Jacquie reflects on her experience of art therapy

Jacquie shares her story of how she felt at the beginning of Mentalization-Based Art Therapy (MBT) and how she felt she had changed towards the end. Jacquie speaks about excluding people from her life and turning the pain she felt inside into violent actions. She then explains that the therapeutic process helped her to “feel at peace” and realise there is strength in being open with people in her life.

Audio transcription:

Jacquie: Well, it’s a house in the middle of the woods, completely stands alone, surrounded by nothing but trees. Looks like quite a warm little house, but it’s, I’d say, quite closed off if anything, just the way I liked it. If I could’ve drawn barbed wire, I probably would’ve drawn barbed wire instead of a fence.

It was one of my first ones. It was pretty much standard to how I lived my life, I guess, I liked to, well, constantly be by myself, I didn’t want anyone around me. I didn’t even like the idea of pretending to invite people into my life or into my world or into my house. It’s just something that I, in my mind, was aiming towards.

I used to have a thing against weakness, and crying was a sign of huge weakness or being upset was a sign of huge weakness. I was always the child who fell off the swing, just dust myself off and get back on. I’ve always been so strong in the minds of other people, even though internally I was probably crumbling. But outwardly I appeared quite brutal, I guess in a way.

I felt this was my last chance at life. I had tried, not quite therapy, but counselling of sorts when I was younger which didn’t really work. And by the time I did come to therapy here, I’d had quite a few violent episodes. And I was quite worried that it would extend to the people in the group if someone said something or behaved in a way that would anger me, which is quite easy to do in those days. So, it was quite scary being around other people and having to listen to them or share things with them.

Because I couldn’t verbalise how I felt or didn’t feel that anyone cared, I was in such pain that disguised itself as anger which turned into violence so then my next thing would be to make someone feel as much physical pain as I felt, I suppose – mental anguish, that’s the only way I could get on board with it. It was horrible.

In the beginning, I felt a bit fortunate for being here because it’s not like my parents beat me or I was never sexually abused or a battered child, so it’s quite hard to believe that, I guess, your own problems that seem quite trivial to most. I mean, to my own parents, they’re “Oh, what’s your problem? You spent every summer in [BLEEP], you lived in [BLEEP].  How many kids would live that?” And it’s like yeah, but it’s not with your parents, is it?

It was never acknowledged as having an issue or something being wrong with me, just acknowledged as me being an awful child. So therefore, the whole self-loathing started with the whole ‘it’s all my fault, everything’s my fault’. And it’s only when I got here that actually somebody else, or all of you, turned around and said, “Well actually no, it’s not necessarily all your fault.”

Jacquie: Okay now, it’s a house, still in the middle of the woods. I have a path and there’s no fence, and I’ve actually got a little sign that say ‘Welcome’. And there’s some people on the path. I have no idea who these people are, they’re just people.

So, when I did come into the group, it was- I felt instantly quite very protective over people. But yeah, it’s like a comradery thing – stuck on a desert island with like-minded people. Even if they annoyed me, I found it impossible to get angry with them or dislike them. It makes such a huge difference to feel understood, without feeling like it being some sort of flake or just yeah.

It’s a mission that you need people to comfort you, isn’t it? When you’ve spent 10/15 years comforting yourself, it then becomes quite an unnatural thing to sit there upset in front of others and actually say, “I need help.” Or “I’m upset.”

I now know that I would quite like some people in my life, be it friendships, or romantic or family. That’s why I don’t necessarily know who the people are, I just know I’d like some people in my life. And then there’s a tunnel leading up to the other side with me coming out. I think in one of my earlier pictures, I drew a picture of me going into a tunnel with a little speck of light. And that was halfway through, I think, in therapy and I felt like I was feeling different, I guess, really obviously feeling different. So, for the first time, I didn’t feel so hopeless.

It’s going to sound really corny, but I’m actually at peace with myself. I have odd fleeting moments of- self-loathing is a strong word so I wouldn’t go that far- self-doubt. I have changed. But for the most part I’m more relaxed, and more, I suppose, open to the idea of being engaged in this world as opposed to trying to live outside of it.

I could never quite understand the purpose of my life. It’s nice to feel like I have a purpose. It’s nice not to just coast; go to work, hired, go to work, hired. I can’t even remember the last time I felt that I was going to explode into some sort of violent mess. It’s been so long since I felt that feeling.