Why I Draw Comics About My Anxiety and Depression

3k
3k

I’ve never been good at expressing the strange thoughts in my head. So I draw them. I started sharing my comics and artwork on Tumblr some years ago. It was anonymous and in English so my family wouldn’t read it (I’m French and lucky for me they’re not very good at English). The feedback was amazing, I never imagined I could offer comfort to people online and also receive a lot of support from them.

I was drawing about something I didn’t even know. I didn’t know I had a mental illness until it became stronger. Drawing was no longer enough against the anxiety disorder, the panic attacks and the depression. I had to take a work leave and start talking “for real” to the people close to me. And they were incredibly understanding. Why did I wait all this time imagining how they would react? I’m so grateful to have them and learn a lot every day.

Now, I think I can say I’m proud to draw about mental health and will keep doing this. It is really important to me. And apparently to many more.

tumblr_olo3gxwM091rmpiddo1_1280

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 12.30.34 PM

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 12.29.43 PM

tumblr_olijswq23b1rmpiddo1_1280

tumblr_ol7ceuUUV71rmpiddo1_1280

contributor comic

Follow this journey on Tumblr.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Images via contributor.

3k
3k
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The 8 Symptoms of Test Anxiety We Don't Talk About

257
257

Most people don’t enjoy taking tests. I don’t think I have ever heard someone call an assessment “fun.” There is a “normal” level of stress or pressure that comes with test-taking whether it be self-imposed or from parents and teachers. We all anticipate those crucial minutes we are given to complete the packet of papers filled with rigorous questions. We spend hours preparing and studying for an examination, an exam that asks you to condense weeks of classwork and information into 60 minutes on paper. We want to cover it all, we want to know it all, we want to be a “successful” student.

Then, the moment comes. The room full of rowdy young adults is taken by a wave of silence. The teacher marches by each row, handing each student a daunting packet. You have done everything you can at this point, now you are alone with your memory, paper, a pencil and a clock ticking.

No one talks about the extreme toll generalized anxiety disorder combined with test anxiety can take on someone’s life. It is hard to recognize or be fully aware of how draining tests can be on our youth. You never know what others are going through. The classmate who is pretty much a stranger taking a test right next to you may be struggling with their own thoughts and you could have no idea. I didn’t know either, until it happened to me.

Test anxiety can cause students to not perform or demonstrate their knowledge accurately on exams. There is a huge difference between the natural nervousness that comes with test-taking and my debilitating mental illness-related anxiety. Test anxiety is usually ignored by schools and teachers, thought to be  invalid because “hey, everyone gets nervous with tests.”

Here are some symptoms I have experienced to encourage others to know they are not alone:

1. Sweating

I am all too familiar with excessive sweating. Anytime I have a test, I can’t raise my hand for the rest of the day. I have sweat through my shirt, sweatshirt and coat before. The sweating is a physical outcome from my spike in heart rate due to my body going into panic mode. I get anxious about the sweating and wondering if others notice the bullets coming down my forehead. These worries just increase the symptoms and I sweat more as a result of thinking about sweating.

2. Hair pulling and head scratching

At times, this is a coping mechanism that helps me focus on the question at hand and try to ignore the tornado of thoughts in my head. Other times, I keep messing with my hair so much my scalp bleeds. I have improved a lot and luckily no longer get to this point but I guess I was looking for some form of control. I couldn’t control the time flying by me, the format of the test, whether or not my answers were good enough for the teacher or my own ideas spiraling out of control. I have learned the only thing I can actively regulate is the way and amount I study and sometimes it isn’t even enough. But it is just a test. I’m confident anyone who struggles with test anxiety has heard these words before. But truly, it is just one single test, a couple pieces of paper asking you questions. It is not going to matter 10 years or hell, 10 days from now. There will always be more assignments and tests to contribute to your cumulative grade. This is just one factor of the lengthy process and you can get through it.

3. Nail picking

I can’t fix my questions after I’ve turned in the test. I can’t name the term on the tip of my tongue or go back and review one more time. Because of this, I try to find something else that isn’t perfect to “fix.” Once I start I can’t stop. I zone out and the only thing that matters is trying to get my hands to look perfect. I push and push and this typically results in having to visit the nurse to get another Band-Aid to hide my bloody fingers.

4. Clammy hands

My hands turn ice cold. As the anxiety kicks up, so does the sweating. My hands begin getting super clammy and I have a difficult time just grasping the pencil to write with. Multiple times throughout one assessment, I will have to put down my materials and wipe my hands on my clothes. My hands get so cold I have to sit on them and just take a moment to breathe. During this process, I repeat to myself some of my mantras. This too shall pass. Grades don’t distinguish my character, I do. Just try your best.

5. Shaking

Shaking is the result of having to form chapters of information into words and insightful sentences while your entire body is in “fight or flight” mode and doing everything in its power to fight against itself. I often think the movement of my quivering hands or legs is just a physical sign of the multitude of thoughts racing internally. Alternatively, I use the repeated movements as a calming method to allow myself consistency and power by using my own body.

6. Panic attacks

Panic attacks happen on really good days and really bad days. I can walk into a classroom feeling super confident, relaxed and in a fantastic mood, but then it hits. Though virtually nothing is wrong, it feels like everything’s falling apart. My first panic attacks were triggered by tests. I began to connect testing with panicking so I would become anxious about being anxious for a test. I have had multiple panic attacks during assessments.

