Self-care Through Creativity: Finding Yourself Again Through Busyness, Babies, and Life

Photo by  Olliss  on  Unsplash

Photo by Olliss on Unsplash

 

Creativity and self-care

Self-care is so important, and I never felt that so keenly until after having two babies in two years.  When you lose yourself physically and emotionally, it’s impossible to be there for the others that need you.  Emotional self-care can be defined as anything that fulfills you as a person.  For me, I crave both right- and left-brain intellectual stimulation.  Analytically, I get a lot of fulfillment out of my career as a structural engineer.  However, I also desire a creative outlet to feel whole.  This typically takes the form of crafting with a little experimental baking thrown in.  My favorite crafts are fiber arts such as knitting and crocheting.  The feel of yarn slipping through my fingers is pure, relaxing bliss.  

Benefits of fiber arts

The health benefits of knitting and crocheting are well documented. (Check out some of the references at the end of this post.)  Fiber arts are therapeutic:  boosting mood, reducing stress, combating loneliness, and reducing chronic pain.  Both crafts require two-handed, repetitive movements combined with visual, tactile, and emotional stimulation.  Knitting and crocheting can easily be picked up for a just a few minutes of therapy and be put down again.  Small projects can easily be carried around so that therapy can be conducted anywhere.  In addition to the benefits of going through the motions of knitting or crocheting, at the end of the project there is a huge sense of accomplishment as the fiber artist finished his or her product to be kept, given as a heartfelt gift, or donated to a worthwhile charity such as giving hats to premature babies. 

Finding your form of self-care

While fiber arts are extremely fulfilling for me, there is a significant learning curve.  Basic knitting and crocheting techniques take time to learn and perfect.  I encourage everyone to try it, but realistically not everyone is interested.  So how do you find your creative outlet?  Consider thinking of things you enjoyed as a child.  Did you like to make clothes for your dolls?  Try sewing.  Were you constantly painting your nails?  Try your hand at nail art or take one of those bring your own wine painting classes and see if it sparks your interest.  Were you always taking pictures on one of those disposable cameras?  Invest in a good camera and lens (or borrow one from a friend) and take up photography.  You can always go browsing at your local craft store and see what catches your attention. 

When your hobby doesn’t make you happy

I’ve been crocheting since I could sit on my grandmother’s lap and “help” and knitting since college.  Fiber arts have always been my happy place, and pre-kids I was that quirky friend who would show up to your birthday party with a hand-knit dachshund coozie to match your obsession with your fur-baby.  Pre-kids I loved to take custom orders from my friends and from Etsy to make up any crazy pattern someone threw at me.  While I wasn’t earning real money from what I created compared to the amount of time it took to create it, I received a lot of personal satisfaction and affirmation from someone wanting to buy something I had designed and made.

That all came to a halt when my son was born just over two years ago.  While he was a healthy, happy baby, he was very high maintenance and demanding of attention.  I’ve always been a chronic asthmatic, but my respiratory health started to spiral out of control at the same time.  Not that I would admit when it was happening, but I think I was also struggling with some mild post-partum depression.  I was sick, fatigued, hated my post-partum body, struggled with breastfeeding, and found it difficult to find joy in life beyond loving my baby and husband.  All I wanted to do was get through the work day, play with the baby for about an hour, get dinner finished, and crash into bed as early as humanly possible.  There was no room for fun in my life.

Knitting commission work stressed me out.  I quickly finished my orders during my maternity leave and shut down my Etsy shop.  I had an absolutely beautiful wall hanging 90% finished to give my cousin who was having a baby at the same time as I was, but all I could see were the flaws (my yarn tension was a little inconsistent).  It took me five months to finish it when it should have taken a week.  I had lost the joy I found in my hobby.  I put away my hooks and needles.

Finding joy

Having been a prolific fiber artist before having my baby, I had always had these dreams of drawers filled with hand-made hats, booties, sweaters, and blankets.  As my baby was approaching nine-month-old, he did not have a single thing that I had knit or crocheted for him.  On the morning of Father’s Day, I was feeding my son a bottle and decided to open Pinterest on my phone for the first time in a long time.  One of the first things to pop up was a crochet pattern for a small Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.  My hands physically itched to make it.  We were about to spend about two hours in the car to visit with my in-laws for the holiday.  I packed a bag with all my supplies and finished that small stuffed Pooh in the car while my husband drove.

That project was a turning point for me.  It reminded me why I loved fiber arts.  The yarn moving through my hands.  The calming repetition of the stitches.  The act of physically making something.  The project was also small enough that I was gratified with a complete project in under two hours.  Best of all, I felt like me again.  Rachel the fiber artist was back.

I had to learn that self-care through fiber arts was going to look different with the busyness associated with kids.  Especially since shortly after making Pooh, I became pregnant with our second child.  I did not magically have more time in my day to devote to knitting.  I found that making projects for other people with real or self-imposed deadlines was stressful and counterproductive to using fiber arts as self-care.  I resolved myself to making things for my family.  With planning and ample time, I make small things as teacher gifts or for friends’ birthday presents.  I had to learn to give myself grace, love the process, and not worry about when I finish the projects. 

References

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/the-health-benefits-of-knitting/

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-11-17/7-health-reasons-to-take-up-knitting

By:  Rachel Roberts, structural engineer, fiber artist, wife, and mother.  Check out my blog at engineeredcreations.com, where I share recipes, crafts, parenting tips, and how we are currently learning to eat with food intolerances.  You can also find me on Instagram @howserrn or Pinterest @rachelsengineeredcreations.