Hi, comic fans. What a month it has been.

I decided to hit pause on the update schedule at the end of August so I could catch up on some important background tasks that I’ve been neglecting for too long. That and I got run over by a car in late July, and drawing was making my broken arm hurt more.

So a break of an altogether different kind was needed, to help my arm heal up. You see, somewhat recklessly, I never actually stopped drawing after the accident. I got home from the hospital and the first thing I did after 10 hours in the emergency room was pick up my tablet and finish the next update. Yeah.

And I thought to myself, “David, you handsome devil you, you haven’t taken a break from updating your comic in years. You didn’t even stop posting when those family members died. Maybe let’s take a little break from updating until your elbow feels better.”

So I uploaded the last comic for August (late, more on that later) and decided to take some compassionate leave.

Well, I’m glad I did because it wasn’t until I took a break β€” it wasn’t, in other words, until I allowed my mind let go of the idea that a new page had to be ready in two weeks or less β€” that I realised what a source of stress it had been. I love the comic, I love drawing, I love being a cartoonist. It’s just my thing, like fish swimming or plumbers jumping. So why then, if I love it so much, had it been stressing me out? And why didn’t I notice that fact until I stopped and took stock?

The answer is basically my whole life up until this point. It’s multifaceted, to say the least. This is going to take a little time and a sprinkling of nuance, but the quick and dirty version is this: I am bad at managing my time. I am bad at managing myself. And the un-nuanced, stupid reason as to why is what I used to tell myself every day: it was because I was lazy, because I wasn’t working hard enough, because I wasn’t there yet β€” I hadn’t matured into a proper adult yet. Yeah, I’ve never been the king of high self-esteem. I still catch myself calling myself an idiot when things go wrong to this day. At least these days I only do it when I’m in a bad mood and not all the time.

And at least these days I’ve realised that it’s not true: I’m not an idiot. I’m not lazy, I work so damn hard. I get up early, I go to bed late, I put in more hours of work every week into making comics than someone with a full time job puts into their work week. And yet, for someone who puts in 40+ hours a week, I don’t have a lot to show for it. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel. I tell myself if I can just be a little bit faster, a little bit better, things will improve, but I’m standing still.

The comic updates 1st and 15th of every month, so there is a definite deadline I’m working towards. I’ve begun to realise that I’m incapable of getting ahead of that schedule. The comic is always ready just before it’s due. No matter how early I start it, it’s only ever ready just in time. The more time I give myself, the more my insane level of perfectionism takes over and therefore the longer it takes overall. And I am seemingly incapable of stopping myself from doing otherwise.

And so weeks and fortnights slip through my fingers until β€” oh crap β€” the comic is due in three days! Suddenly, out of nowhere, I get this burst of speed, this burst of energy, this adrenaline rush and everything clicks into place, and I get the comic up on time. Or, and this is what happened last August, an unexpected change of plans comes along and ruins everything and just enough time to finish turns into not enough time and the comic is late. It doesn’t happen every time, sometimes I get lucky, but when it happens it drives me mad β€” the self-admonishment, the guilt, the frustration, I’m really hard on myself. Why can’t I do better? Why can’t I be better?

And I realise now that I’ve been using theβ€”I don’t knowβ€”anxiety of a looming deadline, of the update schedule itself, as the driving force for my entire creative output. For years. Side projects: neglected. Working ahead: impossible, Sisyphean, avoided. Improvements to the website, unfinished, ignored. Other creative pursuits, non-existent. Unless sporadically updating Twitter counts. I’ve been relying on an update schedule, and relying on feeling bad about it, to keep the wheels moving. And, let me tell you, they ain’t moving that well.

So it wasn’t until I took a break that I realised how the break was long overdue. And, when I no longer had the sword of Damocles hanging over me, something unexpected happened. Well, not at first. For the first 7-10 days of my self-administered webcomic holiday, I did exactly what I would have expected: I worked like a demon on the comic. Character model updates, colouring, shading, line art, learning new software. All those neglected background tasks completed. But then after ten days of that I felt burnt out, my arm was sore…Β  I realised that this approach wasn’t really helping the situation β€” if I really was taking a break, I needed to really take a break. So I finally stepped away from the whole project and gave myself permission to go with the flow.

