Category Archives: Stories

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.

Real Life Horror Story

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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.

About the Fish

You might be wondering about the fish.

It’s not what it looks like. Or maybe it is—I don’t know what it looks like out of context. Either way, I can explain.

A couple of months ago, I got a bit angsty-artist and decided I needed to do something productive and sensible to make my job feel more valid to myself. So I set out to create business cards. I sifted through my website for striking images I could base my designs around.

I scrolled and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and scrolled

 

and I found frustration,

 

then desperation,

 

then shame.

Nothing was awesome, trendy, magical, weird or even relatable enough. Everything was bland. It was all failure.

I kept burrowing, kept sketching ideas. It started to consume me. I began in the afternoon, but somehow it was the evening.

I messaged a friend, one of those close friends you trust with your broken pieces and most despicable flaws, a friend you know would love you even if you kicked a baby sloth deliberately and with malicious forethought.*

And—because apparently I am capable of ruining even that—I sucked the conversation into my death-spiral.

Although ‘conversation’ is perhaps the wrong word. I sent over 20 messages without getting a reply, until eventually I reached the deepest part of whatever emotional swamp I was wading through and typed, in classy caps,

(no reply)

Fear tickled me. This time my broken pieces were too sharp and my flaws too repellent. Just as, deep down, I had always known they were. It was only a matter of time before she noticed. Soon, everyone else would realise too.

(This friend had just moved to the other side of the world, and I found out later that as this was occurring, she was lost on public-transport on her way to her first day of work. I have a mental image of some epic urban quest with trials and gatekeepers and monsters, and all the while a phone incessantly tinging with my self-absorbed pleas for reassurance.)

(no reply)

I took a deep breath.

And I thought back. And I realised that on the day this wave of self-loathing first came, something that might have been wonderful for my career had fallen through. Something that I thought hadn’t bothered me too much—these things happen to everyone after all, and I was too sensible to take it personally.

It was as though I had been lying in the dark, watching a looming shadow and convincing myself it was a blood-soaked monster lurking at the end of the bed that was waiting for a perfect peak of fear before it slurped my guts out. Naming it was like turning on the light. The moment I recognised what had first caused me to doubt myself, I could see the monstrous shadow was really that travesty of a jumper I had once convinced myself was an op shop find, draped weirdly on a chair.

I know, I know.

You want to assure me that bad jumpers are amazing. That my failure wasn’t really a failure at all. That these is no shame, only glory, in a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of bad jumper.

I get that. That is, in fact, what I was aiming for.

This jumper isn’t a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of a bad jumper. Such a jumper would belong to the queen of op shops. And I dared to believe, for one dazzling moment, that I was that queen. But then I got home and took my prize out the bag and looked at it, and I realised that I was not. Not that day, anyway.

The jumper I ended up with was a sort of old-lady-librarian chic** with a floral and leaves design in a muddy shade of vomit.

Also, it was a cardigan.

(I knew it was cardigan when I bought it, of course, but it didn’t really sink in until afterward.)

It may not have been a sadistic, blood-soaked monster, but it was still ghastly. (And it would have been so wonderful if that thing had worked out. And it didn’t).

But it was also just a cardigan.

So I took another deep breath—everyone acquires a ghastly cardigan sooner or later—and made a cup to tea—I was too sensible to take it personally.

And then I drew a comic about how I had been feeling (one that you’ve already seen). I drew myself weirdly badly being slapped in the face by a fish. I wrote this.

And I made my business cards.

I wore the metaphorical cardigan. I don’t know any other way to deal with life.

 

* Advice: don’t kick baby sloths. Especially not deliberately and with malicious forethought. First degree baby-sloth-kickers do not fare well in prison.

** An admittedly ridiculous way to describe it. There is a stereotype of old ladies and librarians that overlooks the reality that they can be stylish or sweet or funky but always gloriously themselves.

 

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Two of the illustrations from this story are available in my store! You can get Fish Slap and Urban Quest as art prints or on mugs and other cool stuff. 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, TwitteInstagram, Google+ and Pinterest

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.

How to Get a Cat: An Illustrated Guide

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

alone

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

But still.

Being alone wears you down.

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

So, easy solution, I got a cat.

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

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

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

attack1

attack2

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

attack3

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

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

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

no-touchies

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

murdercat

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

seen-some-things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s a whole new type of irritating cat.

codependent-cat

But I love him.

And I’m not alone.

not-alone

 

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

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

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

The Petuitary Gland

It started with the cat in the blanket-fort story. I just slotted cats in the pro column of not-getting-out-of-bed on a whim. And then, somehow, it was in other illustrations in that story.

cats

And then I was thinking about cats and had more ideas about cats.

more-cats

And then all my ideas were about cats.

all-the-cats

I don’t have a cat.

I don’t have any pets right now.

What I do have is a petuitary gland.

The petuitary gland is an organ located below the better-known dessert stomach.

petuitary-gland

Its job is to release hormones when a person sees cute domesticated (or not domesticated—otters, AMIRIGHT?) animals and to manipulate them into a frenzy of pet-neediness. The petuitary gland overwhelms our common sense and makes us forget the cost of vet bills and the hassle of training a creature of another species to please not poo everywhere.

poop-everywhere

The petuitary gland is an evolutionary feature that ensures the continuing relationship between humans and domesticated animals, a relationship which is in everyone’s best interest.

Except, you know, all the small, vulnerable native creatures in your area that taste better than the fanciest tin of Fancy Feast.

manipulation

But who cares about small, vulnerable native creatures?

It’s not like they, say, ride robot vacuums for our entertainment. There aren’t any adorable Halloween costumes for blue-tongue lizards. I’ve never seen a bandicoot humorously stuck in venetian blinds.

My petuitary gland is running rampant.

I’ve always liked animals. My family had a neurotic Jack Russell and an incontinent demon-cat when I was little, and I loved them both. I always thought I would have pets of my own, one day. Maybe in five or ten years, I told myself. Once I’d done some travelling and practiced keeping things alive on cactuses.

But my petuitary gland’s powers are growing. It has not spent my pet-free years idle. It has been laying plans and building its strength. Now it will not be ignored.

Infecting my creative output with cats was only the beginning. The urge to obtain a pet is becoming overwhelming.

cat-prescription

It’s not even limited to reasonable pets. There is a dangerous sign that we drive past every time we visit my partner’s hometown. It works in unholy concert with our petuitary glands to lure us down the path of bad decisions.

its-a-sign

It’s very important that we don’t give in.

alpacas

We don’t have a rental contract that allows pets. We decided years ago that we would not get pets while renting because most places don’t allow pets and having them would make renting more difficult.

It was a sensible decision.

sensible

Very, very sensible.

sensible2

SENSIBLE.sensible3

So I’ll be moving soon.

Look forward to moving related comics and stories.

And probably a cat.

(Which will be an indoor cat and not allowed to eat small, vulnerable native creatures. Because responsible pet ownership.)

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.