Sewing For Self-Care: Being Honest About My Struggle

It’s been a while, friends! In fact, this has probably been my longest blogging hiatus in over a year (which is saying something). Truthfully, this break was not simply a matter of life getting in the way – although I have been ridiculously busy. While I always strive to be as honest as possible on the blog – and my Sewing For Self-Care series was a way to integrate my struggles with my mental health into this – it’s not always easy. The past few months have been tough on me. I started working for the first time since I left my PhD programme, whilst also trying to accommodate increasing amounts of yoga into my schedule to gear up for teacher training. I’ve had a backlog of sewing projects to work through – some with deadlines – on top of dealing with some really severe homesickness. It’s hardly a surprise that I found myself back in the throes of panic attacks and pretty crippling stress.

Surprisingly, given the nature of these blog posts, I generally struggle to talk in detail about my mental health. I’m sure there’s an element of cultural conditioning in this – the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality – as well as an awareness throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of the stigma that still surrounds these sorts of conversations. Starting a conversation about self care on Sew For Victory was not only an effort to point to the remarkable impact of creative activities on mental health, it was also a place for me to learn how to have honest conversations regarding mental health and mental illness. Although I’m so passionate about the destigmatisation of conversations about mental health, practicing what we preach isn’t always as straightforward as advocating our passions.

When things started to go downhill for me again, I realised how much easier it is to share our stories once they’re behind us, rather than when we’re in the middle of them. After all, a story of conquest and victory sounds so much more appealing than one of struggling in quicksand when you’re casting yourself as the main character. Unfortunately, battles with mental illness are rarely simple plot lines – as inconvenient as that fact is when we’re trying to distill our experiences into something that sounds attractive to others. But this realisation is hard to come by.

Writing about mental health on a public forum adds an extra layer of complexity to this whole situation. Having introduced some incredible voices to the conversation, I felt more obliged than ever to stick to a narrative of having ‘survived’ and ‘come through’ my struggles with my mental health. After all, who would consider me a responsible host for the conversation about sewing and mental health if I was still knee-deep in the struggle? It took some time to realise that this idea of ‘obligation’ was one that I’d built up for myself. I don’t believe for a minute that any of the incredible bloggers that have written for the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, or any of Sew For Victory‘s readers, would consider me obligated to any kind of standard.

So here’s the honest truth. I still struggle. Sometimes every day, sometimes every hour. I have panic attacks, I take medication, and sometimes sewing is the activity I’m least likely to turn to for any kind of relief. I cry, I hold myself to oftentimes impossible standards, and I see a therapist. Equally true, however, is the fact that I’m writing this post and that, despite having many moments of feeling that giving up might be the easiest option, I still have an incredible amount of hope. The internet offers us a forum to paint our lives as whatever we want them to be and whatever we wish they were. It’s easy to slip into the habit of creating a narrative for yourself that veers so far away from reality you feel ashamed and guilty when you look at the truth. My story with mental health isn’t one of conquest – although I achieve victories constantly. Neither is my use of sewing to help manage my mental health as simple as I’m sure it comes across in the posts that I write. Although the tips I give and the thoughts I offer are all true and things I use, the ways in which I utilise sewing (or, on some days/weeks, don’t) shifts in parallel to the changes in my mindset.

Although this isn’t really a sewing post, as the host of the Sewing For Self-Care series I thought that it was important to write. When I wonder if stigma still exists around mental health – given the fact that conversations on the subject are increasing – I can’t help but look to my belief that I have to be ‘on the other side’ of the battle in order to offer a legitimate and worthy perspective. Looking around, it’s clear that so much of the information we consume regarding mental health is told by the ‘victors’ – people who consider themselves free and clear of the struggle. Perhaps, like me, they’ve simply made their narrative more palatable to a society that still isn’t quite comfortable talking about the reality of mental illness – the unbrushed hair, the angry outbursts, the feelings of hopelessness that no amount of logic or rationality can contradict. These are difficult truths to face.

I managed to get back to the sewing machine last week. It felt like a relief. I actually ended up taking some of my own advice – tried and tested – to rediscover my motivation. But if you read these posts and wonder why the tips don’t work for you, you need to understand that they don’t always work for me either. As Jenny wrote in her guest post, sewing and self-care have a complicated relationship. Sewing isn’t always what we want to do, nor is it always what’s best for us. I still believe that creativity provides one of the most powerful resources – available to all of us – through which we can manage out mental health. The science backs this up. But sometimes, we’re just working on getting ourselves out of bed. And that’s ok.

I’ll still be writing about sewing and self-care. Even with the fluctuations in my mood and my motivation, sewing is still one of my major passions. But it’s important to write here that I don’t fit the narrative of Sewing For Self-Care. My story with mental health is much bigger than that and, whether you struggle with mental illness or the general stresses of adulthood, so is yours. My overall message, however, remains the same. Be kind to yourself. Whether that involves a session at the sewing machine or not.

