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.