Category Archives: Serious

Refill


I am working at my desk, writing with a green pen. There is also green in my body. Text says "sometimes ...". In the next panel I stop writing, the green is gone. I hold the pen up and tap it. Text says "I run out of ink". I am no longer at my desk. In the final panel I am walking on the green grass, listening to green music. The text says "and have to refill"

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This is about creativity, which I firmly believe is green.  However, it can be about other things too if you like.

This comic is available in my store! It’s available as a print, mini print, poster, travel mug, and other things.

If you want to support my art more generally, 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 To Do

I'm sitting at a computer desk. Grey-me shows up and says: "Hey! Just a quick reminder that you're worthless! Also, no one really likes you ... they're just tolerating you to be nice!" In the next panel Grey-me says "What do you think about that?" I do not respond.

I say: "...yeah... I've got things to do ... sooooo..." and reach for headphones. Next panel, Grey me-says: "You can't ignore me." but cartoon me puts on the headphones and music notes appear. In the final panel, there cartoon me is happily working and there are so many musical notes that grey-me is almost blotted out, though you can just make out her saying "No! Fuck you! Argue with me!"

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Ten years ago I was diagnosed with depression (although I believe I had it much longer—from way back in my childhood). I started medication and went to therapy. It took a really long time and lots of two-steps-forward-one-step-backs, but a couple of years ago I reached a point where I didn’t need medication to be mentally and emotionally okay.

Since my three miscarriages, the depression has been trying to wiggle back into the cracks. Fortunately, thanks to everything I learnt over the last ten years, I am much better at holding it off. 

Eat your meds and stay in therapy, kids!

If you love my stories and comics, check out my store and 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, and Pinterest.

Am I An Adult?

Kid: I can't wait to be an adult! Adults can do anything they want! Cartoon-child-me: But they have to pay taxes* *I was a glass-half-empty sort of child

***

One year when I was still in highschool I asked for a green ipod for my birthday. The green was important. It was an unwell pistachio colour, sort of warm and cool at the same time. But teenagers aren’t renowned for their emotional restraint and despite the vomit-undertone I couldn’t have fallen more head-over-heels in love with this colour if it fronted a boyband. I stared at it in advertisements and in shop windows. I dreamed of it. I repeatedly prompted my mum so to make sure she absolutely knew the green one was mine, the one I was meant to have.

On the day, there was a heart-flutteringly ipod-shaped present for me.

Unwrapping a present with green wrapping paper ... and ... it's a silver ipod

Before we go any further, I’m going to throw up a wall of disclaimers just in case this escapes the orbit of my regular audience and ends up in the gross, judgemental part of the internet where navigating the comment section requires bio-hazard gear, and even then it’s best to detox afterward with a full exorcism.

Disclaimer: I was psyched to get an ipod.

Cartoon me holding silver ipod looking psyched. Word 'psyched' with arrow pointing at cartoon me.

Disclaimer: Even though it wasn’t soul-mate green.

Cartoon-me holding silver ipod saying 'oh well'

Disclaimer: Although I asked for the ipod, I didn’t expect to get it. My family routinely request present suggestions from each other and giving someone a suggestion doesn’t obligate them to fulfill it. I also did not feel entitled to expensive presents at all. Plenty of times we were told a suggestion cost too much.

Did I miss any potential judgement-windows?

Oh, of course.

Disclaimer: Yes, I’m a millennial. As horrifying as it sounds, some people were born between 1981 and 1996 (or wherever the boundaries are), including me, and sure, we meet up virtually over the interwebs every full moon and use complicated tournaments of Mario-Kart-by-proxy to decide which industry we’ll be assassinating next, but that’s really not the point.

Cartoon-me: Also, I'm not a tentacled monster. Zoom out to reveal cartoon me has tentacles instead of legs.

And the point isn’t that I didn’t get the colour ipod I particularly wanted, either. The point is what I was told next.

Mum saying: I'm sorry the shop didn't have green. But you'll be an adult soon. So I got you an adult colour.

***

When I was in my early twenties I lived alone. I had moved to the city to attend university. Previously I had lived in a residential college and then with a friend, and afterwards I would move in with my partner. But between all that there was this quiet year where I inhabited a tiny apartment with an awkward diagonal wall all by myself.

I’m introverted, at home with my own company, a wee bit controlling about my personal space, and perfectly happy staying in most evenings. I liked it.

At least until the mouse.

mouse

I waited until I’d seen it a couple of times to confirm that, yes, it was really there, and no, it was not just a one off visit. I had acquired a housemate.

mouse waving hello

I called my mum, who was 665kms away and could not physically help me.

Me on phone: What do I do? Voice on phone: You're going to have to kill it. Mouse: *looking innocent and pure, pointing at itself as though saying 'me?'*

There as no one to deal with it for me. I didn’t want to live with the mouse, but I didn’t want to kill it either. I also didn’t own any mouse traps. So I rigged up my own solution.

