Category Archives: Serious

A Case of Shit Bees (Impostor Syndrome)

Do you ever peek at the last page in a book? Sometimes I do. This story ends with me winning first place in a youth art competition.

A big, golden trophy, lit dramatically. Plaques on it read: "1st place!", "wow!!!", "You're AMAZING!" and "Yay!"

I was eleven, quite young compared to some of the other people who had entered. The person who came second was older than me. I saw her face when our names were called, and I think she was disappointed. At least, that’s how I remember it.

The art trophy was the first trophy I had ever won. Most childhood trophies are obtained through sports, and I was not part of any afterschool teams. I had tried this and that, but I was as athletic as a potato with a Netflix account and as graceful as an octopus wearing crocs. My M.O. was to go to one practice, refuse to run anywhere for any length of time, throw the ball in an appalling double-handed underarm, sulk when I was shown better ways to throw balls generally but asked not to do it at all just now because this is actually soccer and we don’t throw the ball in soccer, and then quit.

Unsurprisingly, the art trophy remained the only trophy I ever won.

This story begins with the bee.

I was six. I was sitting on the grass at recess and put my hand on a bee.

Child-me is sitting on the grass. My hand has landed on a bee. I say: "Ow!"

Adult-Me does not blame the bee. It was innocently cruising for pollen when an enormous pinkish monster descended from the heavens and crushed it into the lawn. Despite minimal chance of survival, it put up a defiant last stand. It was pretty much Gandalf facing down the Balrog.

Adult-Me can respect that. Adult-Me knows bees are important. She fishes drowning bees out of swimming pools, plants bee-friendly flowers, and has lived with a hive of angry bees in her backyard for over two weeks so a proper beekeeper could take them to a new home instead of having pest-control kill them immediately.

Child-Me had a different perspective.

Me, wearing a mesh hood-mask filled with bees. Like the "NOT THE BEES!" Nick Cage scene.

I screamed until another kid showed up, and then I made him save me from the bee. It had already torn its stinger out and doomed itself thanks to one of nature’s crueler design flaws, but I wanted vengeance against my nemesis. Children are tiny, self-righteous super-villains, and I made sure that bee ended up as paste.

Child me is standing over a crushed be. The sky is red and yellow, it's all very evil and dramatic. I am wearing a super-villain helmet and saying: "My enemies are nothing but bare feet in the dard, and I am the Lego block they will break themselves on! I will chew up the world and smear it under the desk of the universe!"

Then I went to the teacher to show her the sting.

I hold up my hand with a sting on it to the teachers. The teacher says "Oh, a bee sting" (she does not seem impressed)

It was the incorrect response. I was, clearly, a hero who had narrowly escaped death, and I should definitely get to go home for the rest of the day so I could be nursed back to health while eating ice cream. The teacher was not convinced. I was allowed to go to the sick room and get a band aid, but that was it.

And that’s why, a few weeks later, I drew the bees.

I got chosen to go to a drawing session with an Actual Illustrator of Actual Picture Books. The Actual Illustrator talked to us about capturing the characteristics of a subject, and then gave us some pencils and paper and told us to try drawing something bold and fierce and monstrous.

My time had come to right a grave injustice.

The original bee drawing has, unfortunately, been lost to history. Nevertheless, I have drawn a reconstruction from memory. I think I really captured the oeuvre of my six-year-old self, which I would characterise as overly preoccupied with fitting in the right number of legs.

Some wonky bees. They each have six legs, although there is barely space for them.

When I showed the Actual Illustrator my bold, fierce and monstrous bees, I watched his face very carefully. I knew there would be a moment of enlightenment in which he would see bees as I saw them. He would understand the trauma I had endured. He would celebrate my heroic fight with the bee. He would tell everyone in the room about my amazing drawing.

But that moment didn’t come.

Child-me holds up my bee drawing. The Actual Illustrator says, "Oh. Hah! Bees? That's not really-- You know what? Good job"

Worse, I could read the truth on his face.

Close up of the Actual Illustrators face. Instead of features, it has the words "Your bees are not good enough"

And the Actual Illustrator went off to admire some older kid’s drawing of a friendly monster. A friendly monster. A monster who was not bold or fierce, like my bees.

The Actual Illustrator is giving a thumbs up to a kid holding up a drawing of a friendly mosnter. In the background, I am wearing my super villain helmet and radiating fire-coloured rage.

