“Smiling Depression” How Jackie Barker Turned to Art to Cope With Depression and Finally Speak Out.

“Smiling Depression” How Jackie Barker Turned to Art to Cope With Depression and Finally Speak Out.

After learning about Jackie Barker, and his work as an artist and mental health advocate, we were desperate to sit down and chat with him. Jackie reached out to us and with his well-meaning nature, candor, and unwavering passion, we would be doing the world a disservice not to feature him. Today, we’re sharing Jackie’s story with you. Jackie’s life is one of hardship and struggle, but it’s also a tale of hope, humility and purpose. Jackie took our breath away, and we know he will do the same for you.

Trigger Warning! This post contains discussions on mental health and suicide. Reader discretion is advised. If you are currently going through a mental health crisis please consider reaching out to your respective Country/States crisis centers.

Childhood Trauma and Its Effect on Mental Health

Jackie Barker’s struggles with depression began at only ten years old. As a young boy, Jackie saw something no young child should ever encounter. One evening after school, Jackie’s mother’s infidelity was thrust upon the family home. Although Jackie’s parents rekindled their relationship, this event left a lasting impression on the young boy. During the course of our interview, Jackie rarely refers to his parents besides the scars they left him with. Looking back at what he now believes was the catalyst to his later struggles, a now 46-year-old Jackie sets the scene for us. 

His mother was engaging in an ongoing affair. One evening, with Jackie and one of his sisters at home, his mother attempted to leave. She was planning to visit her once secret lover. As a little boy, distressed, upset, and confused, Jackie stood in his mother’s way. He was desperately trying to save his family. But, determined to leave, his mother grabbed him and pushed him out the way as she bolted towards the door. Jackie was a small boy, but in that moment, became the subject of his mother’s frustration and aggression. A moment he’d never forget.

What could have been a bump in this West Virginian family’s life was the moment everything changed for Jackie. Already struggling at school, he explains how he was an easy target for school bullies. This physical encounter with his mother left him feeling even more alone. Jackie describes how he “went into a shell”. And that, “he was a mess”. 

Later in life, Jackie lost both his parents. And following their death, his sister lost her battle with cancer and sadly passed away. He recalls how his sister was the one person present on that fateful night his mother lashed out. With his sister gone, Jackie felt alone and isolated, more than ever before. Like many people who silently suffer to avoid distressing those close to them, Jackie struggled in silence for many years. He battled the darkest depth of depression without anyone knowing. At times, not even his wife understood the full extent of his suffering.One evening, with Jackie and one of his sister’s at home, his mother attempted to leave.

Success Story - Jackie Barker - Tammy, Jackie’s pillar of strength
Tammy, Jackie’s pillar of strength
Success Story - Jackie Barker - Tammy, Jackie’s pillar of strength
Tammy, Jackie’s pillar of strength

Luckily, his wife and high school sweetheart, Tammy, has always been by his side. But, she wasn’t there at ten when Jackie experienced his first brush with abandonment which impacted his mental health. Although she has always supported him, the death of his sister left Jackie feeling like no one would ever know his whole story.

“Smiling Depression” - The Suffering in Silence Catastrophe

TW: This section mentions suicide and suicidal thoughts. 
Need urgent help? Please call the suicide prevention crisis centre nearest you.

One way Jackie found solace was through the community and teachings of his church. He explains how dedicating his life to Jesus helped give him purpose. But, struggles were still lurking. In 2019, he read an article that knocked him back – A pastor he admired and thought was doing well, Pastor Jarrard Wilson, committed Suicide. Jackie talks of how reading this information opened his eyes. Wilson, like Jackie, suffered from “smiling depression”. 

Success Story - Jackie Barker - Smiling Depression
Success Story - Jackie Barker - Smiling Depression

Jackie explains “Smiling Depression” as when no one can identify your struggles from the outside. Always smiling, no one knew what plagued Jackie on the inside. The experience left Jackie immensely confused. How could someone so dedicated to religion still suffer from depression? Was the guidance of God and teachings of religion not enough? Once again, Jackie found himself close to breaking point. It was then that he spoke up about his struggles with his community in church, seeked helped in therapy and turned to art. 

