mental health

Finding My Voice

I put off starting a blog for years because I wasn’t sure if what I had to say mattered. I wanted to try blogging, and I was afraid. Was what I was going to say any different than what every other blogger online was already saying? Also, I was pretty sure other people were already saying it better. So I’ve been on a journey of finding my voice.

As previously mentioned I have two brothers and a sister and there are five and half short years between the oldest and the youngest. There was another family we knew growing up who referred to my family as “the loud family,” and it wasn’t an affectionate label. Growing up it felt like we were constantly yelling over each other. Each of us landed with our own strategy for getting what we wanted. I learned to work the system in my favor. My big brother would call that being manipulative, and I would remind him I got into trouble way less than he did.

The point is, I did not grow up feeling like there was space for me and my voice because I was growing up with three other big personalities all trying to do the same thing. What I am learning today is that there is enough space for me to be me as long as I’m being me. Which is to say if I try to be another Shauna Niequist then there will not be enough space for me because Shauna is occupying that space (and rightly so. Shauna is an amazing writer. I highly recommend her blog  and her books).

I’m started to see the difference between admiring and imitating. I admire the works of other quilters, bloggers, parents, and therapist. I can learn from them. I can be challenged by them. I cannot be them.

There is an amazing therapist I work with named Margaret. She taught me the neurons in a person can pattern in 10 to the millionth power different ways…that’s a 10 with ONE MILLION zeros after it. When you take into account your personality, natural skills/gifts/talents, life experience, hard work and neural patterning, there is absolutely NO ONE like you. You are utterly unique. You are irreplaceable. No one can do what you do in the way you do it.

I’m loving scrolling through the #100Days100Blocks2018 hashtag on Instagram because I love to see how each person takes the same raw pattern makes it a unique expression of who they are. I enjoy looking at all those wonderful blocks the most when I am focused on celebrating another making being themselves rather than wondering if them being who they are takes away from me being me.

One of my favorite moments in the musical Hamilton is when Aaron Burr sings the line, “I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” It reminds me that there is space in the world. There is space for you to be your amazing and me to be my amazing. .Friends, there is enough room for you to be you because you are the only one who can fill that role in the play with call this life. If you try to be someone else you will find the process suffocating.

I’ll be here learning to be only me. You do you. No one else can, and we are incomplete without you.

Fabric Fast, mental health, quilting

Stitching Through Sad

I’m feeling a lot of sad recently. How much sad occurred to me as I was reading the third sympathy card my bosses wrote to me since the start of the 2018. This most recent card was for the loss of my dog, Cooper. One might believe that loosing a pet is not as significant as loosing a human, and I agree with that sentiment. However, my agreement that humans and dogs are different does not lessen my sense of loss.

Since the start of my fabric fast, I’ve spent a lot more time hand stitching. I find myself most connected with what I’m experiencing when I sew with my hands. So I started using the time I’ve been connecting one piece of a quilt to another to reflect on why loosing Cooper feels like such a big deal to me. And it feels like a BIG deal to me. Partly because Cooper’s loss is connected to other recent losses, and also because I used to buy things to make myself feel better. I am choosing to not do that anymore and part of my process for not spending is to try to stay connected to my whole experience of life. So I am down a self medicating strategy in a time of stress while practicing feeling all my feelings and weaving them into my story. And Cooper is huge part of my story. 2012-12-23_09-41-50_283

Cooper lived a month shy of 12, which for a Newfoundland Dog (big breed) is nothing short of a miracle. Nine is considered well into  old age. We brought Cooper home shortly after buying our first house. Sometime after getting married, buying a house, getting a dog and eventually having children, my husband and I made that transition to FEELING like an adult. We were adults by all measure, but I did not feel like one.

Cooper was our dog my whole adult life. He was witness to some great joys and losses in our home. He ran miles with my husband while my husband was training for triathlons and marathons.  Cooper laid on my yoga mat while I was trying to do yoga. I used to wiggle my feet under his warm fur during Shavasana. 2012-05-18_11-23-54_734When I worked in my sewing room, he would lay right outside of the gate. He wasn’t allowed in because of the drool and shedding, but he’d position himself in such a way that I could not leave the room without him knowing. He is in the background of most of the photos of our kids. He slept outside our oldest’s door since she came home. img_0515.jpgCooper is woven into the fabric of the story our family has been telling for the past twelve years. Then suddenly he was gone.

Lucky for me I am a quilter. And quilters know a few things about what to do when fabric is out of print. Unfortunately, I am now going to need to change the pattern of my life because my life is different now. That fabric we wove when Cooper was a part of the family is now forever out of print. It is time to learn to weave something new. Then we get the joy of experiencing how the past can be mixed with the present in a way that creates something new and beautiful, something unlike anything we’ve seen before.

So I am spending a lot of time sewing, slowly, one stitch at a time, letting the sadness fall across my psyche like waves during a storm. The storm will pass. The sun will shine. And I will weave a beautiful tapestry of life to tell you the whole story. I especially love the part about the big, black, drooling dog we loved.

Fabric Fast

The Withdrawal

On May 8, 2018, I resolved not to spend anymore money on my quilting hobby. On May 9th, I received a $50.00 check for my birthday and immediately began questioning my life choices. My mind started spinning, “if I could just…” or “what if I….”

