Ahhhhh…it feels good to post a comic strip again. You just never get tired of that fresh comic strip smell. Clearly Ted’s brother is not making a new friend. Will they be freinemies, or will we enter comic strip thunderdome? Only time will tell. This strip is an example of one that changed considerably from the original script I wrote for it, to what I’m calling the finished strip above (there are things in it I could fix, but it’s taken me too long to finish this as it is). The punch at the end was a lot longer, Francis saying “who’s a pretty doggie…” is something that occurred to me as I was putting in the dialog and balloons. I think the result is better than my original design. Sometimes things work out that way.
I will be doing one more of these strips, and then things will be changing. For most of my posts and all of my comic strips after the last one in this series, I’ll be moving to a new location on the web. More details soon, but this is a much needed, and long overdue change.

The Anxiety Monster

In the last six months I have been to see doctors more than I have at any time in the last six years. It started back in April, with a feeling of having a racing heartbeat while waiting on a plane to fly home from Austin. While I was sitting there, feeling like my heart was hammering somewhere in the vicinity of my left eye it occurred to me that my phone comes with a health app, and that it might have a way for me to determine just how fast my heart was pounding. Sure enough the Samsung health app has a heart rate tracker, and I was able to measure my beats per minute. While I sat there on the tarmac waiting for my plane to be ready to taxi my beats per minute were coming in at 118. Thanks, Samsung.

I started to freak out. Was this normal? What should my beats per minute be while I’m just sitting doing nothing? Should I be worried? These questions were whirling through my head while I had the dangerous combination of time to kill and access to the Internet via a mobile device. One Google search and I found numerous articles on the ideal resting heart rate for an adult male in his late thirties, and numerous more on tachycardia (fast heart). Now certain there was something terribly wrong (thanks, Google) I checked my heart rate again (thanks again Samsung) and, big shock here, my heart rate had jumped up to over 120 beats per minute. That’s roughly where it should be after moderate exercise. Now certain I was dying, it was time for the plane to take off. Mercifully, I was able to settle down enough to sleep for a good chunk of the flight.

When I got home the sense of something wrong didn’t leave me. It gnawed at me, and one night sent me down a path that would have me visiting doctors every other week for the better part of four months. After work one night I was sitting with my kids and watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic when I got that feeling of my heart pounding again, and I used my handy-dandy Samsung App to check my heart rate (…thanks…Samsung). Sure enough it was registering over 100 beats per minute. What’s more, I had a tingly numb feeling between my shoulder blades. Certain this meant I was somewhere on the grim reaper’s to-do list I kissed my wife, hugged my kids, and made my way to the emergency room. I would spend the next several hours there while they ran blood tests, an EKG, took X-rays and monitored me, all while listening to people who were in genuine crisis, and generally feeling crummy. My heart rate came back down to reasonable territory (80-ish beats per minute) while I was waiting to be seen behind a long queue of people in various states of fucked up.

Since that night in May I have been to see a cardiologist, my primary, a nurse-practitioner who works in my primary’s office, my primary again, and am now seeing a physical therapist. I have been prescribed somereally exotic drugs for GERD (acid reflux) and had an ultrasound that determined I have some infiltrating fat on my pancreas, but nothing to be alarmed about. Even so, I will occasionally find myself sitting at my desk at work feeling like my heart is pounding against my chest, which I continue to measure with the Samsung health app on my phone (fuck you, Samsung). I’ll feel like my breath is coming just a little too short, and get to feeling amped up and distracted for no good reason.

People who know me well, or have known me for a long time, will probably not find this surprising in the least, but I have been forced to confront the idea that I have issues with anxiety. Even as I write this the notion feels fundamentally just so stupid. My job can be stressful, sure, but it’s a mundane kind of stress. It’s “so-and-so executive is asking pointed questions about something on a report that can be interpreted a certain way if you turn it upside down and squint” kind of stress. I’m not facing armed combatants, pulling people over who might shoot me, or saving lives. If I screw something up at work, children won’t starve on the other side of the world. Even so, it gets to me.

When I stopped at some point to think about it, it occurred to me this is not an isolated event. Around the time my daughter was born I remember feeling like I was having chest pain. I went to urgent care to get checked out, then followed up with my primary. An EKG in both cases revealed nothing. Years before that, around my thirtieth birthday, was the same story. I felt like I was having chest pain so I made an appointment to see my doctor. On that occasion, too an EKG failed to turn anything up, but he referred me to a cardiologist just to be safe. They put me on a treadmill and checked out my heart and declared me, in these words, “ready for the marathon. See you again in fifteen years” Years before THAT, long before I had moved out of Greeley to live in Denver, never mind moving to California, I went to urgent care with “chest pain.” On that occasion the doctor checked me out, then talked to me about anxiety, and wrote out a prescription for a very mild anti-anxiety medication, and left it up to me to fill it or not.

As you have probably guessed, I didn’t fill it. I didn’t like the idea of managing my emotional condition through chemistry. I still don’t. Now, however, I’m thinking if I had filled that prescription, and taken the extra step of going to therapy, I might have saved myself a world of grief. While I can’t think of specific examples from before college, I’m sure there must have been times that the people who cared about me wished they could have talked me back from standing on a figurative ledge. Times I was convinced the world was ending because I didn’t get the right grade on a piece of homework, or I was particularly uptight about a test that I was sure would ruin my future, or, as was often the case, I was so tied up in knots over a girl I liked that I didn’t act at all out of fear of humiliation.

Now, as I near forty, and I have stress factors in my life that I’ve never had before, and I have not dealt with the underlying condition, I find myself sometimes sitting at my desk wound up, jumping from one thing to another, terrified of letting anything go without my touching it every day lest I lose my job. In my mind unemployment raises the specter of family protective services coming to take my kids and place them into the nightmarish hellscape that is foster care. I get so amped up, in fact, that I often can’t stay at my desk and focus, and I’m forced to get up and go walk until I can get my emotions under control and start to think clearly again.

After months of doctor’s visits the only consensus we’ve arrived at is that I have an issue with anxiety. To let things go as they are is not sustainable. I have to face the anxiety monster and, if not overcome it, at least fight it to a standstill. To do that might mean giving in and accepting a prescription for anti-anxiety medications. For now I’m working on exercising, enjoying my hobbies, and finding ways to quiet my mind. Talking about it openly is one step. For those who read this far, thanks for hanging in there.