I have struggled with this a lot since becoming chronically ill, and even more so since the pandemic started. Sometimes I need the reminder.
Other safe stuff HERE.
UPDATE: This comic is now available in my store.
I have struggled with this a lot since becoming chronically ill, and even more so since the pandemic started. Sometimes I need the reminder.
Other safe stuff HERE.
UPDATE: This comic is now available in my store.
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly fluff, but ideally it’s not a downer either. Despite my resolve to post fluff as often as possible through all this, I have been … struggling. My old friend depression has been circling. Which is not particularly surprising, given everything. So if you’ve been wondering why the comics dropped off even after I promised, or if you’ve been hanging around your own comment sections, wringing your hands, waiting for me to appear and leave inspiring words such as ‘nice! I liked this’ … sorry. I’m working on it.
But don’t worry. I’ve got a major in psychology, antidepressants, and a decade’s worth of therapy under my belt*. I’ve passed through this before. I can do it again.
* and my cat, I guess. But despite this comic, I don’t think cats are in and of themselves the answer to depression. Sorry. They can help, sure, but for actual clinical depression probably get some medical advice.
Safe stuff HERE.
Generally for everyone in the entire world, it seems. My personal suckitude began in November 2019 when I had my fourth consecutive miscarriage, and then continued as I evacuated from bushfires threatening my home, watched the rest of my country burn on the news, visited the ED for a sudden and scary bleed, had an array of blood tests and scans and finally a (very minor) surgery, and has now peaked (fingers crossed this will be the peak, anyway) in a fucking pandemic.
I’m not someone who’s ever been into inspiration as a thing. I don’t have ‘live, laugh, love’ emblazoned on my couch cushions. (Fine if you do, just not for me). I do not like, share or even relate to any quote that has ever been super-imposed on soothing nature photography. (Again, fine if you do). When my wedding celebrant said with delight that, as someone prone to writing, I would surely come up with something beautifully inspiring to say to my soon-to-be-husband during our ceremony, I told her I wouldn’t because just getting married was enough for me.
But, still, sometimes I say to myself,
Just the one, lone word.
Forward is exciting.
It means the future is coming. It means keep going, there’s more. It means you can’t go back, so don’t wait around.
I said it to myself when I decided to propose to my now-husband. I said it to myself when we started trying for a kid.
The last few months I’ve started so many stories and comics. I start them with big ideas and enthusiasm, but then somehow they twist off the path I imagined and end up somewhere darker. What I’ve created here is heavily autobiographical, and right now I can’t tell you anything about my life without talking about my miscarriages. They touch everything inside me.
Sometimes, that’s okay. It has helped me process, and it comforts me to hope that sharing creates a degree of openness on a difficult subject, makes even one person feel less alone in a giant mess of trauma, or at least semi-prepares someone who doesn’t yet know they’ll go through this too.
But other times, it isn’t. I don’t want everything to be tangled and dark. I don’t want to rehash endlessly, lost and unable to re-find the path. I don’t want to soak everything I make in pain.
Forward is healing.
It’s picking yourself up of the ground. It doesn’t have to be about rushing to do or achieve things; it’s just about taking the next step. Maybe the next step is taking some quiet time or establishing a habit of getting outside in the sunshine.
I said it to myself after my first and second miscarriage.
I’ve always had anxiety. Insomnia has been a huge problem throughout my life. I have had panic and anxiety attacks. There have been days I couldn’t make myself leave the house. Sometimes I get so worried around people I can’t speak, no matter how much I want to. My voice just shuts down.
For the last few years, my anxiety has been focused on my health. I’m only 30, but my body has betrayed me so many times. I can’t trust it anymore. Any time I get a headache I’ve have to be talked down from self-diagnosing a brain tumour. Every twinge is cancer. Every cough is death.
Covid-19 isn’t bad in Australia (yet), but I can open my phone and see tweets, articles, footage from China, Italy, France, South Korea, the US, everywhere and peek into potential futures.
I need some balance.
So over the next few weeks, months, whatever, I’m going to try and create some nonsense.
It won’t be easy. Fluff has been a challenge for me lately, even pre-pandemic. I’m probably going to have to push out some absolute clankers just to keep the gears turning. I can’t promise how regular or successful I will be, but I’m going to try really hard to make this little corner of the internet a softer place for a bit.
Forward is grinding.
It’s for when you are lost. It’s for when you don’t know what happens next, but you know it can’t be nothing. It’s for when a whole journey seems impossible, too big, and you have shut everything down to the next step.
I said it to myself after my third and fourth miscarriage.
I’m worried about what happens when I run out of toilet paper because everyone else has panic-hoarded it. I’m worried about my older relatives. I’m worried about my chronically ill friends. I’m worried about my siblings—both of whom are doctors working in hospitals. I’m worried that next fire season a bushfire will reach my town, my home. I’m worried I’ll just keep miscarrying forever. I’m worried about lurking tumours. I’m worried about living in a country with a marginal environment and unsustainable habits while the world gets hotter.
It’s scary outside, and it’s dark inside.
Forward is not about choice. It’s going to happen anyway. The future is coming, and you can’t go back.
One more step.
P.S. Wash your damn hands.
Update: I have created a NO VIRUSES HERE page. I will collect all my new fluff there as well as gather other fluffy creations from the past few years.
I’ve had a fourth miscarriage.
I drew journal comics to process the experience. I’ve decided I will post them here. I have written about miscarriage before, (first two here, comics drawn after the third one here and here) and I don’t think I can do it again. Not like that. To do that, you have to revisit it. And I can’t.
On that note, you don’t have to read this. In fact, if you’ve had similar experiences and know that reading about this will bring things up for you, please don’t. Don’t do that to yourself for me. I would never ask it of you.
Here we go.
The bushfire I evacuated from on 20/12/2019 was the Cudlee Creek fire that burned in the Adelaide Hills (my home) in South Australia. It destroyed more than 80 homes and claimed one life. Although it didn’t reach my town, it did reach others in the area. Blackened trees and burnt ground are visible from (and sometimes very, scarily close to) the main streets of many of them.
And that fire has not been the only bushfire in South Australia over the last couple of months to destroy homes, the environment, and lives. Notably half (actually, literally, ridiculously half) of Kangaroo Island (a place I have holidayed, a place my brother lived for a year, a place where relatives of mine own property) burned the other week, claiming two lives. That fire isn’t out yet, and as weather conditions are bad today it is spreading and several communities have been evacuated and are under Watch and Act (yellow) warnings even as I write this.
Meanwhile the fires in New South Wales and Victoria (which have made international news) are utterly horrifying and still going. At this time an estimated 1900 homes have been destroyed in NSW and at least another 200 destroyed in Victoria. Many lives have been lost. These fires will certainly not be controlled for some time, and they are expecting considerable fire danger weather tomorrow.
There have always been fires in Australia, but not like this.
If you are able, please consider donating to the fire relief. There are a lot of places to donate. Here are some basic ones:
Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief. (Australia wide).
South Australian Bushfire Appeal. (South Australia).
CFS – Country Fire Service (South Australia’s volunteer firefighting service).
RFS – Rural Fire Service (New South Wales’s volunteer firefighting service).
CFA – Country Fire Association (Victoria’s volunteer firefighting service).
WIRES – Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (New South Wales wildlife rescue organisation)
RSPCA (SA) – Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (South Australian appeal specifically)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then I went to the teacher to show her the sting.
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.
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.
Worse, I could read the truth on his face.
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.
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.
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.
… not like that.
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.
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.
The last page of another person’s book can’t tell you the whole story.
Do you ever experience Impostor Syndrome? If so, how do you deal with it?
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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.
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.