Craftster Saved My Life

It’s no secret that I have gone through some darkness. I’ve written about them here, in guest posts, in my newsletter…. you get the idea. Suffice it to say, I’m not hiding it from anybody, least of all you.

the-bottle-94548_640Because I know depression (and anxiety, and general ennui – they’re all related) so intimately, I’m always nervous about offering pat solutions to it. I know that there is no such thing – that no amount of cheer leading, no magical diet change or exercise plan or thought working tool is going to let you wave a magic wand and watch all your troubles disappear in a puff of purple smoke.

The reality is, my healing journey has consisted of multiple small moments, and they have come from multiple sources: friends, therapy, coaching, nature, meditation…. it’s a long list.

But if I had to pin point the one thing that has helped me the most, while trapped in the experience of depression, anxiety, and general uncertainty, I would have to point to crafting.

During the winter of 2010-2011, I went through a particularly nasty bout of seasonal depression, combined with unemployment. Around the same time, I discovered Craftster, and got involved in craft swaps.

Joanna, what the hell is a craft swap, and why should I care?

Craft swaps (at least as practiced on Craftster), involve a whole bunch of people signing up, filling out forms describing their likes and dislikes, and then being paired up with suitable other people. Your job is to craft delightful objects, which you then send to that other person. Usually there is some sort of theme, but you otherwise are limited only by your imagination, and the preferences of your partner.

I’m pretty sure that saved my life.

Crafting gave me something to focus on other than the toxic thoughts circling through my head. It got me thinking about other people. It got me involved in a community. It gave me something to look forward to, in the form of a package arriving in the mail. All of that was more healing than I can say.

More than that, crafting let me feel productive again. During a dark time, I saw that I could do something. I could create something that hadn’t been there before. If you’ve never had that particular revelation during a low point, let me tell you, it can be earth shattering. If the actions I take can create a scarf out of nothing but yarn, then the actions I take can also create me a better life out of nothing but what I have in front of me.

What can you do to experience the healing power of crafts?

  • If you don’t know any crafts, pick one to learn. I suggest crochet, because it is relatively easy to learn, mistakes are easy to fix, and yarn is yummy. But any craft that appeals to you is great.
  • Join a group or take a class. Socializing is hard when you feel like death warmed over, but it’s worth it. A crafting group is a particularly easy way to ease yourself into interacting with other people. You can focus on your project any time you feel awkward, and it’s a natural ice breaker. If you need help finding crafters near you, try local shops or
  • Sign up for Spinning Your Way Out of the Dark: Ariadne’s Thread. This is the path that guarantees that you will get the most healing out of your crafting, because I’ll be with you every step of the way. I will guide you through learning to use the drop spindle to create yarn, to using it for mindfulness practice, all the way to using your new craft to gain greater insights into how best to overcome the challenges in your way (whatever they may be).

Everybody’s path to healing and happiness is different, so what worked for me might not work for you. But then again, if you’re at your wits end, it just might be exactly what you most need. Yarn is cheap; give it a try.

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Childhood Hurts

This is the fifth in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

bicycle-14863_640“Race you to the top of that hill!”

She pedalled hard to keep up, but the others surged ahead almost immediately, as usual. She wouldn’t have minded, except…

“Why are you so slow?”

“Bet it’s cause you’re out of shape!”


Why did kids have to be so mean? They waited for her at the top of the hill, calling insults back, until she caught up. Unfortunately, she couldn’t hold back the tears that were now falling down her cheek.

“What’re you crying for? What are you, a crybaby?”

Why wouldn’t they just leave her alone? Even if that meant riding away and leaving her behind, it would be better than this. But they just kept riding along. Conversation turned to sports she didn’t follow, and TV shows she didn’t watch. And if it was a show she did enjoy, well, better to keep her opinions to herself. Whatever she liked about it, whatever she thought a character meant or said or did…. she was wrong. Or at least, she was wrong according to them.

Why couldn’t anybody else see things the way that she did? And why did that have to be a bad thing? All she wanted was to talk to people, to share ideas and thoughts and dreams and observations about the world. She loved the world – people, words, animals, plants – but that wasn’t cool. Or else, she loved it in the wrong ways – she never could quite figure out which.

In books, kids had friends who liked them. Friends who they could share with. Why were real kids such jerks? Their sense of humor made no sense. The rules seemed to change on a daily basis, along with the punchlines to the jokes – and she was always a day behind. Did they all get together and agree beforehand, or was she missing some psychic signal for the new world order?

Finally, it was time to go home. She said her goodbyes, and broke away from the pack, pedalling uphill and coasting down. She sang a little song, about wind and wheels and pedals, as she greeted the grandmotherly faces of the houses near her own.

She took her bicycle in through the downstairs door, and pulled it shut behind her.

* * *

Three faces peered out from behind the old maple tree.

The short gentleman wearing a toadstool for a hat asked, “Should we tell her?”

The taller, dour-faced man with pigeon wings instead of arms replied, “No, it’s not time.”

But the woman with a face like an apple and a bundle of knitting whispered, “Soon.”

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What You Might Not Know About Fear

eyes-394176_640People interested in personal growth have two basic reactions to fear. They either assume it is resistance to an important opportunity, and so run towards it, or they assume it’s a sign they are on the wrong path, and so rush away from it. The problem is, neither of these things is true 100% of the time – sometimes fear is from resistance, sometimes it’s because what you are about to do is truly toxic, and sometimes it’s just fear.

