Who We Are: Sewing and Mental Health

Who We Are (18).jpgHello! In this round-up we are including stories from Sewcialists who wanted to share how sewing relates to their mental health. I’m glad to see a trend of people being more open about mental health – I think there are few of us who aren’t affected wither ourselves or through family and friends. Hopefully by talking frankly, we all feel less alone.

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Emmanuelle from Zoubi Zoubisou@ZoubiZoubisou

Prior to sewing, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an urge to make things. I enjoy the process very much and despite the many obstacles I have placed in front of it over the years, I still need to make stuff with my hands! The obstacles are always the same: anxiety with putting my creation out for others to see, and insecurity with how those creations will be perceived. Whatever my makes have been over the years — paintings, writing, music — they’ve always seemed like extensions of myself. So if someone were to judge them poorly, then they’d be judging me poorly. This anxiety is unhealthy and has had paralyzing effects on pretty much all of my creative hobbies and social interactions. The typical pattern is one in which I get about a year into some new hobby before dropping it for fear that the result (i.e., myself) isn’t good enough. I’ve dropped many things that I’ve loved because of this, and each drop has thrown more fuel on the anxiety fires!

So, four years ago when sewing became my new hobby, the tinge of skepticism I sensed beneath my husband’s enthusiasm was understandable. But sewing has proven very different than every one of my previous pursuits. It’s not that sewing itself is different; it’s that sewists are different. The sewing community has been incredible. Their support and encouragement has improved not only my sewing skills, but my mental health too! For the first time, a creative hobby — sewing — has enhanced my self-esteem instead of reduce it. I still get anxious when sharing pictures of a new garment, but the anxiety doesn’t stop me from doing it like it did before, and this is a major step forward. I am learning to let go of my fear, listen less to my inner critic. I am as excited by sewing today as I was the day I started my first dress four years ago. Sewing satisfies my urge to make stuff with my hands without becoming a burden of self doubt. So I guess sewing is here to stay!

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Suzanne

Hi! My name is Suzanne and I’ve been hand sewing plushies and dolls since 2008 to help me deal with a breakup that was particularly hard on me. This hobby came in most handy the following year after losing my job in the social welfare sector due to my erratic behavior because of my mental health issues. My main diagnosis is bipolar disorder, which is mainly marked by long bouts of depression and extreme irritability. I also have social anxiety, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, and avoidant personality disorder. I am currently receiving disability benefits as my bipolar disorder symptoms are so unpredictable, even with medication, that I am unable to hold down a job.

Creating little felt creatures and fabric dolls has given me a measure of joy at times when life felt bleak and hopeless. Sewing by hand has given me an outlet to express myself and a way to connect with others when I lost my connection to the world through the workforce. Having others take an interest in my plushies and dolls has given me confidence when there was no other way for me obtain a measure of self-worth otherwise. Hand sewing is also an effective tool I use to quell my anxiety when it just gets to be too much.

Linnea

Linnea / Not So 50s Housewife

Sewing for me is a way to strip off the secondary trauma of my job and get back to who I am. I’m a therapist, mostly working with kids, and there are days when I come home so completely emotionally drained or wired, that I can’t even seem to have a normal conversation with my husband. Those are the nights I feel as though I need to sew something. My body and mind literally twitch if I don’t do something creative.  Normally after sewing for just a short period of time, I’m able to put my mind at ease, to relax, to feel less fragile, and to feel whole. I may not be able to help a child heal completely, but I can darn well make those cut out pieces of fabric into something beautiful.

I also suffer from sometimes severe anxiety and depression, and have seen my own therapist at times for these concerns. Sewing, or even just sorting scraps or cutting fabric, provides an outlet for me to turn my mind back to more positive pathways. I even design quilts in my head when I can’t sleep. Finishing a project, even just, a small zippered pouch or tea wallet, gives me the chance to focus on something tangible, something that I’ve been able to accomplish, despite feeling like I may never be in control again. I saw a t-shirt once that said “my soul is fed with needle and thread” and I truly believe it’s true. Now, my sewing machine is calling and I must go!