But all of that—the certainty, the confidence, the self-righteousness—must end at six, because I don’t remember ever feeling like that again.

There’s a thing called Impostor Syndrome.

It looks a lot like modesty, but if modesty was dosed with nuclear radiation and went rampaging through downtown Tokyo. It’s when you struggle to process your achievements, downplaying them as good luck, just regular hard work, or not important compared with your failures. It’s when, deep down, you can’t believe you deserve success or recognition or even compliments, and that other people think you do just proves there’s been some big misunderstanding. It makes you feel like an impostor, and you live in fear that Scooby-Doo is about to show up, rip your rubber mask off, and reveal the fraud underneath.

A hand is pulling off my super-villain helmet and smug face. Underneath I am regular-me, but with "draws terrible bees" written on my forehead.

And it’s very common. Most people experience it at some point in their lives.

Realising is the first step. Apparently, it’s normal for people to hear what it is and immediately have a lightbulb moment as they recognise it in their own behaviour. But I didn’t.

When I first heard about Impostor Syndrome, I thought it was for people who were objectively amazing and just couldn’t see it. I knew I was not objectively amazing. And if I wasn’t objectively amazing, then beating myself up about it wasn’t maladaptive behaviour, it was just being realistic. Healthy, even. I thought it kept me in my box and stopped me reaching too far and making a fool of myself.

It took me a long time to realise that not only did I have it, but that I had it so badly that my denial of it was moulded from 100% pure weapons-grade Impostor Syndrome. And I still—still—can’t quite get past the notion that it’s not for me, that I don’t have the right to the term, that Impostor Syndrome is for kids who draw friendly monsters.

So I’ve started calling it a case of shit bees instead.

Literally a case of shit bees. An open suitcase filled with bees that look like the poop emoji.

… not like that.

I am sitting while a doctor takes me temperature and listens to my chest with a stethoscope. There are growths that look like shit bees on my face. I am saying: "...and giving me compliments! They must not realise I have no relevant qualifications and am just making it up as I go along! They'll figure it out eventually..." and the doctor says: "Hmmm ... sounds like shit bees to me."

Okay that’s ridiculous too. But there’s a reason for that. Bear with me a moment.

My shitty bee illustration was the first failure I can remember, and it became the first weapon in the arsenal of evidence I used to beat my achievements to death. There have been other things since, but it started with the bees.

It was a fantastic weapon.

So I’m not putting it down, I’m just changing targets.

I am standing in the middle of a swarm of shit bees, shouting "Fly, my pretties!" with glee.

Because it is ridiculous.

All of it, but me in particular. That I cared so much about the bees, that something so silly could erode my soul, that not being ‘good enough’ by some nebulous and ever-changing standard even matters.

I can’t take my impostor-thoughts seriously when I think of them in terms of shit bees, and when I can’t take them seriously, they don’t unravel me so much.

I’d love to tell you that thanks to my shit bees, I never struggle with Impostor Syndrome anymore, but that wouldn’t be true. It’s helped me realise that the face under the rubber mask is a rubber mask too, but I’m still not sure I know what my real face looks like.

Maybe I don’t have one. Maybe no one has one. Maybe I’m a Mission Impossible style babushka doll of masks, a swarm of shit bees in trench coat. Turtles all the way down.

And maybe that’s not so bad.

But by the time I was eleven, I had misplaced my super-villain helmet. I didn’t know about Impostor Syndrome, let alone have the awareness to name it and fight it. I certainly didn’t know that most other people had it too, tucked neatly away behind their perfect friendly-monster drawings.

And so, a story that began with a bee ends like this.

Five years after my shit bees, I won a youth art competition and got a trophy that someone else wanted. At long last, I had drawn a friendly monster instead of shit bees. I took the trophy home and put it on a shelf in my bedroom, the way all the other kids put up their trophies for football and netball and soccer. I looked at it every day.

A brown trophy with a golden shit bee on top. Plaques say: "Shit bees tho", "you didn't win on merit, you won for being 11.y.o.", and "boooooo" There are stink lines radiating from the trophy

The last page of another person’s book can’t tell you the whole story.

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Do you ever experience Impostor Syndrome? If so, how do you deal with it?

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.

Love and Grief

I’m not entirely sure how to follow “Expecting” after the response it generated, but here is something I drew for myself a couple of weeks after my second miscarriage.

