9 posts from October, 2017

“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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Ready as you can be? Disaster preparedness when you’re living with a health condition

Posted October 5th, 2017 by

The recent string of tragic natural disasters highlights the importance of planning ahead (as much as possible) for managing your medical needs in the wake of a crisis. So we’ve gathered some expert preparation tips and ideas for what to keep in an emergency supply kit.

All the victims of these disasters are in our thoughts. If you were affected, see a list of U.S. federal resources here, including the national Disaster Distress Helpline — open 24/7 for people experiencing emotional difficulties after any natural or man-made disaster.

Make a plan

“You are in the ideal position to plan for your own safety as you best know your abilities and needs during and after an emergency or disaster,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC advises that people with disabilities or special health considerations make plans with the help of family members and/or care partners.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) offers these general tips for getting ready for a disaster:

  • Get informed. Know what kinds of disasters can happen in your community, and familiarize yourself with local warning systems, evacuation routes and shelters. If you will need help in a disaster, contact local emergency officials about any assistance they can provide and whether any local shelters will be equipped to care for evacuees with special medical needs. Also, most shelters don’t allow pets, so plan accordingly.
  • Create an emergency stockpile kit. While different disasters can require different stockpile items, a few basics are needed for any emergency. These include a battery-operated radio, clean water and nonperishable foods, a first-aid kit, a manual can opener, extra batteries, important medications and documents, a flashlight, water-purifying agents, clothing, bedding, copies of important documents and pet food, if needed. Make your kit portable in case of evacuation or make a second stockpile kit that you can easily take with you.
  • Practice and communicate. Include all of your household members in creating an emergency plan and putting together a stockpile kit. Also, practice by doing drills. Designate an emergency meeting point and contact person in case an emergency happens when you are separated. Being involved in the preparedness process is critical for building confidence and can lessen stress and mental health effects.

Make sure you have a supply of your medications on hand by filling your prescriptions at the earliest possible date (and store them according to the instructions). If you have medications that require refrigeration, keep gel ice packs in your emergency supply kit in case of a power outage. Even if you don’t store extra medications right in your supply kit, keep a list of your medications in your kit so that you know what to grab in a hurry.

Consider the specifics

For pointers on preparing for your own specific medical needs and the types of disasters that could possibly affect your region, check out these additional resources:

  • The APHA’s collection of emergency preparation guides for specific types of disasters — from tornadoes and earthquakes to blizzards and wildfires — as well as manmade disasters and health pandemics
  • Alaska’s “Get Ready!” Toolkit and Oregon’s “Ready Now!” Toolkit — thorough disaster prep guides for people with disabilities, including how to pack a supply kit, make an evacuation plan, and prepare pets and service animals for emergencies (note: in the “Ready Now!” document, skip to page 9 for universal tips for people outside of Oregon)
  • Emergency 2.0 Wiki’s accessibility toolkit — a crowd-sourcing site that pools resources (like videos, social media tools and specialized smartphone apps) to make emergency information accessible to everyone, including people with hearing, vision and communication difficulties
  • Smart911 — a free service that the CDC recommends because it allows you to create a private safety profile that instantly transmits information you specify (such as your health conditions and medications) to the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s computer screen when you place an emergency call.

“Being prepared for the unexpected is one of the best ways to lessen the impact of a disaster, both physically and mentally,” the AHA says. “Plus, knowing you’re prepared will help you stay calm and clear-headed in the face of a disaster so you can make safe decisions for you and your loved ones.”

Do you have any additional tips? Join PatientsLikeMe today to share your ideas and talk about topics like this with others in the forum.

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