When I migrated from my old website to this one, I did so because I wanted a safe space to write about the things that were important to me. A lot of my writing is about the things I make, either as handmade projects, art projects with my little boy, occasional recipes and similar, because the act of creativity is important to me, and being encouraged in that when I have been so discouraged in the past makes my life enjoyable. But I also have another, very important part of my site that I specifically created mimicodd.com for, and that’s for talking about my experiences of life, occasional struggles and the love and relationships I share with family, friends and the wider outside world. These posts usually have all black and white photographs, because here is where I give my words their greatest freedom and focus (and honestly, I mostly only include pictures as otherwise it messes up the formatting of the site). This post, more than any other before, perhaps spans both the creative and life talk. I don’t know where it fits. It fits in both places. Everything is slowly coming together.
One of the reasons that I enjoy making things by hand is because I find an important balance in creative acts. I have spoken before about both physical and mental health challenges I have faced, huge life events that I have worked through, and how I try (and do not always succeed) in beating them.
A month ago, I hit my biggest mental health challenge of nearly eight years. This might be a difficult read. Back then, eight years ago, I really don’t think I had much to live for, until one huge day where I managed to turn the course of my life around with the help of some people online giving me courage and guidance, and a womens’ refuge. This time was different. I’d had some more bad news from the doctors, and was in a lot of pain. I always think that I might get used to chronic pain, but then the dial gets knocked up another notch and I feel like I just cannot cope. And so it was on this day. I’d found a second breast cyst, and increased pain, recent pneumonia and the hold up in my medication just all weighed down on me and I could not wrestle the hand that forced me to hit the self-destruct button. In the space of a few hours I went from wondering how I was ever going to make it through more tests, more waiting for results, more pain to deciding to get everything over very quickly. I tried to break up my family. It’s awful, and difficult to even think about now, but I tried to make my husband move out. I hated the burden I caused to him, and everything he’s had to do, and I wanted to cut him free in a brutal way. It was awful. We cried a lot. As the words came out of my mouth, over and over, I knew it was the last thing my heart wanted, but I thought it was the right thing to do. I wanted to keep Darwin with me, because I’d not survive without him, but I felt selfish for that, even, to put my child through a life with me as a mother. The truth is, I didn’t want to be alive any more. I have felt like this before, those eight years ago. Back then I had nothing to live for. Now, I did, but I felt being alive was painful, and selfish, and the people I loved most would be better off without me, and maybe, after all, it would be better for all concerned if I were no longer here. The change would be awful, in the short run, but life would be better for the few people that cared once the pain had dulled, and they were free of me.
This mental destruction is a hard and difficult path to pull away from. My mind could think of nothing else at that moment. I felt paralysed, and through the night battled until I was too weak to battle any more, and so I became scared, and I had to walk into my little boy’s room at 3am and just feel his sweet warmth, and tell his sleeping tiny form that I was sorry he had me as his mummy, his Yayii, but that I needed him. My husband, who I’d made take all of his clothes from the wardrobe so he could escape me, I could not bare to be away from. I asked him to walk me to the bathroom, and then back to bed, and finally sleep caught me as exhaustion let me fall into the nights’ waiting embrace when I knew that he was close by and would still be there in the morning.
The next morning had dulled the edge of self destruction ever so slightly. I still felt all of the feelings of the night before, but in a less keen form. Friendships I would not cut myself from: I would just let them drift away. It’s less painful for all involved, and they would forget me. It was kindest, I felt. I had love, and I loved my friends, but I was too tired to maintain the demands of being a good friend, but maybe I had just enough to still be an okayish mum, and a not-awful partner.
Days of indifference followed, with peaks of absolute pain. Mostly my head was a jumble of noise and deep grey feeling, but every now and again I’d have moments of absolute clarity, but those were always when the sharp edge of destruction glinted at me through the fog. I moved from pure destruction into depression, with flashes (I call them aftershocks) of my point of crisis coming back to me. As days rolled by there were occasional moments where the rolling grey with thunderous rumbles cleared and there was just the little glimmer of light that shone on me to make me feel the warmth of actual life again. My child’s laughter or a drawing of me that made me look like a potato with a face, which is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever looked, because it was a version of me that exists because of my child.
As a wonderful friend recently said, depression is boring. As the heavy grey clouds thinned slightly, what was left was murk. A sense of self that is nothing more than a grimy drizzle. No matter how far ahead I tried to look, all I could see was a coating of grey fog. Life was there, and I could sort of make out a few shapes and forms, but there was no light or shade, and every once-definable edge was dulled. It was being alive without living.
To truly live, I need to create and connect. I know this is where all of the colour of my life comes from. Painting with my toddler, making clothes to play and feel good in, making a home to live in. I knew this was the next step in breaking through the clouds and letting some light and form in, but this is where I always struggle to get to the next step in getting better and managing this thing.
