043: Return of the PANIC
Wherein I get a little vulnerable and discuss the sudden return of my panic attacks and how I'm using art to keep me centered...
And just like that, the panic attacks returned.
Let me preface this week’s letter by letting you all know I’m okay! Please no need to worry about me, I share this moment of vulnerability with you because I think it’s helpful to see the ups and downs we all go through in life.
Right before the new year, I received a call letting me know my my older sister had passed away.
We were distant. I come from a very dysfunctional family, where these days, the only time I hear from anyone is with bad news. I didn’t even know she had been sick. These are all deep personal feelings I’m quietly dealing with and processing in my own way. And art is helping me with that, for sure. It’s all I really want to say about that part for now.
Early on Monday morning, I was up filming some drawings for the week, being productive before the day job. Upon checking my work messages I see a panicked co-worker alerting me to some bad news.
The bad news was, my day job decided to close the local factory where my job for the past 10 years is currently headquartered. We’re consolidating manufacturing to our facility in Vegas. My job, and my little team were not affected. We’re safe. We’re essential.
But the air of uneasiness is all around me.
65 other people suddenly are without jobs. Many of which I knew to some capacity over the years. A little work family. An abrupt shock to the system for us all.
But… in a flash, even on that same day, I was just back to work, back in meetings… business carries on. But during one of those video calls…. the rush feeling of a panic attack set in.
I can’t quite describe that uneasy feeling. But you know it when it’s coming on.
I hadn’t felt this in over a year. I thought, maybe they were gone for good.
And with the attack, came harsh reminders…
FLASHBACK! 24 years ago…
Late 1990s. I was in my early 20s, I got no respect for trying to pursue a career in art & design. I worked at screen printers, graphic design shops, and an advertising agency. They were never considered “real jobs” by the other grown-ups, especially my in-laws at the time. “Comics” were just seen as a pipe dream. It seems every man in Southwestern Pennsylvania is to get a factory job to be respected and securely provide for his family.
“GET A REAL JOB, SLACKER!”
One day I finally gave in and quit working at print shops and graphic design places and worked at the local SONY plant, building big screen TVs. I received instant respect. They thought, finally I had grown-up and “put my toys away.”
And honestly? I actually really loved that job. It was a piece of cake! My kids were tiny, we had great health benefits and I could work on my comics in the evening, and I had some projects going on.
One day, very randomly, I was pulled into an office and made to sign a “voluntary separation agreement” I remember the feel dumbstruck. So confused. I hadn’t done anything wrong! In fact, I was told I was an exemplary employee. It just was what it was.
I sat in the parking lot and cried like a baby.
Didn’t want to go home. How would I tell my wife?
I did what everyone had told me to do… and I still failed.
It was the lowest I had ever felt in my life to that point.
Maybe even to this very day.
Quickly I found out locally, that this was something they randomly did to save on insurance costs.
It was a numbers game somehow, and my number was up.
Instead of giving up, this lit a fire inside of me. 🔥
I declared to the universe:
“I will NEVER work for THE MAN again!”
This was 1999, so the internet was young. I had a blog and some webcomic thing happening. I started a feature on my blog called “CASH FOR CARTOONISTS” where I basically shared what I was learning about monetizing my own webcomic as I went. Google Ads, Chitika, Sponsorships. I even had many TOP webcomic guys come to me for consulting on how the crap I was monetizing my webcomics.
The HUSTLE WAS REAL
And I didn’t stop there. I knew other people needed webcomics drawn, so I offered my services on tons of webcomics and side projects. I knew how to turn a dime. Within two years my webcomic was making $4000 to $6000 a month, which was plenty for us to live.
But it was all essentially much of it was “under the table.” My finances were a mess on paper. I was young and pretty dumb to how to do it right. On paper we looked like we were poor AF. But I always had money and made ends meet. I hated taking handouts or help.
Funny side note. Chatty-Cathy rumors in our small town would often wonder if I was dealing drugs! Or maybe I was one of those hackers?! I never leave the house! How do I make money?! It surely can’t be from those PIPE DREAMS…
I STILL GOT ZERO RESPECT
For 13 years full-time I hustled myself into oblivion. It was fulfilling, but stress filled. All that time, no respect. Marriage problems. I was made to feel like a bad husband, father, because “my back was turned” while I was working on the comics…. which were paying for everything. It was never enough.
My big publishing deal had imploded and I was facing uncertainty again.
My marriage was falling apart.
SO I GAVE IN AGAIN…
When my current day job was offered to me, it sounded really fun. A perfect fit. But honestly, I took it thinking MAYBE this would save my failing marriage.
I got the good health benefits again. Some respect.
But within 7 months, my marriage was over. And I was rebuilding my life from scratch.
I’ve been at this day job for 10 years now.
I love that the work I do day-to-day helps so many creators. While I took the job to try to salvage my personal life… I ended up staying for the creators.
And the team I had built from nothing.
With DRAW or DIE, I love that I can show other creators that it’s okay to have a day job. You’re not a failure. I can do ALL KINDS of art projects with less pressure. Both paid gigs, and personal projects. I’ve found a way to strike that balance.
I don’t really feel in any danger of “losing my job.”
I’d love to stay and keep going on with my plans.
I’ve been assured I’m safe. I’m essential.
But I’d be lying if I told you I don’t feel uneasy right now.
I feel very uneasy, very vulnerable, and very sad for my friends.
This past week was just another reminder, that as beloved as I am…. in the end business is just a numbers game. And my number can be up at any minute.
THE PANIC BUTTON…
Luckily, I have all my coins, fidgets & trinkets, that help me re-center. But there were times this week where I just let it overcome me. Even today, at the barbershop, during big open conversations…. there it was again. That funny feeling. The sound drops out. The thoughts rush in. The feeling like I have to get out of there. I need a new plan.
I don’t like that. That’s not a feeling that’s sustainable for me.
My joy was kinda robbed away from me this week.
I didn’t draw from Monday to Wednesday night.
I had to force myself to show up and hit record.
But, just like I tell you over and over… art WAS good medicine.
Those little moments of calm. There in the zone…
Weekly Video Re-Cap
On Wednesday, after not drawing for two days… I did FACE drawing warm-ups on the weekly exercise.
On Thursday night’s podcast we talked about ARTIST EMERGENCIES! And how to make money fast in a pinch.
We always go live with the podcast at 8pm EST on Youtube. And I’ll be cranking out NIGHTLY drawing streams very soon!
The Weekly Drawing Challenge
“THE PANIC BUTTON.”
Draw your version of a panic button! What’s the first thing that pops in your mind? Draw it! Tag it #drawordieclub on social so we can find you!
To better days ahead for all of us!
Stay encouraged out there.
Your friend in art,