How Art Saved My Sanity (and I didn’t even realize it)

Open on the beginning of a long story.  The scene:  There is darkness.  Times are tough.  For two years, there is turmoil upon our small family.  Thankfully, no one is terribly ill or dying, but events have thrust themselves upon our happy little lives like a terrible monster.  Not something between us, but something UPON us…we are worried.  We are upset.  We feel miserable and unsure of what will happen, and what the state of our future will be.  We are in limbo for a long time like this….and there is NOTHING I can do about it.

Hopefully, the vague terms to protect my family’s privacy don’t distract from the telling of the tale.  Because really, the details are not important.  What is important is that for a very long time, my family was standing on a high cliff with very unstable cracks beneath it, like one of those cartoons where at any moment, the ground falls out from underneath them, leaving nothing but a poof of smoke behind.

I was helpless, and there was nothing I could do but maintain.  I kept the house functioning the best I could.  I tried to do fun things to get our minds off of the struggle.  I put my energy into doing fun things with our daughter, so that she wouldn’t feel the worry that consumed the adults.  I kept a brave face.  I duct-taped our household together the best I could, and kept on going.

My husband found my stoicism odd.  He worried that I was repressing my feelings.  I didn’t THINK I was…I felt like I was doing okay, handling things the best I could.

I drew a lot in my sketchbook.  Looking back, there were a lot of monsters, a lot of trying to make friends with monsters as they climbed all over you.  I didn’t realize it at the time…

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Then I found myself picking up a craft I hadn’t touched in ages:  the embroideries.  You know the ones?  I did a post on them a couple of weeks ago…

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They were fun because they were a challenge–what can I fit in the space of these tiny Dandelyne hoops?  I found myself bringing them EVERYWHERE.  Any free moment I had.  Dropping Myla off at school, waiting for her teacher?  Bring the ‘broideries.  Five minutes in the doctor’s office waiting room?  Bring the ‘broideries.  On hold on the phone?  Bring the ‘broideries.  The kid is brushing her teeth?  Bring the ‘broideries.

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I found myself thinking, “Wow, Mica.  You’re kind of sort of obsessed with these silly things…”  I was doing one after another, not stopping to think, just making happy little things that made me smile, all in the space of a few inches.  It was like my eyes couldn’t see past my hands.  It was like my hands were going and going and going and I couldn’t stop them, and all I could do is sit back and watch them go.  It was fun, but I also sensed something a little deeper behind it all.

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And then a word floated to the surface of my mind, and kept popping up at odd times:  Catharsis.

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Although there was nothing deeply introspective about Chewbacca or Yoda or a bumblebee, I realized that controlling these tiny little spaces gave me a huge sort of relief.  Like, actual PHYSICAL relief.  It was like I could breathe.  It was like life support that was helping my lungs keep moving.  Like, okay–maybe I can’t control what’s going on around me, but I can control this tiny space and make something lovely in it.  And it’s not overwhelming.  And I consumed that feeling of accomplishment like a junk food junkie, after each one was finished.

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It wasn’t so much WHAT I was doing (although that was an additional fun challenge, and still makes me smile), but the process.

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I was savoring that feeling of accomplishment over and over and over again.  Here were these silly little embroideries, but they were part of making me feel better.  I couldn’t DO anything about our situation, so I gave myself the surrogate feeling of accomplishment in these tiny ‘broideries.

AND THEN WE GOT GOOD NEWS.  Again, the details are not important.  It could be anything.  The important thing is, the news was good.  Our family was better.  Finally, after such a long struggle, we were through the other side, and the outcome was wonderful.  We were off on a new adventure, but the ground was reinforced and stable.  Things had turned out for the best, and we were going to be okay.

..And there was much rejoicing.

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We could breathe again, we could laugh, and things were going to finally–FINALLY–be okay.  I felt the obsessiveness sort of slide away, and while I’m still doing the embroideries for fun, I don’t feel that same furious obsession that I felt before.

Listen, it’s a strange thing.  And it seems silly.  But it’s funny how these things that you love have a way of taking over when you feel like you can’t deal.  They go on autopilot; they say “hang on, I’ll take care of this,” and they get you through it.  For me, it was art and these silly little embroideries, and I didn’t even realize it until it was over.  I wish I could tell it “thank you.”  The best I could do to show my gratitude was reward it with a couple of pairs of cute scissors…

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If I were another person, it might be books.  Or cooking.  Or painting, or dancing, or filmmaking, or animation or whatever.  What do you have that gets you through?  What do you do that lets you breathe, that gives you that feeling of relief?

