This is How I Disappear by Mirion Malle from Drawn+Quarterly discusses burnout and coping in a way that is rarely seen in literature. The portrayal of depression often focuses on an artistic and sensory depiction of the struggle, which This is How I Disappear does vividly, but it goes several steps further into showing not only the struggle but the breakthroughs.
Malle, well known for her League of Super Feminists, presents a narrative that is as educational as it is dramatic. Her zine-style art presents the feelings well, giving ample space for pacing in the panels that are not cartoony but also not hyper-realistic as to weigh down the emotional appeal. Certain spots of heavy inking, such as the characters’ heads and clothes and the cell phone serve as black holes that seem to slurp up the energy of the page.
This is How I Disappear is a creation of its time, making sly cultural references that will make a reader of a certain age feel as if they are talking with a former classmate. The book pulls its title from the lyrics of My Chemical Romance and shows much of its action through screens with messaging and FaceTime. Just as readers familiar with the shared culture recognize it throughout, they will also recognize the very real struggle. This is a generation that has seen demands for productivity increase by half from previous generations with little improvement in wages, and protagonist Clara serves as an everyperson to display how it wears on us all.
Throughout This is How I Disappear, Clara works to live her life. The story opens with a visceral conversation with a therapist discussing dark thoughts. Even as she opens up about desires to cease to exist, she automatically discounts herself, saying that being bullied in school was different than her feeling of weariness that she later describes, “It’s like my head’s full of something black and sticky that sucks up all my energy. There’s no room for anything else. I try to make myself do things, go out and see people. But it wears me out so much. I feel empty after.”
Showing our modern life, Clara bounces from overwork to exhaustion in This is How I Disappear. Her boss continually heaps additional projects upon her while praising her success, but she has no way of communicating that she cannot take on more and maintain her health, even bowing her head when told that she cannot take planned time off because someone else needs a vacation. On top of her day job, Clara is under deadline for a book of poetry, made all the worse from stress-induced writer’s block. Her friends want to cheer her up, but often planned activities and heavy drinking drain her just as much as work does. She even leaps to help a friend suffering a panic attack, something she has regrettable expertise handling herself. Fatigue causes her to break and ghost people, which results in even more emotional weight on her back.
Rather than wallowing in misery, however, This is How I Disappear shows that all is not dark. Although Clara continues trudging through her own slough, she experiences the refreshment of having a deep conversation without guilt or consequences. Her friends take her to a cabin for a weekend break, which initially seems impossible with her deadlines, but the moment of rest allows for her spirit to reignite. Even with joyful lights at the end of the tunnel, there is understanding that more tunnels will happen, but that is okay since they, too, can be managed.