Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership with Clinton Global Initiative University.
Ruby (known online as rubyetc), a London-based artist, is only 21. But she's already had to contend with far more than her fair share of shit. Beginning at age 14, her bipolar disorder and a severe eating disorder had her repeatedly hospitalized and in a state of what she calls "semi-permanent distress." But after a particularly difficult bout of depression at age 18, Elliot found that drawing could be a helpful, cathartic tool when words so often fail.
"Drawing comics started in earnest for me during a very difficult and dark time," she told R29 in an email, "and it became my anchor and gave me a different context to exist in."
Her (almost defiantly) simple style is one Ruby landed on both out of frustration at trying to make her work more realistic — "I can draw realistically, but it takes ages, and I’m an impatient bastard," she says — and because it's the drawings' humor that matters most for her.
Although Ruby doesn't see her work as an active attempt to change our perspectives on mental illness, she makes a point "not to sugar-coat things," she says. Which is why she'll never shy away from the sides of mental illness and treatment we don't normally see. For instance, she's drawn comics about taking mood stabilizers
, dealing with nightmare therapists
, and crying for no apparent reason
— often ending up in a familiar human picture of absurdity or frustration.
Which is why her comics have found a huge audience
beyond just those who deal with issues such as anxiety and depression. "I’ve seen in a pretty major way that our experiences as feeling, crying, laughing, sentient potato-humans are not so dissimilar," Ruby says. "Not everyone has mental illness or struggles to the same degree. But there are maybe uncomfortable things we can [all] relate to but were perhaps too afraid to talk about because it makes us vulnerable."
Now, Ruby says she's the most hopeful she's ever been — and that drawing has been a huge component in keeping her well. Click through to see some of her work, along with her original captions.