Three panels. First panel, I am standing in the dark lighting a candle in front of my chest. Second panel: my chest catches fire and burns brightly. Third panel: I stand alone in the dark with a hole burned straight through me.

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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.

Expecting

I’ve never been someone who makes a fuss over Valentine’s Day, but last year it just happened to be the day I got my contraceptive device removed. My partner and I had wine with dinner—what I planned to be my last glass in long time—and we were happy.

Me and my partner sitting on the couch drinking wine.

This is the story of the year that followed.

A quick note of warning: none of this is supposed to be medical advice. It’s just what happened to me. And there’s a lot to get through. So sit back, get comfy, pour yourself a glass of wine—ha! Kidding. If your bits are involved in baby making it’s best if you stop drinking. Yep, even if you’re the one bringing the tadpoles to the table. You think that’s rough? My sweet summer child, this is only just the beginning.

First up, there’s is a whole story in how I got to the point of wanting a child.

Once upon a time I was a carefree uni student who was terrified of holding babies in case I dropped them or I touched the soft spot or they pooed on me or something.

Comic strip featuring me not at all keeping it together while holding a baby.

I did want kids of my own. Just … someday.

The whole Don’t Hand Me Your Baby aesthetic was working pretty well for me, until the day it wasn’t. My right ovary betrayed me Professor Quirrell style by growing an enormous cyst with designs on world domination. The ovary, cyst and associated fallopian tube had to be cut out of me. I was assured that my one remaining ovary and tube should be enough. I probably wouldn’t run into reproductive issues in the future because of what had happened.

I heard the italics loud and clear, and they frightened me.

They frightened me so much that I began to wonder about what Someday would look like. And when I realised it would take a long time for my life to look like that, I decided to get the process started immediately.

And then I developed a debilitating chronic illness. Even if my lonely ovary shot eggs like a machine gun, I might never be well enough to raise a child. I’ll spare you the full existential crisis that ensured. In short, one of the kindest cruelties of chronic illness is that it sharpens your priorities. I no longer wanted Someday, I wanted Now, and it looked like I might be getting Never.

But you already know it wasn’t Never. I was lucky. After a couple of years my health improved. Not completely (chronic illness rarely does that) but enough.

Giddy with hope and gratitude and still not quite believing I had reached this point, I had my birth control removed and …

Me looking at a negative pregnancy test with pee dripping off it. Speech bubble saying "huh"

… was not immediately pregnant.

Neither myself or my partner have nieces or nephews, and none of our friends had kids. Sex education in school led me to believe pregnancy was so likely it was almost impossible to avoid. I thought unsafe sex equalled BANG, up the duff, bun in the oven, here’s your free gift of a radiant glow, enjoy the giant tatas.

Not necessarily, it turns out.

You’d think this was basic uterus-owner know-how, but despite understanding the fundamentals of periods and cycles and whatnot, it never really clicked for me before this that you only get one shot at baby creation a month. That’s twelve or maybe thirteen chances a year. Obviously, I needed to track and better understand my cycle.

Don’t worry! There’s an app for that!

Actually, heaps of them.

A quick tip from someone who’s been there. Do not pick a period tracker app with a social media community attached to it. Do not pick an app that makes judgey comments disguised as ‘health insights’. Do not pick an app that asks personal questions about the state of your cervical mucus. (These guidelines can also be applied for choosing anything in life. You’re welcome).

I didn’t have anyone to warn me. I downloaded three. And that’s how I learned about TTC.

TTC stands for Trying To Conceive, but it’s more than just a text-friendly acronym. It’s a whole new world, a sub-culture for pre-pregnancy. It even had its own language which I had to spend a few hours decoding. You don’t do a test, you POAS (pee on a stick), and then the test isn’t negative, it’s a BFN (big fat negative). Or it might be a BFP (big fat positive). Or, maybe, a VVFL (very very faint line). Sex isn’t sex, it’s baby dancing, but preferably just BD. A period is tastefully referred to as Aunt Flo, and then even more tastefully abbreviated to AF.

All that probably helps some people. I can see how it could make you feel connected and how it might reassure you that everything you are experiencing and worrying about is normal. And if that’s you, fantastic. Enjoy.

But it wasn’t me. If I really must be discreet, I prefer having fun with it and tell people I’m collecting teabags for when Dracula pops round for a cuppa. And, more importantly, I was already scared. My previous health issues and single ovary had me off balance, and TTC gave me the final push. I fell down the rabbit hole and into a wonderland of anxiety.

