Learning To 'Float': How Making This Comic Saved My Life

Howie Noel writes:

When I began work on my upcoming graphic memoir, Float, I had one goal in mind: tell my history with anxiety as honestly as possible. What I didn't expect was the personal discoveries I would make along the way.

As I drew each page, I learned more about the causes and effects of mental illness on my life, and the prices I've paid because of it. I hadn't truly realized just how much it was a part of almost every life experience I've ever had, and how many poor decisions it's driven. I call the fallout of those bad choices "the wreckage." It's the debris left in my path as anxiety led me.

I decided that anxiety would be the true star of Float. I'd illustrate anxiety as a seductive and charismatic rock star. I always fall for him. His ideas, though far-fetched and ridiculous, sound so good to me at the time. It's an abusive and dangerous relationship because anxiety really wants me to be alone. It wants me ruined. It wants me dead.

Learning To 'Float': How Making This Comic Saved My Life
A Refuge in Artistry

Creating art is a safe space I can always hide in. As a professional artist, this helps me make it through life. If I'm working, I'm creating — not focusing on pain, fear and regret.

As work on Float progressed, I recognized the origins of my anxiety and just how young I was when it began its grip on my life. The earliest memory was first grade, when I was tested for the gifted class. I was unable to complete the test because I hyperventilated. The teacher told my parents I wasn't ready to join the program. I assumed it meant I was weak and had failed. The reality; this was my first anxiety attack. Anxiety didn't care how young and fragile I was. It started tearing me down early.

Drawing each page encouraged me to keep going. Each panel taught me more about anxiety's tricks and why I fell for them. Instead of letting the negativity stew in my head, I released it onto the page. Creating this graphic memoir became a form of art therapy.

Learning To 'Float': How Making This Comic Saved My Life
Close to the Edge

Leading into and throughout the successful Kickstarter for Float, I gave it my all. Opening up to my audience, I revealed my discoveries and shared everything I could to broaden understanding and spark conversations about mental health. It's impossible for anyone going through similar situations to fight back if those close to them don't offer needed support. The world at large doesn't understand these disorders. Many sadly believe that people who suffer from them 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.

By the end of the Kickstarter campaign, I had to take a month off. I was overwhelmed and felt emotionally drained. I got a referral from my doctor for a new therapist and decided to begin the fight anew. Although I know I'll give into anxiety again, I will never give up.

Learning To 'Float': How Making This Comic Saved My Life
A Story of Understanding

Float details my battle in a visually unique way. Readers will experience what I go through when an attack strikes. How the wave of panic and fear spreads as anxiety lies to me and drags me down into an ocean of terrifying realities. But my readers will also see the importance of perseverance and hope.

The one thing this book will do is show others suffering from anxiety they're not alone. There are millions of us out here, fighting the same war. We have to stick together. We have to talk about it and share lessons. We need to acknowledge that anxiety doesn't have to drown us. We can float.

Learning To 'Float': How Making This Comic Saved My Life

If you'd like to join the conversation, we set up an interactive home for Float at www.yourglassceiling.com.

Also, as a special thank you to Bleeding Cool readers, if you pre-order Float today at http://yourglassceiling.com/store/ you will receive a free sticker pack with your order. 

Books are set to arrive after they debut at New York Comic Con in October, where I will be in Artist Alley. Drop by and share your story. 

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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