craft & anxiety - things I don't know & things I do know

Ellie Beck Petalplum- Anxiety and craft

This might be the most raw & vulnerable thing I might have ever told you: it’s about anxiety, learning things about ourselves, sitting with the challenges of life & parenting. And also about how craft, creative work, helps me. It might help you too. Here’s the story :

Things have been hard this year. Harder than maybe ever before. Parenting. The early baby years of parenting are physically hard, draining and exhausting. The middle toddler and young children years (up to age 10 or 11) are quite beautiful. You know, with usual challenges that we all move through and try to understand and question. For me at least. But the teenage years. These years are for me. And we’re only the start……

My 12yr old daughter has had an immensely difficult time settling into high school. Anxiety has shown itself. Or more to the point; we’ve finally realised that anxiety is the reason for many things over the past years. Much of her behaviour, the way she’s coped with things, stories her body gave us that we didn’t know was anything more than moaning, and being slightly difficult.

The intense tantrums of her very early “sensitive” years. Those times when she wouldn’t go to school. Wouldn’t wear the school uniform. Or proper shoes to preschool. She wore uggboots and tutus for many years in a row. We did whatever we could to help her get out of the house each morning. We homeschooled for a short while as getting to school, being at school was too much. All of this, I did not know could have been her ways of showing us how anxious she was. I did not know that it was a real thing. Beyond being different, sensitive, difficult. Beyond us doing each moment what we needed to, to get to the next moment.

Making decisions based on what was right in front of. Trying to fix that one problem, without knowing the overarching reasons why the problems were happening. Mostly she learned how to work through it. Her body gave her migraines and sore stomach as a defence for the way she didn’t fit into the world. And we still didn’t know this was more than that. Or more than her trying to get out of going to school, doing the washing up, tidying her room.

And she thrived at school. In certain situations. And excelled in many situations. School captain, far out performing her tests and exams and such. Reading and writing and drawing. And that’s the strange juxtaposition of anxiety, that I am slowly slowly working out.

The move to high school was simply the catalyst for it to overflow. Not having the structure and support of her beloved primary school teachers and friends.

But that’s her story, and it’s not mine to tell. My story is this : I’ve felt guilt, as a mother. I’ve felt like I didn’t recognise what I should have known in her. I have felt, feel, like I’ve let her down by not helping her, not knowing that this was something more than what was presented.

I’m reading, soaking in, listening, learning lots about anxiety. In teens and in adults,
And something I heard just this week, said perhaps it’s hereditary > that one parent generally has it too. And I said to myself, no we don’t... neither of us.

But then >>> only an hour later, I stared to overthink, stress, overwhelm myself. All the current things of life, going through my head. Building up. The tiredness of life, the tears of not having answers and being on waiting lists to speak to the right people.

My stomach started to swirl and clench. My breath became tight in my chest, something that has always happened to me, my whole life. And I thought was just life, and I’d always worked through it. And I sat there - children climbing on me, asking me, wanting me. Things life. Happening. And tears slipped from my eyes - overflowed down my cheeks.

But here’s the other thing I know. I know how to help myself. And while I do concede that whatever I feel might be a smaller easier version of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, life’s realities than other experience. I also know how to help myself through it. And here is where my craft comes into it’s deep importance.

I sat at my weaving loom. The giant commission that I’m currently working on. 2 x 2 meters, set up in our bedroom - for lack of having somewhere else for it to sit, and me to sit and weave. And I wove. Threads, needles, yarn. Wove under and over. Stitch by stitch. At first my body was tight, my breath tight and awkward, not relaxing or letting me breath deeply.

But the more I sat there, doing the work of pushing through and just being, the quieter I become. My brain doesn’t switch of, but my body slows down. And learns how to settle itself, and be in the moment a little easier. And my stomach settled, relaxed, let go. My breath become deeper. The deep breath I talk about often. That’s what I’m aiming for always.

And sitting at my craft helps me. Gives me space to breath.

There’s something important about the sort of craft you do, though, to help with the feeling of overwhelm or anxiety. It can’t be too hard, or too easy. It can’t be something that requires too much mental focus, or counting, or remembering patterns and having to compare or overthink. It has to be the Goldilocks of challenging you, without being difficult, allowing you to settle into the flow of work. (I talk about creative flow in my upcoming book Mindful Thoughts for Makers - but will share more here soon too).

It has to be something you can pick up and put down, not have to remember where you were up to, or what stitch you need to do next. You need to be able to slip into the process of the doing easily, without trouble.

Ellie Beck Petalplum blog Craft and anxiety - hand stitched slow stitching fabric pouch. with hand made string.

Like when you’re hungry - you don’t want something too hard to make, or that takes too long to prepare or cook. But also, you don’t want fast food, because you want to nourish your body. To satiate the hunger, while also honouring your body, and giving you something to continue on with.

The crafts that best nourish me, in these moments, are loom weaving and hand stitching. I know that can simply start somewhere on my stitching project. I can thread a needle and put it into some fabric. It doesn’t matter what I stitch or what it becomes, or what I do with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘perfect’ or wonky. Or if it goes anywhere. Or means anything. It doesn’t matter if I’m making something, or making a mess, or I’m simply adding row upon row of straight plain regular stitch to fabric.

I don’t need to stitch two pieces of fabric together. I simply need to sit. To be. The act of using my hands in a meaningful manner connects me in a way that other things can’t. Gardening is one other thing that is very good for this mindful process doing work, that helps immensely with stress, overwhelm or anxiety.

I heard a beautiful quote last week, that resonated, on Hannah Gadsby’s amazing, insightful, tear-inducing TED talk, that she shared by her Nan (who sounds like she was a very wise woman, loved her onions & soup words too) :

It’s the gardening & not the garden, that matters”

I think this is the most eloquent way I’ve heard ‘process over outcome’ described… what do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or ideas or insights on anxiety and craft, if you feel like sharing below. There are also some interesting conversations that happened on this instagram pic I posted this week.

Ellie Beck Petalplum blog craft and anxiety