An Update: Why I’ve Been So Quiet

I thought I’d take a moment to write a little bit about why my web presence and art output has basically trickled to nothing the past couple of years; I figure I owe anyone who’s interested an explanation, especially because things were going so well for a while! I was making so many wonderful friends in the industries I cared about, I was getting offers for projects and collaborations, and other awesome opportunities… and then I all but disappeared.

The reasons, unfortunately, are due to on-going health problems, both physical health and mental health. There’s a lot of rambling about it below the cut, but in short: I’m struggling with long term fatigue issues that still don’t have an identified source or treatment.

I graduated from high school in 2006, and despite the upheavals young adulthood has in store for all of us, I was excited and full of energy. I got my first jobs, first part-time then full time, I started my first long-term relationship, I did neat things like move to the City™ and go wall climbing and I was usually pretty good at everything I set my mind to. The only issue, really, was anxiety, but at least I was going somewhere.

In 2009 I went back to college. I enrolled in a Fine Arts Diploma program in 2010, and was determined to figure out whether I could actually, for real, make Art work as my main pursuit in life.

It was around this time that I started worrying about my energy levels, but I chalked it up to stress; working part-time, going to school, some social drama and emotional roller coasters, that kind of thing. Not to mention I was young, and getting a consistent sleep schedule was difficult. But even so, the first time I went to a doctor complaining about fatigue was in 2008, and it only got worse from there.

I finished my diploma in 2012, and then transferred to a University to get my bachelors. It was over the next few years my anxiety got really bad, and I went through many different avenues to try and discover the root causes and see about treating it. School was tough but very rewarding, however, and I graduated with my BFA in 2015.

Afterwards I tried to make the Freelance Artist Thing work. I was being supported by my wonderful SO, and I did some commission work, some paying client work, as well as some (unpaid but still rewarding and awesome) comic work. I also took the time to try hard to develop my own comics, like Sable & Aster.

This time-period immediately after graduating was… well, it was really hard. I had the usual ups-and-downs I think many artists face after school, such as rampant Impostor Syndrome, worry about being able to contribute financially to my household, and general low-self-esteem. All of that coupled with my anxiety and this looming lethargy I had meant that I ended up burning out very, very hard. I ended up failing to deliver on some projects and promises, letting my friends and clients down, which was the worst feeling ever.

It was around this time I finally started on my journey to medicate my anxiety. It was a long and arduous journey; trying medications, suffering side-effects, going through withdrawals while weening off of them, trying new ones… for a very long time I thought my worsening fatigue was just a side-effect of these medications. Over just a couple years I had tried a half-dozen different SSRI and anti-anxiety/depression meds. It sucked.

But! We did eventually find a combination that worked for me, and finally my brain found an even keel (Which, folks, has been awesome. It’s so hard to imagine I spent so many years of my life in a constant state of uncontrolled crippling anxiety… it feels so good to have largely left that behind!). But I was still left with this fatigue, this all-encompassing sleepiness, that just got worse and worse.

It started with me just sleeping in, or feeling tired, and me chalking it up to stress and poor scheduling on my part. It’s since progressed to me sleeping on average 9-11 hours every night, needing at minimum an hour lying in bed struggling to wake up before I can actually roll out of bed. I’m just… exhausted, all the time. The constant heaviness behind my eyes never goes away. I go for hour-long walks every afternoon with my SO to walk our dog, and despite the exercise, bright sunlight, and cool air, and I’m still constantly yawning the whole time and tripping over my feet. After large meals I get these overwhelming urges to nap, which I often can’t resist. I get maybe 4-5 hours of actually useful productive time in a day; but that “productive time” is still hampered by the fatigue, making it difficult to do more than the most basic of chores and smallest of creative projects before I run out of mental energy. When I do finally go to bed, I end up lying awake for two hours or more, exhausted, but still not quite able to fall asleep.

I’ve been going through the ringer with doctors trying to figure all this out, but it’s been hampered by the pandemic and our interminably slow health systems. I’ll speak to my family doctor/psychologist about an issue, and they might propose another test or hypothesis on what the underlying issue might be. I’ll go and do the tests, which might take weeks for me to find the time/energy to accomplish them. I’ll book another appointment to go over the results, but it’ll usually be a two or three month wait until I can speak them again. If I manage to get a referral to a specialist it might take six months to a year for me to actually get an appointment with them, too. When I finally do get to speak to my doctors again, we’ll go over the test results (which up until now have all come up as “normal” or “negative”), we’ll hypothesize again, and rinse and repeat.

