Hello Sewing Friends, despite the best of intentions my posting here – whilst never routinely scheduled – does seem to have spluttered along like a car with a backed-up exhaust over the last 12 months or so; all fits and starts! Life has had its ups and downs – a pandemic certainly creates a unique backdrop to life, doesn’t it. Now that I find myself in a more stable and happier place, I thought I’d share a little of my personal experience with you (interspersed with the sewing projects I did manage to complete during this time).

Whilst not wanting to veer into self-indulgence, it’s fair to say the last year has been life-changing. The publishing of this post is a commitment I’m making to myself in journeying onwards; in a period where wearing masks is commonplace, I find myself – psychologically speaking – unmasked for the very first time. And it’s something I want to hold on to. I also hope these words possibly offer some insight or comfort to others.

That said…

…the experiences I discuss here – the pandemic, bereavement and the road to acccepting my own ‘disabilities’ – might be triggering for some; this post might not be for you, right now.

So, here’s my story …

I made a matching set of quilted mats for my new sewing machine – click HERE for tutorial

The first lockdown in the UK occured on my eldest childs’ birthday. I’d already pulled my youngest out of school. At that time, all I wanted was my family at home and resolved to make the most of this time together. The sun shone down; we ate our lunch in the garden daily, went on long walks together and just generally felt very thankful to have each other at home. All the while I had one eye constantly on the news; a dark backdrop to what now feel like almost halcyon days.

Days that stretched to weeks that stretched to months. The hardest part personally in this time was trying to maintain some sort of contact with my parents. My father had been ill for a very long time, surving one cancer after another. In the end he had a series of strokes that left him with no short-term memory and related dementia. He had double leg amputations and was wheelchair bound. The master craftsman who’d used his hands to make and build all his life, gave way to a little boy lost. He had moments of lucidity where he knew something was wrong and would have panic attacks. But another door also seemed to open in his minds-eye; he saw the joy and beauty in everything and would become overcome with his love for us and his grandchildren, rapt in the changing of nature. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see the world through his eyes.

My father passed away in the summer. I last saw him, alone at his hospital bedside, a couple of days before he died. He was heavily medicated to cope with the pain of all his major organs shutting down. Despite this, and his dementia, my dad – with considerable effort – swam to the surface long enough to sit up, hold my hand and speak words I will cherish as long as I live. He was, in effect, saying goodbye. At the end of my allotted visiting time, I had to walk out of the ward to my car knowing there was no going back.

I still can’t think about this without breaking.

His funeral was devastating for a lot of wrong reasons. The backdrop of Covid certainly didn’t help. It was, according to the rules, sparsely attended. A few relatives had, however, been able to pay their last respects and offer some support to my mum. I hadn’t seen my Aunt for years but there she was, as sprightly as ever.

She was lost to Covid two months later.

Those summer days watered into a bleaker Autumn. Normally, when I need to reset my mental and emotional batteries, I sit in front of my sewing machine; sewing has always been my peace – the time to reset my ever-charging brain by concentrating solely on one thing to the blessed exclusion of everything else. Yet I barely touched my brand new sewing machine in weeks that stretched to months. I was filled with a pervasive anxiety; I think unboxing it around the time of my fathers’ death bestowed it with the sense of fatalism I was experiencing in life generally – I was fraught everytime I sat in front of it, convinced something would go wrong; that the machine would break – so much so that it led to a creative paralysis. Even deciding what to sew next, trying to source fabrics and supplies left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. So I decided not to sew. And then I felt anxious about avoiding doing what I usually love.

A bit of a disaster – a colour-blocked FibreMood Lexi – see HERE

I’d reached a level of emotional burnout that meant I was functioning – and with two children, respite is not an option – in a very limited, disassociated, capacity. It got so I was only really able to engage with fictional characters (books and TV), texting a very limited number of people and binge-watching every available episode of every season of ‘The Repair Shop’ (which I highly recommend by the way!)

It was during this period, after being constantly surrounded by my family, with no time to be alone to recharge, I reached a pivotal point; I came to a realisation I’d unconsciously batted away for years and years

My neurodivergency.

Without wanting to infringe upon the privacy of others around me, I can say I’ve been surrounded by diagnosed Autism for decades. It is something I have read extensively on and have nurtured, celebrated and advocated in some very special people around me. But whilst recognising I had some (a lot) of the traits, I’d discounted it in myself; isn’t everyone just a little bit on the Spectrum to one degree or another?! And I have good social skills and can ‘read’ people … can’t I? Oh, if you meet me you’d likely think so (and getting me to agree to meet is a feat in itself!) What you wouldn’t see is the exhaustion I’d face afterwards (and the stress I’d suffer beforehand). What I am good at – which is extremely poignant in these Covid times – is ‘masking’.

