Tag Archives: Mental Health

Hello, My Name is Grief

Test reads: Grief is like a star dies inside you, crushing down into a blackhole that sucks and sucks and sucks every emotion and thought and part of you down to nothing. Test reads: Except when you forget. And then it’s a tsunami of sudden memory that tumbles you around and steals your breath and washes you far away from where you were a moment beforeText reads: Except sometimes it’s warm sunshine on you face, a light breeze in your hair, and bright colours all around you. And it’s beautiful, but the light is to loud and the breeze is to bright and everything is exquisitely wrong, unbearably real.Test Reads: Sometimes it’s from is … unexpected. Sometimes you want it, to prove what you lost was real, to prove it was loved. Sometimes it is someone repeating the same boring stories, the same words, the same feelings you’ve sat through a thousand times before, over and over and over, and you can’t escape. Text reads: Sometimes it's all those things TOO HEAVY TOO BIG TOO LOUD TOO BRIGHT TOO STRONG TOO MUCH at onceTest reads: I don’t know how to end this. I don’t think grief ends. Perhaps (I hope) is wears with time, like running water smoothing all the sharp edges from a rock. But even a smooth rock can trip you. I don’t think grief ends. But everything else does. (that’s the problem)

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So I had a third miscarriage.

Each time is harder. They add together. The second miscarriage wasn’t only a miscarriage, it was the first miscarriage happening again as well as a new miscarriage. And now this miscarriage is the first miscarriage happening again, and the second miscarriage happening again, as well as a new miscarriage and also an impossible pile of fear about what happens next.

I don’t think I will write a blow-by-blow account of this one (though I reserve the right to change my mind). It was another sucker-punch. I’ve done that before. If you want to read a sucker-punch miscarriage story, I’ve got Expecting.

I’m doing my best in the aftermath, but I’m struggling. There are good days (which are difficult) and bad days (which are impossible). I don’t know when I’ll have new content. I know that I will, I just don’t know when or how regularly that will be for a little while. I’m probably going to be extra slow responding to comments too (but I promise I’ll get there).

Bear with me?

As always, I have a Patreon page (where you can support my work in a general way and get rewards) and a store (where you can buy my comics on posters and shirts and mugs and stuff). And you can follow me for updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

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?

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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.

The Costume Debacle

Costume Joke

When Anxiety Attacks

super villain

“So, what do you do?”: An Apology

My apology comes on two fronts. First, I’m sorry to people who ask me this question.

You don’t really know me and you’re trying to maintain conversation through the inevitable lull. You pull out the old faithful “so, what do you do?” expecting a good fifteen minutes where you can just coast on me nattering about how being a vet or a lawyer or a real estate agent or whatever is just great and is really taking off for me right now and blah blah blah. You probably feel a bit good about yourself for offering me a hefty turn in the conversational spotlight.

But it doesn’t go that way. Because I’m not a vet or a lawyer or a real estate agent. I’m not even a whatever. 

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And even if you have the guts (and I love these people, please have the guts) to keep the conversational ball rolling without changing the subject or jumping out the nearest window (and even though I don’t love the people who do this, I can sympathise), it doesn’t get any better.

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Because I end up sad-bombing the conversation.

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Second, I am sorry for asking that question.

Because I know it’s bad. And I can see it in a person’s face when that was the wrong question. They go very still while they mentally navigate the minefield ahead, looking for the best route, or they give me this quick, sad look like I’ve betrayed them in some unforgivable way. It’s the same look our pet Jack Russel gave us whenever we filled the plastic baby’s bath and got out the dog-shampoo.

Maybe because they are worried that I won’t think what they do is good enough. Maybe they think they should be doing more. Maybe they just don’t want to sad-bomb me.

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And I always want to fix it.

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But I just met the person, or don’t know them very well, and maybe if I was a charismatic extravert I could go back on it, derail that train I just set in motion. But I can’t. I don’t know how. I ride it to the end of the line because I’m an introvert with social anxiety disorder and terrible at small talk.

So I’m sorry.

But I think the world would be better and people would be happier if “so, what’s your favourite dinosaur?” was an acceptable conversation starter, and “so, what do you do?” wasn’t.

Depression Lies

Lately my depression has been close to the surface. It whispers things to me and manipulates me. It tries to make me believe that I am worthless. I want to write about it properly, but everything I put down seems wrong, and I end up in tangles.

To have it swoop in and steal the words off the tip of my tongue makes me feel powerless. Loss of voice—silence—is a big deal for me. When I was a child my social anxiety was so strong that I often felt physically unable to speak in front people I didn’t already know well and feel comfortable with. So even if I can’t yet find a way to talk through it properly, I would like to put something about it up here.

I have a Gryffindor notebook that my sister bought me from Harry Potter World which I like to scribble in. With the help of my lovely assistant and trusty stead—doesn’t she look gorgeous in that silver dress?—I would like to show you my most recent scribble.

1lies

As you can see, some fairly standard depression imagery going on there. Darkness pouring down.

I didn’t have any words of my own to describe it or to cope with it, so I borrowed some. We live in a big, connected world, and chances are someone else has just what you need. This is humanity’s great advantage. We communicate.