Whatever it is, nurture it, and with luck, it’ll get you past the storm, through the dark forest, across the cliffs–safe and sound, with only a few bumps and bruises to show for it.

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21 responses

  1. I 💜 this and I’ve loved watching these pop up on Instagram. I clean and blog. Nothing beautiful like what you are able to do!!

    1. Thank you! Well, cleaning is definitely a beautiful thing!

  2. I am very glad that you found that creative processes have helped you through some tough and challenging times. I actually found myself identifying with what you shared in this blog post. I went through a really difficult time when we first emigrated to the US, the move being part of the issue but not the whole thing, and that period lasted for a couple of years. There were times of really acute difficulty and the best I could hope for was that I felt like I was just getting by. It felt like a miracle had occurred when I emerged out of that period and felt like I could not just survive but actually thrive. And the thing that got me through it was art. I picked up my art hobby properly again and – by finding art journalling – took some time every week just to create art, slow my life down a bit, and do something that was just for me. It was the best therapy I could have gifted myself. I don’t know that I fully appreciated that at the time as it was more instinctive than conscious but I definitely need art and creativity in my life to restore balance to my life.

    1. That sounds wonderful–yes, it’s such a good balance to take time for yourself–so absolutely necessary!

  3. Thanks for sharing, and I am so glad things are on the upswing. Your story moved me. Between the time I read this this morning and now, we made the decision to put our elderly and ailing cat to sleep. So, this was still open on my computer when I came back, giving me an entirely different perspective on your thoughts, having just had my heart broken. I agree that art in its many forms is cathartic. Right now I don’t feel like doing anything but sitting here in a daze, but I know art will bring me back. It helps you get through, it heals. My fountain pens await, and I think maybe some playing with colors while doing some writing practice might be what I need first. Sometimes our subconscious is smarter than we are in guiding us to what we need to express our emotions or heal, like you with your embroidery.

    1. Oh gosh, I’m so very sorry. Taking time to sit and do nothing but process is healing, too. It’ll be there when you’re ready for it again. Much love and big hugs.

  4. This is a really thoughtful and introspective piece 😊 I’m glad you’ve found some peace through art, that is so important, and that your family is doing better.

    Cheers!
    Trin

    1. Thank you! Yes so very much!

  5. Margaret Rhode | Reply

    ! Love you ! So glad you’re through it.

    1. Thank you–me too! Finally the forest is clearing!

  6. Elizabeth Young | Reply

    Thanks for sharing your heart through your soulful art and your wise words. Glad you’re “through it” as you say.

    1. Yes, thank you! Through the hard part…the rest is just a fun adventure!

  7. I love this!!! Beautiful words from a beautiful soul!

  8. For me, it has been poetry and photography! I can completely relate with this! ❤

  9. I picked up my art hobby properly again and – by finding art journalling – took some time every week just to create art, slow my life down a bit, and do something that was just for me. Thanks for sharing your heart through your soulful art and your wise words.

  10. Thank you for putting into words something I’ve been feeling lately. My hands having been itching with a restlessness to “make” and I didn’t understand why. But now I do, and now I can go make something. >0-

  11. I think you are the latest in a long list of women who have found solace in their making! You describe it all so well–the control of the materials, the being productive when things are falling apart, the crafting of something lovely out of chaos.

  12. This article inspired and really motivated to me to never back down because difficulties and failures in life . Thank you for sharing such an inspiring article

  13. So happy your life is moving forward for the better. I have found the same thing: in chaotic or stressful situations, get out the paints!

    1. Thank you! Yes, absolutely! And if the paints don’t work: the clay. And if the clay doesn’t work: the pen. And on and on….:)

  14. Hi.

    First time reader and blogger. I stumbled upon this blog post, and it was a great read. You certainly have a talent your embroidery!

    I struggle with focusing on one thing. I’m so entertained by everything…I write poems, I draw (sketch, charcoal, or digital), I practice guitar, I clean, I throw myself into playing with my boys and video games. Anything to keep me busy always.

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