Hey gang, welcome to another Reader of the Month, where I feature some inspiring members of the Zen Pencils community. This month, there are two great reader stories for you. First up is Sarah:

May15_SarahHi, my name’s Sarah and I live in Cambridge, UK. I always find Zen Pencils inspirational, however The Gift Of Life comic got straight to the heart of my matter and summed me up so completely. And it’s not only because the quote was from Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick and I am a proud geek. Currently I work full-time as a non-traditional librarian (more to do with the internet, social media and ebooks) for the University of Cambridge. I love literature, films, TV and music. I read voraciously and follow lots of TV shows. My favourite genre is fantasy and my favourite film is The Princess Bride, closely followed by Leon. I also write creatively; stories, poems and prose, whatever takes my fancy.

For almost half my lifetime now, I have been living with anxiety, not just experiencing panic attacks and an eating disorder, but also general anxiety on a daily basis. I have managed to quell the more frightening and obvious aspects, and I’m now sleeping, eating and living better. But I still have to deal with the anxiety, often battling with a lack of confidence, unconscious fear and trying to control my negative spiralling thoughts. It has been a long process, trying different forms of traditional and alternative therapies over many years. There has been improvement, but I still feel as though there is a veil between me and the world, like a ghost ship, going with the flow. As much as I try not to let the anxiety stop me from doing anything, looking back, I realise it has. I have been on autopilot, relying on routines and not really challenging myself and getting out my comfort zone.

The thing that works best though? Acknowledgement. Actually, it isn’t a battle, it isn’t about control. Everyone feels fear and anxiety. Everyone has the negative thoughts that cause them. The trick is to simply not let them spiral. The only way to do that is to accept them and own them. It is the key to any mental health problem: I am the proprietor of my thoughts and feelings.

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I had that day when I realised I was the warden and not the prisoner of my emotions. It was revelatory and life-changing; I have started to challenge myself, to travel upstream. But it is so easy to slip back into the routines of old. I’ve learnt not to make the mistake of trying to do too much too soon. To take it one step at a time, changing your life gradually. I don’t know what my future holds, but I hope it’ll mean I’ll no longer be single, I’ll be a published author and I’ll continue being a librarian.

Two quotes have helped me greatly. From Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” From Ambrose Redmoon: “Remember courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

Thank you for sharing Sarah! Great to hear you’re the warden of your mind, just make sure you don’t pull a Warden Norton and put your mind in the hole for a month just because it called you ‘obtuse’. Next up is reader Michael, from California.

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Greetings Gav, my name’s Michael, I’m 56 and I live in Lompoc California. I have been a cartooning and comic fan for years. I have seen a lot of inspirational/motivational posters on walls of companies over the years. They are all so blah and forgettable. Zen Pencils is something different. Something that is truly inspiring. Your posters are starting to dot my walls. They remind me of goals and values I want to keep. They are tools to keep me on track.

The one poster that will always be in my top three is the Edgar Albert Guest poem It Couldn’t Be Done. It really hits home for me. Over the past 15 years I let myself go and put on weight to the point where a year ago I was a very large 310 lbs (141 kg). Being overweight effects how you feel about yourself and how you function. I was spraining my left leg repeatedly by just stepping off a curb. The cartilage under my knees was deteriorating to the point where I was seeing a handicap mobile scooter in my future. My blood pressure was up. I was shifting from pre-diabetic toward diabetic. When I asked the orthopedist what I could do to avoid surgery, he gave me a stern look and said “South Beach Diet”. I left the clinic and when an obese man went by in a scooter I knew I had to do something.

So I bought a mountain bike and started riding, just a block or two at first. I felt like garbage even after such a short distance. I wasn’t going to quit however. Now riding is a daily routine. The pounds have dropped off. I am no longer breathing hard. My doctor has been impressed – he changed my weight goals three times from 220 lbs. to 190 lbs. to finally 170 lbs. My blood pressure is normal and I am almost at normal blood sugar levels. Recently, I rode in my first half century race which is 52 miles. I crossed the finish line with spots in front of my eyes, which I found out later was a touch of heat exhaustion. I still can’t believe I made it. This is the first of many to come. A friend did the full century and my goal is to join him in the near future.

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I could relate so much with your character in It Couldn’t Be Done. I also had my doubters though today they are much quieter. Today, your poster of It Couldn’t Be Done is on the wall of my studio/bike shed/office. All of your characters are inspiring. However I feel your running man is a kindred soul to me.

That’s awesome Michael, best of luck with completing the full century – you’re a fitter man than I am! Do you have your own inspiring story? Has the Zen Pencils comics motivated you to try something new, or change your life, even in the smallest way? If you would like to be featured as a Reader of the Month, then send me an email.

For those of you worried about the slowness of new comics being updated, no I haven’t been on a break, I’ve been busy the past month or so working on some exclusive content for the new Zen Pencils book, due out in October. But now that most of it is complete, there will be new comics being updated here a bit more regularly. And I’ll be revealing a lot more details about the new book a bit closer to the release date. Thanks for your patience. – Gav