Lance Ward used to take medications to give him respite from his lifelong battle with depression.
But lately, the St. Paul Park resident found that drawing cartoons and painting is more therapeutic.
"It gives me something to look forward to every day," Ward said. Getting praise from his wife, friends and other cartoonists for his work helps him feel better too, he said. "To hear (praise) from them really makes my day and really is an ego boost."
An 'ugly cycle'
Ward was first diagnosed with depression when he was 18, but he said he remembered feeling depressed as early as age 15.
"I remember ... wondering, 'where's life going to go?'" he said. "Television promises us a fairy tale and it doesn't deliver."
When he was 18, he showed a friend a book he had written about suicide. She told his mom, and she had him hospitalized.
From that time until age 29, Ward was in and out of hospitals and group homes, which he said saved him from hurting himself. He attempted suicide in his early 20s by overdosing, but "got saved, barely" when he woke up in the emergency room.
"When you're in the middle of despair, it is a heavy woolen blanket over your face and nothing matters and you just want to be out with it," he said. "You want to crawl out of that hole and you will take any way out and death seems like a really quick and easy way out of it."
Since then, Ward, now 41, has fallen into and out of depression, he said.
"I've been on so many medications, and some of them worked for a little bit -- six to nine months," he said. "They make you lethargic and tired all the time ... the side effects are horrible."
He said he usually stops taking the medication after awhile, then starts feeling better, and he might have an upbeat mood for a year or two, depending on life circumstances, he said.
"Then there's that inevitable crash that happens and ... the depression freezes me to where I just can't do anything. I don't want to do anything. I know that I should be getting up off of this chair or cleaning or doing this or drawing or writing and I just can't move."
Then he starts obsessing over the fact he is depressed, which makes things worse, he said.
"It's an ugly cycle," he said.
The depression is tough on his 5- and 10-year-old children and his wife Georgia, "the rock" of the family who has talked him out of suicidal thoughts, he said.
During his last two-year bout of depression, which ended in September, Ward admits he probably should have seen a doctor or therapist, but he said he worries about the side effects of drugs and can't afford to be hospitalized because he is a stay-at-home dad who needs to be at home for his kids.
'Crawling out' with art
Ward is a self-taught artist.
He always liked art growing up, but didn't have the money to pursue it in college. Other than a stint as a tattoo artist, he didn't do anything "serious" with art until 2007 when he created a comic strip called Starship Down.
Ward didn't have any luck getting someone to publish the strip, which tells the story of two aliens stuck in "Kurtwood, Minn." (based on St. Paul Park) for 60 years due to a space ship crash.
His latest depressed period started shortly after Starship Down failed to be published, but he said the rejection was just one contributor to what stretched to a two-year-long depression.
He said he "crawled out" of the depression in September, shortly after his wife, Georgia, bought him a sketchbook.
He started drawing and writing in it as a way to get his feelings out. It's hard for him to look back at those first drawings and poems due to the raw emotion they contain.
"I was really angry and mad at life," he said. "I talk about being the walking dead and a zombie."
Georgia Ward said her husband doesn't like to talk about how he's feeling, and so the writing and drawing gives him an outlet.
"He just kind of gets all his demons out on paper and in drawings, and he can focus on other things that make him happy," she said. Unlike when he was drawing in 2007, this time his focus is less on getting published, and more on personal fulfillment, she said.
"Rather than trying to do something for everyone else that they'll like, he just does it because he likes it, and then he finds that other people like it too," she said.
Lance Ward says he dreams of being paid for his art someday.
He recently submitted a graphic novel called "Klonko" for publication, and he spends about five hours per day drawing and painting.
"I fully expect to become depressed again at some time here because it never changes," he said. "But while I'm not, I'm going to work as hard as I can."