Anxiety is a wild ride. There’s a slew of complex emotions and experiences that accompany mental illness; nerves, fear, tentative happiness, the never-ending quest to convince yourself that you deserve to be content, the arduousness of forming human connections, and so on. In ‘Bird Brain’, I’ve illustrated comics showing what it’s like living with the unfaltering rollercoaster that is mental illness...using pigeons. In particular, anxiety is explored through three themes - negativity, relationships, and positivity.
There seems to be a general assumption in society that anxiety and depression just involve sitting in bed crying. There is an element of truth to that, of course, but it’s much more nuanced. Sometimes, I’m walking around and crying! In the six or seven years since my anxiety started manifesting, I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences. Panic attacks in supermarkets, debilitating existential dread, constant scrutiny of every word that leaves my mouth, you name it. The first section of Bird Brain showcases all the forms that self-hatred can display itself in, and hopefully drive home that what may seem minuscule to most can have catastrophic implications for someone with anxiety.
As you might guess, the above aspects of mental illness make it exceedingly difficult to establish meaningful and strong relationships with others, both romantic and platonic. The second section, ‘Relationships’, is composed of comics inspired by real conversations and anecdotes in my attempts to explain mental illness to those around me, and how anxiety has affected the connections I share with those I love.
Although I feel that my mental health has improved drastically over the years (partly due to medication, a subject that is broached in several comics) there’s still a long way to go. However, I believe that anxiety doesn’t have to doom you to misery for the rest of your existence - there are infinitely more good times than bad, no matter how far-off the former may seem sometimes. The final section, ‘Positivity’, concludes the book with comics that look on the bright side, expressing my core belief that life is still worth living despite what you may go through.
Overall, in Bird Brain I’ve attempted to display the complexities of living with anxiety, in ways that hopefully make you think about the intricacies of mental illness whilst also having a bit of a laugh. If it also helps you have a bit more sympathy and love for pigeons, as well, then my life’s work is complete.
These last two comics were based off the same awkward party experience and made within 12 hours of each other; the former, shortly upon returning home in a drunken stupor with the flippancy that only vodka can bring, and the latter the morning after, once shame and the hangover had kicked in.
I’m at a point now where I can deal with parties without wanting to disappear into a crack in the wall and become part of the insulation, but at my worst, large social gatherings just made me feel the emotional equivalent of being set on fire. It’s either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid that I kept going to them. An average schedule of my party-going experience:
9:00 PM: Arrive.
9:15 PM: Complete greeting and catching up with the handful of people you know.
9:17 PM: Stand gawkily clutching a cup of fruity alcohol, staring at it like it’s the most interesting thing in the world.
9:18 PM: Resolve to discover a conversation you can easily enter.
9:20 PM: Down your cup and refill.
9:23 PM: Introduce yourself to someone.
9:24 PM: Quickly realise you have no idea how to participate in a conversation. You moron. What did you expect? That you’d just be able to act like a ‘normal person’? Who the hell are you kidding?
9:25 PM: Flush with shame as the other person breaks from your awkward eye contact and moves onto better prospects.
9:26 PM: Sear their look of disgust into your brain forever.
9:27 PM: Feel as if everyone’s eyes are stabbing into you as punishment for this murder of an interaction.
9:28 PM: Everyone is talking to somebody else, and is having much more fun than they ever would with you, which they are screaming at you through osmosis.
9:29 PM: Realise that there are a lot of people here, and they are all without fail doing this.
9:30 PM: Feel sweaty and short of breath.
9:31 PM: Convince yourself that locking yourself in the bathroom and crying for a few minutes will expel all this negativity from you and leave you pristine. You are a dirty sponge that just needs to be wrung out.
9:32 PM: Queue for the bathroom.
9:40 PM: The queue for the bathroom has not shortened because the people in there are snorting coke off of the sink. You’ve never done coke. Does coke calm you down? Is becoming a coke addict a viable form of self-care? No, you idiot. Run back to the kitchen for any booze you can find.
9:41 PM: Concoct a cocktail that is 90% alcohol and 10% mixer. Immediately chug.
9:42 PM: Despair when this weirdly makes you feel worse instead of miraculously fixing all of your problems.
9:45 PM: Put your coat on and leave, silently heaving from crying so hard the entire way home. Nobody notices or cares.
If I’m feeling particularly efficient, these events can be condensed into thirty minutes! Plus, now I’ve just saved £80 on not going out! Who says being mentally ill makes you useless?
These people are helping to fund Bird Brain.