Predictably, there’s a bunch of stuff companies sell you to help ease your fears.

One popular way to waste your TTC dollars is with ovulation predictor kits. You pee on one each day until you get a positive or your cycle ends because, actually, they’re quite unreliable and it’s very possible they’ll miss ovulation altogether.

I tried them for one cycle, and I not only never got a positive result, but I managed to accidently pee on myself three times. I do not recommend them unless you would rather have pee on your hands than money in your bank account. (And if you really would prefer pee on your hands than money in your bank account there are probably more entertaining ways to accomplish that).

Another favourite cash-vacuum is special fertility-friendly lube. This is for when you learn that standard lube acts as a barrier that makes it harder for sperm to score a touchdown, and then you panic that even though you rarely use the stuff it will still mess the whole thing up for you somehow, you don’t know how, maybe via astral projection or by selling your facebook data? (Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, Karen, gosh).

The fertility-friendly stuff comes in a box plastered in photos of minors (babies), and even if you throw the box away the tube itself shouts CONCEIVE at you in giant, baby-pink letters. It’s basically a weaponised cold shower.

My partner has put stickers on a tube of lube that feature the popular eggplant and peach emojis

Despite my fears, at the end of my first cycle of unsafe sex, I was convinced it had worked and I was pregnant. My period was late and I had a heap of pregnancy symptoms (which, alas, I had been Googling). Also, it was coming up to our first wedding anniversary, so it would be narratively satisfying.

The negative test hit me like a slap in my silly, smug face.

It turned out I was just late—really late—because it can take a few cycles after stopping hormonal birth control for your Overlook elevator to flow regularly.

For my second cycle, I again thought I was pregnant. Shark week started early. I tried not to let it get to me (but it did). I was beginning to understand that I might have to face this many, many times.

At the end of my third cycle, I knew I wasn’t pregnant. I just knew. I had my usual PMS and was mentally bracing myself for the communists to take the funhouse, but I peed on a test, just in case. Of course it was negative. In fact, I spotted blood onto the test, which seemed like a major Up Yours from the universe.

That was the first negative that didn’t just get to me, it felt like an earth-shattering disaster. Even though I had been expecting it, even though I knew three negative cycles wasn’t unusual or unlikely or anything to be concerned about, I cried. And kept crying. And crying. It didn’t feel normal. Anything and everything set me off. And, despite the spotting, my period was late and getting later by the day.

So I took another test.

Me looking at a positive test (with pee dripping off it) looking shocked and saying "eep!"

I promptly freaked out.

Growing up, I was led to believe that pregnancy was the worst thing that could happen to you. It came in just slightly above failing maths or wandering off alone at Halloween parties. Then, practically overnight, you’re an adult and you realise you never have to maths again unless you want to, but a large portion of the population will consider you an empty husk of a human if you don’t create a tiny screaming poo machine. Even so, you can’t just delete the knee-jerk Pregnancy Is Super Bad What Have You Done Your Life Is Ruined reaction from your mental operating system. (Sticking together at Halloween parties is always good advice, though; holiday-themed murderers only have to happen to you once).

On top of that, despite wanting a baby, I had never been sold on the whole pregnancy thing. To me it had always looked like level after level of throwing up, fainting and stretch marks culminating in a boss-fight of screaming, pain, vaginal tearing and pooing in front of people. Also, you might die. It’s a lot less likely these days, but still a pretty intense possibility.

Obviously I had signed up anyway, but I still had my misgivings.

I was right to. Unpopular opinion alert: pregnancy sucks.

I was constantly exhausted, hungry, busting for the toilet and on the brink of vomiting. Most of my cravings were for food I wasn’t allowed to eat, e.g. soft cheese and cold ham, and most of my food aversions were for things I was supposed to be eating lots of, e.g. vegetables. I got acne instead of a radiant glow, I kept crying randomly, and to top it all off the very thought of a cup of tea—my absolute favourite thing in the world and only comfort in times of distress—made me gag.

I’ll just repeat that to let the horror sink in: I couldn’t drink tea.

Me, on my knees in a crowded street in the rain screaming "NOOOOO!". It's very dramatic.

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited, too. I ordered a pregnancy book and carefully followed what features my baby was growing, what whimsical food item it was comparable to in size, and what strangely mutated creature it looked like this week. And it wasn’t a secret. I simply didn’t have the skills to navigate tricky questions like “so, how’s things?” without exploding with the news that inside me there was a mutant dinosaur the size of a sesame seed which had an actual spinal column and tail.

