Category Archives: Mental Health

Hello, My Name is Grief

Test reads: Grief is like a star dies inside you, crushing down into a blackhole that sucks and sucks and sucks every emotion and thought and part of you down to nothing. Test reads: Except when you forget. And then it’s a tsunami of sudden memory that tumbles you around and steals your breath and washes you far away from where you were a moment beforeText reads: Except sometimes it’s warm sunshine on you face, a light breeze in your hair, and bright colours all around you. And it’s beautiful, but the light is to loud and the breeze is to bright and everything is exquisitely wrong, unbearably real.Test Reads: Sometimes it’s from is … unexpected. Sometimes you want it, to prove what you lost was real, to prove it was loved. Sometimes it is someone repeating the same boring stories, the same words, the same feelings you’ve sat through a thousand times before, over and over and over, and you can’t escape. Text reads: Sometimes it's all those things TOO HEAVY TOO BIG TOO LOUD TOO BRIGHT TOO STRONG TOO MUCH at onceTest reads: I don’t know how to end this. I don’t think grief ends. Perhaps (I hope) is wears with time, like running water smoothing all the sharp edges from a rock. But even a smooth rock can trip you. I don’t think grief ends. But everything else does. (that’s the problem)

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So I had a third miscarriage.

Each time is harder. They add together. The second miscarriage wasn’t only a miscarriage, it was the first miscarriage happening again as well as a new miscarriage. And now this miscarriage is the first miscarriage happening again, and the second miscarriage happening again, as well as a new miscarriage and also an impossible pile of fear about what happens next.

I don’t think I will write a blow-by-blow account of this one (though I reserve the right to change my mind). It was another sucker-punch. I’ve done that before. If you want to read a sucker-punch miscarriage story, I’ve got Expecting.

I’m doing my best in the aftermath, but I’m struggling. There are good days (which are difficult) and bad days (which are impossible). I don’t know when I’ll have new content. I know that I will, I just don’t know when or how regularly that will be for a little while. I’m probably going to be extra slow responding to comments too (but I promise I’ll get there).

Bear with me?

As always, I have a Patreon page (where you can support my work in a general way and get rewards) and a store (where you can buy my comics on posters and shirts and mugs and stuff). And you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

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.

The Costume Debacle

Costume Joke

When Anxiety Attacks

super villain

I have a friend with an autoimmune disease, and I need your help.

I have a friend with an autoimmune disease. For anyone unfamiliar with how autoimmune diseases work and why having one sucks, it’s basically when all your white blood cells and other bits and pieces of your immune system are over-enthusiastic action-movie heroes who think ‘destroy everything’ is a mandatory step in the process of saving the day.autoimmune1Imagine being the city at the end of an Avengers movie. That’s how my friend feels most of the time. Unsurprisingly, she also gets lots of viruses and infections. autoimmune2She frequently comes down with tonsillitis. To stop this happening, she just had her tonsils removed. The procedure went about as well as these things do.

autoimmune3And she was fine until her immune system decided to save her from the painkillers.

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She was so unwell and in so much pain that she had to go back to hospital. This was not unusual for her. She has been to hospital 5 times in the last 6 months. She sees her GP about as often as she sees her mum, more often than she sees me.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: these medical comics are no Awkward Yeti and this is kind of a bummer story.

You’re right. I’m no Awkward Yeti and this is kind of a bummer story. And it’s about to get worse.

That statistic on how many times she has been to hospital in the last 12 months? I had to ask her for it when I sat down to write this because I didn’t know it. Even though I consider her one of my closest friends, she doesn’t always tell me when she ends up in hospital. She only told me this time because on that particular day I happened to message her to check up on her recovery. And in that message she apologised profusely for having to tell me bad news.

That’s why she doesn’t tell people. She doesn’t want to be a downer. She doesn’t want to force a nasty reality about life and illness on other people. She is afraid that if people get bad news every time they talk to her, they will stop.

Hearing this broke my heart a little bit.

It can be difficult to talk to people about chronic illness. It feels socially unsafe to bring up in conversation, and even the people who care don’t always want to hear about it. Perhaps because they want you to be happy and healthy and it hurts to know that you’re sick, so it’s easier for them to avoid all reminders.