I spent a day just reading a good book. Day two, I sketched. Day three, I wrote a script. I just spent a few days doing only what I felt inspired to do that morning. If that was read Wikipedia all day, so be it. If that was drawing sketches of goblins for three days straight, them’s the breaks. And after, I don’t know, two weeks or something of this I realised I had managed to do zero work on Life on the Fourth Floor. And try as I might, I couldn’t will myself to do it. I would sit down to start work, and my attention would just sort of slide off. Without the threat of a missed update schedule, and the accompanying pangs of guilt and fear, my brain just refused to focus. It was like trying to pick a lock with a wet paper straw.

And if you’re thinking I’m building to some epiphany about how I realised I hate the comic and I should quitβ€”no! I love the comic! I have been looking forward to this storyline for two and a half years like it was Christmas and Hallowe’en rolled into one. And you may have noticed that when I was not focusing on the comic I wasn’t exactly focusing on anything else either. Reading a book for one day and then forgetting all about it the next day, writing for one day and not finishing the script… I wasn’t making consistent progress on anything. I’m just really bad at managing my time, at managing myself. And I don’t mean that I lack the skills, or the willpower, or the motivation, or the discipline β€” although certainly those things have also been true to some extent over the years β€” I mean I’m working hard and trying to exert my willpower and discipline and something is getting lost in translation.

Basically, my brain is the Juice Loosener from The Simpsons.

And all of the energy, the motivation, the gumption, the wherewithal, the attention, the focus, the sheer bone-headed force of will to succeed I can muster are oranges. And I pour a dozen oranges into my brain, which is the Juice Loosener in this metaphor, and it makes all this noise, all this work and effort and grind, and then I get one tiny drop of juice. And so I work even harder and get another dozen oranges. And in all these years of squeezing out juice, I never ever once stopped to tweak the machine.

So this is me, taking off the tiny screws, opening up the panel, let’s look at how this thing is wired together.

Thinking back on my life, I’ve always been this way. I will do something for an amount of time, and during that time it will become a kind of all-consuming obsession, just take over my whole damn life, then I’ll stop and move onto something else. This year I played The Sims every day for two months. Didn’t plan to. Didn’t mean to. Didn’t want to, not by the end. Couldn’t stop. Finally stopped. Haven’t played it since. I played Fall Guys every day for three months, hours a day, then quit and never played it again. I once bought Bioshock Infinite, an impulse buy that morning, and played it alone in my flat all day until nightfall, about ten or eleven hours total, forgetting to eat or drink anything that whole time. I dropped everything, worldbuilt an entire D&D campaign setting for six months, then dropped it and never did it again. Oh, sure, we play D&D and we play in that setting, but it’s like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, what’s canon is canon and it’s not been added to in years. And speaking of jolts of creative inspiration, in the past I have had intense flurries of activity with the comic, too. Long-time readers will remember I spent an entire summer updating the comic every day. Three months, drawing a comic a day. Didn’t leave the house, barely slept, just about pried myself away to eat. I wrote a novel once, years ago. Haven’t written in prose in over a decade (except to participate in NaNoWriMo, more on that in a second). I just pick things up, become fixated on them, then put them down and move on. I taught myself how to solve the Rubik’s cube in two weeks. Sometimes I circle back to the same areas of interest, like the comic, sometimes I drop hobbies, like the Rubik’s cube, and never return. Well, I lost the damn thing. Can’t remember for the life of me where I put my cube β€” I have a terrible memory β€” so I’d have to buy a new one if I wanted to become a cuber once more.

Then there’s the opposite situation, when I have to do something I don’t find interesting at all. I don’t touch my personal finances, I can’t make my brain make sense of them, it just won’t do it. This week it was three hours of mandatory training modules for work. That I did. I made my brain do it. It felt like I was being poisoned, but I did it. I left it until the last possible second, but I did it. And then, as soon as it was done I dropped it like a hot rock, with no intention of picking it up ever again. Gah! my brain seemed to say. Begone, foul demon of boring bullshit. Begone! I could feel it flinching. Never do that again. And as long as I can help it, I will avoid doing that again. I mean, what are the odds of work telling me to do “quarterly mandatory training” next quarter? It sounds like a one-and-done type deal.

You know, taking a step back and looking at this whole deal, at how the big machine is wired, is making me think I might β€” might β€” have undiagnosed adult ADHD. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.

I watched some episodes of Game Grumps in which Arin Hanson casually mentioned his experiences with ADHD and what it’s like and my reaction was “Oh, cool, that’s weird. I do that too, and yet I don’t have ADHD. Life sure is funny like that.”

And then, four weeks ago now, this Thought Slime video came out. And, watching it, I was like “This is so weird, because I do that too and yet, weirdly, I don’t have ADHD. Just one of those crazy coincidences I guess! lol.”

