This month has been an incredible one for the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series. Elena’s post received such an amazing response from many of you and I’m so happy that this blog could serve as a forum for discussion about sewing/creativity and its role in managing more severe forms of mental illness. Today’s post, from the lovely Kendra, takes a different angle. As a mental health professional, Kendra talks about sewing as self-care in light of working such a challenging and consuming job. For those of us (and I’m sure there are many) who find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, or otherwise unable to leave work at the office, Kendra’s insights are powerful and important. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Kendra and her wonderful story of sewing and self-care…
*If you would like to contribute to the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, details can be found at the end of this post.*
I work as a licensed mental health counselor, which means that, like many of you in other professions and jobs, I’m often mentally drained at the end of the day. It’s ok because I love the work I’m doing, but that doesn’t make it any less draining—perhaps the opposite. I work at a community mental health clinic, which means a majority of my clients are unemployed, many are on disability, many are in recovery from substance abuse (or trying to maintain sobriety), many have been hospitalized multiple times for suicide-related behavior, and almost all are trauma survivors of one kind or another. In treating them, I become invested in their narratives. And over time, those stories can consume me, and clients’ behavior can seem personal, unless I actively pursue self-focused activities.
I’ve always had hobbies, enjoyed socializing with friends, and worked a full-time job, but it was not until I returned to graduate school (for a second time!) that I truly understood the consequences of failing to maintain balance for myself. Practicing self-care is essential. For me, that includes the healthy habits such as exercising, eight hours of sleep, minimizing coffee and alcohol intake, a balanced diet, socializing, reading, and turning off the news when necessary. But in addition, it includes my hobbies, of which sewing is the most prominent these days.
Because I have cultivated my healthy habits and hobbies, it is a lot easier for me to sell those ideas to struggling clients. I speak with my clients a lot about developing their own hobby or re-igniting interest in an already-existing one. I always use sewing as the example in my own life. While no one has reported that they picked up sewing too, several have found benefit from being creative, adding structure to their day with a class, having an activity to look forward to, or developing a sense of accomplishment by completing a project or working with their hands.
Growing up, my mother sewed a large part of my wardrobe. I did not love it at the time because she wasn’t making me look 80’s trendy (no, my mother was not sewing me tutus, leggings, or off-the-shoulder sweatshirts). But I sure do love looking back at the pictures of us!
My mother taught me how to knit and how to needlepoint. I learned cross-stitch at Girl Scouts. I learned to sew in eighth grade home economics. I didn’t hang on to all these hobbies, but about seven years ago, I picked up needlepoint again and really enjoyed the creative outlet it provided. And, this past winter, I dusted off my sewing machine and signed up for a class. The sense of accomplishment from completing a sewing project is very strong. I love being able to experiment with fabrics and styles that I can’t find in a store or that I wouldn’t normally select for myself. The attention to detail that I need to accurately pin my fabric, stitch straight seams and even hems, and iron the seams, appeals to my perfectionist tendencies. Not only that, but my budget can definitely handle sewing!
In terms of self-care, sewing allows me to focus on each step and remain present as I’m doing the project. For example, when I’m cutting fabric, I have to be focused on what I’m doing and be very deliberate. It’s almost meditative. I can sit down at my machine for five minutes or five hours and I still have to do one step at a time. That’s an important reminder for me to complete one task at a time and give it my full attention. When I make a mistake on an item, I fix it. That’s like boot camp for problem-solving. And, it reminds me that I do know how to solve my own problems, and that I can usually fix a mistake by acknowledging it and figuring out how to move forward, instead of dwelling on the mistake. Can you imagine if every time I sewed the lining into a dress wrong, I just stared at it for hours, cried, and then threw the project away?
When life stressors increase for me, I lean on my hobbies even more. I attend a weekly needlepoint class and a weekly sewing class. I’ve made friends in these classes that I can check in with throughout the week while attending. It creates structure for me to attend the classes at a consistent time each day and be on time to work. I develop new skills that I can use to sew or stitch another item. I look forward to going out and coming home because each location offers its own rewards. I find myself sewing and stitching more often, as a means to balance out my stress.
Between the spotlight that mental health has recently undergone with two recent celebrity suicide deaths, the political climate and uncertainty of world events, the warmer weather and longer days leading to less routine, the transitions of the summertime approaching, a packed schedule, and even noticing that it’s time to buy a new pair of running shoes, has all led to an increase in stress.
So, my sewing machine is going at full speed.
And my closet just got a little more packed.
A huge thank you to Kendra for such an interesting and affirmative post! Since writing the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, I’ve been fascinated by the ways in which creativity can be used in professional mental health care settings. That encouragement toward creative hobbies plays a role – as described by Kendra – just evidences that the connection between mental health and creativity is a very real one. I so appreciate Kendra taking the time to write this post for us! If you want to keep up with her sewing journey, you can follow her on Instagram @kqkstitches or Twitter @KQKrazy
If you are interested in contributing a post to Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story, please get in touch! You can email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – or contact me via any of the social media outlets linked in the side bar. If you would like to see more information about the series, be sure to check out my original introduction post!