I’ve been trying in earnest to find the reasons for this fatigue for the past three or four years, but despite ruling out some of the more common culprits, we’re still no closer to figuring out why it’s happening. In that time the problem has only gotten worse.

Despite all of this, I still struggle to believe that this is a Real Legitimate Problem and not something I’ve made up, or is happening just because I’m “lazy”. I gaslight myself all the time. I still go to bed each night thinking “If I just let myself sleep as long as I need to, I might feel more awake tomorrow”, despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for years and I never feel any more awake. I take so many vitamin supplements for deficiencies that are supposed to cause fatigue, I’ve had iron infusions, I’ve had sleep studies, I’ve had numerous blood tests, and nothing has been discovered as to why this is happening.

Thanks to my anti-anxiety meds, I’m not in a very bad way, mental health-wise. But not being able to do much of anything throughout the day is a horrible way to spend your early-thirties, when you’re supposed to be building your career, making friends and network contacts, gaining experience, and expanding your horizons. I haven’t been able to work even part-time for five years. I’ve barely drawn anything at all in the past three. I’m just… so tired.

This has turned into more of a rant than anything, and for that I apologize! This whole experience is just so incredibly frustrating. The last few days in particular, where I’ve done everything right (keeping up with my medications, taking my vitamins, eating well, exercising, getting to sleep earlier…) and I’m still exhausted, even moreso than just a couple weeks ago, has me feeling so hopeless about it all. I keep wondering: What did I do wrong? Why is this happening to me? Will it ever get better, or is it only going to keep getting worse?

We’re still working on figuring this out. Like I said, I’m in touch with my doctors about it. I’ve been referred to a new specialist that will hopefully have some insights, but it’ll be probably the better part of a year before I’m able to see them. We’re doing what we can.

I miss making art. I miss being a part of the creative world, with all my wonderful friends. I hope that sometime soon we’ll figure this stuff out and I’ll be able to find some sort of solution; I want to keep creating, and I want to contribute to the world.

Here, have something I sketched a year ago, which is only one of the few things I’ve drawn the past couple of years:

A digital sketch of a unicorn.

And here’s a recent(-ish) picture of me with my wonderful pup, Aila:

A white woman smiling at a blue merle shetland sheepdog under a clear blue sky.

Thank you all for your patience, and for reading this far! I hope you enjoy my old art and comics that I have available on this website. Here’s hoping for a better and healthier future!

Take care! I love and miss you all!

— Heather

One thought on “An Update: Why I’ve Been So Quiet

  1. So I’ve been through a lot of similar things. So let me share some of my results, so maybe you can look at it too.
    The biggest break through for me was my thyroid medicine. I thought for years thyroid function had been ruled out, so we never tested it again, but when a new doctor did we discovered it as one of the issues and when I got medicated it was like this huge rush of extra energy that I never knew was possible.
    After a while and moving and stuff I was very fatigued again though.
    Which is connected mainly to three things for me:
    1. Chronic pain, and for me it’s both hEDS, fibromyalgia and psoriatic artritis. The last one being an auto-immune issue. I’m always in pain even though I don’t necessarily realize I’m in pain until I’m not in pain which only happens under very rare circumstances. This drains A LOT of my energy.
    2. POTS, Postural tachycardia syndrome, which causes my heart rate to go up about 10 over normal for being upright for more than 10minutes. This can mean that even if I would wake up refreshed, and early before University, I’d be exhausted before even leaving the house, because I’d been sitting up-right. The best remedy for this is compression socks, which I don’t wear all the time, but when I need to do chores or go shopping or leave the house for extended periods of time (say on that 1hr walk you were taking with the dog). Also Swimming was like the best for me but I only knew that before I got diagnosed, and have not been swimming since (mostly because moving countries and pandemic).
    3. ADHD. Or neurodiversity in general. So much in life around my just drains me, because my brain has too much to deal with. Getting diagnosed with ADHD, which can be treated with stimulants, helped me get rid of a lot of things that felt like fatigue. I still have fatigue, but I’ve now removed one of the things that was causing me troubles.

    This is long, but I’m always looking to help people I know, and don’t know, figure out what help they need to look for. You can probably look into several of these simultaneously and separately. I know it’s a struggle, but you’ll get there eventually.

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