Page 45 Review by Stephen
"What are you depressed for? You have so much going for you!"
"Why do you have a cold? You have a really nice house."
Succinctly done! If you're wired up right, there is a cause-and-effect logic to what can drag you down; if wired up wrong, logic and reason doesn't even enter the equation.
In HYPERBOLE AND A HALF Allie Brosh explains and elucidates on this disconnect and so much more in far greater depth from her personal experience of crippling mental health disorders, and she does so while entertaining. Rachael Smith has evidently taken the efficacy of Brosh's balanced judgement into account for these four-panel snapshots and one-page cartoons which also capitalise not just on the healing power of comedy, but on its communicative strengths as well.
She joins so many others like Sarah Burgess in BOYS CLUB in being brave enough to bear her soul and disorientating disorders in order to promote understanding of those suffering from depression and anxiety beyond what is normal. And Smith succeeds: not only are so many of these pages rendered with lateral-thinking wit and so the element of surprise, but they provide insights into daily dysfunctions which those of us lucky enough to be merely maladjusted rather than chemically imbalanced don't necessarily comprehend at a distance.
Smith is the first to admit - and goes to great lengths to emphasise in her introduction - that she is no trained psychotherapist, so if you have the choice between seeing a doctor to seek counselling and/or remedial medication and reading this as some sort of therapy... please go and see your doctor! Moreover, she is at pains to point out that this is no sign of weakness, but of strength. So many of my friends and relatives have suffered from paralysing mental health problems, but fortunately almost all of them have benefited enormously from counselling and anti-depressants (some of them - everyone reacts differently to different pills) on their road to recovery.
The even better news for us emotional idiots (as opposed to those who are diagnosed as clinically depressed) is that - just like Sarah Andersen's BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP - there is still so much here to relate to, and if you don't nod at least once or thrice in recognition then, hey, you are just perfect and we are evidently unworthy of your acquaintance.
These nigh-universal experiences include self-consciousness, self-doubt, a wonky internal sleep clock, the worries that whir around you during those early hours all at once, overwhelming anxiety about a task that lies ahead (but which, once started, proves far from problematic), fixations on what you said wrong rather than all you've done right, fear of flying (not me - I still thrill to pretending that I'm piloting Thunderbird 1 during take-off!), and postponing the household chores until someone actually threatens to come round see what a state we live in.
My favourite single page follows an earlier one in which Rachael compares the illogicality of her reactions to having a "roulette wheel in my head that two little men spin to see how I'm going to react."
It's actually one of those great big glittering Spinning Wheels of Fortune or, as Smith calls it, 'The Wheel of Feels'! The little man standing at the equivalent of the old-school telephone operator's switchboard with its spaghetti of criss-crossed wires reports in:
"She's just watched an advert on TV that has kittens in it."
The man at The Wheel of Feels gives it a spin. "Um... I've got "full of rage"?"
"Huh," says the first, plugging the connection in. "Ok... this should be interesting."
One of Smith's other conceits is of a black dog as an embodiment of depression. Yes, yes, it is such a long-standing tradition that it's even a synonym (see Dave McKean's BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH), but where she departs is in having two black dogs with differing demeanours and diverse methods of attack. The bigger black dog stops her point-blank in its tracks from even going out by barricading the door with its substantial body mass. But the smaller, sleeker hound with narrowed, Ancient Egyptian eyes... well, let's hear Rachel discuss them.
"You know you've got these two versions so Barky mixed up on the "cast" page, right? The little black one looks much worse than the big fluffy one!"
"No, that's the right way round. The big fluffy one is worse."
"Because he's nice and soft and big. Even though he still represents my depression, it can be comforting to cuddle up with him. Like wallowing I guess. When he tells me things I believe him. I hardly ever stand up to or argue with him. Whereas the smaller black one - I know he's evil. I know what he tells me is rubbish. I don't like him at all, so he's easier to stand up to."
"Sounds complicated. But at least you're aware of this stuff. So maybe you're getting better!"
"Although,,, you are having an imaginary conversation with your cat about two imaginary dogs sooo.. maybe you're more mental than ever."
In case it helps anyone make the first move towards therapy (first moves can often prove the most difficult - see STARTING), Rachel takes you through her own experiences both of securing said help and of the sessions themselves. Under the fourth example she even gives you a website address from which to download a v. helpful sheet of unhelpful thinking practices which are ever so common ("textbook even!") to show that you're far from alone and perhaps address some of them (though perhaps not on your own but with a trained therapist).
Which brings me to my sole qualm with this publication: the above aside, I'd have preferred pagination to the post-script annotations underneath which cannot help but rob the punchlines of their often considerable power.
The strips themselves, however, are all gaily drawn in a Graley / Ellerby fashion, sometimes in spite of their contents. Quite right too: in order to help one must first attract, and you don't attract the already vulnerable by frightening them away in the first place. Similarly the colours are bright and there is optimism in abundance, the final flourish referencing and defiantly putting to bed one prior problem at least - one which may seem comparatively trivial but the liberation from which is actually is among the most empowering things you can do.