The Story of My Healing Journey and the Restorative Power of Art


Threatened © 2011 Bo Mackison

“Let go of the need for perfection, perfection bought at a high cost. Embrace imperfection, acknowledge mistakes, claim the lessons they provide. Embrace change.” ~ Bo Mackison

I’ve had an on and off affair with the label “mental illness” — a label that defined me for many years.

I hated it; I needed it. I pushed it away; I pulled it close.

That label deprived me of the basic experiences of choosing life and living it fully; it also allowed me to abdicate taking responsibility for my life and the choices I made.

Behaviors, lived over years, became habits. They settled deep within me:

  • as a child when I developed highly creative but pathological strategies for body, mind, and soul survival
  • as an adult while I was in the throes of deep depressions and slow recoveries
  • while I was fighting demons from my childhood,  searching musty rooms in my mind with a dimly flickering match light

Defenses and behaviors I erected as walls of protection were no longer functional, viable, needed, wanted. Yet, it was what I understood.

I’ve had to let go so I could grab onto a better way. Caught in the pause between the two trapeze bars, I dangled in a mighty discomfiting place.

It took many years for me to understood that letting go of behaviors that mark even a functioning mental illness would grace me with freedoms I yearned for, but hadn’t fully experienced:

  • not as a child in a puzzling environment
  • not as an adolescent who carried demons in her hand luggage wherever she wandered
  • not as an adult trying to function in a challenging world of careers and marriage-with-children, while burying the past and eventually losing the ability to even acknowledge it
  • not as a woman in the prime-time of life who suddenly crashed head-long into reality, suffering a total collapse and a crushing breakdown.

I worked for years to repair my body and mind; I worked even harder to repair my spirit.

Living under the shadow of the statement “I had a mental breakdown” provided a certain cover. Even after the initial stages, after in-depth therapy spanning two decades, and after reclaiming a life of wholeness, doubt lingered and unwelcome questions popped up.

There was the voice that harbored deep in my sub-conscience, occasionally breaking through my awareness. It questioned my actions, my motives, my plans, my challenges, my courage, my decisions, my art, my life. It questioned my EVERYTHING.

I then re-affirmed my strength, stood firm, and repeated:

  • I am responsible for my thoughts, my words, my actions.
  • There is no one else to blame for my failures, short-comings, errors in judgement.
  • I take full ownership of my mistakes and claim them,  but I also claim the lessons these mistakes teach.
  • This is no excuse living.

It was hard, excruciatingly so at times. It was necessary. It was the only way. And it remains so.

Because as long as I blame the past for mistakes I make in the present, as long as I don’t acknowledge mistakes and accept them as the learning experiences they are, I do not learn the lessons. I have an excuse to push away change and healing.


Art Heals!  © 2013 Bo Mackison

Why am I writing about this?

Because while I created photographs for public display, photographs for art shows and festivals, photographs for art centers and museum shows, I also created photography and other art as a healing practice. And I continue to do so as a daily practice.

Creative activities are healing activities.

I believe nature offers opportunities for connection, the arts offer opportunities for self-expression, and life offers continued opportunities for growth and self-discovery.

 I share my photographs and story with you, my dear readers.

Below are the links to the series of posts I wrote about my journey of healing. I hope you will read and delve deeply into this series, and connect with my journey and my work.

1. Barbed Wire  Before there was a beginning, before the crisis and a diagnosis, there was a dream.

2. Boarded Window  The deep winter of my breakdown, I wait for the passage of winter and spring’s thaw.

3. No Escape  The time comes. I need a safe environment.

4. Four Walls and a Bright Light  It is a time to quiet a system gone haywire from too much input.

5. Rapunzel, Rapunzel  My fantasy? To hide away in a tall tower, alone with my shame.

6. Unlock the Art  She looked beyond my anger and confusion, and saw a goldmine of potential.

7. A Riot of Art   …art, practiced over a lifetime, offers the spirit a path towards healing.

8. Putting Out Fires  So the greatest glory is not in never failing. It is in trying again.

9. Beyond the Wall, the World  Certain photographs are like dreams. They provide metaphors and hints of meaning.

10. Gazing Upwards  Opportunity is under our feet even as we look to the sky, grasping for the stars.

11. Through the Tunne Living through the difficult times and trials, we discover how to survive and thrive.

12. Loosening the Barriers Within  A postscript.