Box propped up with a ruler tied to string. I'm hiding behing the fridge holding the other end of the string.

(With hindsight, there were warning signs I would end up turning my life into cartoons.)

You’ll be shocked to learn it didn’t work.Trap has been sprung. Mouse is sitting on top of box, free.

But I tinkered. I found if I spilled some rice the mouse would come out, even if I was quite close. And then I tinkered some more. Until finally…

Rice on floor. Mouse peeks at it. Mouse gets closer. Panel zooms out, this is happening in front of an open door. I lean out from behind the door holding a dustpan brush and sweep the mouse out the door. Final panel: me sitting in front of closed door looking relieved.

I was so proud of myself. I even managed to locate a sneaky mouse-hole and block that up. I was sure the mouse would not come back.

And I had not killed it.

I am reading a book. I hear a rustle. (close up, eyes behind glasses) I look to the side ... and see a disgruntled mouse giving me the finger.

I bought a trap, baited it with peanut butter and put it in the cupboard. My partner stayed with me so when it happened

night time, in bed. Partner is asleep. I am awake, looking scared. Something goes *snap*

I wouldn’t be alone.

***

Person: Now you're an adult you'll want to get a Proper Job TM, Buy a House TM, and Start a Family TM! Me: ... will I though?

***

‘Proper’ jobs are out for me, unfortunately, due to chronic illness. I’ve made my own job writing and drawing. (I don’t make enough to pay income tax). I’m proud of it and I like it, but not everyone sees it as a ‘proper’ one.

Including banks.

Even though my partner did have a ‘proper’ job, there were a few years where buying a house seemed utterly impossible. The world is no longer built for a couple on a single (‘proper’) income (at least, Australia isn’t. I can’t speak for everywhere). But, somehow, we pried our way into the exclusive club of Valid House Hunters.

House hunting was a long, weird series of meetings with hyper-adulty sorts—mortgage brokers, real estate agents, conveyances. We put on sensible-masks, threw around words like “interest”, “settlement date”, “pre-approval” and waited for the inevitable moment they twigged to our game and threw us out.

Me, dressed in a button up shirt and holding a breifcase: How do you do fellow adults? (partner standing with me giving a thumbs up and wearing a shirt that says "smashed avo sucks"). An adult looks at me, confused.

No one was more surprised than us when we pulled it off.

Real estate agent, handing me keys: Congratulations! Me: Indubitably! Partner: Variable interest amiright? Final panel: close up of our grins

And home-ownership was fun.

Me and Partner: "We can paint the walls!" "Plants" "hang pictures" "we can get a cat!" Some random adult: ACUTALLY! Final panel: adult is speaking, speech bubble is so big it is crushing us "Owning a home is just a long list of things to spend money on and chores to do! It's a financial blackhole that will weigh you down for the rest of your lives! It's not *fun*!"

But it really was.

And then we had three miscarriages.

Dark room. Getting an ultrasound. Everyone looks concerned. I say "Okay ... okay..."

(I looked again to confirm it that, yes, it was really there, and no, it wasn’t just a one-off)

Dark ultrasound room again. I say: "Okay ... what do I do?"

Each time we made the appointments. Paid for scans. Let people know. I went to the hospital (my partner stayed with me so I wouldn’t be alone when it happened). We made more appointments. We tried to make time to grieve, to process. We booked ourselves into therapy. We reassured other people when we didn’t feel at all assured ourselves.

It’s been almost a year since the third miscarriage, almost two years since the first, and most mornings when I wake up my first thought is still

Dark room, me in bed. "What do I do?". Second panel: still in bed, still lying there. Third panel: I get up.

Some days the big, ultimate answer, the only thing capable of getting me out of bed, is the dishwasher. Or the laundry or the vacuuming, or whatever chore it’s my turn at.

Because I get that little high of accomplishment from getting them done. Because I don’t feel like I have control over anything else in my life anymore. Because I still don’t know how to be someone who had three miscarriages. I don’t know who that is. I can’t get out of bed for her.

But I can be someone who empties the dishwasher.

Me emptying the dishwasher

And once you’ve emptied the dishwasher everything seems a little more possible.

But not fun.

Fun is hard. Fun is elusive.

Fun is a chore.

Really. It’s a job you have to do to stay healthy, like flossing. It just doesn’t feel like flossing when it comes naturally. Right now, for me, it doesn’t. If I want to catch it, I have to set traps.

We set traps. We bought some new video games. We build each other blanket forts. We taught our cat to hi-five. I take refuge in adventure-steampunk, comedic SSF, and comic books.* We go for walks and adventures and find new places.

It’s exhausting.

***

I am playing video games. Random adult: Adults don't play video games! You'll have to stop when you have a kid. Final panel: me giving him a very unimpressed look.

***

Am I an adult?

