I looked at a wide variety of resources to start the project. I was particularly struck by Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City for how she incorporated scientific research on loneliness with her own experiences and art critique. I aimed to have a similar approach to my work on anxiety where I would include reflections on art and research I consumed. I illustrated diary entries and moments from my own life, such as conversations with my therapist, to provide the reader a more personal lens through which to view the information.
In addition to scientific research, I wanted to showcase other people’s perspectives on anxiety and so issued a series of questions on my Instagram story that I later compiled and transcribed. I highlighted the most visually evocative statements and envisioned the book being divided into three broad categories: research, other people’s perspectives, and then my own experiences with anxiety, with a set number of pages devoted to each category.
I asked the following on my Instagram story:
1. What do you understand by the word ‘anxiety’? How does it manifest for you?
2. What do you do to combat it? Are you listening to music, watching something, hanging out with friends to distract yourself?
3. Would you want to live without it?
The first two questions yielded a variety of results, showing that each person understood their anxiety to mean something personal to them (though shortness of breath and tears were two recurring answers). For the final question, responses included people saying outright that they wished to no longer be anxious while others feared that without it they would become less empathetic and attentive to others in their lives.
By the end of the fall semester I had largely given up on incorporating other people’s perspectives on anxiety, as well as scientific research. Though I had made some reiterations of those pages (seen above), I had no idea how to stitch them all together or do them justice within the time constraint of one academic year.
I decided to focus only on my own experiences and illustrate those but even that proved vast at the time. I found it difficult to focus on any one aspect of my anxiety and to present it in a way that would make cohesive sense to anyone who wasn’t me.
During the winter break I experimented with patterns and sequential art. The project began taking shape, it could be a collection of abstract pieces that could each say something different about how I experienced anxiety. These pieces would be accompanied by text further explaining what was happening and to inject humour into the book when things became too tense. In one illustrated crowd scene, accompanying text would ask the reader to pick out whoever was anxious in that crowd. The next page would reveal the answer: they all were.
I indulged in free writing and used my brushes to letter some more dramatic pieces. I also experimented with found photographs. I scanned them and drew over the printouts, wondering if I could use family photographs to question anxiety as an inherited trait.