Unlock the Art – Barrier Series # 6

Bisbee Arizona

Art Lives © 2012 Bo Mackison

 This post is the sixth in a series of my story, an intimate exploration of art and healing. See the introduction and complete series at My Healing Journey

“Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life.” ~ Henry Miller

After I’d stabilized and no longer needed the quiet and non-stimulation of the Quiet Room environment, my doctor transferred me to a regular room on a locked unit. This unit, designed for protection of the patients, did so with a minimalist approach. Anything deemed dangerous was contraband. A good rule of thumb – if an item could have posed a danger to a curious, unsupervised two-year old, it was off-limits.

A locked unit in a psychiatric unit, especially one on the sixth floor of a multi-story facility with no access to the outside was a stark existence. Boredom was rampant. Angry outbursts from patients, or the television set or perhaps angry patients fighting over the television set were standard fare. It was the way of the system.

The locked unit was a transition phase prior to transfer to the treatment unit which offered occupational therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and a variety of classes that helped patients transfer to out-patient programs.

Enter my guardian angel in the person of an Occupational Therapist, a woman named El. She looked beyond the angry, confused person that was me, and saw the glimmer of potential. El took me under her wing, and quickly assessed that the best to connect with me in my fragile state of anger and despondency was with massive doses of all kinds of art and writing.

She was right.

“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams…” ~ Hasan Davis

We began with the simplest of media – paper and glue. Until I earned off-unit privileges, I did projects in the patients’ lounge or in my room. El brought in a stack of magazines, a large piece of paper, and a glue stick. I began with collages – torn pictures and words were a great match for my state of mind. At first, the mere act of tearing the magazine pages into hundreds of strips provided an energy outlet. Gradually I worked to combine pictures and words which provided an outlet for my emotions.

El explained what I needed to do so that I could accompany her to the off unit therapy room – a room offering art of all sorts. I was eager to expand my art opportunities and my privileges to be off unit.

It would prove to be a pivotal experience, one that opened my eyes to the miracle of creating and set me on the road of healing.

– these experiences are based on journal entries, 1990-91

Next: A Riot of Art

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. So in this image….connecting to the journal entry…I see the colors begin to emerge in the outlines of continued confinement. It is hopeful with the still near “trapped” feeling…

    Bo…this new direction you are taking is so inspirational to me! Love your willingness to share something so tender.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Color is returning to my days, but slowly. And the barred entrance was especially meaningful, as I was working through so many issues in a limiting setting.

      I’ve considered sharing my story for several years, it was a big decision. I hope telling my story with openness will be encouraging to others who find themselves in similar situations.

      Thanks for your support.

  2. Closed but with the anticipation of opening?

  3. Each time I come here to read and see I am so glad to have done it.

  4. You were very fortunate to encounter El. She must have been a remarkable person!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I write much more about the inspiring El in the next post. She was a woman whose gifts were empathy and the ability to listen. And she always provided a safe container in which I could explore feelings and ways to heal.

  5. Proof that art heals! El must have been an amazing woman!

  6. Wonderful image. The artful door beyond the barred gate.

  7. Your story is riveting, and I am so glad your guardian angel in the form of El showed up. The image of the door is so beautiful, yet sad at the same time.

  8. Today, I am grateful for El. Perfect image for this section of your story.

  9. Bo, I’m reading your story and it is very moving. I can’t find the words that describe it: it’s not enjoyment, but a rich experience to see inside the soul of another person’s struggle. thanks for sharing it.

Leave a Reply