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17 thoughts on “Sewing For Self-Care: Being Honest About My Struggle

  1. Elena says:

    Many mental illnesses are for life, there is no cure. Often there is even no significant relief of the symptoms. So what to do? Accept it, that’s step one. Then learn to live with it. Navigate around the riffs and whirlpools and try not to get ripped to pieces. It takes a lot of energy – energy that other people can employ to do “stuff”. We can’t do “stuff”, we’ve got a body to run first. Sewing, along with other occupational therapies that work for me, is helping me to navigate the currents. But sometimes I don’t have enough energy to walk over to the sewing machine – sometimes I can hardly get out of bed. This is not a battle, it’s a siege. It is not a matter of winning, it’s about survival. For me, there is no “other side”, this will never end and so I cannot emerge victorious from anywhere. And I am not trying to. Living with it, and making the best out of it, enjoying all that is good and always looking on the bright side of life – this is all we can do anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sewforvictory says:

      This is so true. Acceptance can be hard to achieve. I think it also varies with the condition – things like anxiety and depression can come and go, and I believe some people (although, again, it depends so much on the actual condition) are able to truly overcome it. Regardless, I think letting yourself be preoccupied with the idea of conquering your illness can often be so detrimental – I know it has been to me. It comes hand in hand with the idea that you’ve failed if you have a bad day. Instead – and as you pointed out – it’s about finding the good where you can. I have no idea if I’ll ever truly ‘overcome’ the things I struggle with but I’m realising that it honestly doesn’t matter. Bad days give me such an appreciation for the good. And I don’t think I’d know myself, or others, nearly as well as I do if I didn’t have the struggles that I’ve faced.

      I really appreciate your thoughts. I’m certain that your experiences and perspective will give a lot of people a new appreciation for what it means to live with truly life-long conditions. ❤

      Like

      • Elena says:

        🙂 Life-long also has its perks: because I don’t know what it is like not to be bipolar, I don’t miss it either!! 😀

        There are also lots of conditions which are not life-long and can in fact be overcome – either cured like depressions or burn-out, or simply pushed so far back that it seems they are gone. But even there, even the simplest depression will already last for years – none of it passes quickly. In my opinion it is not a good idea to put everything on hold and just “work on it” until it’s over. You miss too much of life this way. I’ve done something similar and regretted it later: when I was studying for my Master’s, it was in the evenings, on top of a full time job. I was too busy (or so I thought), so I completely discontinued any and all hobbies until “the thing” was done. Seven years later I rolled it over into Ph.D. studies, but I’m sure you can relate – this is not a full time job, this is a doubly full time job! So the “hanging on” continued. Not good.

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    • sewforvictory says:

      Agreed! I’ve taken a step back from a lot of things and made some adjustments to reduce my stress levels. I can certainly testify to the correlation between stress and decreased mental well-being! Fortunately, I also have the awareness to spot it and address it. 🙂

      Like

  2. designedbydanita says:

    I agree that self awareness can lead to better self care! Practice, practice, practice makes…PROGRESS! You thought I was going to say perfect! But no one is perfect! So the best we can do on any given day is truly good enough! And knowing that is priceless! ❤

    Sewing has become my Happy Place! I go to it and feel relief from the worlds woes! It wasn't always that way, but I find it a gift to have the skill and ability NOW! and I hope to keep it as I age to help my brain keep some of it's elasticity! Also helpful with memory! I hope! But we'll see about that one??? 🙂

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  3. Emily Kitsch says:

    You’re so right that we get bogged down with the stories of people triumphing over mental illness – the memoir and biography section of any book store is filled with such stories! (As are so many Lifetime movies. 😉 ) Everyone is different, and life is full of ups and downs and weird forks in the road that take us places we maybe never imagined we’d end up. We get used to the idea of “beginning, middle, end” with the end being some kind of miraculous victory over whatever we’ve been struggling with, because that is how these things are so often portrayed. But if it were all so simple and straight forward, if life truly followed a predictable formula, there would be nothing all that remarkable about it, would there?

    And people who struggle with mental health problems shouldn’t be expected to have some big victory/recovery story at the “end” of it all – talk about pressure! Even if sometimes we’re the only ones putting that pressure on ourselves, it doesn’t matter, we’re not obligated to have some huge victorious recovery story. I think sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is victory enough! Also, one of the memoir writers I used to read obsessively, Mayra Hornbacher, has struggled consistently throughout the years, even (and also especially) after writing her first big recovery story memoir “Wasted.” The same thing happened to Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of the memoir “Prozac Nation”), or even more recently, in music, poor Demi Lovato…and there are probably many others. I think this is something that happens more often than we know, after these triumphant tales are told, the darkness still lurks, still threatens to engulf, and the very public triumphant tale of recovery becomes an added pressure that can kick your recovery right out from under you. So never, ever feel bad about not having overcome all of this yet, or feel like recovery is a qualifier for being able to speak on these topics!

    Sending you so much love. ❤ ❤ ❤ And sorry for yet another long ramble!

    Like

    • sewforvictory says:

      Thanks for such a lovely comment. You’re absolutely right on all counts. It’s definitely taking me some time to develop any feelings of gratitude toward all the struggles – but that’s where I’m trying to get to. It doesn’t mean not fighting and working to change but I think casting a positive light over things is an amazing way to move to forward. And part of that is recognising that, as you pointed out, there’s truly nothing remarkable in a straightforward path. I think mental health battles give us courage, empathy, and a very real appreciation for the good times. So there’s a lot to be grateful for!

      As always, I really appreciate your words. I’m so happy that you’re here and that I met you, albeit virtually! ❤

      Like

  4. Hazelnutthread says:

    Sorry you’ve hit a rough patch. All things are temporary. I like to think to myself what do I really want to do today for fun. Sometimes the answer is sew. Sometimes the answer is sleep. Other times I just want to watch crappy films, Stepbrothers is a gift in these times!
    Hope it passes soon xxx

    Like

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