On April fool’s day 2016, one of my favourite webcomics posted it’s last update before what would, eventually, become an indefinite hiatus: Andrew Gregoire’s I Am Arg! At the time (like most webcomics which lapse into a cycle of non-updates), Gregoire didn’t give a whole lot of reasons why that happened – one day the webcomic stopped updating, and the next, it never did again.
Two and a half years later, Andrew has revealed some of the struggle he was having with the comic in its final days, and it’s a story that will sound familiar to far too many of us: the battle with anxiety and the crippling expectations we place on ourselves day-to-day.
In a Twitter thread on 3 September 2017 (which starts here), Gregoire goes into detail about the circumstances that led him to quit his comic; how the mental toll of the workload – that is, the workload his anxiety was setting for himself by forcing him to write up to twelve drafts for a given comic before finally ‘settling’ on something he was still unhappy with – was affecting his sleep, his work, and even his relationships with his wife, family and friends. In this, Gregoire is not alone – the incidence of anxiety-related stress disorders in America and across the globe have been on the rise for well over a decade, and is now believed to affect between 18 – 30% of Americans (and about 10% of Australians, too). Part of the reason the exact number is not known, is the suspicion that many people are either unable to recognise the symptoms, unwilling to face the reality that they are living with anxiety, or simply anxious about coming forward and facing treatment.
In his Twitter thread, Gregoire confesses to the latter. As someone who witnessed their father struggling through a medicated approach to treatment, Gregoire was faced with what is a very common fear of artists, musicians, and creative people battling mental illness: the fear that they will lose their creative spark, and in seeking treatment lose something of themselves in order to become healthy. Eventually, Gregoire found the courage to take that step, and reports that ever since:
“It kinda helped. I’m not perfect, but I’ve only had 2 panic attacks in the last 2 years and they’ve been super mild.”
For Gregoire, the difference between trying to ‘tough it out’ in silence and seeking help (through a combination of medical treatment and coping mechanisms) was the difference between hundreds of attacks and insomnia multiple nights every week, to those two (“super mild”) attacks across two years. The importance of that difference is not lost on Gregoire, who ends his thread by reaching out to others:
“there are ways to help fix your brain, and there are people who want to help.”
Even if you’re not familiar with I Am Arg!, the chances are you, or someone you know, will be subject to feelings of depression or anxiety at some stage of your life. Gregoire’s decision to share his battle on Twitter is an important reminder that the people who make these internet drawings we all hold so dear are, at the end of the day, people the same as us – subject to happiness and sadness, and struggle, and courage, and hope. Gregoire may feel like he posted the thread for “selfish reasons,” but if reading it helps one person who is otherwise feeling like they’re struggling alone, then that will be a gift beyond words.
Do you have experience with depression or anxiety, either personal or experienced through the creative works of other webcartoonists? We’d love to see any links to other examples you have in the comments section, or you can contact us directly on Twitter. And until next time, remember: don’t eat the clickbait!