Month in Review – January 2017

January 2017 is almost over. This is where a lot of new year’s resolutions fall apart. Rather than set a bunch of unrealistic arbitrary goals I want to use the calendar to track my progress at improving myself. Weekends are good for looking over the previous week and planning the one ahead. Each month a stretch on the marathon that is the year. I should start doing a proper monthly wrap up post in the future but for now I’ll keep this more informal.

This month was the soft relaunch of the blog. I spent a lot of time behind the scenes restructuring the site and I still have work to do. I built a local mockup thinking I’d start from scratch and eventually decided time would be better spent fixing what was broken. I declared my intent to blog twice a week and to restart my podcast. While doing this my microphone stopped being recognized and my sleep schedule went off the rails. I’m not making any excuses. I’m merely sharing how I lost control of my time and days in an attempt to stop myself from doing it in the future.

I forget which stand up comic this bit comes from, but when tired his body becomes inhabited by a personality known as Sleepy Dave. He’s not a bad guy but he’s also not a very good employee. When the alarm goes off in the morning, the responsible person gets up. Sleepy Dave goes, “Why get up when you can stay in bed and ski down a mountain of syrup with French toast sticks for skiis?!” I have my own Sleepy Dave. I plan things like a logical grown up. Then when it comes time to actually implement them a scared and sleepy child comes out who really needs an adult. These are both parts of my personality that I express differently at different times. I can tell myself I need to go to bed early if I want to get up at six the next morning. Actually communicating to the people I’m talking to that it’s my bedtime is an entirely different situation. I’ve had whole evenings swallowed up where I haven’t had time to think for myself until I’m in bed ready to fall asleep. The advice of, “Just tell them you’re going to bed,” is about as helpful as, “All you have to do to lose weight is exercise and don’t eat so much.” If it was really that easy we wouldn’t have entire industries devoted to it.

I’m naturally an introverted and non-confrontational person. Once I’ve talked to you for about an hour, I’m maxed out and need to recharge. There’s a range of responses to this depending on how well the person I’m with empathizes with me or picks up on hints. Some shrug it off like I’m joking. A few get bossy or guilt me for not doing what they want. Others try to distract and always seem to have one more thing they want to ask me about. Sometimes I’ll be talking with somebody I really like who I enjoy spending time with, conflicting what I want at the moment with what I should be doing. This creates a cycle where I’m not rested or thinking clearly so I can’t correct myself. When it’s already the season for early dark and you’re waking up after the sun has gone down all you can really do is try to right your ship the next morning.

Some people may think I sound like a coward for not sticking up for myself. It’s very easy to look at moments out of somebody else’s life out of context and blame them for their problems. It’s much harder to actually listen and provide useful advice. The fact is I have stood up for myself on many occasions. But when others don’t listen to you, gaslight your words to make you second guess yourself, and when it happens regularly enough when you’re exhausted you get worn down. I’ve called my dad, agreed to meet him the next day at noon or one for lunch, and he’s shown up at more door at nine in the morning ready to go out. My mom still doesn’t understand that sometimes I’m open to talking and other times I need to have quiet. I’ve taken to wearing my headphones while out, even though I know it can seem rude, because I need to be able to step back before I have a panic attack. This is the reality of my situation right now. I love my family and friends but they don’t always listen to me or pick up on my social cues. To combat this I’m scheduling my devices to be in Do No Disturb mode during work hours. This may make it harder for some folks to contact me but I need to regain control of my own schedule.

Ultimately I need to have time to myself to think. This last month I kept finding myself on the night before something (if I was lucky) trying to even sort out what I wanted to do. That is not how I want to work. I can’t be pulling all nighters every night for everything. I’ve tried setting hard and fast rules only to frustrate myself when I can’t meet them. The key is going to be getting myself enough rest, quiet time, and keeping myself out of situations where others can have power over my decisions. I see confrontations in my future as people wonder where I’ve been, but not answering my phone when I’m unavailable is less awkward than being put on the spot when I do answer.

