5 posts tagged “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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From “What happened to you?” to “You’re so inspirational”: 5 ways Anne navigates stigma as a wheelchair user

Posted July 31st, 2017 by

Member Anne Thomas (AnneBT), a civil rights attorney turned professional storyteller, has shared her stories with everyone from elementary schoolers and medical students to corporate leaders and World Bank officials. Anne sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident at age 18. Her wheelchair is often the first thing people notice about her, so she’s had to find quick and clever ways to navigate stigma. We asked her to share some common questions and comments she faces and how she handles them (hint: humor helps).

stigma as a wheelchair user

In Anne’s own words…

Stigma around disabilities and chronic illness abound in our culture. People often have no idea of the unconscious bias they communicate through their questions or reactions. As someone who has lived with a disability and chronic illness for over 40 years, I’ve seen it all. In the deep discomfort of the 1970s, people would ignore me and talk to the person I’m with (as if I’m not there) or ask me questions to satisfy their curiosity: “What’s wrong with you?”

I’ve also enjoyed the more sophisticated post–Americans with Disabilities Act culture, where people now understand the emphasis is on the person – not the health issue – and have stopped asking rude and intrusive questions of people they don’t know.

Throughout the years, I’ve kept my cool because I feel like I am an ambassador from the disabled and health community and I don’t want to fulfill any stereotypes of the bitter cripple. Instead, I’ve always used humor to amuse myself and help others see the absurd assumptions inherent in their questions.

Here are my top 5 stigma moments and some ways I’ve responded or reacted:

  1. Eyes wide with disbelief, people say to me, “You live alone? Have a job? Drive a car?”

My reply: “Why, yes. I’m a regular superhero!” I calmly dive into the nearest phone booth to do my activities of daily living.

  1. Staring at me – looking a bit dismayed – strangers ask, “What’s wrong with you? What happened? How long ago was it? Was it your fault?”

So I might dodge their obvious curiosity and declare my flaws: “Well, I tend to procrastinate and I peel my finger nails.” Or offer even more perspective, like: “Before I answer your questions, will you tell me about the worst thing that ever happened to you? What did that feel like? Was it your fault?”

  1. Eyes wide with shock, people exclaim, “You were married?”

When they learn that I divorced, they always want to know, “Were you disabled before you got married?” (Yes.) “Well then, he knew what he was getting himself into.” (Like I’m some kind of ‘situation’ that would justify divorce if I’d been able-bodied when we married.) I’m thinking, “So much for the vow of ‘in sickness and in health.’”

  1. The doctor raises his head, looking surprised at my technical answer to his question and asks, “Did you attend med school or grow up in a medical family?”

Me: “Nope.” (I have just learned to use medical vocabulary to ensure my doctor respects me, knows I’m intelligent and treats me like an equal partner in making decisions about my body.) I am passionate about having the best, fullest life I can – and that means my health has to be stable. I want to know everything I need to know to take exquisite care of my body.

  1. And the big granddaddy of social stigmas… “You’re amazing. So inspirational!”

My reaction: “Just for living my life?!” Living with health challenges is not the worst thing that can happen. People cope with all kinds of hardship every day. Some are about health, others are about loss or violence, poverty or abandonment.

Everybody has something – or many things – to overcome in life. People managing chronic illness, disease or disability are no different than the rest of the population. We’re just trying to get through life the best way we can, and a good sense of humor definitely helps!

What sort of stigma have you faced? Join the community to share any anecdotes or tips for managing stereotypes and unwanted comments.

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