Creator: Terian Koscik
Publisher: Singing Dragon
One of the most difficult symptoms of having an Anxiety disorder is guilt. Over-analysing anything will eventually render it meaningless, and the constant comparison sufferers tend to make with others — who might seem to cope “better” with the same stressors — can leave them feeling like their struggles aren’t real.
Feeling like a fraud is a common and cyclical problem. Anxiety breeds Anxiety and, if left unchecked, it soon makes life unbearable. The world shrinks to the size of a bed. The floor is lava. Nowhere is safe.
When Anxiety Attacks is a 32-page comic from American creator Terian Koscik that attempts to batter away this guilt through retrospection, reason and humour.
Re-telling her experience of therapy and the compulsive behaviours that led her there, Koscik shows how, for her, practicing mindfulness and having an objective person to talk to has been effective in reducing guilt and managing the disorder.
Anxiety is not a logical condition, but cause and effect can be identified beneath the fear. In a series of panels representing her first therapy session, Koscik explains that the key to her particular experience of Anxiety was her need to be “reasonable”.
Making full effect of the medium, she inserts an “objective guide to being reasonable”; a graph depicting the nature of her actions from “exemplary” to “reprehensible”. Mixing whimsy, such as “driving for 13 hours to see pandas”, with sad observations of what many of us think of as “bad” — like “being unhappy around happy people” — reveals an astonishing amount about the mind of an anxious person and the self-perpetuation of their symptoms.
The nature of these unseen afflictions is that they make the sufferer feel alone, so it’s an incredible achievement to unite people with mental health problems through the contents of one page. Koscik manages it through relatable examples that don’t exclude the presence of the ridiculous.
For, while horrendous in more ways than can be counted, anxiety is ridiculous. As ridiculous as anything else we can imagine. Viewing it with a sense of humour humanises the experience, bringing it back to the observable world where it can be fought.
The story isn’t peppered with the usual definition of “jokes”, but the force of Koscik’s playfulness fills every page, easing the anxiety that we absorb from her story.
In style, When Anxiety Attacks is presented as a cartoon, with a separation from reality by the lack of detail in each character’s eyes. Instead, the emotion of the theme is given weight by the creator’s use of colour. Mostly black and white, she has utilised erratic bubbles of red alongside neat blocks of blue to emphasise the mental states of Anxiety versus the thoughtful calm of mindfulness.
While this technique simplifies the condition, it also demonstrates the distance between the toothy horrors that can be consuming a person’s mind and what they are able to express verbally and with their body language.
When Anxiety Attacks is a powerful re-creation of one person’s continuous daily victories against the Anxiety dragon. The methods that Koscik has found helpful won’t apply to everyone but, even without detailing the multitude of other treatment options, the messages the book leaves us with are hopeful ones:
Therapy doesn’t need to be stigmatised.
Whatever helps, providing it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is a positive thing.
Any feeling is a valid feeling. They can’t be “wrong”. But the thoughts that lead us to dark places can be managed with practice.
This article was originally published on badcantina.com