Plans for February include more regular blogging, new podcasts now that I’ve replaced my mic, and I’m going to try posting animation on Twitter. I’d like to experiment in the 30 second to two minute range and Twitter sounds like the best place to roll that out without fiddling with square aspect ratios, portrait mode, or any silly restraints other sites with video (remember Vine?) impose. I have fan projects I want to work on as well but I can’t share the content from those until they’re done so Twitter video experiments are a nice regular thing to work on and share. I’d really like the month to be more about structure and routine. I didn’t spend much of January drawing at all. Every time I opened an art program I felt out of practice. My therapist and I worked out some affirmations I’m going to be repeating to myself regularly about permitting myself to work, feeling capable in what I can do, and not letting the negative things that have creeped into my head push me around anymore.

How I Deal with Anxiety/ADHD

Ben's Medications

I’m not a doctor. If you believe you have anxiety or some other condition please consult a professional. I am, however, somebody who deals with anxiety and ADHD on a day to day basis. This post goes into how I deal with it personally and I encourage anybody reading who deals with similar issues to share their experiences and suggestions in the comments below. Keep in mind we’re all different and there’s no one size fits all cure.

I’ve said elsewhere I don’t want this to turn into Ben’s Anxiety Blog but as anxiety’s a part of my life it’s something worth talking about here. There are different types of anxiety, it manifests itself in different ways for different people, and there are various methods of treating it. Anxiety itself isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s one of the ways the body responds to certain situations. Sometimes a fight or flight response is called for. If you’re trapped with a wild animal it’s perfectly acceptable. Other times, when you’re sitting at a desk breaking into a cold sweat, not so much. If you regularly have stressful reactions to seemingly minor things, or even to seemingly nothing at all, then you may have an anxiety disorder. For me, anxiety was like the constant buzzing of a fluorescent light. Always kind of there, sometimes in the background, sometimes loud and up front. When I described it to my doctor he decided to put me on Celexa.

Medication

Some people and groups don’t believe in treating psychological problems with medicine. I will say right now, for the record and for anybody considering commenting as such, kindly fuck off. There’s enough misconceptions and stigma dealing with mental health. If I could simply “snap out of it” or “stop feeling bad” I would have done that long ago. There is no shame in wanting to feel better.

I take Celexa once a day and Buspirone twice a day. Celexa is the one that helped me to even be able to talk about my issues at all. Before then I was terrified of seeming abnormal. I still get terrified, sometimes, but now it’s more situational and something I can deal with. I started Buspirone after telling my doctor I still carried a lot of physical tension around even with the other prescription. It’s easily the worst-tasting med I’ve ever been on but it does help. Once we determined I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder I was prescribed Adderall. It helps me keep my concentration though we had to increase my dosage. For a few frustrating weeks I felt like I was of two minds, able to observe my actions but unable to act. It’s also a controlled substance which makes getting refills frustrating and traveling more complicated than it needs to be.

Therapy

I asked my doctor to recommend me to a therapist because I knew I had some issues to work on. After some issues with my insurance I started seeing one once a week until she retired at the end of November. She helped me identify I had ADHD and sensory issues. Once we figured that out it became a matter of accepting and coming to terms with it. People with ADHD are more prone to develop problems with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. and though I’m pretty sure I inherited mine, being undiagnosed ADHD growing up probably added to my frustration. Therapy for me has two benefits. Having a safe space to get things off your chest is important, especially if you don’t have one otherwise, and it gives you reassurance you’re thinking logically. It also helps you plan. I booked a trip to Canada after my therapist suggested going to an event with like-minded people to get away for a bit. She was genuinely impressed I was motivated enough in my own treatment to do that. I believe in being proactive and, even though doing new things can be scary at times, conquering that fear is part of the reward.

