afloat, but only if you throw out half your social life and all your hobbies. Or perhaps you choose to throw out half your job; you work part-time but you keep on top of your groceries and housework and you get to see your friends just as often as before.

But if you’re very ill, if doctors slap adjectives like “severe” on whatever it is you have, your unicorn might not be able to carry much at all.

I threw out a job. I threw out study. But it kept getting worse. The unicorn got shot—

—so I rarely left the house, but then it caught fire—

—and I gave up all housework.

For two years, I had the adjective “severe” and a very unhappy unicorn.

I still had my partner. He supported us financially, did all the housework, and helped me when I was sick. But we no longer had a normal twentysomethings relationship. Our friends were taking each other out to bars, having cheeky shower sex, taking selfies while skydiving, bathing in smashed avocado, and firebombing napkin factories. (Or something. Being housebound leaves you a bit out of touch, so I had to extrapolate from sitcoms, social media and inter-generational war opinion pieces). We were different. My partner held my hand in waiting rooms and only slipped into my shower to stop me collapsing in the heat.

People told us how surprised they were that he didn’t leave me and how wonderful he was for staying.

(He is, of course, wonderful).

Because I was such a burden.

The guilt was worse than my illness. Which—to clarify for anyone who hasn’t been so physically destroyed that they’ve spent an entire day perfectly still, not able to move to get food, water, visit the bathroom, text anyone for help, or turn on Netflix—is really saying something.

I apologised to my partner non-stop. Every time he did a chore, got back from work, or paid a bill I hadn’t contributed to, I told him how sorry I was.

But it wasn’t enough. It didn’t soothe the guilt.

I started apologising for no reason, just because I suddenly remembered my broken body, just because he comforted me, just because I still existed. I woke him in the stupid hours of the morning to beg forgiveness. If I had been capable of leaving the house, I would have followed him all day, popping up in a flurry of ImsosorryImsosorrys during bathroom breaks and conference calls. And actually I have a phone and am resourceful enough to achieve a similar effect while lying half-dead on the couch at home.

In short, I was overwhelmingly annoying.

He sat down to talk to me about it.

I could see he wanted to reassure me, and I saw the whole conversation play out in my head. He would say all the nice things I’d heard before, that we were getting by without me working, that it was only a little more housework than he would do if he was living alone, that it wasn’t a problem to schedule his day around my doctor’s appointments. And, ace in the hole, none of this awfulness was my fault anyway.

And I knew that I would pull a face and nod and say okay, but not really be convinced.

Because I would know, deep down, that he would only say all this because when you care about someone you don’t want them to feel like they’re weighing you down. (Even if they are). And maybe because, if you really care, you think it’s worth carrying their associated awfulness.

But the conversation didn’t go like that.

He told me that I make him laugh every day. He told me I am fun. Even when I am housebound. Even when I have to lie perfectly still and can only communicate through facial expressions. He told me I make space for him to be himself. He told me he likes to hear what I have to say about things, and that I make him look at the world differently. He told me that he wants to be around me.

Instead of denying I was a burden, he told me I was carrying him too.

It was special and wonderful and surprising. A big heap of surprising. A fully-functional-unicorn-load of surprising.

I hadn’t realised I had all those things on my unicorn. Right up until then, I believed that if my ability to earn money and do other useful labour fell and smashed into a million pieces, there wouldn’t be anything worthwhile left of me.

But now maybe I do.

Sometimes. Almost.

At least I try to believe it, which doesn’t mean I succeed all the time, but I’m getting better with practice.

And I think that there are a lot of people like me out there who have papered over their self-worth with jobs and projects and busy-ness, telling themselves it’s all integral to who they are.

It’s not.

Nothing is secure. Not your job, not your body, not your abilities.

But you don’t need any of it to be someone.

I am no longer plagued by the adjective “severe”. It took time, but now I can look after myself, prepare food, leave the house and work from home. Commuting is tricky, and I need lots of breaks and sick days, but that’s still a lot of easy reasons to value myself. Sometime I even forget I’m sick, but I always try as hard as I can to remember what I am underneath.

Because I like a challenge. Because while it’s great my partner likes me, it’s my opinion that matters. Because the future isn’t guaranteed.

Because a magical unicorn isn’t going to do it for me.

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One of the illustrations from this story, Analogy Unicorn, is available in my store now!

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

How to Get a Cat: An Illustrated Guide

For the last couple of years, I have sat at home all day alone.

alone

Chronic illness can do that to you. It hasn’t been too bad, really. I don’t live alone, so I have company for non-working hours, and some wonderful friends and family members visit and take me out on my good days. A lot of people with my illness have it much worse.

But still.

Being alone wears you down.

(Even a super introvert with social anxiety disorder and occasional agoraphobic leanings, like me.)

So, easy solution, I got a cat.

We were renting and weren’t allowed pets, so it only required us to spend all our current and future money to find a house, sign over our souls and move, just before Christmas, the worst time of the year to do anything other than eat gingerbread. It was no trouble at all.

