For Shattering Stigmas, I’m always looking to promote diverse perspectives of mental illness and I love the ideas of getting to do mosts in alternative media than just text. That’s why I’m so happy to welcome Emma Jun, the creator of the webcomic Imagined Life, to the blog today to share a special edition of her webcomic and talk a bit about why she made this webcomic and how it helped with her mental health. You can find Imagined Life here and find Emma on Twitter. You can also support Emma on Gumroad and Patreon, or you can tip her on Ko-Fi.
CW: anxiety, depression
Hello. My name is Emma Jun and I write and draw the web comic Imagined Life and you might ask why. So here I am with sword and shield. I’ve always wanted to make my own web comic, but I thought I could never draw well enough, even though I used to draw comics when I was a small child. See the problem was, I didn’t keep drawing. For some reason I decided I had to pick one awesome thing and I chose writing. In the last few years, I would occasionally doodle and post those on my social media. I hated that they were the best that I could do, because it was basically a stylized stick woman. Amazingly, some people are blind or visually impaired in the head, because they seemed to like them. I guess that made me feel better about it (now, if someone would just talk me up about my small chest…) Eventually, after being fed up of not having enough money to hire an artist to make a webcomic with, I just decided to draw one anyway and post it like an angry drunk throwing away an empty wine bottle. If people didn’t like it they would just ignore it, right? So I designed Imagined Life with this aim in mind. I’ve only published a handful of issues but I guess people like empty wine bottles too. You can use them to make candles.
With my comic, I knew I wanted to comment on the writer’s life, which is often fraught with anxiety and frustrating paradoxes that even Doctor Who couldn’t solve, but I compound that with the mental troubles I have, such as awesome anxiety, incredible insomnia and a smorgasbord splattering of effects from a chemical imbalance! Sounds almost like a superhero origin story. With that in mind, or minds, I designed the characters: Emma is the exaggerated version of me and it was a character I have been drawing since I started writing under this pen name. All my doodles have featured her, as a way of showing me, because I don’t show me very much after an incident with a stalker that REALLY helped my social anxiety.
So that was easy.
The supporting cast needed more work. I knew I wanted one character to represent Anxiety, he became a mad squiggle, with a cute pair of eyes, which is how my brain feels on anxiety. The Goblin is perhaps my favorite. He’s a mix of the goblin on the chest, which is a metaphor often referred to for sleep paralysis and he also represents my insomnia, big glowing, evil eyes and a permanent menacing grin. In his scenes we are often talking. I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep while he is torturing me with the late night thoughts, worries and creative bursts that we often experience. I made him as a character that is just doing a job, personally he’s not interested in harming anyone. So naturally I wanted his appearance to contrast with this. The other big player, and the most surprising character to me in the creative process was Self Loathing, or ‘Selfie’ as he became known. Representing the self doubts and negativity we have for our work, process and inadequacies, I was originally going to draw him as a suave demon in a pin striped suit, and he would play like the abusive boyfriend I thankfully don’t have. However, as I was brainstorming designs, I drew him as animals and for some reason, he got stuck as a penguin. Evil penguins are fun I guess. That’s it for now but I have other characters I haven’t revealed and I also want to have another human character join Emma but I’m not sure of how to approach them yet. Either a sympathetic housemate or a close friend who just ‘doesn’t get it’. The latter probably has more comic value. I’ll keep thinking about it. There’s also some surprise characters later that tie more in to my own fiction writing too. So the comic follows Emma as she struggles to make a life around her encounters and conflicts with these.
I’m pleased to say that I am mostly through my own struggles with anxiety. I was hit badly with general anxiety, social anxiety and sudden death syndrome almost ten years ago, and pulled myself out mostly through self determination and trying everything in what felt like desperation but I’m assured was bravery and experimentation. At my worst, I was super-tense and jittery, exhausted, depressed, incapable of more than an hour or two’s sleep. I lost a lot of weight. I shut myself off socially, dropped most of my friends out of embarrassment and feared I would dropped dead at any second constantly for 6 or 7 years. So that was fun. That is to say that it’s not that I don’t get anxious anymore, but I don’t let it carry me along for the whole day. I let it pass when it comes. Let it do it’s thing and it will leave. Entertain it and you have another house guest to feed. IT took me all this time to work up the bravery for that.
The problems were mostly triggered by the loss of my father and moving back to Japan, a place that I hated and grew to hate even more (until now I guess). I was seemingly fine, until one night I had my first ever panic attack and, like many, I felt I was having a heart attack. I demanded I go to the hospital and I was checked out and fine…. but I couldn’t let it go and I couldn’t turn off the anxious feeling. I had to live with it for about a decade. I didn’t have to but it took me a long while to realize that and make the changes I needed to. It didn’t help that I realized I was bisexual and Japan, being more conservative than a wasp, wouldn’t like me being a triumvirate of evil (female, foreign raised and gay). With so many reasons to shut myself away, I didn’t get outside help, because I was too afraid of people’s reactions, how society would view me and being so out of touch that people would laugh at me or complain about me. I felt completely isolated. Most of my teen years was spent in my room with books and video games and movies, which at least made me cool, but I had no one to show off to. I did make one very close friend. He had also moved to Japan from a western country and we shared a mutual hatred that while wasn’t healthy it was fun in a fried potato and mayo kinda way, but it kept us together and he gave me the strength to step out, eventually.
I can talk about that all now, because I realize it’s a part of me. I don’t like going into detail, but I’m past the point where I want to change it because I’ve accepted that even if I could undo it, I could never go back to being who I was. The anxiety was always in me. I hadn’t been dealing with it at all and it finally exploded out of me with these traumatic events. I’ve grown by learning to manage it and accepting it. So I try to help other people because I know many don’t have the innate hope I had that one day things will get better. Because they will. Nothing lasts forever. It can’t rain all the time. Roses are Red, you are blue… etc etc. By now those words feel empty to you as a sufferer, don’t they? They are true though, because if I could give one piece of advice it is this: look back at how much you have changed and celebrate every improvement. You have improved, I promise you. Bringing that positivity in your life will keep you going and train you to be more positive in the future – and that’s what we all need.
I hope that my comic helps in some small way to inform people of what it’s like living with mental illness and helps some people recover. I hope it amuses. I hope it does anything for you at all. Just don’t tell me the dirty things.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Emma!
Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!