Family and Friends

If you have a good support system set up you’re going to have an easier time. Likewise, if your friends and family aren’t on board, things get more difficult. I love my family but they’re a lot like me in some ways and very different in others. My mom doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with me. She’s convinced it’s just part of my personality. My dad doesn’t really grasp what I’m in therapy for, either. They grew up at a time when you didn’t talk about mental issues. If you had them you were simply nuts. With that mode of thinking admitting there’s anything the matter with me means accepting there’s potentially anything the matter with themselves and they’re not ready for that.

My friends have been very compassionate. I only wish I were closer with more of them. When the only way you keep in touch with most people anymore is through Facebook you miss deeper connections. I fully accept my own blame in this regard. I haven’t been the best person to get close to and it’s something I’m trying to get better at. I care about people but I also get terrified I’ll do the wrong thing and be rejected. I’m also introverted and burn a lot of energy when I’m with others. I’m working on getting better at saying no without feeling horrible.

Journaling

I’ve journaled off and on since I’ve been able to write. As I’ve gotten medicated I’ve been able to think more clearly address my thoughts/emotions. I try to write every day now as a way to get things off of my mind and to do something constructive with them. Some days it’s just a string of obscenities about whatever’s making me angry. Other times I can have a revelation by actually taking the time to write my feelings out. It’s easy to get busy and spend all your mental energy just being reactionary. It’s a good pressure valve to look inside and sort your own thoughts out. My current favorite method is to type in a TaskPaper document on my computer. I used TaskMator on iOS for awhile but the ability to fold entries up once I was done with them was too important to me. I recently got Editorial and it’s very elegant.

List Making

I mentioned TaskPaper specifically because I sync to my mobile devices through Dropbox to keep things organized. This means I can be waiting in line, pull out my phone, and type something up to get back to elsewhere later. The TaskPaper format makes it very easy to search, tag, and organize. Lists are important to me because they gave me a way to structure the things I dump in my journal entries into actionable plans. They’re also good because we all tend to carry too much in our heads. When something comes to mind, write it down so you can pull it out later. A lot of anxiety can be resolved by planning and feeling secure there’s a plan in place. Lists can always be changed around and re-written, too, so they’re low pressure.

Taking Action

Plans and lists are great tools but they’re only tools. Some people can spend their days debating what hammer they should buy and never actually get to that home improvement project. Settle on the tools that works best for you then take action. In my case that means actually writing the blog post I plan on writing, on opening that art program and designing those characters I’ve been meaning to develop. It’s easy to get swallowed up in just one type of task. I’ve spent weeks tinkering with PHP and MySQL, fiddling with WordPress plugins and CSS, only to realize I haven’t drawn anything in ages. Once you lay out your plan you need to stick with it. Some days I might not feel like writing. Others I can fill pages before lunch. The trick is giving yourself enough room to feel comfortable. One thing I learned doing webcomics is it’s very easy to fall into a strip a day mentality with projects. If you only focus on doing a thing a day you can fall behind easily. Eventually you’re waiting until you’re right against a deadline. I really recommend laying projects out further. I’d pencil a week’s worth of comics at once, for example. It was much more fulfilling getting ahead and getting more done though it did require more lead time up front.

It’s important to have clear goals when sitting down to work. When I’m planning I pull out the calendar and know the constraints I have to work with. How many weeks do I have to work on this? I try to set my own deadlines ahead of when they outside factors influence them. In college when I had to finish something over the weekend I’d stay up all night Friday or Saturday so I could recover on Sunday. Once I know what I need to do I can delegate the different parts as needed. If I’m going to be drawing all day I put myself into drawing mode. Gestural layouts are a different mindset from refined lines and inking, for example. It’s also good to divvy things up so you don’t over extend yourself. If I have to spend multiple days on the same stage of a project I get worn down quicker. If I’m doing an animation I might do the basic planning on the whole thing but the longer it is the more I’m going to subdivide. I’ll work on one segment in rough keys, then refine it, then move on to the next instead of trying to completely rough animate an entire sequence out. I need to feel like you finished something each day, be it that week’s pencils or the rough animation on a segment. Otherwise I can have trouble switching modes and getting back to writing when all I’ve done is draw and vice versa.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Distraction and Ritual

