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COMIC: How to break out of your pandemic slump

Cartoonist and illustrator Joy Ho lies curled up on top of a soft squishy green lump. The lump has a face on it. "The Slump is a soft state of being that I crawl into when I don't want to do anything," Joy says. In the next panel, Joy is drawing squiggly lines with thought bubbles that say "I'm not good at working today. Maybe some coffee will help."
 
Joy continues: "I'm tired. My back aches. Work is never-ending. Dragging myself out of it to get things done when I'm slumping often results in things. Done. Terribly." Joy pours hot coffee on top of their hand, then trips over the green Slump lying in the middle of the floor, and then the mug lies broken on the floor. The Slump says, "It's OK! Stop working. It's a pandemic."
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Joy sits under a large cell phone with the Slump. On the phone, tweets read "I'm not OK", "It's been a long time since I had a hug" and "my grandma has COVID." Scrolling on social media tells me that lots of people are feeling this way. I'm constantly preoccupied with news. The slump is an island, and I've been marooned with it. Doomscrolling. Joy sits atop the Slump, checking news online.
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Joy stands in a bathrobe with a facial mask on. They say, "All these self-care days and I still feel like crap. There has got to be some way to feel better. There's no point in worrying for others if I'm not doing anything to change that." Joy is seen resting their hand on the Slump's head. "Self-care does not only mean rest." Helping other people might be the self-care I actually need.
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I've been reaching out to my friends more lately, and they've reached out to me. We're all getting sick of feeling helpless. Joy's friends are sitting atop their individual green slumps with their fists in the air. "Enough!" one says. "Let's go!" "Time to do something!" We've started looking outside our bubbles to tend to parts of our communities that need nurturing.
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A large flower looms over Joy as they tend to it with friends. We're now actively doing several things: volunteering and advocating; combining forces to reach more people; and diversifying ways of showing care. A person carries boxes, three people hold hands in a rainbow circle and two people wave at each other on their rooftops.
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Joy is illustrating on their laptop with the same flower seen previously emerging from the screen. For me, that meant creating informational comics to spread awareness on migrant worker issues, as well as organizing local queer events.
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Over time, I was too busy to get caught by the Slump. Empathy and action became the antidote. I found that I could help others escape their Slumps too. We all became stronger when we looked outside ourselves. Joy comes across another person stuck within their green squishy Slump. Joy grabs their hands and pulls them out. Pop! The rescued person looks back at their Slump.
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There's no denying it's been a season of hurdles and difficulty. But new paths can emerge as long as we don't stop moving. And at least we can right out our Slumps together. Joy sits atop their green Slump next to their newly rescued friends who is also riding their Slump, with a flower in their hand.
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Sadness, lethargy and an inability to concentrate can also be signs of clinical depression or other serious mental health issue that can benefit from professional counseling and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good list of organizations to help you or a loved one get the support you need. Or call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It's a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish).

Joy Ho is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist based in Singapore. Their cartooning work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration and 3x3.

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