Then three weeks ago I was sitting in my living room and I jokingly said to my wife “Hey, do you think I have ADHD, moon of my life?” expecting her to react the way she reacted when I asked her if we could could buy a PlayStation and an Xbox and a Nintendo, or when I asked her if she thought I had schizophrenia, or the flu, or Ovine Johne’s disease. Yeah, I’m something of a hypochondriac.

She paused and looked up the symptoms. “No, but I think you might have ADD.”

I am not gay, or trans, or non-binary, I’m probably not bi no matter how attractive I find Chris Pratt because I mean seriously, so I don’t know what it’s like to realise something that radical about yourself, but I imagine it might be something like this, this moment three weeks ago. A sort of awakening to a new perspective, something so small and yet so big, that feels like the optician sliding a new lens before your eyes that suddenly brings everything into focus. And you wonder if you ever truly saw anything clearly until now. And then you think, “Am I going to have to come out to my parents?”

I’ve been asked by people in the past if I had a condition like ADHD and I always told them no, because nobody ever diagnosed me in childhood. As hypochondriac as I may be, I’ve never even considered that I might have ADHD before β€” I actively dismissed the possibility β€” mainly because I had no idea what ADHD actually was. Turns out the Simpsons episode where Bart takes Focusyn and goes insane did not adequately prepare my generation for a frank conversation about neurodivergence. That show really jumped the shark after Season 8, didn’t it?

So I talked to my doctor, who gave me a screening quiz to fill in. Based on my answers, I’m now on a waiting list to see an ADHD expert for a mental health assessment. I’ll let you know how it all shakes out, probably next year because mental health waiting lists are stupidly long.

To think if I hadn’t taken a step back from working so hard and taken the time to re-evaluate a few things, I don’t know… maybe I wouldn’t have come to this realisation about myself. It’s hard to say. At any rate, I’m weirdly excited about this new chapter in my life.

And, listen, I’m not saying people should just run around diagnosing themselves as neurodivergent based on what Google says. Ultimately, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just trying to keep an open mind, and I know that something is up. That might be ADHD, it might be something else, but something is going on. I was diagnosed with general anxiety 18 months ago. At this point I don’t know if that was misdiagnosis, or a co-morbidity, or I just have anxiety and it’s making me think I have ADHD or what. I know I have at least some of the symptoms for certain. And I’ve researched some tips for handling ADHD as an adult and even though I’ve only been using them for a couple of weeks they’ve already helped me a great deal. Whether that’s because of their general helpfulness to everybody or because they’re mitigating my symptoms, I don’t know. How would I know? Whatever is going on, I’m looking forward to getting to the root cause, whatever that may be, and putting things in place to help, whether that’s medicine or some really useful productivity tips or both or something else, I have no idea and that’s kind of cool. Just knowing that the stuff I’ve been struggling with for decades might, just might, not be my fault, knowing they might be symptoms, has already changed everything.

Speaking of symptoms, a quick example of what I’m talking: I found out last week that I am time blind. I know. Thought Slime in the video said time-blindness was a symptom, and my reaction was “Well, I’m glad I don’t have that, that sounds terrible.”

First of all, I knew I didn’t have time-blindness. How is that even a thing? What the fuck does that even mean? Nope. Second of all, I can perceive time. I perceive time all the damn time. Who can’t perceive time? What would that even look like? And so on. Denial, as they say, is stage one.

Basically, up until now, I always thought I could perceive time. I can put events in the right chronological order in my mind, isn’t that all perceiving time is? Apparently not! This is news to me. Talking to people in my life and finding out that they can taste time itself, like feel some difference in themselves between ten minutes ago and ten years ago, some meta-perceptual temporal resonance within their souls, blew my God damn mind. What do you mean you can feel time? So things ten minutes ago feel different to things ten hours ago? And you can sort of tell without checking your watch when about ten-minutes-ish has passed? What are you talking about? Needless to say, this blew my mind.

And just like that, this small realisation changed everything. And all these events from my past suddenly made more sense…

There’s this delightful phrase in my home country: when someone asks you how long something is and you have absolutely no idea, you reply “How long is a piece of string?” It’s almost a Zen koan. Well, at my old job, my team leader hated me. Viscerally hated me, like my very existence disproved that of a just universe. And I would estimate now that 90% of that was him being a prick. Just an absolute penis. But thinking back now, I’m willing to concede that maybe 10% was my catchphrase “How long is a piece of string?” and how I would say it every time he asked me how long something was going to take. You know, we had tasks. We had service delivery pipelines. We had promises that we made to clients. And a manager’s job is to find out how long things will take and make sure they’re done on time. So multiple times a day, every day for four years he kept asking me how long things would take and I would either dodge the question, guess wildly and erroneously, or say “How long is a piece of string?” Like of course I couldn’t quantify time. Who can? We’re all string blind, right guys? We all know that there’s really no such thing as string.

