SWEATY PALMS: THE ANTHOLOGY ABOUT ANXIETY is a collection of comics depicting over 50 different artists’s experiences with anxiety. Editors Liz Enright and Sage Coffey carefully archive the vast number of pieces where each story takes a raw and honest look at the realities of anxiety. SWEATY PALMS tenderly builds a space for the personal histories, traumas, and experiences that make up anxiety.

Anxiety might arguably be the defining mood of 2017. It’s not just social media and cell phones that are behind Millennials’ insecurities. The current political atmosphere, with its bigotry and ignorance, is a nightmare in real time for many. Consequently, stress is common, and many people live with full-blown panic and depression. It follows that, as SWEATY PALMS points out, those of us suffering from anxiety and depression are not alone. Nor are we without hope. SWEATY PALMS creatively opens the discussion of anxiety to a larger audience. The anthology shows the art of anxiety. Or rather, the art of living with anxiety. And how art can ultimately be a tool for facing your fears.

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SWEATY PALMS: First-Hand Accounts

My personal brand of anxiety is likely both genetic and environmentally determined. Most of my family has encountered anxiety and depression at some point, and I am no exception. We each experience different fears and cope differently. With the wide variety of anxieties, I was surprised by the deep connection I felt to the SWEATY PALMS’ comics.

The first comic, “Or, Flight” by Jackie Roche, relates her anxiety to her grandfather’s Parkinson’s disease, with its unpredictable tremors. Liz Enright’s “Frog Girl” depicts bullying as a result of her childhood love of frogs. Both incorporate their anxieties into their lives, despite the often destabilizing feelings. I saw myself in these and other comics that tell stories of coping with anxiety, closeted sexuality, and impostor syndrome. Like Roche, Parkinson’s affects my family. Like Enright, my childhood obsession with animals was not always understood by my peers. However, even the anxieties I cannot make sense of affect my life.

Image from “The Wind Up” courtesy of Shivana Sookdeo (SWEATY PALMS ANTHOLOGY).

The diversity of representation in SWEATY PALMS is the collection’s strength. Instead of feeling alienating, the comics show common ground. For example, many authors narrate childhood anxiety as the result of zealous religious upbringings. Others show the shifts in anxieties as they seek out different resources for help. As artists, many of the creators share a fear of not being able to make a living off their work. As a result, SWEATY PALMS attests to the fact that no one is alone. The comic gives a sense of community to those with anxiety.

All these stories tell us that no matter how dire the situation, there are always people who can empathize and help.

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Visualizing the Unspeakable

People with mental illnesses face enormous stigma. Even when there’s support, it’s still difficult to overcome social stigma. Works like SWEATY PALMS broaden cultural awareness of the realities of anxiety and depression. Many of the comics in the anthology show the benefits of the right therapist, self-care, or medication. SWEATY PALMS does not advocate for a one-size-fits-all “cure.” Rather, the comics are personal and thoughtful. As a result, SWEATY PALMS explores mental health on a spectrum. For instance, Justin Hubbell’s “December” rejects the binary between “healthy” and “unhealthy.”

Talking about something as deeply personal as panic, phobias, or suicidal feelings is not easy. Even with the most seasoned therapist, acknowledging emotional difficulties is challenging. Comics present a unique medium for depicting trauma and anxiety.

Image from “Affirmations” courtesy of Miranda Harmon (SWEATY PALMS ANTHOLOGY).

In her 2008 article “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,” Hillary Chute discusses comics’ role in portraying the “unrepresentable.” She writes:

The most important graphic narratives explore the conflicted boundaries of what can be said and what can be shown… In every case, from the large-scale to the local, graphic narrative presents a traumatic side of history, but all these authors refuse to show it through the lens of unspeakability or invisibility, instead registering its difficulty through inventive (and various) textual practice.

Chute emphasizes comics’ ability to show emotions that other media cannot. This is because when words fail, images come into play, and vice versa. Moreover, with comics’ long history of representing taboo subjects, they can tackle mental illness without censorship. Importantly, SWEATY PALMS stands to make visible the realities of all kinds of anxiety.

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The Embodiment of Anxiety

Of particular note are those comics, like “Untitled” by Weston Notestine, that use no words at all. Notestine’s short piece shows the feeling of anxiety physically ripping through one’s body. The body seems to undergo horrific effects. Raging wormlike lacerations. Wrenching cuts into the core. And the sensation of one’s skeleton moving within its skin. The lack of words embodies the often indescribable feeling of anxiety. As is often the case, the source of anxiety can be maddeningly vague, escaping language altogether. Notestine’s comic and many other in SWEATY PALMS explore this aspect of anxiety powerfully and honestly.

Image from “Guilt” courtesy of Lucie Ebrey (SWEATY PALMS ANTHOLOGY).

After reading over 350 pages of comics, the reader is literally overwhelmed by the anxiety of the stories. Yet these comics are not without hope. In fact, SWEATY PALMS speaks to the power of art to express anxiety in a positive way.

In conclusion, SWEATY PALMS takes steps to remove the stigma of mental illnesses. Comics prove to be a useful tool for representing anxiety, due to the nature of the medium. Visualizing anxiety in art is a step towards making mental illness visible, relatable, and acknowledged.

Want to see more? Then check out the SWEATY PALMS: THE ANTHOLOGY ABOUT ANXIETY Kickstarter here.

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