So there are words, and if you can remember it when your brain has gone dark, it helps.

The Bloggess (hilarious, big-hearted, giant-metal-chicken-owning internet rockstar) says ‘depression lies’, and she’s right. It lies. It lies and it lies and it lies until all you’ve got are the lies and you can’t tell anymore which way is up.

So I’m trying to hold on to the knowledge that depression lies, and using that as my compass, the pictures turns around … Lovely assistant, if you would be so kind.

2lies

3lies

The page is still half-covered. The light and dark are in exactly the same proportions as before; it’s not gone. But now the warm parchment colour is on top, and I am anchored.

Fighting Multi-Headed Anxiety Monsters with the Power of Song

But first a confession. I had a really hard time writing this, but an easy time drawing the pictures. In fact, I had more fun drawing these pictures than I did drawing myself being ripped apart by a bear (here), and I giggled continuously while doing that one. But the words were difficult. So this is how it turned out.

There’s this awful thing that follows me around wherever I go. Other people can’t see it, but I can. It’s always there in some guise. Maybe it’s not bothering me right now, but I can see it lurking and I know that it can attack me whenever it wants.

It’s called anxiety. Maybe you have your own version of this monster. A lot of people do.

When it comes for me I’m usually the only one who notices, but you could tell if you were paying attention. When it happens, I experience:

anxiety1

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And a few other things which aren’t as easy to draw. Plus, lists of three are neat and the racing heart one is definitely the punchline. So we’ll just skip over hot flushes, hyperventilation and feelings of impending doom. Lists of six suck.

Actually … let’s quickly do a superficial interpretation of feelings of impending of doom, because that phrasing makes me giggle.

anxiety4

Lists of panic attack symptoms tend to refer to it this way. I’ve always found the terminology hilarious, but the experience is horrifying and (for me, anyway) it’s the worst part of a panic attack. But more detail later.

Even with these symptoms, I can fight it. But it isn’t easy.

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If you cut off one head, another one grows back.

I used to be very shy and afraid of talking to people. Over the last few years I have fought this and it has become much easier. I am still shy, but I can talk to strangers and I am able to make new friends. I cut off that head, and my multi-headed anxiety monster grew another.

This one makes me afraid of being in crowds.

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This is a problem. Basically, it makes it difficult to be anywhere other people also want to be, which covers most places worth going. So I rarely go to concerts, clubs or popular restaurants (especially the ones that won’t let you book but they’re always so busy that you have to queue to get a seat). And going Christmas shopping or travelling on public transport in peak hour are like personalised versions of burning in hell.

… saying ‘personalised versions of burning in hell’ makes me want to go on a picture tangent. And I will. Because it’s my blog and I can if I want to.

anxiety10

And now back to anxiety.

The place I have to fight the anxiety monster the most is the supermarket. Because you have to go all the time or you run out of food and toilet paper. And you need those.

When I can, I try to go to the supermarket with my partner so that I don’t have to face it alone. It’s important that I do face it, because this is the best way to teach myself that there isn’t really anything to be afraid of. But of course I am afraid. I shuffle around, looking at my feet, trying to remain calm. It only takes one extra little thing for the monster to attack. A decision.

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That’s all it takes for my brain to break.

I remember when I was a kid riding my bike and the bike chain popped off. I spun the pedals, but they felt strange and loose and I couldn’t get any traction. The bike slowed down and wobbled. I tried pedalling faster and faster, but the bike didn’t respond.

It’s like that. You put some information into your brain. It spins, but nothing comes out the other side. You’ve lost a brain-cog. So you spin it faster. And faster. People are looking at you. They expect you to say something. Your silence is getting weirder and weirder. The bike is wobbling.

I always think the crash is going to go something like:

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But that’s never actually happened.

And that’s feelings of impending doom. You feel like something’s broken, either in your mind or your body, and you’re about to die or go mad or experience other doom-like fates. And, sure, it may not be everyone’s vision of doom, but screaming in public and having my head explode feels pretty doom-y to me.

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Mostly, I’m proud to say, I cope. I may not see many concerts, but I catch public transport and buy my friends and family gifts for Christmas. I buy food. I keep myself alive and my home in stock of toilet paper.

Mostly.

There are days when it’s too much and it feels like there’s no way I can avoid the doom (the one where I scream in public and my head explodes). On those days I don’t go to the supermarket. I can live off my emergency stash of two-minute noodles and resort to using tissues for a while, but usually my partner is kind enough to go shopping for me. I stay home alone.

The monster has a head for this too. I start to worry about failing, about not coping, about being worthless. All the predatory pieces of my mind come out to feed. It’s the hardest thing to fight off.

And then one day I was home alone, unable to face the supermarket and my impending doom. I started the old cycle of worry … and then I stopped. Instead, I started drawing tenuous parallels between myself and Disney characters who find it hard to function in society due to a crippling fear of people. And before I knew it …

Change 2

 

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Change

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So maybe the moral of this story is that when life gives you lemons, sing to those lemons about how awesome and magical you are. And if it still bothers you afterwards that they’re lemons and not lemonade then at least you have an ice castle to be bothered in.

Or maybe that’s nonsense and the moral is just that anxiety is hard and it’s hard every single day, but you can still do life.