Tag Archives: Comics

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.

Toast Speaking

Three panels. In the first, my partner calls my phone. In the second, I answer while holding toast. I say "Hello, I'm eating toast." Third panel, through the phone my partner says "Hah! Hi eating. I'm-- No wait. Hello toast ... that's still wrong. How does it go?"

Three panels. First panel, my partner says over the phone: "um ... I remember now! Do you think it's to later? Maybe if we go back to the beginning. Pretend to answer the phone again." Second panel, silence. I nibble my toast. Third panel, over the phone my partner says "I'm not okay"

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The pressure of living with someone as hilarious as me gets to him sometimes. Do you ever mess up jokes? Don’t tell anyone because it will make me seem bad at my job, but I do all the time.

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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Good, Better, Best

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In Defence of Mini Marshmallows

This being the internet, I recently got into an argument with a blogger about the best marshmallows to put in hot chocolate. In her corner, giant marshmallows; in mine, mini.

It started in the comment section, as arguments to, but didn’t stay there. She published a recipe-slash-attack over on Actual Conversations With My Husband (go read it and her other stuff because she’s pretty funny when she’s not spouting hot chocolate heresy).

You see where this is going.

I am duty bound to insist that I’m right, super right, I could never be wrong, giant marshmallows are a pitiful specimen of marshmallow, Time Magazine totally called me about being Man (Person) of the Year but I turned them down when I learned about the write up and photoshoot anyway my button’s bigger and NO YOUR FACE IS A MINI MARSHMALLOW.

I won’t.

Giant marshmallows are fine. Giant marshmallows in hot chocolate are fine. (I mean, they take too long to melt nicely and due to the physics of buoyancy have an irritating habit of bobbing away from your spoon, but I guess some people like that). Toasted Giant marshmallows are extra fine. In fact, I am happy to concede them as the ideal toasting marshmallow. Furthermore, toasted giant marshmallows in hot chocolate brings pleasure on par with witnessing an enemy step in dog poo, slide ten metres, fall face first into a fountain while being filmed so that they end up online as a humorous gif. (Although over-toasting will lead to excessive floating ashes, and I do not recommend excessive floating ashes).

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is not better than giant marshmallows in hot chocolate. I’m fine with saying that.

Because they cannot be compared. They don’t serve the same purpose. They aren’t the same thing.

You see, giant marshmallows in hot chocolate is a recipe, but mini marshmallow hot chocolate is a spell. Done right, it will grant you warmth, healing, sweetness, and probably type 2 diabetes. (But hey, everything that works has side effects.)

I will teach you how to cast it.

Make hot chocolate.

It doesn’t matter how. I don’t think there is an incorrect method of making hot chocolate. I don’t limit myself to one way of making it. Bought powder, cocoa and sugar, all milk no hot water, hot water plus milk, added chilli, added cinnamon—it’s all good. When I’m feeling fancy, I take the time to melt chocolate into milk on the stovetop.

You do you. All are equal.

Except anything with powdered milk in it. Ew.

Add mini marshmallows.

But don’t just add mini marshmallows. That’s how you do a recipe. Plop ‘em in, done. Boring. This is not a recipe.

Want to know the trick?

Lean in, I’ll whisper.

Volume.

Your goal is to get as many mini marshmallows in there as possible. Plug that mug. If you can still see hot chocolate, you’re not trying hard enough.

And, most importantly, enjoy it.

Mini marshmallows are to giant marshmallows what a kiddie pool of small denomination bills are to a couple of hundred-dollar notes sitting all dull and boring in your hand. Fundamentally equal, but you can frolic in one of them.

So, frolic.

Wait.

This step is vitally important, and you might not get it just right on the first go. You want your marshmallows to get a bit melty. How melty is up to you, but I recommend making sure there are some unmelted bits. An excellent way to achieve a good melted to non-melted ratio is to pile up the marshmallows so high that the bottom layer can melt entirely, while the top layer is safe above the hot chocolate line.

This is the game changing step. This is where we leave the safe harbour of standard hot chocolate and push out into the international waters of lawless adventure. This is hot chocolate with a peg leg and a parrot on its shoulder.

Ready?

Eat the marshmallows out of the hot chocolate with a spoon.

If you’ve done everything right, it should taste like a lighting a candle in a world engulfed by darkness. You should feel it darning the holes life has worn into your soul.

A common mistake here is to drink the hot chocolate. I can see why a person might think it’s a good idea—that is traditionally what one does with hot chocolate, after all—but there are simply too many marshmallows. The top layer of hot chocolate probably doesn’t classify as a liquid any more. Drinking it is a choking hazard.

But don’t worry, the time will come.