Seeking Out a Support System and Finally Speaking Up

One evening, during a discussion with his church group in North Carolina, Jackie finally shared his story. In a safe space, he confided in his people. He told them he’d been struggling in silence for so many years. In Jackie’s words, he broke down. However, this cathartic storytelling opened his eyes to the benefits of what he’d been afraid of. He discovered the therapeutic nature of sharing your struggles. 

“The biggest thing that helped me was telling people” – Jackie

But, being open has never come easy. Previous to this day, Jackie had lived with an immense amount of shame surrounding his mental health. He didn’t want others to know the battle he faced every day. But today, Jackie is comfortable facing this anxiety head-on as he talks about his past. “Ever since my childhood, I’ve had this fear of speaking up about it”.

Success Story - Jackie Barker - Seeking out a support system
Success Story - Jackie Barker - Seeking out a support system

Jackie also turned to art. He explains how drawing on his iPad is a way for him to cope. His newfound love of putting pen to screen enriched his life in more ways than one. He no longer feels out of touch, floating through conversation only half engaged. Doodling means he can concentrate, be present at the moment and appreciate what’s going on around him. Drawing has become Jackie’s superpower for navigating a world that before, felt so difficult and cruel.

Even though drawing helps Jackie in ways no other creative pursuit, he leads with honesty and explains how he still struggles even with art in his life. He says that at his lowest moments, he leans on his wife, his small connection groups in church, medical intervention and speaking up. He emphasizes that we all need help and no-one should do it alone.

Keep Pushing Against All Odds

Jackie is no stranger to hardship, and the biggest one came a few years ago. After learning they were unable to have children, Jackie and Tammy decided to adopt. They became the parents of a beautiful boy, born prematurely with a mother only sixteen years old. Determined to give this baby a bright future, they would visit their newborn son in the hospital every day. For fifteen minutes, it would be Jackie and his tiny baby. In these short minutes, Jackie learnt how it felt to be a father. And he knew he would do everything he could to support this beautiful baby boy. But, after three months, their baby died. Tammy and Jackie had to bury a child they’d never been able to bring home. Although Jackie’s tone remains much the same throughout our chat, we can tell this hardship was unlike anything else he’d ever faced.

Mental Health Struggles Are Not to Be Shamed

Success Story - Jackie Barker - Mental Health Struggles Are Not to Be Shamed
Success Story - Jackie Barker - Mental Health Struggles Are Not to Be Shamed

Jackie hopes historic opinions of mental health being shameful and something to hide will change. And he believes there are promising signs of this development: “our culture today is hopefully trying to wake up”. We also hope for a progressive future where mental health doesn’t attain the stigma it once had.

Knowing what it’s like to suffer in silence, Jackie hopes no one else ever has to experience this. His biggest drive in life is to help others. His job in software supports his family, so he can dedicate his passions to looking out for others. On his blog, he runs challenges, encouraging his readers to adopt his sentiment. He explained to us one challenge where he tasked people to do one good thing a week. The good deed didn’t need to be monetary; it could be as simple as smiling at someone in the grocery store. We think we should all adopt Jackie’s challenge as a daily practice! And over the past few years, his artwork has become a way for him to donate to charities close to his heart.

Finding Solace in Art and in Others - A Shop for Charity

We were surprised to learn Jackie’s print-on-demand journey began before discovering Printify. At the time, he’d been using art as a mode of therapy. His artistic journey has bought him so much joy and freedom he thought others could enjoy seeing his designs. And so, he joined several print-on-demand sites. Using his art, he created various products and began selling online. Although the sales weren’t great, he kept creating. Art had always helped him, and he believed it could bring solace to others too. He just wasn’t sure how yet. 

Success Story - Jackie Barker - a shop for charity
Success Story - Jackie Barker - a shop for charity

In August 2021, Jackie decided to upscale his print-on-demand business. But the platforms and services he was using at the time weren’t going to help him fulfill his mission. Taking to Google, Jackie searched for print-on-demand and found Printify. At this time, he had an incredible art portfolio and a not quite thriving print-on-demand business under his belt. He had nothing to lose. From August to December 2021, Jackie made an outstanding one hundred sales! A dramatic increase from the five he’d made the previous year.

