9 posts in the category “Guest post”

“It started tearing me down early”: Illustrator and writer Howie Noel shares about his upcoming graphic memoir on life with generalized anxiety disorder

Posted October 10th, 2017 by

Today is World Mental Health day, a day for education, awareness and advocacy, and that’s where Howie Noel’s story comes in. There are more than 30,000 members living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder on PatientsLikeMe, and it’s for people like these, people like him, that Noel wrote his semi-autobiographic illustrated memoir, Float. We recently sat down with him to talk about his book and how it came to be.

When art imitates life

Float is told from the perspective of three characters who act as symbols for Noel’s personality. The book follows the story of main character, David, and his experience living with generalized anxiety disorder. David has lost jobs and lovers, but the one constant in his life has always been Anxiety, and when his wife leaves him, he asks Anxiety to take over.

Graphic memoir about anxiety

Noel, a comic illustrator based in New Jersey, wrote and illustrated the book and draws material from his own experience living with generalized anxiety disorder. “In Float, anxiety begins as an inner voice that offers advice. That advice is not helpful but it’s comforting because it’s coming from my mind. Unfortunately, a lot of anxiety’s ideas are harmful and dangerous.” Noel says that throughout the book, one of the main struggles is to fight the urge to give in to anxiety’s most harmful suggestions. “Dealing with anxiety, you have to recognize that these thoughts are bad ideas and often irrational. Anxiety deals in fear and uses your mind as a weapon. You have to stay strong and fight back using your willpower.”

So, how does an illustrator with anxiety draw it as a character? We’ve often seen the condition depicted as a dark scribble or a monster, but Noel took a different approach. Anxiety is played by an alluring and charismatic rock star who is fighting for David’s undivided attention. “Anxiety wants to be the only friend you have,” Noel says of the character, “It’s an abusive and dangerous relationship because anxiety really wants me to be alone.”

Reflecting through words

The process of creating Float was more than just work, Noel says. “While working on Float I discovered a lot about my history with anxiety,” he said. “Creating the book urged me to reflect on moments in my past where anxiety caused me pain. It helped me discover how I let it control me and how I’d give in when I should’ve been fighting back.” Noel shared one of his earliest memories of experiencing anxiety, one that he didn’t even realized was anxiety-related until undertaking this endeavor. “One of the things that stands out most to me is discovering that my first anxiety attack occurred in first grade. I was being tested for the gifted class and according to the test-giver I started hyperventilating. As a result, I couldn’t finish the test. Looking back, I now realize this was an anxiety attack caused by the fear of the test and the time limit I was under. Unfortunately, the test-giver wasn’t able to recognize what was happening and, since then, we’ve all learned more about mental health and generalized anxiety disorder.”

Pairing language with music

For this creative project, Noel collaborated with friend and musician Victor Guest, who recorded a sound track to accompany the book. “With Float, I wanted to create a true art project that would give the viewer a special experience,” Noel said. “I’ve been friends with Victor for a long time and I’ve always been a fan of his music. I knew that he could help bring Float’s message to a new level by using music to express its story. It’s a way to help further spread the message about a battle with anxiety.”

Understanding life with anxiety

While Noel wrote this book for himself and those living with anxiety, he also wrote it for those who aren’t, who have no understanding of life with the condition and the challenges that come with it. His vibrant illustrations and descriptions offer some insight into what people with generalized anxiety disorder experience daily. “Many sadly believe that people who suffer from it are weak when, in fact, it’s the opposite. It takes true strength to continue on once you learn you can’t trust your own thoughts.”

Noel will be debuting the book at New York Comic Con and plans to release it on World Mental Health Day, October 10th. By speaking publicly about his diagnosis, he hopes to raise awareness and fight back against the stigma so often attached with the condition. “We have to talk about it and share lessons. We need to acknowledge that anxiety doesn’t have to drown us. We can float.”

To find out more about Howie Noel and Floatcheck out his interactive website, where you can also find links to social media to connect with Howie Noel directly.

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How to be your best health advocate

Posted October 3rd, 2017 by

PatientsLikeMe is pleased to announce a new collaboration with Cathy Chester, a wife, mother, advocate and the voice behind her blog, “An Empowered Spirit: Living a Healthy and Vibrant Life After 50.” You might’ve already seen Cathy’s #MoreThan story about her diagnosis and how she’s much more than MS. Here, Cathy dives into the importance of being your own best health advocate and how you can take charge of your health.

Self-advocacy has become a critical part of the doctor-patient relationship. It’s no longer enough for patients to relate their symptoms to their physicians and accept the response. Patients need to ask questions; they must act like detectives solving a mystery in order to find the answers they’re looking for. If you can’t find the answer you need quickly, you may end up shuttling between specialists and wondering if the professionals will ever figure out what ails you.

For example, let’s say you’re experiencing digestive issues. You start with your internist and undergo testing, but it’s inconclusive. Your doctor refers you to a gastroenterologist who performs invasive tests that produce a diagnosis. A medication is prescribed and you feel better in a few days. Weeks later your digestive issues return. Again, you call the gastroenterologist who suggests more invasive tests, or perhaps refers you to another specialist. You wonder if there are natural or holistic options because you’re hesitant about taking more prescription drugs.

What do you do? Will traditional medicine cure you? Is complementary medicine safe and reliable? Which websites provide credible information? Which doctor is trustworthy?

For me, there was nothing more important than seizing control of my health. It was a priority I couldn’t ignore. Being involved in the decision-making process can reap numerous benefits.

No one knows your body better than you, and no one has more at stake.

Here are a few steps you can take to become your own best health advocate:

Listen to your instincts – Your body is brilliant and gives you clear messages when something is wrong. Make an appointment to see a doctor if you feel something is awry.

Lists – Create a list of your health issues. Include how long you’ve been experiencing the problem, the severity of it, and list any questions you’d like to ask the doctor. Having a list to lean on is both necessary and important.

Research – Medical websites are great resources, but not all sites are reliable. Trustworthy sites should cite an article’s author and the medical credentials for the preparer or reviewer. (Examples of authoritative sites are American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, familydoctor.org, HealthyWomen.org, WomenHeart.org, National Institute on Aging, American Diabetes Association, American Stroke Association, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Institutes of Health, PubMed/National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Medlineplus, and healthfinder.gov.)

Use your voice – Speak up for yourself and insist doctors answer all of your questions. Make sure you give them thorough information and that they are listening. If you’re unhappy with your medical team find another one. Do not allow yourself to be rushed.

Understand how your health insurance plan works.

Review your medical bill for errors. Ask for an explanation if there’s an entry you don’t understand.

Get a second opinion when necessary. Ask for referrals from your doctor or people you trust.

Maintain your own health records. Learn from others who have experienced similar health issues. This can help you emotionally and provides you with the confidence to find what works for you.

Be persistent – If your doctor doesn’t return your call, call again. Insist on getting the answers you need.

Be organized – Never leave an office visit without a follow-up appointment or referrals and labs in hand. Use a written or computerized calendar to keep on top of your schedule. Take advantage of phone apps to keep you organized.

Get answers – If a doctor isn’t providing you with the answers you need find another one. Keep searching until you find what you need. Always keep your eye on the prize of wellness.

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