I am afraid of snakes. If I see one, I freeze or sprint away. This isn’t resistance and it isn’t a mistake in my path – it’s just a thing that happens, and it has no greater meaning (well, it might have a symbolic meaning, as snakes are rich in lore, but I digress). Similarly, I get anxious before going on any over night trip. It doesn’t matter if I’m going on my dream vacation or being dragged to the pit of Tartarus – if I’ll be gone over night, I will panic as I walk out the door. It doesn’t mean anything about the trip.

I would be doing myself a disservice to try to read more about a specific situation into either of those reactions. Other fears do contain instructions; if I’m afraid to publish a blog post, then it is either because I have hit on an important (and thus self-revealing truth), or else that the post is poorly written and needs to go back to the soup of ideas from whence it came. But how do I know which it is?

If fear can mean different things, it can be hard to know when to push through it and when to listen to the urge to run away.

fearSometimes it’s easy to take a few deep breathes and tap into your body’s wisdom. From there, you can determine whether it’s a clean fear (like jumping off a high dive into a pool of water) or something more toxic (like jumping into raw sewage). There’s a revulsion present in the latter that isn’t present in the former.

Other times (in my experience, far more often), the fear is too intense. Once anxiety has completely overwhelmed your nervous system, it’s next to impossible to get a clean read.

So what do you do then? You still need to access your body’s wisdom, which means you’re going to need to find that inner core of peace. If it isn’t there, you need to create it.

How do you create a core of peace to get a clean read on your fear?

Meditation, yogic breathing, and long walks are all popular. Personally, I like to do some spinning with my drop spindle.

The process of spinning – keeping my yarn an even width, keeping the spindle spinning in the same direction, winding the yarn onto the spindle – involves just enough concentration to distract me from panic. The repetitive motion is soothing (some studies suggest that it might even trigger the release of serotonin, the neurotransmitter most closely associated with feelings of happiness and calm), and it clears the hormones of panic from my system.

After ten or fifteen minutes, I’m calm enough to take a closer look at the situation and determine if my panic was a sign of resistance or toxicity.

If you are experiencing overwhelming fear, try doing something to soothe yourself until you are in a place where you can take a closer look at what is really happening. Some sort of physical activity is best, whether that’s deep breathing or a walk. Why are you afraid, and what is the best way for you to proceed – do you need to go forward, or take a step away from whatever is about to happen? Only you can know that.

If you find yourself in this situation frequently – once a week or more – check out Spinning Your Way Out of the Dark: Ariadne’s Thread. Through it, I will guide you through this process and so much more!

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An Introvert and a Squirrel Walk Into a Bar

This is the fourth in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

bar“Look, I’m not a people person. I like people, but I’m not good with them. Yeah, maybe that’s a weird thing for a life coach to say, but it’s the truth. I’m not outgoing, I’m not engaging, and I loathe striking up conversations with new people.

Well, unless they’re really interesting. Or I’ve thought of something really witty to say. Or we’re both sitting outside the showers at Pennsic waiting for the cleaning to finish…. but other than that, I suck at approaching people.

I can follow a conversation, sure! And engage in some conversation, I guess. But it’s not like I can direct a conversation to what I want to talk about to sell my business, or convince anybody of why my point of view is important. I’m just not very eloquent in person. I’m much better in writing.

Writing is safe, speaking is not; it’s that simple. Don’t want to embarrass yourself? Don’t talk to people. The internet lets you rethink and re-edit and pick exactly the right words, so everybody knows precisely what you’re trying to say. It’s just better this way – trust me.

And besides, where would I go? Who would I talk to? I just don’t know that many people.”

The man on the bar stool next to her looked up from his drink. He idly rubbed his antlers on the wall beside him, trying to remove velvet that was no longer there, before he replied in a voice that was soft in the darkness.

“I don’t know. You seem to be doing pretty well talking to me.”

“That’s different,” she countered, “You’re a deer.”

“And across from us is a squirrel, a monkey is seated at the next table, and there’s a llama behind the bar. That hardly makes me unusual.”

And remembering that simple truth, she relented.

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Two Simple Steps to Stop Focusing on What Sucks

Sometimes, it feels next to impossible not to give in to negativity.

Why is that?

Basically, our brains have evolved over millions of years to focus on the negative more than the positive. Paying attention when things could go wrong has a clear evolutionary advantage – noticing a clear spring day is all well and good, but noticing the dark clouds that suggest an incoming thunder storm could be a question of life and death.

Unfortunately, living life in a constant state of fear and anxiety has consequences we know all too well: high blood pressure, strained relationships, and depression run rampant.

Luckily for us, we do have a choice. Even though our brains zero in on the negative and minimize the positive, we can train them to see what is going well and what is beautiful just as clearly. It just takes practice and dedication.

creative commons photo by Caitlin Regan, on flickr

creative commons photo by Caitlin Regan, on flickr

The easiest way to start focusing on the positive is to record it when things go well. That can mean writing it down in a journal, taking a photo, or recording a voice memo – whatever is easy for you. The important thing is to consciously take note of the moment and to have a record to go back to.

Taking note of the positive event helps to fix it in your brain. Having a record of it means that you can go back and look at all of the good things that have happened when you are transfixed by the negativity.

Here are your two simple steps:

  1. Record anything good that happens to you – friendly emails, someone letting you go ahead of them in line, seeing a cool bird. Do this when it happens or at the end of the day – whatever works for you.
  2. When you feel like shit, review the list you make during step one.

That’s it.

You remember what you pay attention to. You can decide to pay attention to the good things in your life. It’s really that simple.

Does it mean that you’ll never obsess over a casually cruel remark again? Of course not. But it will make it a hell of a lot easier to move past it and get on with your life. And isn’t that the point?

If you’d like something a little more formal (but still as easy as tying your shoes), check out Threads of Gratitude, free when you sign up for my newsletter!

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