With my collection of medical conditions (depression, assorted anxiety disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia) I get it. Or maybe I should say I kind of get it. Although I feel that social pressure to shut up, sit down and not rock the boat, I’ve never been very good at submitting to it.

Whenever someone dismisses my anxiety and tells me I’m just being ridiculous, I smile and get through the conversation. And then I draw a comic that touches on anxiety and publish it here.

When someone says that because I have depression I must make up stories for attention (true story … or is it?), I smile and get through the conversation. And later when I find other people who are drowning in emptiness I listen to them and then talk to them about what depression is and isn’t.

Every time someone shuts down discussion when I mention my chronic fatigue syndrome or completely ignores the effect it has had on my life, I smile and get through the conversation. And then drop my chronic fatigue bomb into the next one too.

And I was happy doing that privately. I would have gone on with my tiny rebellions for years, maybe my whole life. But then one of my closest friends apologised for telling me she was so sick she had to go to hospital, and that changed things.

My rebellion is going public, and I’m recruiting.

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Please talk about illness.

I know it’s hard and maybe you don’t know how and it feels too awkward, but life is about doing hard things.

You can start small. Acknowledge it in conversation when it comes up rather than gliding past it. Think about how that person’s illness might impact your plans together and, if it would help, offer to make adjustments. Ask them how they are doing. Listen to them, and let them tell you the truth. Ask follow up questions. Let them make jokes about it. Let them scream about it. Say Voldemort, not You-Know-Who.

Unless you are a hermit (…with an internet connection who follows my site), I guarantee that among your circle of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances there is somebody with this kind of illness. Autoimmune disease, thyroid conditions, endometriosis, anxiety disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, severe back pain, lingering physical injuries, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, MS, depression—I have names associated with each one.

When my friends end up in hospital I don’t want them to feel they should hide it. I want them to feel safe enough to tell people when they are so unwell they cannot get out of bed, in so much pain they vomit, or falling apart because waking up to the same struggle each and every day is becoming too much to hold together.

This is a bummer story, and I do not apologise for it. Maybe it’s awful to hear a friend is going through all that, but it’s far worse not to hear.

Please talk about illness. Take away its power to isolate already vulnerable people. Help me make a world where my friends will always know they can say something. I can’t bear the thought of them facing it alone.

Depression Lies

Lately my depression has been close to the surface. It whispers things to me and manipulates me. It tries to make me believe that I am worthless. I want to write about it properly, but everything I put down seems wrong, and I end up in tangles.

To have it swoop in and steal the words off the tip of my tongue makes me feel powerless. Loss of voice—silence—is a big deal for me. When I was a child my social anxiety was so strong that I often felt physically unable to speak in front people I didn’t already know well and feel comfortable with. So even if I can’t yet find a way to talk through it properly, I would like to put something about it up here.

I have a Gryffindor notebook that my sister bought me from Harry Potter World which I like to scribble in. With the help of my lovely assistant and trusty stead—doesn’t she look gorgeous in that silver dress?—I would like to show you my most recent scribble.

1lies

As you can see, some fairly standard depression imagery going on there. Darkness pouring down.

I didn’t have any words of my own to describe it or to cope with it, so I borrowed some. We live in a big, connected world, and chances are someone else has just what you need. This is humanity’s great advantage. We communicate.

So there are words, and if you can remember it when your brain has gone dark, it helps.

The Bloggess (hilarious, big-hearted, giant-metal-chicken-owning internet rockstar) says ‘depression lies’, and she’s right. It lies. It lies and it lies and it lies until all you’ve got are the lies and you can’t tell anymore which way is up.

So I’m trying to hold on to the knowledge that depression lies, and using that as my compass, the pictures turns around … Lovely assistant, if you would be so kind.

2lies

3lies

The page is still half-covered. The light and dark are in exactly the same proportions as before; it’s not gone. But now the warm parchment colour is on top, and I am anchored.

Fighting Multi-Headed Anxiety Monsters with the Power of Song

But first a confession. I had a really hard time writing this, but an easy time drawing the pictures. In fact, I had more fun drawing these pictures than I did drawing myself being ripped apart by a bear (here), and I giggled continuously while doing that one. But the words were difficult. So this is how it turned out.