So this miiight go some way towards explaining how I keep losing track of the time, sometimes by 25 minutes, sometimes by an hour, sometimes by ten hours, sometimes YEARS. For example, the whole time I was 26 I thought I was 25, didn’t realise my mistake until I was 27. True story.

Making estimates about how long things will take hasn’t really improved since I left my old job, either. When it comes to committing myself, and my time, I’m such a people-pleasing Pisces moon about these things that I tend to make wildly magical, bizarrely unrealistic assumptions about how long everything will take. And when you massively underestimate how much time you have you tend to chronically overcommit. Then, having overcommitted, I’m so terrified of letting anyone down that I work extra hard to meet my own self-imposed insane timetable. I lose sleep, I drink too much coffee, I stress, I think about how much all my friends must hate me, and that only makes my mental health worse.

Long story short, it’s pretty clear that I do not have my shit together. My shit is hella disparate. I need to get it together. My shit, that is. I need to look after my kids, and go to work on time, and write and draw, and play video games, but in a way that none of things take a terrible toll on my mental health. Or any kind of toll, really. I need to treat this the same way I treated my broken arm β€” recognise something is wrong and go easy on it, at least for the time being.

So when I play with my kids, I don’t want gnawing doubts plaguing me about not working on the next comic update. When I play games, I want it to be in moderation and not as part of some crazy eight-day binge. When I write and draw I want it to be fun, I want it to be a process of exploration and imagination, not an obsessive spiral into madness or a mad scramble to meet a self-imposed deadline.

I don’t want to be a slave to my own creation. That means I need to change my relationship with the update schedule. I can’t lean on this crutch of stress and anxiety to get things done, because it’s making me feel terrible. And the last thing I want to do is force myself to create and have the comic turn into some ‘hot stone’ task, like a mandatory three-hour training session, where the more I try to brute-force my brain to do things it doesn’t want to do, the more it rebels. That’s how we get burnt out. That’s how I had fun doing NaNoWriMo the first time I tried it, then with each subsequent year experienced diminishing returns until I grew to hate the act of writing itself for way too long, until the stress aftershocks had dissipated and I could find the fun again. I will still get stressed, inevitably, but now I’ve realised that I’ve been doing it to myself on purpose in order to get things done, I have to avoid doing that at least.

At the same time, I don’t want the comic to become a Rubik’s cube either, something I pick up on a whim, tinker with, then let gather dust for years, or lose altogether. I can’t just float around ‘following my bliss’ and doing whatever my mind happens to land on for an indefinite span of time. My brain needs a schedule, it needs order, it needs structure, or I will just spend two months straight playing Spider Solitaire. I’ve been there, and done that. It was… grim.

So strict schedule is a no-no. No schedule at all is a no-no also. The only solution, as far as I can see it, is a looser more chill schedule where we all vibe and have fun with it.

Therefore, I’m happy to announce the update schedule… will stay the same. First and fifteenth of every month works for me. But I need to act like it’s not a brick wall, it’s not something to be afraid of. I need to work on the comic when I have the oranges to spare (if I may extend an already stretched metaphor), and not worry or panic when I’m late and not freak out when I’m early either.

Comic updates might be on time. They might not be. I’m going to stop apologising when they are late, and I’m going to stop making wild unrealistic promises for when things will be finished, too. I can promise that if you keep visiting this website, and follow me on Twitter, I will endeavour to delight you on a regular basis, whatever form that may take. I have a sneaking suspicion it will manifest itself as two or more comic strips a month.

If I feel myself getting stressed or frustrated, I’ll need to take breaks. Even if it’s just for a day or two. And I’m not going to chastise myself for being lazy or procrastinating, I’ll tell myself I’m just going back to my orange grove to harvest more oranges, man. Mental oranges for the inefficient noisy juice machine.

I think having more compassion for myself in the future I will help me be happier, enjoy life a little more, and β€” who knows? β€” maybe even make more orange juice. I literally don’t know. As we’ve already covered in exhaustive detail, I’m time-blind and psychologically incapable of making realistic estimations about my productivity.

Uh, in other news, my arm is actually feeling a lot better. So there’s that.