Artist Toby Allen has long suffered from general and social anxiety, illnesses that are burdensome to those they plague, but often invisible to the outside world. Three years ago, to give his demons shape, he created and illustrated a story called “Toby and the Monsters.”
“Drawing these characters was a very cathartic process, so I developed the idea into a larger project that covered other mental illnesses in the hopes that other people could relate to the work,” he said.
In his new watercolor collection, Real Monsters, Allen gives form to serious illness including Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Depression. He researches each condition and adds to the drawing as his understanding of the particular disorder comes into focus. The Anxiety monster, for example, was inspired by the secretive and furtive habits of rodents. The dark colors represent the oppressive feelings that Allen associates with feeling anxious, and the bright pink tail symbolizes an anxiety-related panic attack. He included a clock to demonstrate how anxious he often feels about future events.
“By giving these illnesses a physical form, it can help to make people more aware of them and sometimes make them appear more manageable,” he says. In the coming weeks, Allen will release more mental illness monsters into the wild, including OCD, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bipolar Disorder.