Melksham Comic Con
Well, this weekend saw us at Melksham Comic Con, the first convention I've been able to get to since my son Greyson was born and boy, was I glad to get back in the saddle! Joe Cape #2 was released and well received. I caught up with a lot of friends I have not seen in far too long including Jon Lock (who was launching Heavenly Chord #2), Vince Hunt (Red Mask from Mars), Owen Watts (Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel) and Dani Abram (who was launching Worry Wart - a fantastic read that we'll come back to in a moment), among many others. Put it this way, at the pub afterwards we needed to put four tables side by side and people were still standing!
I also presented a panel on making indie comic and common pitfalls and mistakes you can avoid through planning and preparation. Once the video is live on YouTube (currently been uploading for 3 and a half hours and it's quoting me 3 more before it's done), I'll post a link here along with the Powerpoint slides.
Quick Edit: Video is now live! Link to slides coming soon!
State of Mind
I debated whether or not I should post about this, especially in a public place, but after reading Dani Abram's Worry Wart and having a long discussion with her and other friends I think it would be healthy for me to openly discuss this here. It might help take some weight off my shoulders.
I am currently signed off work due to stress and anxiety. Short version is that our team took on a workload we underestimated and did not have the resources to tackle. I've found myself working with an excessive volume of in-depth queries and complications regarding a complex product I am unfamiliar with and have no formal training on.
I don't know if it was through male pride, stubbornness or a desire to progress/get a pay rise but I also said yes to taking on a variety of other responsibilities, including assisting new starters and less experienced team members, tackling IT faults (both hardware and software), organising systems access, and being the sole point of contact for another... issue (yes I am keeping the nature of my job and the company I work for secret, figure that's a smart move considering what I'm saying, this is going to be vague, sorry).
The environment became quite high pressure quite quickly. We started to lose people. The guys coming in the door weren't put on the same product I was working on because they weren't trained on it and weren't likely to be for the foreseeable future. I appreciate I'm not trained on the product either, yet here I am.
As you can imagine, the work wasn't going anywhere but the people were. Their work had to be reallocated and whilst my managers assured me it was their job to worry about the bigger picture, I was all too aware that more and more cases were finding their way to my desk. The cases also have a time limit and I was finding they were getting older and older when they arrived with me.
Still, I have to pay rent and feed the kids, same as you. I also thought I might get recognition for helping out and staying on-board during a difficult time. When my appraisal came around I was told I had a satisfactory rating but hadn't warranted an exceptional rating, this affected my annual pay review and annual bonus.
Feeling under appreciated and overworked, I applied for another job within the company, one relevant to my degree and skills. The new business area wanted me, I wanted to go, but my current business area were able to prevent me from going and, yes, I have checked with HR, my contract and my staff union.
In the end, I had the option of taking the job, but as a fixed term contract for 6 months. This meant I would no longer be under the company pension or bonus scheme, my sickness benefits would change, and there would be no guarantee of work after 6 months. This is all because they would have terminated me as a permanent employee and then re-hired me as a contractor. Thinking of my responsibilities to my family, I stayed put. My brain still tells me I made the right choice but my heart is screaming "Idiot!" at me on repeat.
By this point, I knew the dam was going to break, that our team's way of working was unsustainable and everything would go drastically wrong sooner or later. I hoped I wouldn't still be one of the few left to fend it off when that inevitably happened. Honestly, I knew I was at my limit too but I figured the system would break before I did and, at that point, the system would have to change. I honestly thought that, if I could make it that long, I'd be okay.
I then received the news that my grandmother had suffered a seizure at home, needed to be resuscitated and was then taken to hospital where she had another seizure and had to be brought back a second time. She's since been sent back home with medication but no one has given a diagnosis and she has a follow up appointment with a neurologist in October. Upon receipt of that news, I had a full brown break down in the middle of the office as a teary eyed mess. I'm still not proud of it (but if you keep reading you'll notice pride is a recurring theme here).
Thankfully, I had the following week booked off for my daughter's second birthday. The timing was sheer coincidence but I was thankful for it. We tried to book an appointment with a doctor as both my partner and my bosses were concerned, however this was right around the time of Robin William's unfortunate suicide. Reading between the lines, I think the NHS were getting a lot of calls from people about stress and depression and they weren't sure who to take seriously. Regardless, instead of pushing them I figured, hey, I had time off and I'd be able to relax, get everything out of my system. The second I returned to work I knew I was wrong. I called the doctor's surgery back, persisted, and managed to get an appointment for that same afternoon.
I spoke with the doctor, but due to male pride, a stubborn nature and not wanting to show any signs of "weakness" (traits that unfortunately appear in every male of the family) I was somewhat reserved. The doctor diagnosed me with stress and anxiety, but thankfully gave me the all clear for depression. He suggested signing me off from work. I declined due to the same reasons outlined at the start of this paragraph, alongside concerns as to what being signed off would mean for my job security and potential progression opportunities. "He can't cope with what he's doing now, why would we promote him?" was the phrase that kept going through my head.