A cute mutant dinosaur fetus.

Then I had some more spotting and was sent for an early scan. Everything looked fine. The foetus was a smidge smaller than it was supposed to be, but I was assured that in most cases that’s just because your cycle didn’t match the average. To confirm its developmental dates, I had a second scan two weeks later.

At this scan, there was a big screen on the wall. The first thing I saw was the heartbeat. It was a little white flicker. For the first time since seeing the two lines on the test, the low level panic faded away. For a moment, everything was perfect.

Two panels in a darkened room with a projector aiming for the fourth wall. In the first panel, my partner look forward in awe while behind us the sonogrammer is at her computer. In the second panel, the sonogrammer looks concerned and says "hmm." I notice, my partner hasn't yet.

She explained that it was still too small. In fact, it looked as if over the last two weeks it had only managed three days worth of growth.

“But it will be okay,” I said, because of course it would be.

When I got back to the doctor, she stressed that she’d seen cases like this where everything turned out fine. A heartbeat was good. Still, we should be prepared for a miscarriage.

I had to wait another two weeks for a third scan. I held on to that flickering heartbeat as hard as I could, but I felt like the box for Schrodinger’s cat. Was it growing, or was it gone? Was I pregnant or wasn’t I?

I didn’t cope well with the uncertainty. I spent every spare moment wrapped into an igloo of blankets either sleeping or reading so that I didn’t have to think about the fact that, no matter how hard I wanted to hold on, I could feel my body letting go.

My symptoms faded, and however unpleasant they were this was not how I wanted to be free of them. I started having cramps, constant sharp reminders of what was happening inside me. One night I bled, but not very much, not enough for it to be over.

I made it to the third scan.

The baby didn’t.

There was no white flicker, no heartbeat. It had stopped growing, only measuring five weeks and six days even though it was supposed to be ten weeks.

It never even looked like a tiny mutant dinosaur.

The sonogrammer left us alone for a few minutes. My partner hugged me, and I sobbed briefly because it seemed like the right time to do that. Then I put myself back together and proceeded to the next logical step.

I had to.

It wasn’t over. It was still inside me. I was a living tomb.

Two days after the scan, I had a surgical procedure called a D&C to remove it. I woke up feeling like I’d been having good dreams but couldn’t quite remember what they were. I was given a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea.

I am sitting in a chair in recovery post-surgery with a cheese sandwich and a cup to tea. A nurse is taking my blood pressure and asks, "how's the tea?" I respond, "good."

And then I could go home, and it was all over.

Only it wasn’t over.

It was a kind of horror story. I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in an alternate universe. At family gatherings people handed me glasses of wine, and I drank them. I ate soft cheese and deli meats. I lived the life of non-pregnant Lucy, knowing all the time that I was pregnant Lucy and everything around me was wrong. I knew when we should have been telling people, but there was nothing to tell. I knew when I should have started seeing a bump, but it never came. I knew we should have a nursery, but it was just a spare room.

We waited for several months before trying again.

But it still wasn’t over.

Every time I got my period, I was lying back on a wheeled bed in a darkened room watching a heartbeat on the wall. Every time, I was plunged back into that moment of broken wonder that wouldn’t end. Every time, I came apart. And every time, I had to put myself back together so that I would be ready to come apart again, next month.

And then it was Christmastime, and I couldn’t bear it anymore.

In that alternate universe, the one I accidentally stumbled out of, I would be eight months pregnant. In this new world, my period was due and I dreaded it. If it came, I was going to have to stop.

I was aware, however, that if it didn’t come, if I was pregnant, then the time with the highest risk of miscarriage would be Christmas and the due month of the first pregnancy. When I explained this to a friend, she said, “It would almost be better if you weren’t pregnant this month.”

But I was.

I am looking at a positive pregnancy test. I am emotional. My smile is wonky.

My cyclic depression stopped. It seemed miraculous, a gift. It came at just at the right time to save me.

(Although it wasn’t over. The night before Christmas I dreamed of blood. It was so vivid I could smell it, and I woke up in the darkened room with the heartbeat on the wall.)

I had an early scan again.

A quick note about early scans.