Crossing The Void
My depression manifests in a great number of ways. It is complex, and difficult to beat, but I do understand some of the tricks it uses to hold me down. I speak openly about it specifically for this reason, as the more I consider it and explore it, the more I understand it. Slowly, I am finding bridges to cross the void that depression opens up in my life, and the stumbling blocks that it places on the path to my recovery. For myself, these include an inability to make decisions. Whilst my brain struggles to make sense of things I know that a part of getting better, includes, for me, the need to make things. It is my antidote to the destructive tendencies of a crisis, and the emptiness of the void. It is a battle of my need for creation vs the destruction that a mental health crisis encourages: it is bringing something new into existence to fill the void. But the background fog of depression is a noisy scene. Voices and doubts clatter around my head and I can’t separate out my thoughts from that noise.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks that depression lays down is an inability to make decisions. I may have lots of ideas, but fear of failure can mean that I just can’t decide which is the right idea. I fear failure in making a decision and being wrong. And the noise intensifies. It rumbles so that I just cannot think. And the noise is physical. Making things, and having ideas, means stuff, it means things, it means mess. I like the chaos of ideas and materials when I am well, because I have enough mental space to give my ideas room to breathe, but during bouts of depression clutter is my absolute enemy. Clutter represents opportunity and choice, and my inability to organise thoughts and finding my ideas scattered around me has a physical manifestation in the form of clutter. Because I can’t make choices all of the potential that is around me just mocks me, so I want to throw it all out of the window.
A couple of weeks after the darkest days, I could see far enough ahead of me to start to believe that I was going to make it through this thing, but I didn’t know how, I knew some of the things I needed to do, but I didn’t know how I could achieve them. I needed to create, but all of the stumbling blocks were still there. What to make, how to make it and how to create without clutter. Ideas started pouring around my head until I eventually had to shoo them away and make way for the tumbling thoughts. Then, one day, my husband went to the supermarket and asked if he could get me anything to help, and it hit me in a moment of absolute bright, warm clarity, Mollie Makes.
The Light Goes On
For those who do not know of it, Mollie Makes is a craft magazine sold in the UK and elsewhere. It has a focus on creativity and inspiration, and is full of ideas and interviews with creators. I had never bought Mollie Makes before, but I had seen it on the news aisle shelves, and knew it would help.
Each month there is a cover gift on the front of the magazine with a little project to make, with the materials included to make it. It might be sewing, embroidery, macrame, origami… pretty much anything, and there lay the answer.
I like to create: I am ‘creative’ in that pretty much all of my projects are ideas of my own devising, but when I am not feeling well that spark of invention cannot rest. I still have ideas, almost too many ideas, but I also think that anything I do attempt will inevitably fail, because that’s what depression does to me, and therefore I end up doing nothing.
So, this time, I decided to let Mollie take the reins.
Though I find the greatest joy in bringing my own ideas to life, crossing the void is easier with a bit of guidance, so I realised what I needed was a half-way project, or series of. Short bursts of making that took the burden of creativity, clutter and decision making away from me, and there was Mollie with her gift.
She brought with her an ’embroidered necklace kit’, but honestly, it could have been anything. I had all the materials in a tiny pouch, I had instruction, and no decision to make, no design to plan. I could just pick up my needle (included) and start.
And so I did my first bit of embroidery. Actually… I think I may have embroidered once before, but I can’t remember what or why. Is it perfect? Nope. Does it matter? This is important now… no it doesn’t. And I’ll tell you why – it’s because I am not emotionally invested in this project. It was prescribed. It is someone else’s idea. It is not my baby.
It was great. A manual employment of my hands to make something without any pressure to realise my ideas. And I learned a few new techniques for when I am feeling well enough to be creative again. I am proud of myself, for having that one idea in the fog that might make a difference, and following that opportunity. And I know that it is a way forwards for me. I decided then, that it was something I should bare in mind for when I needed it next, because there will be other times when I need this. Hopefully I shall not ever find myself fall quite as deeply as I did those few weeks ago, but I still am feeling those aftershocks, and there will be future times when that fog closes in and the void opens up again. But this time I will have at least one thing prepared to help.
The Craft Snack Drawer
During the time I was completing the above embroidery, I saw someone on Instagram refer to a similar project (maybe the same one, actually) as a ‘Craft Snack’, and it’s stuck with me. I’m sorry that I have forgotten who it was now, because I have nabbed the phrase and love it. It’s perfect. It’s not heavy or a huge commitment, it’s just a snack. And what’s better than a good snack drawer?
I decided that I am going to be prepared and ready for any more aftershocks, as well as any future times of need. Russell and I searched on eBay and bought a couple of back issues of Mollie Makes that still had cover gifts, and a couple of cross stitch kits, and a kind friend on Instagram sent me some spare kits she was not going to use, to get me started, and I put together a quick snack drawer. Here, future craft snacks are kept together, and the drawer is clearly labelled and dedicated to this use. I have made it a real and permanent feature of my life, and I feel good about it.
And I have snacked from the drawer a couple of times, because the aftershocks have not completely died down (though they are getting less intense and further apart).
So now I have all but completed a coaster in the shape of a grapefruit, and the majority of a Mummy Clanger. They need slight finishing touches, as my health and medication has given me great joint pains, and the slightly tougher stitching through the thicker felt of the necklace and coaster was hurting my fingers, but now that the pain is a little less, I look forwards to finishing them.
And I will keep this going. I have subscribed to Mollie Makes* (you can even get the first five issues for £1 each) so that I can build the drawer back up and not stress too much about dipping into it when I need a little snack to give me some energy back.
And I’m feeling better. Today was the first day in over a month that I feel ok. Not great, but ok. I finally believe that, actually, things will be alright.
Thank you to all of my friends and family that have stood by me, and understood. To those who have not judged openly, or silently. To those who have held me, or dropped me a line of thoughtfulness and support from the other side of the globe. I genuinely would not be here without you.
*I am not affiliated with Mollie Makes in any way, but this has been a big, positive step for me, and it might just help someone out there. Depression affects people in so many different ways, and so it might not work for you, but on the tiny chance that it strikes someone as being a possible positive step, this helped me.