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.
…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 …
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.
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…
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!
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 :
(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