Strong statement right? I know. I am leery of attaching such a bold word, cure to a triggering word, anxiety. But to be frank, this is my story and for me, it’s nothing less. My objective with sharing my story is to offer a light in someone else’s darkness. It’s an option, a suggestion, perhaps an alternative. Not a guarantee. -Although, I badly wish it was. Trust that I would be screaming from rooftops and street corners if I had found a guarantee. Until then, this is what I know, this is what I can share with only the dream that it lends a glimpse of hope for anyone whom may be struggling.
We all know crafting is fun and a great alternative to sitting in front of a screen. But what if I told you it nourishes your brain as well? You’re probably thinking, come on Tamara, let’s leave crafting just at that, crafting. Hear me out though, studies have been shown that repeated patterns where we are using are hands, such as punch needling, quilting, knitting or anything of that nature, actually releases the dopamine chemical in our brain that tells us we are happy-and to keep doing what we’re doing!
Let’s take a jaunt back to 2016 when I decided I wanted to learn to quilt…With the encouragement of my mother-in-law and the gift of my first sewing machine (thanks husband) onto the quilting world I went (which I absolutely love and still do to this day). On the surface this is your typical story. Girl likes hobby, girls gets materials and the rest is history. Not here friends! Not for this girl…
I was struggling with an unknown (still unknown) medical condition; my thoughts would be filled with worry. I have “episodes” that are out of my control. I am going on year 5 of involuntary movements, twinges, twitches, weird sensations, weakness, balance issues, vertigo, muscle cramping, restless legs, and the list goes on. I have had a multitude of tests completed including, but not limited to: MRI’s, spinal tap, blood work x 100, x-rays, ultrasounds, etc, etc, etc. No conclusion. No diagnoses. We just sit and wait. At some point early on I did the most damage. I googled my symptoms. And so came on the debilitating anxiety. Do not. I repeat. Do not use google as a way to help you solve your health concerns. Not unless you can spend the following 72 hours in therapy. Fact. It ruined me. I was lost in fear. For months I lived an out of body type experience. I was physically present but my mind was preparing my death bed. I feel guilty of that time. The time lost with my daughters, my husband, friends and family. It was so foreign while it was taking place, I couldn’t rationalize any of it. I just made it through each day praying I would return to normal in the morning when I woke up. Health anxiety tore into my life for months… That is until the day I decided I needed a quilt. I don’t know what triggered the idea; I have a home filled with blankets and quilts from family. Maybe to use in my death bed? I’m kidding. I think anyhow. I honestly can’t remember. I suppose I just wanted to be the maker of one. Fast forward-
The first time I set my mind on completing a quilt, I was hours in before I realized my mind was at ease. I was completely lost in the ins-and-outs of learning how to construct the quilt that my anxiety had taken a back seat. When I realized this midway way through I was thrilled. Finally! I feel good. I feel…normal. I burst into tears. It had been months since my mind was at peace. I was there. Present. Physically and mentally. I stood eagerly in front of my sewing machine trying to wrap my head around what I was experiencing. I remember that day vividly. I can’t remember what got me there but that day is crystal clear.
I hadn’t felt a symptom that entire time! It was like I had taken a magic pill that suddenly reduced all my symptoms that I had been experiencing. If you’ve ever struggled with any sort of physical or mental condition you how amazing it is when you suddenly feel like yourself again.
Of course as most anxiety goes, I quickly deterred myself from the idea that I had found something that helped. “It’s probably just a fluke” I would tell myself. “I’m sure it’ll be worse tomorrow” and so the testing began. I spent weeks working on that quilt. I noticed that when I would become flustered (hello seam ripper) I could easily pop myself back to the negative thoughts and ultimately have an uptick in symptoms. Interesting.?.?. However, regardless of the stress or frustration the symptoms were still nothing near what they were the weeks prior. I couldn’t even find the space to worry about my health. I was too busy being a mom and a wife and now I was determined to master quilting; my brain was full. But was that just it? I didn’t think so either. So I did some research…
CNN shared a similar story about Sara, a woman who was struggling with debilitating fear, anxiety and depression that took up needling and was finally able to heal. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described this as flow: a few moments in time when you are so completely absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter. This is believed to be true because as our hands are moving and creating our brain focuses all its attention on that and does not have room for extra stressors.
“There’s promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time,” says Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and wife of Craftsy.com CEO John Levisay. “And that’s that creating — whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography (or) cake decorating — is beneficial to us in a number of important ways.”
Enters punch needling. I tried knitting but I didn’t have the patience to learn the techniques to finish a pattern. Much like quilting, it can be quite frustrating. While researching knitting I kept coming across punch needle art. It wasn’t long before I was asking friends about it. Was loaned a ultra punch to try. And then my friends; the rest is history. FINALLY! I found the golden ticket!! Easy to learn, portable, reasonable price to start up and a plethora of options to create.
Not only is punch needling an extremely forgiving craft, in the sense there isn’t much room for frustration, but it provides you the same mental health benefits referenced above!
Creating releases dopamine in your brain, meaning it’s a natural anti-depressant. It also protects your brain against aging. I know! I couldn’t believe it either! Hey- Who here doesn’t want some natural anti aging help?!?!
It truly is amazing how something that can seem so simple, like punching a needle through cloth can have effects that are lasting beyond having something beautiful to display in your home.
I will continue to struggle and have not so wonderful days. I will also continue to create, make, craft, design, explore, research, and learn to keep my anxiety at bay and my mind where it belongs. In the moment. With my family.
Maybe cure is too strong of a word. I am not free from symptoms that trigger anxiety, I simply found a way to control it. To run it off. Sometimes just for hours, sometimes days, weeks or even months. For me, that’s enough of a cure.
For me, it is my light.