Everything is so small at this stage that it’s difficult to see. It helps if your bladder is full, so you are instructed to drink water beforehand. But if you drink too much, drink too little or vomit up all the water, then you might need an internal scan to get a clear enough picture.

Internal scans are exactly what it says on the box. And they are … weird. Jelly is involved. The ultrasound thingamie is an intimidating size (but don’t worry, just the tip). There is that element of violation you get from anything of this sort that, even if you have okayed for practical reasons, you are not super enthusiastic about.

But I had a heap of them through this whole business, and (at least for me) they weren’t that bad. Pap smears are more uncomfortable. In fact, my first tampon was worse.

The awkward stuff out the way, the sonnogrammer told us that this time it was twins.

Not one little mutant dinosaur, but two.

Twin cute mutant dinosaur foetuses.

I never thought I would have twins. There are no twins in my family, none at all, and I had thought (wrongly, it turned out) that having one of my ovaries removed would reduce the chance even further.

Twins was some kind of magic.

I had tried not to get too attached early in this pregnancy, but knowing it was twins made it impossible. (It was impossible anyway). I started looking up the meaning of names and thinking about double-prams and bracing myself for the c-section that was way more likely now.

Twins also meant double symptoms, and my symptoms had not been minor with a single pregnancy. The only thing that helped the nausea was eating, and the up side to this is that I understand food now. You have not experienced food in its truest form until you’ve eaten a burger while pregnant with twins. My partner insists otherwise, but I’m pretty sure the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight transported me and that burger to heaven. Eating chips was like soaring through nebula on a cosmic narwhal. Bacon was beyond the capabilities of the human mind.

Bacon being experienced. I kind of psychadelic wonderland of colours. There is a large me a two smaller mes flying.

I was due to have a second scan on the same day my first baby would have been born, but I couldn’t do that. (It wasn’t over). We booked it for the day after instead.

I could see it on the screen even before the sonnogrammer explained. I was somewhat familiar with ultrasounds by this point. I could see the sacs that had been on the previous scan. I could see they were significantly larger. I could see there was nothing in them.

Two empty amniotic sacs.

I have heard people say that you aren’t a proper adult, or university student, or city person, or anything until you have broken down and cried in public and been too far gone to feel any shame. I have done that, with a blood nose thrown in the mix for extra points, and I don’t think it has anything on ugly crying in a tiny room in front of a stranger and not having any emotions left over to care that they’re wiggling a condom-sheathed ultrasound thingamie inside you.

Again, we were told not to give up hope and sent home to wait two more weeks for a third scan. Again, that final scan confirmed what we already knew.

Our twins were not there. They had never been there.

In a darkened room after the ultrasound. The sonnogrammer pats my leg and says "at least you know you're fertile".

Three asterisks

I want to take a quick break from the story to check in with you. How are you coping with all this? Are you doing okay?

A confession. I could have told this story differently. I could have cut out the jokes about apps and fertility friendly lube. I could have mentally prepared you from the first line, signalled sooner this was a tragedy and half the cast would be dead (would have never existed) by the final curtain.

But no one warned me.

After the first miscarriage all the doctors and nurses and sonnogrammers told me this was common. I heard different statistics. Sometimes it was one in six pregnancies end in miscarriage, sometimes one in four. The pamphlet the hospital gave me said one in three. Whatever the exact number, it means that there are a lot of not-quite-parents out there.

And yet when I went into that first final ultrasound, I had never had a conversation with someone who I knew had wanted a pregnancy and lost it.

I have since. They had been there all along, hiding in the foreground. It’s like belonging to a secret club. As soon as people know you’ve had a miscarriage, they let you know about theirs or their friend’s or their sister’s best friend’s cousins. But there’s some kind of block—a taboo—about discussing it with the uninitiated.

That taboo meant that when it happened to me the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what to do or how to cope in the two weeks between the second scan and the final one. I didn’t even realise waiting and uncertainty could be part of a miscarriage—I assumed you either thought everything was fine or knew it was over. That taboo meant I was afraid doctors would think I was weird for crying, and I was afraid they would think I was callous for not crying. It meant I had no blueprint for how to grieve, and I had no reassurance that everything I felt was normal.

So I’m breaking the taboo. I’m talking about it. And if you end up in that dark room with too few heartbeats, then at the very least you’ll have one story in there with you.

(And if it’s not you in that room but someone you know, then you won’t say “at least you know you’re fertile” because you will understand that some things are not replaceable, some situations are too broken to run smoothly a second time, and some silver-linings are so sharp they cut.)

