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Paralyzed By Doubt? Here's A Guide For The Worrier In Us All

Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

Feeling anxious? A bit panicky? Fear not — cartoonist and self-proclaimed World Champion Overthinker Gemma Correll is here to help you laugh about it.

In A Worrier's Guide to Life, Correll dishes out her dubious and droll advice on everything from health and hypochondria to attaboy stickers for grownups. (Sample: "I did the laundry.")

She should know. Correll, a 30-year-old British illustrator based in Norfolk, England, has dealt with an anxiety disorder and depression throughout her life. Plus: "I'm the type of person who worries about lots of insignificant things," she says.

Correll often tackles mental illness in her comics, including a detailed explanation of panic attacks and a sardonic take on those ubiquitous "Keep Calm" posters: "I can't keep calm and carry on because I have an anxiety disorder."

A Worrier's Guide makes light of serious mental health issues as well as the everyday angst that affects us all. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you decide it was OK to get funny about anxiety?

I'm a freelance illustrator, and a few years ago I started drawing things for myself and posting online. I noticed that people reacted really well to the cartoons and comics that were about anxiety and worrying and everyday problems.

/ Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

Do you think your work resonates with people who have dealt with similar mental health issues?

Yeah, I think people are really glad to find somebody who's had the same kind of experience. Anxiety and depression can make you feel quite isolated.

Your comics portray both diagnosable mental conditions and the types of worries that every young person feels. Like in the valentines: "You'll Do" and "I Don't Hate You" are some of my favorites.

One of my favorite illustrations is the noncommittal Valentine's Day cards. It was one of the first comics that I did for myself and posted online, and it was the first time that I realized that people would find my work funny.

I didn't want the book to be one-note. For people who don't have an anxiety disorder, there are a couple of comics in the book that I hope will explain the condition to them a little bit more and help them understand.

/ Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

But I also have things about student debt and body image and all these everyday things — and I hope everyone finds it funny just on a general level.

Why joke about illnesses that can be very painful?

I always find that laughing helps put things in perspective.

But, you know, it wasn't always easy to take that approach. When I was a teenager, dealing with anxiety felt very isolating. And the Internet wasn't around so much, so I couldn't just Google my symptoms like you can now.

I did always find solace in drawing, even though at the time I wasn't necessarily drawing stuff about anxiety. Just making comics in any form helped me deal with my mental health problems.

How did you make the leap into darker themes?

I grew up reading comics like Snoopy — very lighthearted comics. But when I went to art school, I discovered people who were making more subversive comics. I got really into [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening, and Gary Larson, who did 'The Far Side', and [cartoonist] Lynda Barry.

I saw their work and realized that this was something I could do myself.

A lot of the comics in your book are about being a millennial. You've got the Sallie Mae Lil' Graduate doll that comes with a fast-food restaurant uniform. Do you feel like young people now are more stressed out than they used to be?

I don't know if we necessarily worry more. But we've got more to worry about, with things like debt and high unemployment and all the difficulty getting jobs. It's natural for everyone to be anxious about these things.

For people who have issues with anxiety, the good thing is, we probably have better support systems these days. We have more access to information and better mental health systems in place.

Even if you're not able to talk about your issues with a therapist, there are so many places you can go online, where you can find people who're going through similar things as you. That's something I really wish I'd had as a teenager.

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/ Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing