As someone who has experienced anxiety as a near constant companion in life, it is not usually a fun dance to partake in, in the moment. Sometimes when I speak or think about it, however, I can find the humour in it. For example: “I was having coffee with some friends, when all of a sudden I was hit with this giant tsunami of a wave of a realization that I was about to die! But nothing had changed at all except that I started freaking out cuz I felt like I was literally going to die. I wasn’t dying, obviously. Heh. My brain is so weird.” Funny, along those lines. Tragi-comic.
I found the following article by Erin Chack and Lily Hiott-Millis via http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinchack/comics-that-capture-the-frustration-of-anxiety-disorders to have selected excellent examples of how comics/cartoons/graphic novels… or any instance of images and words… to be a very powerful way to dialogue and communicate about intense internal experiences such as anxiety, and an excellent way to educate and illuminate mental health problems like panic attacks.
As both an art therapist and someone who has experienced panic attacks and anxiety, I was very touched and tickled by the comics in this article, and by the artists who created them. The experience of a panic attack or of chronic anxiety often feel beyond words in the moment, in terms of their intensity and the physicality of those experiences. They are so overwhelming it becomes difficult to return to a verbal or logical way of thinking during a high anxiety moment. However, it is often by finding my internal voice, and bringing full awareness to the experience of anxiety or panic – by narrating to myself what is happening, basically- that I can regain my sense of reality. It helps be to become aware of being in my body, and of my immediate environment, and not in the imaginary fear-based place that set off my alarm bells. Once I can relocate myself as being in a safe place, I can remind myself that the physiological experience in my body is not accurately reflecting the reality of situation I am in. Being five minutes late to dinner is no real reason to have my fight or flight response kick in… So if I can call a false alarm early enough, and try to help my parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, and take a step back while taking a step forward, I can talk myself through it… But it’s still a scary experience, no matter how many times it happens. That’s why it’s such a relief to laugh at these comics, and to know that I am not alone in this. That lots of other people have felt the same intense and frightening feelings that I have.
It is pretty fascinating to me that the medium of comics can so aptly can capture the lived experience of anxiety. What is it about the combo of words and images that is so powerful for communicating emotions? Perhaps it brings both sides of the brain together, or allows a more complex communication to occur, or juxtaposes emotions with thoughts, or represents both the physicality of the lived bodily experience through images, and the narrative of thoughts in the mind existing simultaneously… Don’t know. I wonder if the process of creating these comics helped to ease the anxiety to the artists who created them? Perhaps they helped to bring awareness, humour, and a more objective or observers’ perspective to the experience of anxiety… We would have to ask them. Anyways, I have chosen my personal favourites from the list they selected and attached them here, but check out the article for yourself, and choose your own personal favourites!
“24 Comics That Capture The Frustration Of Anxiety Disorders:
For those who have dealt, are dealing, or simply want to learn more.“
1. The way our restless minds consume us.
Art by Spencer of heymonster.tumblr.com
2. The unique experience of having a panic attack.
Art by Rachel Poulson.
5. Our weird ways of coping.
Art by Beth Evans.
6. The way anxiety becomes a constant companion.
Art by Claire Jarvis.
7. The difficulty of communicating our anxiety to others.
Art by boggletheowl.tumblr.com.
13. The fear.
Art by L.B.
15. The unfortunate fact that anxiety can strike at any given second.
Art by Cassian.
20. How anxiety manifests itself physically.
Art by Nervous Comics.
21. The way anxiety can overshadow the positive aspects of our lives.
But there’s also the comfort in knowing we’re not alone.