And besides.

My babies (foetuses, empty sacs) do not have birthdays. They do not have death certificates. They do not have tombstones. They only exist in my medical records and in the space they carve out in people’s minds. They only exist if I tell you about them.

And they exist more if it hurts.

Are you doing okay?

Three asterisks

I had a second D&C. I woke up feeling as though I had dreamed good dreams, and then I remembered where I was and why I was there. I ate my cheese sandwich. I drank my cup of tea.

And the next day was Valentine’s Day, again.

We stayed in, again. We sat on the couch, again. We had a glass of wine, again.

My partner and I sit on the couch with a glass of wine. We are no longer happy.

Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.

And it isn’t over.

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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.

Love is Love

And it’s time.

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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.

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.

Bingo

bingo

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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.

Things I Learned At School

When I was a child I was bullied.

Brace yourselves. I am about to do that irritating thing where I tell you a story from my life that you probably aren’t interested in, and then apply it on a wide scale, even though it’s kind of like comparing apples with orange monsters that want to maul your face off.

apples-and-oranges

The bullying started with a few kids, and it spread. There was a song the whole class would sing when the teacher wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t a particularly offensive song, just a childish one. And it wasn’t the words that hurt so much as the laughter and the crushing weight of numbers. With the wider class, the song was as bad as it got, but the original bullies didn’t back off that whole year.

I’m not writing this to blame them. They were kids. I don’t know what was going on with them. I was also a kid. Initially I tried fighting back (with words). It was unsuccessful, or seemed so, but perhaps a blow or two landed and perhaps they don’t have fond memories of me either. I don’t know. But I do hope they are doing well with their lives, and if they remember it at all, I hope they learned something positive.

They’re just apples. Apples aren’t monsters that try to maul your face off. This isn’t about them.

This is about the day I tried to get help.

It took me all year to work up the guts to say something. I was afraid of being labelled a dobber, but I was more afraid that nothing would happen. That I would be told that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. That I deserved it.

So I waited until the end of the last day of school for that year, figuring it was the safest time. I dawdled while the other kids left. Then I went up to the teacher.

(She was one of the better teachers. She was friendly and fun and she taught well. She was a favourite of a lot of kids. I liked her.)

I learned a lot of things at school. I learned times-tables, spelling, and how to write a sentence.

And I learned that I was on my own.

theres-nothing-i-can-do

Nobody would help me. I learned that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. I learned that I had deserved it.

I had seven years of schooling left, and I never spoke up about being bullied again.

(Silence killed the dinosaurs.)

But I did speak up for other people.

Like I said, I learned a lot of things at school. I learned about hypotenuses, writing essays and the Cold War. I learned that it is a powerful thing to tell someone that they are on their own. And, by extension, I learned it was an even more powerful thing to tell someone that they are not alone.

As a child, you think growing up fixes everything. I thought that when I grew up and left school and left home and left my hometown, I would be free.

But then I did all that, and I found that the world is still a frightening place full of monsters that shouldn’t be compared to apples. And the orange monsters in the adult-world have the power to cause destruction on a large scale.

monsters

Trump’s expressed opinions of minority groups are concerning. His promised and actual legislation against some of these groups is alarming. But it is the manner he does it—through dehumanisation, blatant lies and the deconstruction of science and truth—that is truly terrifying. Not just for America, but for every democratic country.

It is easy to feel helpless.

tweet

But there’s always something. And it is heartening to see so many people finding it.

cartoons

Perhaps, as I had left it to the last day of the year, the teacher did not have any authority to enforce consequences for the bullies. Even if she did, perhaps it would not have stopped them.

But there is always something. There always is. And I know there was then, because if I could rewrite that scene I know exactly how it would go.

better

Because it was wrong. I didn’t deserve it. And I shouldn’t have had to be alone.

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One of the comics from this story, Apples and Oranges, is available in my store! Why not have a browse?

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.

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.

Failure in A Minor (Some Other Girl)

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She started playing the piano when she was eleven and the clarinet when she was thirteen. She loved playing and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

Third person, you understand. She isn’t me. Some other girl.

some other girl

But actually that’s not the story. If you want to understand, it can’t start there. It has to start further back with a little girl who wanted to be a novelist. Or maybe an artist, she hadn’t quite decided.

some other little girl

The little girl loved reading books and drawing and making up her own stories, and she hated waking up early. She had heard that full-time writers and artists could wake up whenever they liked and never even had to change out of their pyjamas if they didn’t want to.

writing bliss

Sensible adults warned her that neither of these were easy careers. You couldn’t expect to make a living straight away, maybe ever, and you had to be really good.

