nailbiter: an anxiety zine
Compiled by kerri and chelle.
Issue 1, 107 pages
Issue 2, 135 pages
Nailbiter is a Montreal-based zine compiled at the Ste-Emilie skillshare in St-Henri. Its editors put it together after finding a lack of resources that candidly and constructively describe the experience of anxiety disorders or offer coping strategies that are meaningful for non-mainstream folks with radical politics. Kerri and Chelle describe the project’s mission in Issue II as follows:
"Overall, we hope this project will link our individual stories to larger anti-oppressive analyses that are often unnamed in mental health resources. We are anxious heroes fighting against systems of power and privilege that affect our marginalized communities. The medical system’s attempt to cure anxiety can be the source of more anxiety, closed doors, misunderstandings, and oppression. We want to put a dent in the mainstream approach to mental health by advocating for respect, dignity, and meeting us where we’re at."
Nailbiter does something that its contributors have found conventional treatments for and discussions about anxiety often don’t, which is take seriously the way experiences like racialization, homophobia, transphobia, rape, bad trips, injury, and illness shape people’s brains and experiences. It shows anxiety as a burdensome but understandab le response to the shitty things that beset us in life, without being fatalistic. The more personal accounts tend to explicitly or implicitly link individual experiences to larger social phenomena, and its more research-driven pieces are full of empathy and heart, so it has a really good balance of tone not only overall, but throughout.
There’s so much I could say about this zine, because it is pretty great, and because so far it comprises two thick issues full of an amazing variety of advice, anecdotes, history, analysis, poetry, comics, and art. It gives a lot of well-informed and engaging historical context into how the diagnostic description of anxiety was created in part as a pharmaceutical cash-grab, quoting the product director for anti-anxiety medication Paxil as saying:
"Every marketer’s dream is to find an unidentified or unknown market and develop it. That’s what we did with social anxiety disorder."
That said, contributors throughout the zine remain agnostic and open-minded, describing their attempts to assuage anxiety with pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, weed, booze, food, and so on, with varying success, not treating anyone as a sell-out for doing what they gotta do. The prevailing tone throughout is empathetic and non-judgmental.
I borrowed this zine from my friend Kristin, who contributed to Issue II a “celebration of anxious weirdos” based on the Smiths song “Ask”. In a passage that could serve as a manifesto for the zine, Kristin writes:
"I’ve come to realize that most people I appreciate also tend to be anxious weirdos in some way. I generally find the slightly nervous and the slightly aloof more compelling than the people capable of easily mastering social situations. awkward weirdos are sort of like an infinite source of possibilities— we can’t live in the workd as it’s given to us, so we gotta change it into a place that works for us. we need to transform the status quo in order to survive."
I found this zine moving and funny and sincere. The art is top-notch and the zine is beautifully put together with a screenprinted cover and cover illustrations throughout. Not everyone meets the diagnostic criteria for anxiety, much to drug-peddlars’ regret, but I would venture that we’ve all had our moments of irrational fear, nights of self-doubt, and experiences of trauma that shake our confidence in the world and our place in it. Nailbiter, as an eclectic compendium of stories and interpretations and research, is a great read and a great resource for “anxious heroes and their allies”.
- Lily Pepper