In addition to that, I knew that every time we had lost someone, we had felt the strain even more. I didn't want to go away and take care of myself because it meant putting some of my colleagues under even more pressure. Even then, they couldn't reallocate all of my work while I was gone. We can't cope with the headcount we have now, never mind coping without me! As egotistical as it sounds, I felt it would be selfish to allow myself to be signed off and let the team down, almost as if I believed they couldn't function if I were not there.
The following day, I had a long discussion with my immediate manager. It was clear they were also extremely frustrated at the situation, that they had tried to implement solutions yet found themselves impeded by the people they then report to. Such is the chain of bureaucracy around every office worker's neck... I was told things would change, the additional responsibilities would be gone, I could focus on my core job role and I would be given a manageable workload.
Within 24 hours, I had received 5 cases, set up a new user's system access and realised that the bigger picture would remain unchanged. There would still be more work coming into the department than the department could put back out. My manager could be sympathetic but had already admitted the larger problem was outside of her control. We were still fighting a Hydra, every case that we got out the door, another two or three would take it's place.
That Friday saw another long standing team member leave. We lost three people in total that week, all of whom were in a similar boat to me, all of whom had been working the same product as me, and all of whom would not be replaced for months. Another colleague started to talk to me about the working environment and I admitted I'd sought professional help. They are considering doing the same and I strongly urge you to do so, you know who you are. We both knew the work our lost colleagues would have undertaken has to go somewhere, and we also had to question if maybe those who had jumped ship had the right idea.
The doctor called on the Friday for a status report. Following that status report I am signed off and my absence is to be reviewed with the doctor on an on-going basis to assess when and if I am fit to return to work. Honestly, I burned myself out and I should have said or done something so much sooner than I did.
Symptom wise? I'm a bit of a mess, I go from frustration to anger to a ball on the floor. I have no fuse and I get angry very quickly, sometimes at people who really don't deserve it (to those people, I am so, so sorry). I was getting home from work and shutting myself off in another room to go 30 rounds on Street Fighter so I could then go into the living room without taking out my frustrations on my family.
My other half has been feeling guilty because we moved from Norfolk to Wiltshire to accommodate her emotional need to live nearer to her immediate family. I quit my job in Norfolk and took the first job that was offered to me in Wiltshire in order to facilitate that move. That's how I wound up working in the company I'm with today. She thinks she's to blame for me being unhappy, that if she hadn't asked me to move, this wouldn't be happening right now. That is not fair to her at all and it tears me up that I've made her feel that way.
I very much blame myself for my own situation. I chose my relationship with her over staying in Norfolk. I chose to take the first job I could get. I didn't have to. I own those decisions. What's happening now is my fault, not her's. I also believe, to an extent, that I'm dissatisfied with what I've accomplished. My day job is just that, a job, not a career. What I do is not even remotely linked to what I studied or what I'm passionate about. It was that same disappointment which led me to create indie comics. Does that mean I resent my partner or our kids? Of course not. I love them. I don't know what I would do without them.
You might notice Joe Cape #2 is a little different in tone than #1. I'd be lying if I said I didn't release some of my feelings into my comic work, but I also found it to be extremely helpful as an outlet. I want to really focus all my attention and energy on my art while I'm off to help my state of mind and work towards a recovery. I'm lucky to have that outlet.
Worry Wart, Danni's book which I mentioned earlier, discusses several similar issues that she has faced in her life. It's a deeply personal and endearing book that is easily one of the most fascinating reads I have seen - though bear in mind I am somewhat biased as I can relate to the work on a personal basis and the author is a friend of mine. It's a brilliant book and you should all read it if you get the chance. I know I've read and re-read it and it's helping. Thank you Danni, I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels a little better for having read your work and knowing they're not alone.
Equally, I need to thank everyone who attended Melksham Comic Con. Every time I go to a convention I feel like I've gone home, like I'm where I'm belong. I'm among friends in a safe environment. People are buying my artwork, showing me that my passion produces something that brings joy to other people. Hell, my table was even next to Andy Lanning (yes the comics professional) who was a brilliant guy and even told me I draw a mean Rocket Raccoon and Groot (those who know his work will also know his involvement in the Guardians of the Galaxy comics). Jon, Vince, Hayley, everyone, thank you so much. Honestly, you have no idea.
Now I'm back home, back to everyday reality, the next convention is two months away (MCM, end of October) and it sucks. The contrast between conventions and the real world seems pretty severe to me given my current circumstances and frame of mind. My head space is all kinds of screwed up. I would love to make my art and comics a full-time thing, however at the moment it's simply a self-financing hobby and it's frustrating that I don't know how to take it beyond that. If I had my way, me and everyone else from the con scene would go found a village somewhere where it's a comic con all year round! If only, right?
What's really weird is that, even knowing I am doing the right thing, I can't help but feel conflicted and guilty, like I really am being selfish and letting the team at work down. Heck, I've almost closed my browser window while typing this on several occasions because I thought I'd be burning bridges or somehow failing to show loyalty to my company! Isn't that insane?
Wow, I have rambled. I'm sorry, I didn't expect this post to be this long. I really didn't. It helps to talk though, even to the vast void that is the Internet. If you're going through anything similar, I really hope this helps you. I don't know what the answer is yet and I don't know what the outcome will be. I want there to be a happy ending, something positive to come out of all this, I just don't know what that resolution would be right now.