Jackie sold and marketed his products on Etsy, a popular E-commerce website for unique, personalized, creative items. His current store, ArtByOBXJack, has over ninety-nine sales and fourteen five star reviews! In 2021, he made $500, money he dedicated to a charity very close to his heart. Jackie explains the reason for his shop’s low prices to us; “I want to help people.” Having affordable art products means fans of his work can buy them, and he can give the profits to those who need them. Money from Jackie’s print-on-demand store goes to the American Foundation For Suiside Prevention . He explains that although this charity hasn’t been part of his journey, he knows they’re doing incredible work to help others.

Becoming a Support System, and a Champion for Others

In 2022, you’ll find Jackie in his home on the Outer Banks, Corolla, North Carolina. What is a popular holiday destination for many is Jackie and Tammy’s forever home. And it’s the inspiration for much of Jackie’s artwork. Alongside his hometown in Blue Ridge, West Virginia, of course. During his spare time, he’ll be strumming on his bass guitar as part of the church band, doodling, or updating inventory on his Etsy shop. Life is more peaceful than it once was, but it doesn’t come without its struggles. Jackie knows better than anyone that mental health is a journey with no destination. We travel this road our whole lives. Sometimes the view is beautiful and clear. And at other times, the pathway is dark and uncertain. But there are always people waiting at the sidelines to guide us through.

Success Story - Jackie Barker - a champion for others
Success Story - Jackie Barker - a champion for others

His store stocks everything from West Virginia themed mugs to leggings. Every piece is infused with Jackie’s personality and destined to do good for society. Prices range from twelve pounds to one hundred. Jackie combines outstanding artwork, top quality products, and a desire to do good for others.

Support Jackie and his cause to help those in need by shopping from his Etsy store.

After experiencing the benefit of sharing his feelings, Jackie encourages others to do the same. He believes being open about your struggles is the first step towards recovery. Each week, he writes on his blog https://obxjack.art about how he’s feeling and resources that may help others. Part of the reason Jackie was so keen to speak with us is to draw attention to his blog. If you have a history of mental health struggles or you’re currently struggling, we highly recommend reading and finding comfort in Jackie’s words.

You Are Not Alone and You Shouldn’t Be Alone

Success Story - Jackie Barker - You are not alone
Success Story - Jackie Barker - You are not alone

Before concluding our interview and thanking Jackie for his raw and honest conversation, we had one final thing we wanted to ask him. Jackie is a man who has faced immense hardship and come out on the other side with an admirable ambition to help others. His biggest hope is that others won’t feel the loneliness he felt for so many years on account of his history and condition. When we asked what wisdom he would share, he gave us an honorable answer, reflecting his story and character.

“Do not suffer in silence”. Jackie attains unwavering hope. He deeply believes that the world is changing and mental health discussions will become normalized. He encourages people to confide in those closest to them. To talk with those you know you can trust and share without judgment. For Jackie, this was his religious community. It might be different for you. And if you don’t have individuals in your life to turn to, there are charities like the American Foundation For Suiside Prevention who can help. 

And finally, he reminds us to remember to take care of ourselves. “You’re going to be in a better position to care for others if you care for yourself”. No matter who you are, you need to be looking after yourself. Before concluding the interview, Jackie gives one final, heartfelt shoutout to Tammy, his loving wife. “She’s everything”. From high school sweethearts to married, these two have always been by each other’s side.

Inspired by Jackie Barker?

Although tragic in parts, Jackie’s story is one of hope, happiness and benevolence. And it’s a tale the Printify team is honored to have played a small part in. Giving Jackie’s art a purposeful platform is a dream come true for a business passionate about making a difference. If, like Jackie, you are a Printify user using your products for good, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us by writing to [email protected] outlining your story and how our services have helped and we may help you tell others about it.

To learn more about Jackie and his work, you can read his blog https://obxjack.art, visit his store ArtByOBXJack | Etsy , or follow his socials. He’s spreading the message of mental health awareness across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thank you Jackie.

Trigger Warning! This post contains discussions on mental health and suicide. Reader discretion is advised. If you are currently going through a mental health crisis please consider reaching out to your respective Country/States crisis centers. 

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