N reflects on her experience of art therapy

In N’s video, she describes how anxiety made her feel trapped in her own mind, and that it made it difficult for her to be open with other people. By creating different artworks during her Mentalization-Based Art Therapy (MBT) programme, she was able to express her complex feelings when words wouldn’t work. Towards the end of her therapy, she felt more in control of her emotions and realised the importance of reaching out for help.


Audio Transcription:

N: You’ve got a person inside a solid box and there’s black and red on the inside. And the box is solid so there’s no way of getting out the box. And you’ve just got a person stuck in the middle with their hands over their ears. And it’s to do with being stuck in my head, which when I first started used to happen a lot, because there’s literally nowhere to go in that picture. There’s no gaps, there’s no let-ups. It’s isolation, total isolation. Flat out, I wasn’t coping with it. Really vulnerable, like really vulnerable.

It used to just follow me around, and I think I had so much going on in my head that I kind of felt like- a bit like an avalanche. So, like you’d say one thing and the rest would follow. It was all a massive jumble; it was all- there was no sense and there was no reason to any of it. And I couldn’t pick out the different aspects of it.

So, I think it’s just something that I grew up with and you know I was kind of adamant that I wouldn’t trust anyone with this stuff. And group; I found really difficult, really hard, just because it was letting other people in. It was out of my control, what they thought about the pictures and what I was saying. So, I tried to tone it down quite a lot. It took me a really long time.

It was kind of ironic because when they first told me about doing MBT, I had to make a decision whether to go to uni or do MBT and I chose the MBT. It’s like this is my last resort so it’s not like I came into the therapy really against it, but even that wasn’t enough to kind of let everyone in. Probably out of all the artwork I’ve done, this is one of the ones that sticks out the most.

N: There’s a lot of black, and it’s someone standing on the edge of a cliff, looking into blackness, and then dark skies above. And the cliff is really solid, but so is the space underneath the cliff, it’s pretty bleak. I think we worked out this must’ve been around the time I took the overdose, because I don’t remember any specific drawings that I did around that time or building up to it, but- and I don’t know, it just seems a bit of a- bit of an impossible place to be.

It kind of makes me sad to see it, because that’s not a happy picture. I’m stuck on the edge of a cliff, and the way things are going I’m going to end up in this darkness. But it’s totally consuming; there’s no gaps for air in it, there’s no little lifelines hanging around anywhere. So, like, I might be standing on solid ground here, but literally you take two steps and you’re in this.

I’m not even convinced I probably told you guys exactly what’s going on. I have a suspicion that I probably talked around it, and that’s kind of sad as well. I wasn’t frightened – it was one of the main things I remember about that time. I was not scared one bit. It was just this is what’s going to happen and so be it.

So, I think the fact that I wasn’t frightened now rings massive alarm bells. And it’s like when that kind of calmness comes in, because if you look at it; it’s horrible to look at but it’s fairly calm, no things shouting out. And I know now that is what I look out for; when it gets to a point where it’s no longer scary, that is when I need to do something. I got better at putting my hands up and going, “Now I need help.” Much better at it.

N: This was quite a lot later on. And there’s four whirlwinds on a red sky that are really grounded. And there’s barbed wire on the whirlwinds as well if you look really closely. It was later on in therapy when I was realising the impact my anxiety and stuff wasn’t just part of a jumbled mess, it was something of its own entity. And it was separate from some other stuff that was going on. And then by realising that, it then made me able to try and talk about it a bit more, and to try and pull apart what was going on within that anxiety. So, it’s not- it’s not a picture of the different things that are making up anxiety, like each whirlwind doesn’t have a separate meaning. It’s just they’re whirlwinds in their own right and they’re separate from, like I don’t know, the other stuff that’s going on.

It gave me a kind of light bulb moment to go, “Okay, this might be how I’m feeling, but actually I am feeling it. It is valid, but it’s not always going to be there.” It kind of gave me that separateness to kind of think, “Okay, this is something in its own right that I can either ignore or I can talk about and try and deal with.”

Out of my later ones, this one for me was probably the most significant because trusting that you guys were right when you said to me it won’t stay like that. Which you were right, it’s cool.

I still have trouble, even now, when I’m in it to think, “It won’t last forever.” But I’ve got better at going “Okay, well I’ll just put up with it until it goes away.” So, I got much better at, when I’m in that space, like, not looking at a clock, actively avoiding things where I can track the time or anything like that. It was literally, you know, I don’t get anywhere living in my own head, so I might as well give another view on it, a chance.