Bobby Baker Draws It Like It Is

I’m always on the lookout for people whose words or art urge us to get a little more real about what it means to live with mental illness. People who, by finding the courage to tell their own truths, help clear the way for the rest of us to do the same. (Anyone come to mind? Suggestions welcome!)

People like performance artist Bobby Baker, whose work I recently discovered—and fell in love with—while plumbing the archives of one of my favorite blogs.

In 1996, performance artist Bobby Baker was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and for the next 11 years, she kept a visual diary of her journey through hell to a happier, saner, more stable ground. Baker made 711 drawings and water colors in all, and 158 of them now appear in her wonderful collection, Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me.

You can hear Baker narrate a slide show of her work in The Guardian.

And for more about the collection, check out Maria Popova’s review in the Atlantic.

I think what I appreciate most about Baker’s work, besides its sheer rawness and honesty and humor and wit, is that it doesn’t pull any punches (or arrows, as in Day 690) when it comes to portraying just how rough, comical, difficult, joyous, confusing, and above all unpredictable the road recovery can be. On the contrary, her diary bears witness to what a messy, never-linear process of trial and error it really is, full of difficult compromises (Day 397) and grief (Day 579) and rage (Day 690), but also periodic arrivals of hope and cheerfulness (Day 526), warmth and connection (Day 72, Day 470), grace and exaltation (Day 579), and, eventually, healing and lasting transformation (Day 711). I think it also stands as an important reminder that, while interventions like medication and therapy might initially save the day, it’s our own humor and insight and self-knowledge and authenticity and connections and courage that take us most of the way. Thanks, Bobby, for sharing your story with us.