Ruby Elliot, aka rubyetc, is a London-based illustrator who began sharing cartoons and illustrations about mental health and everyday life four years ago.
When Elliot was 17 she dropped out of school but managed to find solace in her love of drawing. "There was no external pressure or objective," she told BuzzFeed. "At the time it was something I did to make myself laugh and also express things that were happening in my life that I was unable to verbalise."
Elliot has a book out now, It's All Absolutely Fine, filled with cartoons and essays about her experiences.
She's very candid about the highs and lows of her mental health: "I think what I’m keen to do is draw about things as they are for me."
"I don't want to shy away from the realities and extremities of my illness, but at the same time I want to make it clear that I am also a person who has a lot of the everyday experiences. Just because we are ill doesn’t mean we don’t have personalities and opinions and capacity to be something other than a diagnosis or set of symptoms."
Being so candid about her mental health has been "emotional at times", Elliot said, especially "dragging it all up and laying it out in a way that wasn’t just ‘arrRRRrrghh’".
When she first began to think about her book she imagined it as a series of anecdotes about hospital and A&E.
"I spent such a lot of time heavily involved with those places and situations, but in hindsight I tend to find something funny in a lot of these very frightening experiences. I realised it would be quite hard for other people to laugh at them."
One of the most frustrating misconceptions for Elliot is the idea that mental illness is synonymous with anxiety and depression.
"This is potentially damaging because it means we’re not talking about the most stigmatised aspects of mental health, and the lack of understanding is really apparent. People can just about stomach the thought of a panic attack, but wouldn’t want to learn or hear about what it’s like experiencing psychosis or PTSD, for example. You’ll see people talking about depression, but continuing to use OCD as an adjective for someone who keeps their desk tidy and thinking schizophrenia means you have a ‘split personality’ or something equally dated and false."
Elliot credits her illustrations as a way to manage self-harm urges.
"I think anyone who’s been there has heard the standard ‘flick a rubber band against your wrist’ or ‘squeeze ice cubes’ mantras used by professionals. No one really tells you that creative outlets like the knitting and doodling you described can also work really well. It’s about finding what’s right for you in that moment; there’s no right or wrong way to go about this stuff," she said. "When I was struggling with frequent and intense urges to hurt myself or worse, drawing was one of the only nondestructive ways I could express the overwhelming distress that was behind them."
She has also used drawing to ground herself during panic attacks or dissociative episodes.
One of the hardest parts about having a mental health problem, she said, "is that not only do you have the strain of being ill, but you also the strain of having to function as your own treatment coordinator".
"Help is definitely not a given as it is with physical illness, and I think the additional trauma and distress that can be caused just by existing within the mental health system is very real. In low moments I’ve felt the need (or been forced by circumstances) to actually extricate myself from it and find anything helpful that is self-generated. Walking has been really good, particularly with anxiety; I love an angry stomp around the woods near where I live. Sometimes it’s just about making sure that, even if nothing else can happen that day, that I crawl into the shower and wash my hair. Anything little that gives me back a sense of control and a tiny bit of respite is usually a good thing."
In regards to body image, Elliot has been "working on separating physical appearance and weight from self-worth."
"Disentangling the two has been important for me in terms of being able to exist and socialise without the constant noise of self-loathing. I tolerate my body for the most part and am able to rationalise more when I’m feeling horrible in order to get on with other things."
If you're an illustrator yourself, Elliot recommends getting involved on the internet: "There are some great communities amongst artists, and it is excellent getting that mutual support from one another."
She is planning to take a bit of a break now It's All Absolutely Fine is finished. On her Tumblr she writes that she wants to "see if I can exist in a slightly different space/focus on sorting my shit out for the rest of the year."
In the meantime Elliot's book is out on 17 November.