Happy Hump Day, Creative Ones!
Normally on WIP Wednesday, I'll write about the quilts and such that I have going, but there was a lovely conversation on the COFTA Instagram (@carveouttimeforart) a few days ago about art and healing, so I thought I'd share a bit of how quilting has benefitted my mental health. I've been painting, drawing, knitting, etc. for as long as ever, and I've always known they were my "happy place," but these most recent months have made creativity's vital role in my balance more obvious than ever.
I stitched that first rag-style t-shirt quilt right about the time I got pregnant with our second son, Ian. I was only about 4 or 5 months postpartum from the birth of Jem then, too. I'd suspected a bit more than the "baby blues," but since we had moved when Jemsy was only 5 weeks old, and our relationship with my inlaws was tense, I chalked it up to life events, and tried to ignore it. I knit and sketched and then sewed to pass the time during naps. My productivity waned as morning sickness hit, but vamped up again as the holidays approached, and I had an unbelievably good holiday season in my Etsy shop. In the thick of motherhood and pregnancy, all those tshirt quilts gave me a place to focus in the evenings and a sense of purpose outside my identity as a mom. I guarded that time more and more as my due date approached, needing the distraction and the accomplishment. I was back at the sewing machine within a week of Ian's birth.
I think I knew in my gut that a mental health struggle was coming even before Ian was born. As early as January I started having what I simply call "bad days"-- days where I'm weepy and frustratingly irrational (even to myself) and lack all resemblance of patience or gentleness. I fought back with essential oils, walks, prayer, and quilting. But after Ian came, the bad days were much more frequent even from the get-go, and a day where I didn't feel lost and overwhelmed was a welcome breath of fresh air. Each day, I counted down to 5:30pm when Hubster would be home (and if he was delayed, I was inevitably crying by the time he walked in). Once he arrived, I knew we would eat dinner, then I could take a hot shower and lock myself upstairs with my quilts. When the day seemed hopeless and endless, I focused on the bright spot that would come about 7pm.
I waited for this long, dark night of bad days to pass, but by 10 weeks postpartum, it was clear the bad days intended to stay. I visited the midwife and was given a Zoloft prescription. Within just a couple days, it was like the sky began to open up again. Amazing! But each evening, after the boys went to bed, I continued to quilt. As much as possible, I have a strict no-other-living-things policy in the sewing room when I'm working. As an introvert mothering two boys 19 months and younger and as a fur-mom to two weirdly social cats, those are the only hours of the day that I am by myself. The Zoloft is a real and important part of my story right now, but quilting is an equally strong medication--I notice its absence mightily if I miss a night of stitching. Quilting gives me an outlet, but it also gives me a place to dream. I want to be "quilt famous" and share my work with lots of other quilters. I want to hear and be a part of their stories. I love my boys more than I can explain, but I also love knowing there are experiences and ambitions beyond the next diaper change and the next meal. I think it was Annie Smith (@anniesmithqs) or a friend on her podcast (Annie's Podcast is Quilting Stash) who shared that for her, quilting was the thing that stayed done. The diapers get dirty again, the laundry needs to be washed, there are dishes, and everyone is always hungry. But once you sew a seam, it will still be sewed and waiting when you return. That's exactly how I feel--quilting is predictable and constant in the sea of constant change in my life.
So, a few quick thoughts on structuring your creativity to bring more healing:
- Create every day-- even if you can only spare 20 minutes. Guard that time fiercely.
- Especially if you are introverted, to your best to create in a space where you are totally alone and not too likely to get interrupted. Make your creative space your mental and physical shelter.
- Get comfortable with the idea of "drafts." (Thanks, Frances (@franfromnc), for helping me see that you can have quilt drafts!). That's the beautiful thing about making-- it's a process. If you don't like how something turns out, you don't ever have to show it to anyone ever. Mentally label it a draft, think about what you want to improve, and move boldly on to draft 2 (or draft 3847).
- When you're feeling the feels, go make something, even if it's just giant crayon scribbles on printer paper. Use your emotional energy to make a tangible thing. It releases the tension from your mind, and you may find that some of your clearest moments creatively come from times of cloudiest emotions.
- Try new mediums-- I was a painter long before I was a quilter, but quilting has unlocked a new way of making in me, and my love of traditional visual art has a strong influence on my quilting.
- As in my story, making may not fix it all. Don't be afraid to ask for help and seek a season of medication or counseling if you need it. Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other struggles are no joke. The strongest thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be honest about when you need more help.
I hope you find this encouraging and helpful! I'm off to quilt a tshirt quilt!
PS I got comments working! Yay! I'd LOVE to hear from you on this post or on earlier posts. Conversation together is my goal!