She wanted to be really good.

She taught herself everything she could about writing from the internet, but most of what she learned was about bad writing. She read never-ending lists of mistakes and snide articles that dissected books she had loved to display their failing organs. She discovered plot holes and infodumps and two-dimensional characters and weak adverbs and purple prose and countless other things. There were so many ways to fail.

bad writing

Maybe in another story she would fight on, learn things, face her demons and emerge successful and glorious.

But we’re here for the other girl, the one who wants to be a music teacher. And we haven’t quite found her yet.

You still need to know that the little girl didn’t have many friends. This little girl, the one who wanted to be a novelist or writer (but wasn’t good enough), was a social failure. She didn’t fit in and was being bullied.

bullied

And she was lonely.

So she joined her school concert band and clarinet ensemble. She had some friends in these groups and made some more, and she found she could cleverly schedule her instrumental lessons over the parts of the school day that she most wanted to escape.

And there she is, the other girl. We’re back at the beginning. I’m sorry about the detour, but it was important, and we can begin properly now.

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She played the piano and clarinet. She loved escaping to play them and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

The girl went to university to get the qualifications she would need.

She thought it would be like music at school, only better because music would be all the lessons instead of just some of them.

music bliss

It wasn’t.

None of this happened to me of course. I didn’t have a bad experience studying music at university. I did not fall short again and again. I was not humiliated.

But maybe—third person—she was. That other girl.

failure

Maybe she was told that it was a character test, everything was a character test, and that she was failing.

She remembered how after-school cartoons had tried to teach her that failure wasn’t a bad thing, real failure was not trying and supreme failure was giving up.

But it felt bad. And she was trying really hard and it wasn’t helping.

She didn’t really understand. But she thought she did, and what she understood was that she couldn’t give up. Not ever, no matter how much she wanted to.

So she tried to remember that she was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher and kept going.

She endured a whole year of not giving up. And then she attended her last lesson before the summer holidays and walked out and went home. That other girl.

walking out

And as she walked out she said good bye and happy holidays and see you next year.

walking out with talking

Because she hadn’t quit. Everyone believed she would be back. She couldn’t even give up properly.

It didn’t start with a girl who wanted to be a music teacher, but where does it end and which girl does it end with?

Maybe it ended years ago, when the girl who wanted to be a music teacher got home at the end of the year wanting to be anything but a music teacher. She finally gave up, the most terrible and absolute way to fail. She changed degree (softly, safely via email), knowing that it was all character test, but not yet understanding that there is no grade.

quitting

 

It was not a decision she ever regretted, not even for a moment.

Maybe it ends now, with the little girl who wanted to be a novelist (or an artist) as a woman working as a writer and an illustrator. Perhaps, in the end, she did fight on, face her demons and emerge glorious.

writing and illustrating

But is it only okay that she failed then if she succeeds now? And success is a slippery term. She loves what she is doing and believes she is finally in the right place. But she isn’t making a living. And she has a chronic illness and cannot have another job to protect herself. And she is still frightened that she is not good enough, cannot be good enough.

(You have to be really good.)

do it anyway

Or maybe it ends someday yet to come, with a woman who sees her clarinet case and feels something close to curiosity. She will pull it out, wipe off the dust and put the instrument together. She will rediscover how the pieces fit, and then she will play again and enjoy it.

clarinet

But that’s not quite the right ending either. And maybe nothing will be. I think that this isn’t the kind of story that ends.

Because she’s still walking out. That girl, that other girl. Somewhere, always.

She was caught like a mosquito in amber as she pushed open the door, with all the failure crushing down on her and no resolution. So she is still smiling—a tired, fracturing smile—and still saying nice things to the people who made her feel worthless. And she is still telling them she’ll be back next year. And she is always promising she can do better.

(She didn’t mean to lie, but she did and it is caught too).

The moment is suspended, and then that other girl is dropped back into my life, sending ripples in all directions.

me

I am always heading away from her failure. I am always heading toward he failure. I am always her, failing.

But I understand the cartoons a little better now. Failure isn’t a bad thing.

(Even when it feels bad.)

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