I stated earlier I have sensory issues. I’m still sorting out what that means and the proper ways of dealing with them. I know I’m light sensitive and get migraines regularly. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed I’ll turn the lights out in my studio and lay on the floor until I calm down. I also have trouble with background noise, voices in particular. If a television is on in the same room as somebody I’m trying to have a conversation with I can’t tune it out. My mom tends to leave the set on because she likes the noise. To me it’s like constantly hearing somebody call out my name. It’s really distracting and it cuts through to my ears. I’ve started wearing noise-canceling headphones to block sounds like that and to channel my focus on things I actually want to listen to like some of my favorite playlists.

This ducktails nicely into the idea of creating ritual and routine. I have playlists of music I work to because they have an energizing effect on me. They also reinforce the idea that now it’s time to concentrate on work, helping me transition from whatever mode I was in before into one for working. Likewise I also have relaxation playlists for winding down at the end of the day and accepting work time is over. I can get fussy and repetitive with my music, listening to the same artists over and cover as I find it comforting. I listen to a lot of instrumental tracks so the words don’t distract me, unless it’s an album I’ve listened to so much I’m used to it. I try to do as much mental heavy lifting early in the day as I can so my decisions are sharp. Laying out images takes up more headspace than the straight forward tasks of refining and inking or coloring them. It’s easy to get bored with ADHD I need to give myself enough wiggle room to play and enjoy what I’m working on. I don’t want to be my own version of the coworker who did all the creative work on a project and hands it off for the grunt work.

Anxiety tends to be triggered by regular factors. These can vary from person to person so it’s good to know what things set you off so you can avoid them. For me it’s situations where I might not know enough about what’s going on and fear looking stupid. This ramps up when I see others don’t have confidence in me. I hate being rushed or held late, especially when I’m tired and having trouble focusing. This happens to me more than it should as I have trouble excusing myself because I’m afraid it’ll be awkward.

Ben's cat Hope

Being Well Rested

Sleep has a lot to do with how we feel. I know it’s hard to get enough rest, especially when we’re busy, but I really do notice when I’m stressed out that I haven’t been sleeping regularly. We’ve all tried that sleep math of a nap here, a few hours there, hoping it adds up. It’s not just the amount of sleep but the quality of sleep we get. If you sleep through the night you’ll feel better than you would if you woke up every hour. When I haven’t had enough sleep I’ll be irritable. I’ll try to work and nothing will feel right. Even if it’s something I really want to work on I’ll be struggling. Sometimes this leads to getting frustrated with myself and it’ll spiral from there. It’s something I’ve become aware of and need to take steps to prevent from happening.

Now and then I need to remind myself to step back. I have to give myself permission to relax and take some time away from what’s bothering me. Occasionally that means calling it a night and coming in fresh the next morning. Once in a while it means scaling back my expectations so I don’t push myself too hard. Plenty of times it means snuggling with my cat and being ok with what I’ve gotten done for the day.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this topic in the future as I get better at recognizing what sets off my anxiety and compensating for it. I’ve learned to not fight with the anxiety so much as accept I’m going to feel it, that it’s ok to get upset sometimes, and remember it’s not going to last forever. Everyone feels anxiety at some points in their lives. It’s a matter of not letting it control us or stop us from doing what we want with our lives. I’d like to thank you for taking the time for reading this far. If you have any advice or comments you’d like to share I’d love to hear them. How do you handle your anxiety issues?

2017: New Beginnings

Hi 🙂 If you’ve been following me for any length of time, I want to thank you for your patience. If you’re new, Welcome! I’m Ben. I’m a cartoonist and this is my blog. It’s been awhile since I’ve properly blogged here and I’d like to take a moment to apologize for the way I’ve handled things thus far.

Where Have You Been?