Since I quit trying to use buying stuff as a way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable, I’ve been experiencing withdrawal symptoms…in other words, MORE uncomfortable. Since I was using buying quilting stuff as a way to feel good, all those bad feelings I was distracting myself from are suddenly so much louder in my life. As those bad feelings start to get louder the urge to bend the rules and start buying stuff grows. I mean, I said was mostly giving up fabric, right? So if I buy myself a new needle holder* so that I can have threaded needles for two different English Paper Piecing projects at the same time that’s still fair game, right? Also, I have a coupon for free shipping from one of my favorite quilting websites. It’s like wasting money to not use that, isn’t it?

One of the mixed benefits of being a therapist is understanding the process of your own misery. On the one hand, it normalizes my experience. On the other hand, I can’t pretend I don’t know when I’m acting in a way that is unhealthy and blame it on something else. I know what is happening right now. It’s the extinction burst.

Extinction bust is an old idea in behavioral theory that is a fancy way of saying things get worse before they get better. Check out this graph:

extinction-burst-graph

The above graph is charting a child’s behavioral change after being exposed to an intervention. The first five dots represent the baseline behavior or how things were before any attempt at change was made. The vertical line is the when something was introduced to change the behavior, in my case the line would represent the day I gave up spending money on quilting stuff. Notice what happens next? It gets worse…a lot worse. When you really think about it this actually makes sense. If throwing a screaming fit gets me my way and then one day you tell me that screaming won’t work anymore, I’m going to up my screaming fit to see if you’re serious. If you give in and let me have my way, then I learned that you’re not serious and more screaming works. If you hold your ground, I learn that screaming fits don’t work any more and I need to pick a new behavior.

My sister is a special education teacher, working with kids with how struggle to control their emotions. She says all the time, “The way to guarantee an undesirable behavior lasts FOREVER is to respond to it inconsistently.”

I know all this stuff. Which really stinks because I can’t pretend that I really need the needle holder for my EPP projects. I don’t. I already have one and there are other ways I can thread multiple needles at a time that are free or use what I already have. This desire is me looking for a fix. It is a distraction from something else.

So instead of shopping or updating my Amazon wish list, I’m sitting with the discomfort and breathing through it. I’m focusing on the projects I have in progress and letting myself bounce around between them. I am reminding myself there is no connection between what I own or buy and my value as a human. Then I take another deep breath.

*I love my Clover needle holder. It’s great to thread 10 needles at once and then sew, sew, sew. If you’re not on a spending freeze because of emotional spending, I highly recommend it.

Fabric Fast

A Closer Look

I mentioned in another post that I engage with intensity, part of that is personality and part of that is patterning. I imagine most people have a handle on personality, so I’d like to explain patterning and the pattern I’m trying to rewrite.

Patterning 101

We are wired for maximum efficiency and habit. Sort of like how some quilters have few favorite patterns or designers they use over and over. We are constantly looking at what is happening around us and matching the present to the past. Growing up you learned a style of dealing with conflict. You may have learned healthy things like how to listen, respond assertively, and hold boundaries. If you learned growing up that it didn’t matter what you said, you would have to do thing the way your parent(s) wanted you to, the pattern you may have learned was to go along to get along and not assert yourself. As an adult, you will likely struggle to set boundaries. If growing up you were encouraged to keep trying no matter what, you likely developed a pattern of perseverance and resiliency (the ability to bounce back after a set back).

We are constantly pulling patterns to respond to our present. If you have ever had the experience of meeting someone new and immediately disliking them, they likely tapped into a pattern. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again and you feel like you can’t stop, pattern. I hate that stuck feeling.

I would now like to introduce you to my favorite phrase in all the study of brain and wellness: neuro plasticity. Neuro plasticity refers to brains ability to grow and change at any stage of life. So right now, even in my mid-30s, I can undo a pattern that is causing me problems in my life. So about that pattern…

My Pattern:Where it came from 

My parents are wonderful people. They are wonderful and like everyone else, they are not perfect. My parents got married very young and had four kids in five years. We did not have a lot of resources growing up. Money was tight and my parents were exhausted most of the time. My dad work 12-13 hour day, often 6 days a week to support us in a job that was seasonal, so every winter my dad didn’t have work, unless it snowed. I was probably one of the few kids who was super conflicted about snow on Christmas. Snow at Christmas meant no dad but holiday pay. And we really needed the money.   My mom was tasked with caring for four very young kids by herself from wake up to bedtime. Anyone else feeling tired and stressed just imagining this?

Growing up in my family, I developed this connection between spending money and value. If someone bought me something it was a BIG deal because it didn’t happen very often. Special people were given gifts or spending money. Anyone else see how this can be problematic later in life?

I developed this association between spending money and feeling good. Every time I got to use my extra income for a new thing, I felt empowered and special. Today, I find myself buying fabric, participating in another sew-a-long or buying a new quilting tool I saw cool people use on Instagram to stop me from feeling uncomfortable, tired, or emotionally drained. But as soon as those feel good chemicals cool down in my brain, I am left with all the discomfort, exhaustion and emotional drain with the added stress of having spent money I did not need to spend.

So that is how I got to this fabric fast. Really, it’s more like “don’t spend any money on quilting related stuff.” For me, I need a hard line in the sand that I cannot dance around to force myself to handle feeling drained in another way. To use all the strategies I teach as a therapist for myself so that I can experience the benefits. In the end, I hope to be a more balanced, calm, thoughtful person.

Step One: Follow the Breath

My favorite tool for healing to connect with the breath. In addition to all the physical benefits of lowering your heart rate and reducing tension in the body, deep breathing also helps to switch myself from an anxiety state to a calm state. Now when I’m sewing I make an effort to connect my breath to my movements and engage as many of my senses as I can. I even started doing a lot of yin yoga to help me learn to slow down my breath. The overall goal is to be a fully integrated person.