Illustrations by Mark Starmach




It’s Thursday night at the Hills District Martial Arts Taekwondo gym in the outskirts of suburban Sydney, where my 33-year-old brother, James, is undergoing his black belt grading. Sweat pours from his black curls down his reddened face. His feet move masterfully across the pastel pink and blue floor as he performs his fourth and most complex poomsae of the night — a long sequence of strikes, kicks, and blocks. Each time he performs a move, James lets out a short sharp cry called a ‘kihap’ to focus his energy.




Our dad, forever tall…

We’ve all been to the dark before.

The dark is that place in our minds where our worries loom large, where our anxieties are all-consuming, and where our sadness is enormous. Combined, they block out all the light in life.

It’s a place we can fall into during times of stress, despair, change, trauma, or perhaps most frustratingly, via no trigger at all — and we can be stuck there for days, weeks, months, or years.

The dark is more than a passing mood — it’s a mood you can’t see out of.

And yet, somehow, by some minor miracle…

Illustrations by Mark Starmach

It was a Saturday afternoon and my Instagram inbox was dinging with a bunch of pushy messages.

“So which package do you want?”

“I guarantee you’ll get results”

“Which package you buy?”

“✨ Special deal of the day, valid for 24 hours ONLY ✨”



“I’ll give you an hour”

“Which package?”


How did this happen? Let’s take a step back.

I recently started posting some of my drawings and arts and crafts to Instagram (@mstarmach.makes if you’re interested). Right now I’ve got a relatively small following of friends and colleagues, so occasionally I’ll use hashtags to try…

(Illustrations — Mark Starmach)

The turn of the 20th Century to the 21st Century was marked with many things — Y2K, the Sydney Olympics, Beanie Baby hysteria and ill-fitting jeans.

But none have impressed themselves as deeply into my psyche than the computer game franchise, ‘The Sims’.

First released in 2000, ‘The Sims’ was conceived by American game designer Will Wright, the mastermind behind a slew of highly successful simulation games in the 1990’s like ‘SimCity’, ‘Sim Theme Park’, and the oft-overlooked ‘SimAnt’. In each game the objective was to build, monitor and maintain the simulation of a complex system with many moving parts…

Humans 101

Illustration of two hands over a crystal ball with emoticons inside.
Illustration: Mark Starmach

Here’s an instant personality test. Get your iPhone out and bring up the keyboard. Tap the emoji button and look to see what your most frequently used emoji is. It’s the one at the tippy-top of the list (unless you’re using an Android device, which will show your most recently used emoji, not your most frequently used emoji). This is the emoji you go to time and time again when communicating with others. And this byte-sized blip may say more about you than you think.

“Well, you have a severe anxious depression,” the psychiatrist said to me. “Severe,” he reiterated. Tension hung. “But that’s great, because we know exactly how to treat that.”

Instantly my temperament lightened. I felt assured on some primal level by the psychiatrist, Dr Ken (name changed for privacy). It was as though he knew exactly how I felt, and just what to say. He was a warm and soulful man, not the cold science-minded sort you’d instinctively associate with the head of the psychiatric unit of a major hospital, close to the end of his career.

He had a mat…

As I laid awake in bed unable to sleep, worried that I may never fall asleep again, stuck in a state of panic so powerful it caused my heart to thud, my chest to clench, and my head to sweat, I couldn’t help but feel that the word ‘anxiety’ doesn’t adequately capture the gravity it ought to.

When I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder a few years ago (alongside a severe depression), I was semi-surprised. This is what ‘anxiety’ is? Why didn’t you warn me? There was no hint in the name about how devastating it is. …

Illustrations: Mark Starmach

First, you withdraw.

Life shrinks down to the size of your home, then to your bedroom, then to your bed—sometimes over months, but more often over weeks.

Old joys stop having the same pull.

You eat less, drink less. Have less interest in speaking.

As your body’s systems start shutting down, you have less and less energy.

You sleep more and more throughout the day.

You start to slip in and out of consciousness and unconsciousness for longer periods of time.

Staying alive starts to feel like staying awake when you are very immensely tired.

At some point, you can’t…

When a contact of mine mentioned she’d done a job for a lady who has a monkey zoo in her backyard, I knew I had to investigate further.

I mean — A monkey zoo? Run by a lady in her backyard?? I had so many questions.

Part of what piqued my interest so quickly was the fact that it was so close to home. Who would’ve guessed a magical world of monkeys had been hiding round the corner all my life? I told my partner about it, my family. I told friends in the area too. …

I’d just come home from watching Crazy Rich Asians with my partner, and I was bawling my eyes out. It wasn’t just a passing teariness from the movie either — it was that deep, existential empty-feeling kind of sadness, the sort of sadness that makes you feel as though everything you are and everything you’ve strived for is folly and futile. My partner tried to console me, to no avail — I was inconsolable.

How could a lighthearted rom-com about a woman winning the affections of her fiancé’s obscenely rich Singaporean family be so soul-destroying?

At the time, I chalked…

Mark Starmach

Finding light on the dark side of life. Copywriter and Co-founder of Intangible Goods.

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