When I’m ‘being sociable’ I am, for want of a better description, ‘performing’. Not only am I computing every action and reaction around me, I’m doing so whilst predominantly lipreading. I am largely deaf, having lost the majority of my hearing to a meningoccocal type infection in my 20s (I have minimal hearing on one side, none at all on the other and have had surgery for a bone anchored hearing aid; I occassionally switch it on ;-). In hindsight, it’s fair to say I have studied social interaction with the intensity of a clinical psychologist all my life, mentally taking notes on how to act and react. Very little comes ‘naturally’. So yes, on a ‘good’ day, I might come across as the most socially engaged person in a room, clocking every nuance in others. But then I’ll pay the price of this intense neurological activity in the days afterwards – exhausted, needing to be alone, anlyasing every last aspect of that social interaction for any faux-pas I might have committed and able to do very little else but communicate in monosyllables. I completely shut down. And to think I’d convinced myself I was ‘merely’ an introvert too embarassed to admit I was deaf!

For a quick overview, see HERE

But, once I’d fought back the impulse to deny the possiblity of my being on the autistic spectrum, I became flooded with huge sense of clarity; everything suddenly made sense! Every. Last.Thing! Oh my goodness, I have stopped berating myself for my own perceived shortcomings and have started the process of understanding and forgiving myself for some of my most painful history.

I decided to talk about this here because I realise now just how much being on the autistic spectrum shapes my sewing and blogging. Sewing is definitely my ‘special interest’ (read : obsession). It also massively impacts on my ability to communicate and participate in the online sewing community. For example, I might feel relatively chatty in the morning and post something on my Insta feed. Later in the day though, mutism kicks in and the thought of responding to messages and comments triggers massive anxiety and avoidance.

Together with the inability to sit at my sewing machine, this is why, during the pandemic, I have largely stayed away from social media. I haven’t had the capacity. I am utterly rubbish at doing more than one thing at any given time; I cannot readily ‘switch gears’ so I generally have to focus on one thing to the absolute exclusion of all else. What I’m hoping now, by laying my cards on the table like this, is that I am allowing myself to sew, blog and participate in this online community of ours, at my own pace and in my own way. Unmasked, if you will.

Whilst writing this, I have realised there is sooooo much I could write about neordivergency / autism as it specifically relates to my sewing – everything from deciphering sewing patterns instructions / diagrams to coping with the mental exhaustion of each project. How many of us are out there I wonder? Sewing seems to me almost tailor-made for autistic creative expression!

I will leave this here, for now. I hope it has read as intended. If you have any thoughts or questions, please let me know either in the comments below or, if you’d prefer to message me privately, DM me over on my Instagram or contact me via email, my address is :

sewsarahsmith@gmail.com

(I cannot guarantee the speed at which I’ll be able to respond but where a response is needed, I will!)

Stay well … and thank you for reading xx

NB : I have been working with my amazing co-hosts, Suzy and Monika, to bring you this years #sewtogetherforsummer challenge! You may recall we shelved last years’ theme as the pandemic hit, changing it to a pared-back loungewear challenge instead. This year, we left the pin in our original theme for 2020 to come up with something we feel is still practical but also … joyful and fun! Watch this space x

40 thoughts on “All Sewn Up – A Personal Reflection on the last 12 months

  1. Thank you so much Maria; I’m writing bits down as they come to me. Perhaps that’s a conversation we could have in the future? Xxx

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  2. velosews says:

    Thank you for sharing what you’ve been dealing with and how you are coping now. I do hope to see more from you about sewing and neuro diversity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kellie Terry says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences this past year, and your journey of self-discovery. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear father and aunt. It does sound as though these losses, paired with “pandemic stress and fatigue,” have pushed you into a period of deep reflection and personal transformation. Unmasking and becoming more transparent and vulnerable is such hard work. I too have had significant additional stresses this year on top of pandemic living. I would love to write about them as you have, but it would involve other family members who would not welcome that, so I’ve sought an outlet in therapy, which helps. I wish all of us dealing with neurodivergence, loss, and family stress peace and grace. Thanks again.

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  4. kssews says:

    Thank you for sharing. I appreciate how difficult things can get and applaud you for doing what works in the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hélène says:

    How light emerges from the darkest moments. You’ve been through such a journey Sarah. This post is most touching xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Janet says:

    Hi Sarah. I don’t really know what to say here, but I did want to say that I read this twice, and will give it lots of thought. I’m so sorry to hear that your father and aunt have passed away during this weird and stressful time, and I hope your openness brings you continuing clarity. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you; that’s a very kind things to say and appreciated xx

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  8. Thanks Jenny – oh my goodness, the love of gadgets just goes on and on doesn’t it – have you found any good ones lately I might not have?! x

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  9. Thank you Lis; I feel ‘lighter’ than I have done in a long time xx

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  10. Ah Sue, thank you angel. It’s funny how I’m instinctively drawn to some people – I think with a glass of wine in our hand we’d talk non-stop for hours and hours! All the hugs xxx