I like cats. I had a cat when I was growing up whom I loved to bits.

Although, actually, it was me who ended up in bits. That cat was a psychopath. When I was eight she invented a game where she would lurk outside the bathroom when she heard the shower. She would pick a natural bottleneck—a doorway, the hall—and wait for me to emerge, vulnerable, wrapped only in my towel.

attack1

attack2

Sometimes that’s all she would do. Just watch me as I edged past her, staring with pouncing eyes, knowing I was nervous. Other times…

attack3

Remembering this, I thought a great deal about the type of cat that would be best for us. And it turned out my partner and I had met a lot of other types of cat over the years that we didn’t think would suit.

the-floor-is-made-of-lava-cat

We didn’t want the kind of cat that hates people so much it lives on top of bookshelves whenever anyone is around.

no-touchies

We didn’t want the type of cat that pretends to like you, but acts as though it will catch fire if you actually touch it.

murdercat

We didn’t want the type of cat that murders animals larger than itself in the dead of night, then eats their entrails. I know people who live with this type of cat, and since the Possum Incident, they haven’t been the same.

seen-some-things

Armed with a clear picture of what we didn’t want (literally, see cat types 1-3 above), we walked out of the shelter with the complete opposite. The most clingy, affectionate cat to ever exist.

He needs to be close to people, either sitting tucked under your chin or participating in whatever you are doing, at all times. For the few days after we took him home, he only stopped cuddling and kneading on my throat for eating or pooping (his eating or pooping, not mine).

He’s getting better at separation, but he can’t handle being left out of things. He follows me from room to room. He watches as I brush my teeth. He pounces on books and my computer so he can play with them too. When we do the dishes, he claims the rinse water as his personal paddling pool. Tiny, prickling claws are involved in every activity, and if you try to stop him, he climbs you with them.

It’s kind of like living with an affectionate cactus. Or wearing a scarf made of hedgehogs.

It’s very different to my previous experiences with cats. Showering with my old cat in the house was like starring in a B-grade slasher movie. My new cat turns showering into one of those romances that are supposed to be swoonworthy but are just super, super creepy. He won’t let me shut him out of the bathroom. He sits in front of the shower glass, sometimes with his face pressed up close, sometimes playing with the water droplets he sees running down my side of the glass that he can never catch. Sometimes, if he can paw the door open a crack, he jumps in.

(I let him in the first time because I thought it would teach him a Valuable Lesson about consequences and personal space. It didn’t. Now he thinks darting in and out under the sprinkling water is part of the game.)

As a human, that kind of thing gets you restraining orders. As a cat, it gets him whatever he wants.

He’s a whole new type of irritating cat.

codependent-cat

But I love him.

And I’m not alone.

not-alone

 

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You can find four of the illustrations from this story in my store! The Floor is Made of Lava Cat, the No Touchies Cat, the Murder Cat, and the Extra Strength Co-dependent Cat.

If you love my stories and comics, check out my Patreon page. You can support my work and get unique rewards!

And don’t forget you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (I recommend Instagram if you would like to see pictures of my cat playing the sink).

Impromptu, Not-Funny Thoughts About 2016, Life and Depression. Also Cats.

I have seen a lot of jokes and not-so-jokes about 2016 kicking humanity in the tender bits. It’s a bit weird for me because 2016 has been the best year of my life. (So far).

A year ago I was so unwell with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia that I was mostly bedbound. Although I had planned to spend my post-uni mid-twenties traveling the world, I found myself at age 25 struggling to shower. My career hopes were dead. And I was in the surreal position of navigating disagreements with people about trivial wedding things when deep down I believed that we were going to have to cancel the whole thing because I was. Just. Too. Sick. and getting sicker every day.

And then one day in November last year I woke up and it was different. I was getting better.

Since that day I have got married, crab-danced to Rock Lobster with my family, travelled internationally, taken up writing and illustrating my comics in a professional manner, opened a store for my art, begun writing a novel and done a bunch of other awesome stuff.

I feel like I built myself a new life. Not the same life I had before and not an entirely better life. There is no escaping that I am still unwell and that this imposes limits; it is unlikely that I will ever be financially independent or capable of travelling as much as I had hoped. But in other ways it is better. In other ways I am free.

And right now, I am reducing my dose of antidepressants (with the knowledge and guidance of my doctor). This is something I have not successfully done since I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety seven years ago.

It has been a phenomenal year for me.

But yesterday I spent the afternoon in bed pretending not to exist, unable to face the world.

There is a 2016 story that is better known than mine. I, along with the rest of the world, have witnessed bombed houses and lost toddlers. The world hardened against immigrants and refugees. Brexit happened. Mass murders happened. Australia, my own country, made its refugee policies more and more revolting. And then, finally (fingers-crossed), the US election.

This a personal story, not a political debate, so I won’t go into detail on why it was so bad. I’m far from apolitical, but I find it hard to cope with these discussions. I prefer to avoid the topic and fob off questions with jokes.