There’s this awful thing that follows me around wherever I go. Other people can’t see it, but I can. It’s always there in some guise. Maybe it’s not bothering me right now, but I can see it lurking and I know that it can attack me whenever it wants.

It’s called anxiety. Maybe you have your own version of this monster. A lot of people do.

When it comes for me I’m usually the only one who notices, but you could tell if you were paying attention. When it happens, I experience:

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anxiety2

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And a few other things which aren’t as easy to draw. Plus, lists of three are neat and the racing heart one is definitely the punchline. So we’ll just skip over hot flushes, hyperventilation and feelings of impending doom. Lists of six suck.

Actually … let’s quickly do a superficial interpretation of feelings of impending of doom, because that phrasing makes me giggle.

anxiety4

Lists of panic attack symptoms tend to refer to it this way. I’ve always found the terminology hilarious, but the experience is horrifying and (for me, anyway) it’s the worst part of a panic attack. But more detail later.

Even with these symptoms, I can fight it. But it isn’t easy.

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If you cut off one head, another one grows back.

I used to be very shy and afraid of talking to people. Over the last few years I have fought this and it has become much easier. I am still shy, but I can talk to strangers and I am able to make new friends. I cut off that head, and my multi-headed anxiety monster grew another.

This one makes me afraid of being in crowds.

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This is a problem. Basically, it makes it difficult to be anywhere other people also want to be, which covers most places worth going. So I rarely go to concerts, clubs or popular restaurants (especially the ones that won’t let you book but they’re always so busy that you have to queue to get a seat). And going Christmas shopping or travelling on public transport in peak hour are like personalised versions of burning in hell.

… saying ‘personalised versions of burning in hell’ makes me want to go on a picture tangent. And I will. Because it’s my blog and I can if I want to.

anxiety10

And now back to anxiety.

The place I have to fight the anxiety monster the most is the supermarket. Because you have to go all the time or you run out of food and toilet paper. And you need those.

When I can, I try to go to the supermarket with my partner so that I don’t have to face it alone. It’s important that I do face it, because this is the best way to teach myself that there isn’t really anything to be afraid of. But of course I am afraid. I shuffle around, looking at my feet, trying to remain calm. It only takes one extra little thing for the monster to attack. A decision.

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That’s all it takes for my brain to break.

I remember when I was a kid riding my bike and the bike chain popped off. I spun the pedals, but they felt strange and loose and I couldn’t get any traction. The bike slowed down and wobbled. I tried pedalling faster and faster, but the bike didn’t respond.

It’s like that. You put some information into your brain. It spins, but nothing comes out the other side. You’ve lost a brain-cog. So you spin it faster. And faster. People are looking at you. They expect you to say something. Your silence is getting weirder and weirder. The bike is wobbling.

I always think the crash is going to go something like:

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anxiety15

But that’s never actually happened.

And that’s feelings of impending doom. You feel like something’s broken, either in your mind or your body, and you’re about to die or go mad or experience other doom-like fates. And, sure, it may not be everyone’s vision of doom, but screaming in public and having my head explode feels pretty doom-y to me.

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Mostly, I’m proud to say, I cope. I may not see many concerts, but I catch public transport and buy my friends and family gifts for Christmas. I buy food. I keep myself alive and my home in stock of toilet paper.

Mostly.

There are days when it’s too much and it feels like there’s no way I can avoid the doom (the one where I scream in public and my head explodes). On those days I don’t go to the supermarket. I can live off my emergency stash of two-minute noodles and resort to using tissues for a while, but usually my partner is kind enough to go shopping for me. I stay home alone.

The monster has a head for this too. I start to worry about failing, about not coping, about being worthless. All the predatory pieces of my mind come out to feed. It’s the hardest thing to fight off.

And then one day I was home alone, unable to face the supermarket and my impending doom. I started the old cycle of worry … and then I stopped. Instead, I started drawing tenuous parallels between myself and Disney characters who find it hard to function in society due to a crippling fear of people. And before I knew it …

Change 2

 

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Change

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So maybe the moral of this story is that when life gives you lemons, sing to those lemons about how awesome and magical you are. And if it still bothers you afterwards that they’re lemons and not lemonade then at least you have an ice castle to be bothered in.

Or maybe that’s nonsense and the moral is just that anxiety is hard and it’s hard every single day, but you can still do life.