Repeat Steps 2 to 4 until either

a) You run out of mini marshmallows, or,

b) You feel like you’re done with the marshmallow phase of your hot chocolate experience.

Just quietly, option b is for the weak.

Drink the hot chocolate.

It’s not just a chaser for the marshmallows. By this stage it should be so gloriously sugary from all the melted marshmallows that it will taste like a hug from a rainbow.

And there you have it.

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is not classy. It is not pretty. It scores 0 for plating every time. It does not belong on a foodie blog. It draws the wrath of food snobs (and feel free you use it as a means of identifying them among your acquaintances so you can avoid inviting them to your dinner parties).

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is for coping. Mini marshmallow hot chocolate is for the times when your heart bleeds and your soul has been ripped open and you’re not sure if you can handle the next five minutes, let alone tomorrow. It is for dementor attacks and resisting the one ring. I make it when things are so, desperately, impossibly bad that if someone offered me a cup of tea, I would ask for it with a teaspoon of sugar.

Mini marshmallow hot chocolate got me through 2017.

And now you can make it too.

Your welcome, world.

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Some of the illustrations from this story are available in my store. You can get Fighting Mugs and Mini Marshmallow Hot Chocolate as an art print or on mugs, tote bags, notebooks and more! 

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The War Continues

 

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Bath

 

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The War of the Plants

I have never confronted my mum about this, but I’m pretty sure I’m at least 50% elvish.

Having plants around makes me feel good. It always has. When I was a kid in need of a private place to sulk, I would climb a tree. After a long hard day of being a nerd in high school, I would water pot plants. As an adult, I filled my rental’s barren courtyard with potted herbs and spent all day staring vaguely out the window at them instead of being productive.

And finally, as a homeowner, I decided it was time for trendy indoor plants.

And a cat, of course.

It didn’t work out how I imagined.

The first problem was that our brand new cuddle floof turned out to be an indiscriminate glutton. He disposed of his dinner like a vacuum cleaner. Cooking meals became an extreme sports version of keepies-off. He consumed stray bits of dental floss and munched on rubber bands—and we only know about those because we found floss and bits of mangled rubber in his vomit. Who knows what other household items he’s digested.

It became quickly apparent that the probability of him finding and taking a bite out of a poisonous houseplant was 100%.

Which ruled out all the trendy ones.

Terrified I would accidently kill the fluff-monster, I did some research before getting anything.

And good thing I did. As soon as I brought my non-toxic houseplant selections home, my fears were confirmed. Our food-hoovering, face-cuddling, foot-biting, sink-splashing, shoulder-sitting cat was also a plant-nibbler.

Our sentient scarf fixated on a Boston fern. He nibbled and nibbled. The damage began to show. We moved it around, tried to hide it from him, but he found it again and again. Over the course of month, he ate it down to twigs.

Until that point, I had everything arse-about. I had assumed the plants were a risk to the health of our furry hedge-trimmer, but in fact he was a danger to them.

Our murder-croissant moved on to an African violet. He bit the leaves off so he could play with them on the ground. It lived longer than the fern, but he knocked off leaves faster than the plant could regrow them.

I was not ready to admit defeat. My elvish heritage would not be denied. I picked out some replacements, and this time I choose robust plants, capable of withstanding a bit of casual grazing.

I had grossly underestimated his capacity to nibble.

Worse, the toebean-licker seemed to understand how much I hated it. He would use it to seek vengeance whenever I refused to feed him dinner at 2pm, stopped him from murdering my knitting, or fished him out of the toilet and shut the lid to prevent him playing in it.

It always played out the same way. First, there was a lull in cat mayhem, and I would return to my internet browsing or fantasy novel. I relaxed, but before long I would feel the seeping awareness that the silence was too good to be true. In fact, I inevitably realised it wasn’t silence at all.

Leaves were rustling.

And I would look up.

The nibbles started to show—on my nerves as well as on the plants.

I searched for new solutions. I started hanging them so the meowinator couldn’t reach them to nibble.

If I only wanted a couple of plants, I would have found my solution. But I wanted my victory to be absolute. I needed more plants, large plants, multiple per room!

I couldn’t hang them all. I needed another alternative.

Channelling my elvish wiles, and found it.

It was, I am willing to acknowledge, a little bit evil. A tad cunning. Slightly Slytherin. It betrayed a dark corner of myself I usually pretend I don’t have.

Cayenne pepper.

At the end of the day, the important thing is not my moral integrity or the state of my immortal soul, it’s not even that I got to keep my plants.

It is that I won.

Sort of.

 

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Cat Daydream

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An illustration based on this comic, Cat Daydream, is available in my store! You can get it as a print, or on mugs and phone cases and stickers and things.

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

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