One time in particular, my heart was beating so fast I was sick to my stomach and ready to throw up. In the middle of the test, I stormed out of the classroom and sprinted for the bathroom. I curled up next to the toilet sobbing and tried to remind myself I’m not physically dying even if it feels like it. After I was able to wipe my tears from my face and breathe steadily, I returned to the classroom and turned in my blank test. Despite having studied for a week, I was physically and emotionally drained and literally could not even flip past the first page due to my anxiety. I left school and went home to recover. The world was just too suffocating for me that day. I began to realize my mental health was more important than a letter on a report card that wouldn’t be relevant five years from now.  

7. Uncontrollable emotions

After every panic attack during a test, I become sad or angry. I get furious and get in the mood where I just hate the world. I’m upset because I don’t like the way I think or think I should be a better student and I’m just making excuses. Sometimes I think how tests are extremely inaccurate in measuring someone’s intellect. Or I think about how easy it is for others to just take a test and that I should have managed my time better. On the other hand, I can experience sadness and depression. I feel hopeless and believe the anxiety will never pass. I am ashamed and disappointed with my reaction and inability to handle such a common task in life.

8. Perfectionism

I am a perfectionist. This is one of the causes of my severe anxiety. I want everything to be in order and flawless at all times. Humans make mistakes and will inherently mess up. No one can live up to absurdly out of reach standards. I have always accepted this in others but never in myself. I compare myself to my classmates. While taking a test, if someone is a page ahead of me, it must mean I’m stupid. I have anxiety about bubbling in my answers on a Scantron. At my worst, I spent 25 minutes erasing, filling back in and erasing again the little boxes for me to pencil in my answer. I can’t count the number of times I wrote half or a whole in-class essay only to crumple it up and throw it away with 20 minutes left. It is impossible for anyone to write a well-developed honors level essay in such little time. But my unsatisfied thoughts take control and I would rather turn in the start of a picture-perfect essay than a decent and completed one. Everything must be perfect. This is the burden some of the 3.3 million American adults diagnosed with a type of anxiety disorder experience every single day.

These are only a few of the symptoms of test anxiety. Remember, it is just some papers stapled together. It may feel like forever, but it is only a few minutes of your life. Grades do not define your value or who you are as a person. I know, it is exhausting to be constantly doubting yourself and seeking reassurance, but it gives you a unique perspective in life. Anxiety has heightened my eye for detail, made me trust more, increased my memory and made me an overall stronger human being.

“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.”  — Dan Millman

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via cmcderm1.

257
257
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

If You Live With Anxiety, This Jewelry Is Designed for You

12
12

Charlotte Garnett has designed jewelry for people with anxiety who habitually fiddle with or pick at objects, chain-smoke, and more.

Read the full story.

12
12
TOPICS
Video,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The TV Series That Captures My Experiences with Anxiety

343
343

I usually write about my experiences with chronic illness, but I also struggle with anxiety in my daily life. I often have trouble explaining what my constant anxiety feels like, but I discovered a television series, of all things, that lets viewers inside the mind of its anxious protagonist.

The series is called “Offspring” and follows the misadventures of OB-GYN Nina Proudman and her eccentric family. You probably have not seen the show, since it is Australian. The first five seasons are on Netflix, though, which is how I discovered it. The sixth season aired this year and should be on site soon, and the seventh is slated to air in Australia in 2017.

The show uses storytelling devices including a heavy dose of magical realism. For the most part, we only see what Nina sees, and we hear her thoughts as narration. We also see her dreams, fantasies, and worries play out on screen.

When I first started watching, it actually made me feel uncomfortable. I realized Nina, like me, envisions every possible scenario. She plans, she worries, she talks to herself. She tries her best to keep everything together while dealing with intense emotions.

We see Nina go through everything from personal loss to work drama to family issues, all through the lens of a highly anxious person. We hear the voice in her head as she second guesses herself and worries about things that are often beyond her control.

To a viewer who does not experience high levels of anxiety, Nina’s worrying may seem over-the-top. The fantasy sequences in which we see the worst-case scenario in Nina’s head played out on screen are obviously dramatized, sometimes for comedic effect.

The show is a comedy, and I do find myself laughing at some of Nina’s more ridiculous fears, but more often I relate to what she is feeling. Even though I may not have experienced the exact dilemma she is facing in a given episode, I see my own anxieties and insecurities mirrored in her response to her stressful life.

What really cements the show as one of my favorites, though, is not the fact that Nina is anxious. It is that she is, at the same time, fearless. It may seem like a contradiction, but the show runners have a created a character able to overcome her anxieties and live a full life.

She takes risks (even if she overthinks them first), she puts herself out there. She is fully present in her life and in the world, even when her anxiety might cause her to want to hide inside instead.

Nina is not presented as a “basket case.” She is a strong woman, balancing a successful career, complicated love life, and dramatic family, along with her anxiety.

This is not always the case with anxious characters in TV shows. Nina is fully functional despite her anxiety, rather than debilitated by it. By allowing her anxiety to be seen and heard on the show, it normalizes generalized anxiety disorder in a way rarely seen on-screen.

As someone dealing with anxiety along with all the usual facets of life, it is refreshing to watch “Offspring” and see Nina in a similar struggle. Even though she is fictional and all the way in Australia, watching a character like her stay afloat despite her personal struggles is inspiring. I can’t wait to see the seventh season.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via Offspring on Ten Facebook

343
343
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

This Comic Shows the Daily Battle of Someone With Anxiety and Depression

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

People Explain What Triggers Their Anxiety

TOPICS
, Video
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.