The short answer to this is dealing with mental disorder. I’ve never really felt comfortable blogging on my own sites as it tends to feel rather news post-y. This sets up an expectation in my head that whatever I write about needs to be newsworthy. It sounds silly and irrational explaining it but that’s anxiety for you. I’ve dealt with anxiety and other issues most of my life, certainly from the time I started my first site. It took me a long time to be ok with the idea of seeking outside help for my problems. I’ve shared some of my journey on my tumblr blog as it felt more casual. Eventually I realized this is something I should be addressing in my own official blog. Not that I haven’t been authentic when I post things but rather there’s parts of myself I never shared due to fear, humiliation, or some other rationalization that my own site wasn’t the place for sharing my experiences.

I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I didn’t fit the stereotype growing up as I was a fairly well behaved kid and a good student. Some of that I attribute to family pressure to act “normal” in public and some to how poorly ADHD was diagnosed at the time. I have sensory issues I’m still sorting out. I know I’m light-sensitive and background noise distracts me, especially voices since I can’t tune those out. I probably have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, though I haven’t officially been diagnosed with it yet, as I’ve compared my anxiety to the constant buzzing of fluorescent lights. I’ve been in therapy about a year now learning what all this means for me and coming to terms with it. I’m still on this journey. It’s sometimes scary and confusing. Actually getting medicated and seeking help, however, has been nothing short of life changing for me. Before I would be positively terrified of anybody even suspecting there was something wrong with me, much less the idea of sharing and discussing it with people. Mental health has a stigma surrounding it and as soon as I realized my worries were due to a chemical imbalance I decided I wasn’t going to let them control me ever again. I will never feel shame for getting treatment. I hope my efforts to normalize and open a dialogue about mental health help other people realize they have the right to feel ok with themselves. Every person, no matter who you are or where you are on your journey through life, deserves to feel accepted and loved. I want you to know I appreciate you and I’m very glad you’re here with us.

What Happened to the Podcast?

You may have noticed Season 5 of the NoRights Podcast ended abruptly and transitioned into TNT (Talk, News, and Trivia) with Ian and Frank. I apologize if it seemed jarring. Let me be clear I’m still really good friends with everybody involved. This wasn’t some sort of falling out or anything like that. The fact of the matter is it didn’t feel like the NoRights Podcast to me anymore. It became something I liked attending and participating in but no longer wanted to host. I handed the reigns of that show over because I want the NoRights Podcast, like this blog, to have a more personal direction. I like hanging out with my friends but my own voice was getting lost in the mix.

What’s the Plan Moving Forward?

I’ve taken down the static front page and have pushed the blog to be the main focus. For a time I considered starting a multimedia magazine. It’s a good idea but completing full regular issues alongside growing a readership is too ambitious. Instead I intend to post at least two substantial blog posts a week from here on out, hopefully more. I’d like to document my projects as I work on them, share my thoughts and opinions with you, and try to be more engaging than I have been in the past. It’s not going to be perfect because I’m not perfect. But I will be honest and I will respect you. Once I have enough significant content on a subject or project I’ll put together an ebook for it. I’ll be working this into a Patreon campaign so people who like my work will have a chance to support it while getting some nice extras for themselves. More on that to come.

I’d planned to record and roll out the first episode of Season 6 of the podcast on Tuesday but that didn’t happen obviously. I’d spent two weeks vacationing with my mom in California and returning to a productive schedule has been rough. Refilling my prescriptions became an ordeal with travel, my sleep cycle was all screwed up after staying awake 27 hours and then sleeping through New Year’s Eve, and I got slowed down with some depression. I’m not making excuses, just being realistic as some day’s goals are going to be harder to reach than others. That said, I will do my best to be open with you all and keep you updated from here on out. My twitter is the easiest way to reach me if you’re wondering what’s up or have a question about anything.

I’d like to thank you once again for joining me and I hope you enjoy watching me work. I have projects lined up running the gamut from making music to drawing pin up girls, monsters, and animating shorts. It’s my wish that neither of us grow bored and there’ll always be something interesting ahead of us. May my successes and failures inspire you, friend!