Monday, December 23, 2013

Crafting Therapy

I've had anxiety problems to varying degrees since I was 8 years old.  During one counseling appointment, my therapist gave advice on how to stop a bad train of thought--eat an orange.  When I laughed at the suggestion, he explained his reasoning.  More than other fruits, oranges are a very involved snack.  You have to wash it, peel the skin off, pick away the excess pith, split the different sections, squeeze out the seeds from each slice . . . It's such a meticulous, physical act that by the time  you are done eating the orange, you are not thinking bad thoughts anymore.  Your thoughts have switched over to the task at hand.

This underlying idea appeared again when I took a class on stress management in college.  We explored a wide variety of techniques--yoga, pilates, labyrinth walks, meditation.  Though it takes a variety of forms, all stress management techniques have the same, underlying goal:  they make you focus on the present, instead of worrying about the past or future.  Even eating a chocolate bar can be an exercise in stress management when you take the time to savor the moment.

I think this is why I feel the need to always have a project going, and why I feel like I've recharged my batteries for the week after going to Saturday brunch at Home Ec.  Whether I'm trying to make creative use of stitches or follow a cross-stitch pattern, embroidery helps my mind focus on something other than my (usually unfounded) worries.  Depending on how much distraction I need, I can get a lot done this way!  When people asked how I managed to get the February Drop Cloth Sampler of the Month finished in two days, I responded, "I worked on it while waiting for a paper grade."

It also makes me feel productive in the face of bad circumstances.  When I was dealing with a long period of unemployment, I told my husband that I felt like I wasn't accomplishing anything important.  My husband responded, with utter conviction, "Yes you do!  You knit blankets that keep babies warm!"  When my friends gather for Saturday brunch at the store, we often end up talking about the hardship in our lives--unemployment, health problems, family issues, gloomy love lives.  We met and talked the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, and the day after the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.  At the same time we show off our latest projects that are, more often than not, for other people.  A wedding gift for a friend.  A baby sweater for a niece.  A snazzy treehugger to show off downtown.  A blanket for the hospice.

The past several weeks, I've been working on a special piece.  I held a fundraiser for the local women's clinic in which I raffled off handmade items.  One of the prizes was for the winner to have her favorite quote embroidered by me.  The winner ended up selecting a quote from Winnie the Pooh that inspired her during a difficult period in her life.  I've just finished the words, so all I have left is some embellishment and the framing.

"Promise me you'll always remember:
You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."--A.A. Milne
We can't control every force governing our lives, but we can always create something beautiful in the middle of chaos.