Over the course of my life I have been told so many things about what being an adult is all about. I’m nearly 30, and according those adulthood criteria, I’m not sure I qualify.

I’m (considerably) over 21, so I definitely meet the age requirement. I also (part) own a house, which I believe some people would count in my favour.

But I do not have a ‘proper’ job. I do not earn enough to pay income tax. I do not have children, which some people seem to think is necessary (I might still have them one day, but I might not). I still play video games and read comic books. I am the proud owner of a stegosaurus-shaped handbag.

Am I an adult?

If I was to tell someone what adulthood was, to impose my own definition, I might choose to say that it’s just doing the next thing. I think the accurately vague nature of that is perfect for adulthood, and bonus, if it’s a thing you do, then it’s a verb, and therefore ‘adulting’ becomes valid terminology.

When I first started writing this, that’s what I thought I was going to say. But as I wrote and drew, I looked and thought again, and that’s not how this ends anymore.

Am I an adult?

Don’t answer.

It’s not the real question. The real question is, do I have to be?

The essence of adulthood, from what I’ve been told, is that you’re not supposed to enjoy it. If you do, people will line up around the corner to say you must be doing it wrong or you’re naive and deluded, and anyway just you wait for the next milestone, that one will really wreck you.

The criteria are ridged, pointless, and in some cases unhealthy and irresponsible. It’s all about ticking boxes and how things look on the surface. It’s not about how you’re doing or what’s going on underneath.

And if everyone says it’s that, who I am to disagree?

So take it all away. It’s been messed up too much for too long. I don’t want it. I don’t even want to fix it, though you can try if you want.

I’ll just be over here, doing the next thing, drawing dinosaurs, and choosing puke-green everything. Crowned queen of the dishwasher and nothing else. Trying endlessly, desperately, to have fun.

After all, adults can do anything they want.

***

Years ago ... Silver ipod screen says nope, it is broken. I go to a shop. There are brightly coloured ipods in the window. I smile, the panel has turned orange.

* Sidebar: for fun giggles from those respective categories I recommend Soulless by Gail Carriger, Redshirts by John Scalzi, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (beginning with Vol 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson).

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If you love my stories and comics, check out my store and 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, and Pinterest.

Something Insignificant

Cartoon me standing and looked up saying: "I'm doing pretty well". A close up panel of a butterfly flying near my head, and I say "Oh look! A butterfly that represents something insignificant". A close up panel where the butterfly lands on me and cracks appear on my head. Final panel, I crumble into a heap and the butterfly flies away.

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I have thought about writing a follow-up to ‘Expecting’ dealing with the aftermath of my third miscarriage, but I haven’t. I’ve tried several times. But it’s proved too emotional, and then I realised that how I’ve been since could be summarized by one comic repeated over and over again. (Which might also feel relevant to other people dealing with ordinary life after different kinds of loss or trauma). So I drew that instead.

(Maybe I will end up writing the whole thing someday. Maybe not.)

If you love my stories and comics, check out my store and 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, and Pinterest.

Space

I am in space. I never thought I would go out this far. And I haven't found what I came for yet. I can't go back.And even if I did, it wouldn't be my earth anymore. It kept turning with me and I kept turning without it. [images zooming into earth] I'm not in space. I had three miscarriages.[speech bubble, I say: I don't know how to deal with that. I'm not even sure I believe it. I want to be okay, but I'm not. None of my friends or family have had so many and not had a live birth. I don't know what is going to happen next.] And you say, [speech bubble: I'm right here]. But you're not. It's not your fault.I am in space[tentacled space whales show up] And my problems are space problems. [space whales shake my space ship, breaking it, then leave]. I can't do earth things.But you know that. So when you say, [email on spaceship computer: I'm right here]. You are.

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I think this is for all the people in my life who have understood that things are Not Okay right now. These people have rolled with it when I’ve cancelled plans at the last minute, when I’ve refused to be places where I have to do smiling small talk, or even when I’ve straight-up broken down and cried in public for no immediate reason. They have given me space when I’ve felt crushed and company when I’ve felt exposed. They said “Hell yes, draw tentacled space whales!” and assured me there didn’t have to be a joke.

So, people who seem to get I’m far away right now, thank you. I’ll be back one day. Changed, but back.

If you love my stories and comics, check out my store and 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.

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.

Books

Four panels. In the first panel, I enter a room covering in wall to ceiling bookshelves. I'm holding a bag that says "books" on it. A dinosaur says, "Don't you have enough books?" Second Panel: I am walking up a spiral staircase made of books. Third panel: I reach the top and the night sky can be seen through unfinished bookshelves. Fourth Panel (large picture): from outside you see I am standing on the top of a tower reaching up into space. I say "Not yet".

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Got any book recommendations for me? I love fun and am partial to fantasy, but I’m basically omnivorous. I’m always particularly on the look out for books written by women, POC (esp WOC) and LGBTQIA+ folks.

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.

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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