About four months ago, I made a commitment to take my writing and illustrations more seriously at the expense of declining admission to graduate school. And, well, I did that.

A month later, I was in the ER at 2 AM on a Sunday night / Monday morning with my roommate because I had stressed myself out to the point where heartburn from a Ruffles All Dressed potato chip had felt a bit too much like a heart attack.

It was a quick three-week lesson in the importance of self-care. As it turns out, staying up to 2AM 2-3 days a week to watch and write about basketball games can create a lot of stress. And so, in tears at age 27, I talked with my mom and dad on a phone about whether I was experiencing heartburn or a heart attack for 45 minutes, along with the fine print of my healthcare coverage. And then I had a similar conversation with my boss, a doctor, just minutes later, debating if it was best to take the CTA, request an Uber, or ask my friend with a car. And then again a third similar conversation with my friend with a car. And one final conversation with a kind doctor who let me know my risk factors for a heart attack were almost zero and that I needed to calm down so they could take an EKG. All while the world’s greatest roommate sat by my bedside and texted updates to my mom.

Which is all to say a couple things:

  • I’ve sworn off Ruffles All Dressed potato chips. There was an ad that played on repeat during the NBA Playoffs for these Candian every-flavor chips and I cracked and bought them. Although it was my fault, they still helped put me into an ER  and tasted like crap. Bye.
  • When I imagined my life at age 27, I didn’t imagine chest pains. It was really scary. I also didn’t imagine a roommate that would stay with me in an ER, that was really nice.
  • When I said I wanted to take my writing and illustrations more seriously, I probably should have done so by finding a time besides the witching hour to work on them. But that’s still my life four months later.

I wish I had drawn more life lessons from my ER visit. I try and eat salads more, and often fail. I just finally made an appointment with my primary care physician. And that’s about it.

School is starting this month and my mind keeps wandering back to the decision I made and wondering where the other paths might have led me at this point. But if there was one thing that was affirming about my decision, it was that had a Canadian-potato-chip-included-heart-burn-induced-panic-attack occurred, I would have been alone and scared. And that would have been awful. I’ll replay the different paths in my head, but that’s usually the thought I end on: the text thread of my friend who left his 18 month old to drive me across town on a work night, and my roommate who had a bag packed and a Elena Ferrante book for the waiting room, and the boss who took my call at 11 PM, and the friend who followed up the next day. I made the right decision.

The hard part is the waiting and the doubt. About 5-10 times a day an impulse in my mind causes me to blurt out the word “garbage” under my breath. It’s like an anxiety exhaust. I’ll have a positive thought or look up at the ivy on campus, or just be humming a song that I like, and then like a guttural reaction I’ll stop walking and my eyes will fall to the ground. I’ll think about an email I didn’t send or a bill or the last time I went to the gym or a promise I’ve yet to fulfill and I’ll say it, you are “garbage.” Sadly, there aren’t enough corgi Instagram feeds to battle with the negative beliefs I carry about myself.

I’m wrong, and I know I am wrong. It is just the same anxiety and self-doubt that everyone else carries about themselves. But for some reason, the nature of writing and art feeds into it. It’s I’m self-taught and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing doubts. It’s the vulnerability of being really proud of a piece of writing and looking to social media and view counts for validation. It’s the hatred and condescending retorts that you will inevitably encounter from twitter hives. It’s the idea that you are an amateur and want to “go pro”. It’s the questions about what comic illustrations and niche basketball “hot takes” really mean for anyone outside of yourself.  It’s the expectation that the work you put in each day will have visible, measurable progress tomorrow. It’s the self-critiques that you know you aren’t there yet that goes too far and thinks – you aren’t going anywhere. It’s the inordinate amount of bloggers that all seem to have newborns. And the friends that did make it into medical school. And friends in grad school or done with grad school. But most of all it’s this core belief that I’m lost, alone, and going nowhere.

On good days I can stop it with a walk at lunch or a mindful minute on the train home. But it’s frustrating to think I can’t appreciate my present life as someone that writes and draws and is paid for that (sparingly), because it’s not at X publication, or it’s not full time. I’m so focused on a destination that is undefined that I can’t enjoy the process of getting there, of giving myself four hours before bed to draw Michael Jordan dunking a cherry into a hot fudge sundae. I can’t  get excited about a hundred some strangers that bought the art I created on t-shirts and mugs. I want to get to a place where I can create for myself and no one else because I love it. And on good days I am almost there. It’s just the days I can’t get out of bed that are tough.

And now I’m 28. And I’m trying not to compare my life to the accomplishments of my friends and those around me. I’m trying to just measure my life by who I am and how I feel and what I do. Believing in my goals, and loving that I’m chasing my dreams. And loving that I can eat ice cream on my back porch at midnight on my birthday and listen to the cicadas. I am 28. I’m happy. And I can do anything I fucking want. I just have to remind myself sometimes.