If you've ever wondered what it's like to suffer from anxiety — or if you're looking for someone who understands what turmoil can exist beneath a seemingly calm surface — the illustrations contained within Catherine Lepage's Thin Slices of Anxiety provide just that: A glimpse into the headspace of someone with anxiety. It's easy to understand anxiety on an intellectual level; after all, virtually everyone has spent sleepless nights worrying about something they can't control. However, as Lepage's illustrations show, anxiety disorder goes far beyond everyday worries and fears, even though it may not show on the outside.
One image, for example, presents two nearly identical heads side by side. One face, captioned "Easiness," is calm and unsmiling, while the other, captioned "Uneasiness," is not much different upon first inspection. His mouth is drawn slightly tighter, his jaw clenched a little more, and his brow is furrowed — yet these minor details could easily go unnoticed by the casual observer, much like the stirrings of anxiety in real life. A similar image depicts the difference anxiety makes in viewpoints, using a faux-medical illustration: While the "field of vision for a normal person" is directed outward, the gaze of an anxious person is directed straight into their own head.
According to Lepage, the illustrations were the result of her own experiences with anxiety, especially during an artist residency in 2011. "I decided not to prepare in advance, to allow me to be inspired by the city and by the travel experience itself," she tells Bustle over email. "But when I arrived... I was tired, stressed, jetlagged and I realized I only had three weeks to develop a significant project. ... For a couple days, I felt unable to work as I was completely overcome by anxiety."
Using the anxiety itself as an inspiration, she soon had enough material to complete the residency, but the series didn't end there. "After that residency, I continued to make illustrations about depression and anxiety, for fun and because I felt inspired," she writes. "And then I had the idea to share all that in a book."
That book became Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind, published last month.
Lepage tells Bustle that she didn't intend for the illustrations to serve as an outlet for her emotions, but they ended up being therapeutic by virtue of their personal nature. "It ended up helping me a lot because I learned more about myself and how I react to events in my everyday life," she says. "I had to dig deep into my guts, to explore my darker side. I had to analyze the origins of my anxiety: how I can see it coming, how it comes and goes, what makes it worst, how I can try to manage it."
Although the subject matter is fairly heavy, the book itself is more lighthearted than you'd think. Along with images of a person swimming through their tears and a fragile house of cards spelling out confidence, illustrations of chipmunks and familiar mascots appear as well.
"I think it can be a great relief to see you’re not the only one feeling [anxiety]. It can also help people who don’t suffer from anxiety to understand what anxious people live," Lepage explains. "And for me, it’s important to use humor to make the subject less dramatic, so if I can make a couple people smile, then I’m happy!"
Check out a few more illustrations below, and to see more, head over to Thin Slices of Anxiety on Chronicle Books' website.
Images courtesy of Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind by Catherine Lepage, published by Chronicle Books 2016 (5)