Jokes feel wrong today. So does being serious and heaping more sad on to the big sad pile. So does staying quiet and letting it go unacknowledged. Everything feels wrong.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in bed.

The news does this to me sometimes. I am a bit broken. Not all my moving parts turn the way they should. I know this. The last time I tried to reduce my antidepressants I was assaulted by media images of the tsunami in Japan and flooding in Queensland. I heard so many stories of shattered lives and saw so much destruction. Overnight I became hollowed out and empty.

And yesterday I spent the afternoon in bed.

But today I got up.

I did some gentle yoga—partly for the mindfulness and partly because my body lets me now. I had a cup of tea and ate breakfast. I got out in the sunshine. I drew some cats.

more-cats

Because I needed them for my next story. And also just because I needed them.

And I will be kind. To myself and to others. A lot of people are feeling unsafe today. I am feeling unsafe today, and I am a white, middle-class, cis-het non-Muslim half the world away. I can’t image how people in America, particularly minorities, are feeling. So I will be kind. I will be kind today and tomorrow and every day. I will make kind decisions, always.

I will keep building my life, one cat bumhole at a time.

I do not want the world to empty me this time. Instead I will fill it. I’m not sure that I am well suited to political activism, at least not beyond keeping myself informed and standing against bigotry in my personal life, but I have other things. I have stories and art and kindness and, on other days, humour.

With these things I will fill the world, drop by drop.

Cat bumhole by cat bumhole.

Patreon, the future and feelings

Silence Killed the Dinosaurs started out as a whim. It continued as a way to help me cope through the worst of my chronic fatigue syndrome. Now I would like it to be a little more.

I have been thinking about how to write this for a few weeks, and I have made a couple of false starts. It’s all been wrong.

So I’ll start by telling you this:

I have set up a Patreon page to support my writing and illustrating for Silence Killed the Dinosaurs.

For those who don’t know, Patreon is a crowdfunding site designed specially for creators who have a constant output (i.e., writing, art, comics, music, podcasts, etc.). Instead of a big one-off fund-raising goal, patrons opt to pledge a smaller amount (as little as a $1) each month.

Don’t worry, Silence Killed the Dinosaurs will remain free to anyone who wishes to see it.

But if you like my work and think it’s worth a couple of dollars every now and then, please consider becoming my patron. There are some cool extras and rewards available for those of you who do.

If you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) support me that way but would still like to help out, please consider sharing my work around on social media and telling friends about it. I would really appreciate it.

If you don’t want to do that either, we’re still cool. But maybe leave a comment and tell me the picture I did for my Patreon banner is totally kick-arse. Because it is. Go look at it. That thing took me ages to get right.

Ages.

And now that has been said, I’ll tell you some news:

My chronic fatigue syndrome has improved.

I’m not better, but I am better than I was six months ago. I might improve more over the next six months. I might not. I don’t know.

I am still not well enough to drive, catch a bus or find employment. But I have more energy and fewer migraines. I can help around the house. And, more relevant for you, I can concentrate better and for longer, meaning I can write and draw more.

Maybe I’ll never be well enough work as a librarian like I had planned and studied for before I got sick. But there’s more to me than my university degree and plenty of other things out there. Maybe I could be a professional writer/illustrator.

Which brings me to something else that I want to say but could never get the lead up right (and still can’t):

All this—Silence Killed the Dinosaurs, you guys—saved me.

Maybe that’s a soppy, silly thing to say on the internet, but I don’t care. It’s true. Probably you didn’t mean to. Probably you didn’t even notice. It’s still true. You saved me and it means everything.

I was so sick that I barely left the house. I ached all over all the time. I was too tired to think. On bad days I spent the entire day lying down. On really bad days I would not eat food or drink water until my partner returned from work in the evening because I was unable to stand and go to the kitchen.

But I wrote and I drew. Not always a lot. Not always well. Not at all on bad days. But I never stopped, even when it felt hopeless.

And you guys.

I little while back I wrote about the awkward conversations I have about not ‘doing’ anything. It was written to be entertaining, and I like to think it was, but it didn’t come from an entertaining place. Chronic fatigue syndrome had been getting me down. I felt like I was achieving nothing and that I was worthless.

But then I got heaps of comments from you guys telling me that of course I do something—I do this.

The idea needed some time to simmer. It didn’t just tip me into a new way of thinking and a new way of doing things, but I thought about it a lot over the last couple of months. And then when I visited New Zealand I filled out my occupation on those customs cards. You do two; one for the country you leave before you get on the plane and another for the country you are going to while you are on the plane. Somewhere in the air things clicked into place. I left Australia unemployed, but I arrived in New Zealand a writer.

Putting it down in words like that was weirdly hard to do—especially as there weren’t enough little boxes to fit /illustrator—but I was brave and I did it.

I consider my life saved.

And now I’m going to go do some scary things with it, like putting my work out there and finding new ways to challenge myself creatively. Please hang around while I do it. We’ll tell jokes and I’ll draw dinosaurs. It’ll be fun, I promise.

The last thing I wanted to say was just this:

Thank you.

extinction comic