LaKaribane

Sewing is my passion and sewing saved my sanity. In 2010, there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed part of my city. When I was finally able to get into the rubble of my house, the first thing I noticed was my sewing machine, on the table, exactly where I had left it that morning. It really impacted me, as if it were a sign.  However, it took me a long time to get back to sewing. I slept and ate poorly for a long time and my clothes didn’t fit. When I did start sewing again, I felt instantly better. As though I could make things in a world that had been unmade. I also felt in control, at least of this small thing, this garment, this napkin even if I could not control the wider world around me. It took me at least three years to feel like a normal human being. But making clothes for that sad and grieving body actually helped my get over the sadness and the grief. Sewing is my passion and sewing saved my sanity. Oddly enough, when I am very stressed or anxious, I stop sewing. But, then I miss it and I sometimes have to force myself to sew something. And the effect is the same.

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Laura / missyouonamonday.wordpress.com

Don’t say “It’ll happen”

So my mental health isn’t great, its mainly anxiety/OCD issues but as a result of therapy I would say I have found it to be pretty manageable. THEN March 2015 came along, and my husband-to-be at the time (we married in May 2015) and I decided to try for a baby.  We did the ‘try but not trying’ thing and after six months of nothing happening I decided to plan it a little better and look at days I would be ovulating but still didn’t put too much stress on ourselves.  My cycles seemed to be longer than most, so I knew I didn’t have as many chances as others in the same time period and I wasn’t concerned.  A year later I done some more research which showed my cycles were abnormally long.  All my life I had heard “as long as you’re regular” well I was regular, every 60 days more or less.  No one told me that wasn’t normal, but jump onto pregnancy forums and NHS forums, and all of it, and I mean all of it, advised me to go to a doctor.  So I did.

First appointment and in less than five minutes the very kind doctor says “Sounds like you might have PCOS — Polycystic ovary syndrome.  I’ll refer you for tests.”  Those confirmed that yes I do suffer from PCOS.  Basically I don’t ovulate either at all/regularly.  So for the most of 2017 we had fertility treatment, starting with a mild form of tablets for six months and moving on to IUI treatment which we are currently undergoing.  I did fall pregnant in May last year but sadly miscarried at 7 weeks.  All of this is very challenging to deal with, and mostly I feel I have lost the sense of me, because at this stage the me I thought I would be was a mother.  The hormones are hellish to say the least, I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts.  Life in general was just so very distressing.  Watching friends and family have babies became a peculiar mix of joyful and dejected emotions battling inside me.

So what has this got to do with sewing? It’s my outlet basically, a place to let my creativity flow.  A place where if you do A+B it equals C, there is no maybe, no 10% chance. I’m sick of the maybes and the 10% chance.  There is a supportive community, seriously, there isn’t one single troll!!! I mostly sew clothes for myself, and I love making cushion covers.  After getting married, my husband and I bought a smallholding, hoping to fill it with a babies and raise them in the countryside.  There is a small room next to the master bedroom just begging to be a nursery.  We turned it into a sewing room, as it was just sitting there being a room of gloom that I hated.  We kept holding off “just in case” but no more, it’s covered in flamingos, has stacks of fabric in it, is painted a gorgeous rose pink colour, and has a big window that looks onto miles of countryside.

Lastly, a lot of people don’t know what to say to people suffering from fertility issues.  For me I hate the phrase “It’ll happen” — you don’t know that.  Say “it’ll be ok,” because it will.

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Gillian / Crafting a Rainbow

With all these wonderful Sewcialists revealing truths about themselves, it wouldn’t be fair for me not to ‘fess up too! I’m a stubborn perfectionist and a go-getter by nature, but also very introverted… and the result has been anxiety on and off through the years. I’m lucky in that my family is very open about mental health, and I have lots of role models for resilient people who seek the help they need.

For me, sewing is tightly linked as both a cause and relief for my anxiety. When I’m stressed, I either throw myself even hard into sewing, blogging on my own blog and organizing the Sewcialists… or I lie on the couch feeling overwhelmed by all my commitments and sewing projects. I’m working on creating a more sustainable balance, because I intend to keep blogging regularly myself AND sustain the Sewcialists community for years! Thank you to the Sewcialists volunteers who share the workload with me – it takes a village to run a site like this!

What’s my point? I guess I just want to let you all know that we’re all in this together, and chances are that everyone has some messy stuff going on behind the scenes. Life isn’t all perfect Instagram feeds and pretty blog pictures, and that’s ok! Without a doubt, blogging and the online sewing community have been immensely empowering, positive and inspiring forces in my life for the last 6 years, and I’m grateful for all the ways we support each other!

Please leave your thoughts, experiences and supportive comments below!