Diary Drawings – Mental Illness and Me

As a long-time fan of comic art and graphic novels I am always awed by their power to entertain, heal and teach through visual storytelling.

The concept of art as a therapeutic and educational tool finds poignant expression in the remarkable and courageous Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me, by Bobby Baker.

Bobby Baker is in her own words, “a woman and an artist”.  She studied painting at St Martins School of Art and upon graduation, discovered creative expression and success as a performance artist.  Marriage and two kids followed and life was good up until 1996 when everything started to unravel.  She began to experience hallucinations and to engage in self-harm.  Home life and work became a struggle.  The medical diagnosis was borderline personality disorder.

Bobby referred herself to a community therapeutic day centre.  A planned three-week stay stretched into an eleven-year journey of mental, emotional, and physical healing.  There would be frequent and regular visits to crisis clinics as well as a diagnosis of breast cancer.  To cope with her experiences, she started a personal daily diary in pictures, 711 images in total, spanning the period from 1997 to 2008.  The 158 private drawings and watercolours carefully selected by Bobby for Diary Drawings chronicle her painful and moving story of illness and recovery.

What can I say?  This book took my breath away. Literally.  Raw, shocking, distressing, and funny this graphic autobiography is both a gruelling personal journey and a sad public statement on the perception and stigma of mental illness.  Although many of the pictures are horrific and tragic in content, there is beauty in their simplicity, eloquently expressed through watercolour, pencil and pen and ink.  Each turn of the page, every graphic image grips and carries the reader emotionally along Bobby’s harrowing journey towards recovery.  From the nightmarish, wounded, bloody, self-portraits to ultimately pictures of joy, peace, and contentment, one is feeling at journey’s end, breathless, happy, and relieved for both the artist and reader.

Diary Drawings is powerful visual storytelling.  At once terrifying and humbling in its sheer nakedness, it enlightens and articulates for the reader what it is like to live with mental illness.

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