33 posts tagged “mental health”

“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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5 tips for practicing self-care when your chronic illness is trying to take over

Posted August 14th, 2017 by

As a woman with bipolar disorder I and PTSD, I can pretty safely say that no two days are the same. There are days when the world is sunshine and roses; life is grand! Then there are days when the inside of my brain is trying to run the show without me, and it’s leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. There are floundering relationships, self-harm incidents, and half-hatched big plans laying strewn about, and I stand in the middle of it all, trying very hard not to let the illness win.

When I can really stand back and take stock of things, I find that self-care is paramount to my feeling better, or simply not getting worse. The following are some of my “go-to” self-care strategies.

1. Coloring. I know, I know. You’re already rolling your eyes at the screen, wondering what the heck I’m even talking about. But coloring has turned out to be a Zen activity in my life. My manias are not euphoric, but angry and aggressive, and I have found the act of coloring to bring me down in the moment.

It’s also extremely helpful with my anxiety and PTSD symptoms. We’re lucky that the adult coloring movement is upon us, so you can go anywhere and find books and pencils and markers for very little money.

2. Singing. This strategy is actually backed by science. More and more studies show that the act of singing (in the shower, in the car, on a stage) helps to bring a person calm and joy. Non-judgment is the key: find an album or song list you like (vinyl or online), throw it on, and start singing. It can be of any genre of music, any artist, any arrangement. All that matters is that you sing with abandon!

3. Massage. This is a once-in-awhile self-care treat for me. If I had the money, I’d get a massage every week. But I don’t, so I try to do this for myself once every few months. Massage has been used as a relaxation and health treatment for thousands of years, and there are myriad reasons why — but the bottom line is, it makes you feel good! I know many people with chronic illness of all kinds who make sure they put time aside for massage on a regular basis.

4. Journaling… outside. Anyone who’s been treated for a chronic illness for a while probably wants to scream every time someone says “Have you tried journaling?” No, I’ve never heard of this. What is it? Ugh.

All sarcasm aside, though, journaling in the outdoors when I can, or if I’m really not feeling well, has been incredibly helpful for me. The outdoors make you feel like you’re a part of something more, if you want to, or that you’re the only person in the world, if you want to. It’s really all about how you want to take the best care of yourself at that time.

Also, just like in coloring, the actual physical act of writing can help to bring calm and focus. Write a journal entry, write a thank you note to a friend, or write your grocery list for next week. Content matters less than the fact that you’re writing for yourself in the great outdoors. Put a lawn chair out in the backyard, find a nice park with lovely-smelling flowers, or float in your pool with a trusty notebook and pen! (If you’re from the Boston area like me, I’d suggest this activity be taken indoors December-March, unless you really like snow.)

5. An ingestible treat. Self-care is really about utilizing the five senses in an attempt to make you feel better, or at least to bring you to a more manageable spot until you can talk with a doctor or therapist. I have a short list of things that smell and taste good that I make myself (or ask for). Really good coffee or a chai latte are at the top of the list. Being able to hold a warm cup, smell something wonderful, and then take time to taste that wonderful thing involves three senses in a matter of seconds.

These are just a few tools that anyone can use to help make things a little better in the moment, or to be consistently good to oneself. Sometimes one tool on its own is enough, sometimes a few need to be combined. I have a little list on my refrigerator so that when things get bad, I have it in front of me and can start caring for myself.

What’s on your list? How might you practice self-care today?

On PatientsLikeMe

Thousands of members are sharing what helps them manage their mental health and other conditions – from coloring and journaling and to massage and outdoor time. Join today to learn more about self-care and treatments!

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