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  11. Thank you Jean xx

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  12. Thank you for reading xx

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  13. Thank you so much Helen xx

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  14. Thank you, Karen, that’s incredibly kind of you to say xx

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  15. Thanks Di; hope we get to speak / see each other ‘for real’ again one day not too far away xx

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you Lizzy, they really have been haven’t they – I’m really glad to hear that you sewing has helped you. The sun’s just on the horizon I feel! xx

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  17. Hi Lodi, thank you! x

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  18. plumdelice says:

    Sarah, I so appreciate your brave, open and honest post. It struck a chord within me for several reasons, especially regarding engaging mainly with fictional characters. I’ve never been much of a TV viewer, but suddenly became addicted to Netflix. My sewing has also been sadly neglected. I have no excuses, but then do we need an excuse? The past year has been so difficult, far more so for you than for me. I love reading your blog posts and your makes are exquisite. You’ve been missed, but will be enjoyed all the more when you are able to post. Embrace yourself for who you are. You are loved.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jenny Mitchell says:

    A very brave post Sarah, as someone also surrounded by neuro-diverse loved ones I know it’s much easier to see traits in others than ourselves.
    Sending love to you and your family, I love your posts, however infrequent. We share a love of sewing gadgets and your round-ups inevitably lead to me buying more!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Elisabeth Taylor says:

    A wonderful brave and heartfelt post. You have lost much this year but you have also given yourself permission to explore and then share your innermost thoughts and feelings. Very brave but I also hope healing.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Teresa Walsh says:

    Condolences on your losses. I’d like to say so much to you in sympathy and empathy, but I can’t find the words that would do justice. Wishing you strength and resilience.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Sue says:

    I want to write all the words, but there aren’t really words…I feel like we could just sit in a room, together, and share volumes without saying a single word.

    Your post has moved me deeply.

    {{{HUGS}}}

    Liked by 1 person

  23. SabbieEmvee says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you so much for your heartfelt post. The courage you’ve got to open up and share is truly amazing.
    I’m so so sorry to read about your father and aunt and am thinking of you, and your family.
    I wish you all well
    Sabrina xx

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Deborah says:

    Sending love and light ❤️.

    Like

  25. Anna Christina says:

    I am so sorry for your losses. Thank you for your openness and honesty. You may never know how much it has helped others.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Joanne Vansickle says:

    You are a person of amazing strength. Thankyou for sharing the details of your life. You are an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Paula says:

    Thanks for sharing…💕

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Thank you … oh my goodness, I know you’re right but it’s so rare that I do and then when I do I get stressed by the noise … got myself in a bit of a vicious circle with it really…I need to wean myself back on it … and thanks for reading x

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Fadanista says:

    Lots to be sad about in your post, but your strength and resilience are boundless and you are triumphant! I will say that you should turn your hearing aid on for at least four or more hours a day to start retraining your brain. I’m also deaf so speak from experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Jean says:

    Read your heart wrenching, honest post and I salute you, you’ve found your “freedom“ albeit after much heartbreak. I’m sure this post will help so many. Thank you and keep on seeing xx

    Liked by 1 person

  31. twiceanne says:

    A beautiful post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Helen Jones says:

    When the grief eventually subsides, I hope you’ll be able to take comfort from those precious last moments with your beloved Dad. I also hope that you’re able to accept, and celebrate, yourself for who you really are and that it feels like a weight off your shoulders.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Karen says:

    I hesitated for quite a while not sure how to express what I felt about you post…I still can’t sum up how it’s moved me. Firstly, my sincere condolences for the loss of you beloved father. Thank you for your honest post which I’m sure must have been quite difficult to write. I’ve followed you for many years and, after reading this, my admiration is even greater. I’m sure lots of people can relate to this. Take care 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  34. You’ve often been in my thoughts this last year Sarah. I knew you had lost your dear dad and I’m so sorry to hear you lost your aunt too. It’s clearly been a heart wrenching and soul searching time. Thank you for being so open in this post lovely lady. It must have been a huge step to make. Sending oodles of love and hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Ruth says:

    Thankyou for your honest and thought proving post. The pandemic has magnified and clarified issues in a lot of people’s lives. Thankyou for saying this is me and this is what I been dealing with. 🤗 I hope that sewing brings you joy going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Lizzy Cresswell says:

    Bless you, dear Sarah.
    These dark days have been traumatic for countless people in ways that we could never have anticipated, my family included.
    Sewing has got me through , but I will admit that I began to see my home as my prison.
    We will come out the other side & see the sun again.
    Love, peace and bright blessings to you & your family xx

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Lodi says:

    It’s been…a year. So sorry it’s been especially difficult for you. But the “After Times” are just around the corner, and I can’t wait to see what you will be making! Much love ❣

    Liked by 1 person

  38. john small says:

    Hugs. Peace to you

    Liked by 1 person

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