I grew up without downtime. It’s just not how we lived.
My mother was the “superhero mom” that did everything – involved in the community, the church and with our family. She was the first person people went to when they needed something to get done, and she did it all well.
By the time I hit middle school I was also doing everything – choir, band, theatre, 4-H, church, babysitting, tutoring. My family, friends and community were so proud of all my accomplishments. I was proud too. Everyone loved me.
I gave my all to everything that I did, and I expected myself to excel at everything at all times. I usually did.
But I responded to my occasional slips and failures with total emotional breakdowns.
To most, it probably just looked like a teenager lashing out. But to me, it was much darker – a pit in my stomach that never went away.
This is where my depression and inability to curb my emotions started and followed me through my adulthood. I would find myself crying at everything, and not just a few tears… soul-crushing, ugly crying that would catch me completely off guard and I often found myself running away to hide it.
I couldn’t handle not being “good” at things. I would find ways to hide what I felt were shortcomings. I had such shame around not being the smartest, wittiest, best, and most creative that I found ways to deflect from the things that I didn’t naturally do well – mainly by overloading myself with the things that I knew I could succeed at. I took on more than my share, made sure people were happy and taken care of so they wouldn’t notice my shortcomings. And it worked.
A pattern started.
I made mistakes, I found myself in situations I couldn’t handle alone and I would tuck them all away tightly and put on a happy face so no one would know, while I tried to do everything in my power to “fix it” on my own. If I couldn’t fix it, I would take the denial approach until things got so big and so out of my control that I was forced to swallow my pride and find help.
Often the response to needing help was incredulous and frustrated, “why did you wait so long?!”
That only compounded my shame. To me it seemed that people were angry at me because I needed assistance. I didn’t realize that they were frustrated because I hadn’t given them a chance to help me from the beginning, that I had set them up to help in a situation that had gotten out of hand. Yet, in my mind, it reinforced the feeling that people don’t like me when I fail.
I’m not someone that can’t admit when I’m wrong. I have no problem with constructive criticism or differing opinions. What I couldn’t admit to was when I couldn’t do something. Or, even worse, when I tried to do something and it didn’t work out. The shame spiral I fell down was overwhelming, and my inability to ask for help often made it all worse.
I was smart, I was kind, my whole family worked hard and we always strived to give more than we received. All are amazing traits, but can backfire when you don’t give yourself some grace.
Recently, I’ve been working hard to identify and overcome my limiting beliefs. Throughout this self discovery, I’ve realized that all of my limiting beliefs boil down to the constant worry that I’m “not enough” and that I have to do something amazing to prove my worth.
It’s exhausting. It leads to a lack of boundaries, an inability to say ‘no’, and a need to fix everything for everyone around me…all the time.
And when I can’t live up to those incredibly high standards I’ve placed on myself…I fall hard into the depths of that shame spiral.
It’s impossible to live that way. Even now, with the knowledge that I’m the only one who expects me to be perfect…I still find myself constantly teetering on the edge of burnout.
Even now, while I’m putting in the work to find my way through my limiting beliefs, it’s easy to slip on that coat of martyrdom and to ignore my needs for the needs of others. To make them proud, to make them love me.
What I didn’t realize was that my life-long love of crafting and DIY was my mechanism for ensuring that I was putting something, hopefully something pretty, out into the world.
At all times.
Don’t mindlessly sit, even if you are tired and need a few minutes to recharge, make something.
Knit, bead, paint, don’t waste time. MAKE SOMETHING.
Even in the times when my creative light had pretty much burnt out, MAKE SOMETHING.
If you aren’t putting things out into the world you aren’t enough. MAKE SOMETHING.
And when I just couldn’t find the time to MAKE SOMETHING my fingers would itch, my soul would shrink into itself and I could feel the depression and the restlessness creep in.
Sometimes I would ignore that need, that desire…and find myself feeling lost.
And while the connection of my self worth with what I could make wasn’t always healthy, I’ve come to see that “making things” is a tool for me.
Making things can be intimidating though. What if what I make isn’t pretty?
I’ve felt that, deeply.
And at times I’ve made a mess more than I’ve made a thing…
But it’s a part of the process.
I remember the first time someone referred to my making things as “art.” I balked. He was a “real artist” that painted beautiful murals and embodied everything you would imagine from an artist.
I had made a ring of coiled wire and freshwater pearls. It didn’t seem like art. It seemed like some wire and beads, the basic instructions came off the internet and I put my spin on it. Anyone could do the same. I found myself thinking, it’s not special. I’m not special. And I’m definitely not an artist.
As I’ve worked through the reasons why I struggle with “being enough”, I’ve shifted the focus on my DIY tendencies. Working with a life coach helped me realize it’s not about the finished product, it’s about the process and what that process does for me. She often commented on the doodles that I drew in my planner, usually brightly colored flowers. She asked about hobbies and I showed her a pendant I had made from glass and wire. She was impressed, she thought it was beautiful, I was baffled. It wasn’t perfect so I had thrown it into a pile of whatever on my coffee table. She told me to do something with color every day – so I did. And I started feeling better. Making things became less of a compulsion and more of a joy, even when I made something less than perfect.
It put gas in my tank. It helped me refocus and find my way forward.
It was meditation in its own way.
The important thing is, as I journey through that creative process, I’m working through my stress and anxiety, letting the process wash away the hurt and confusion that naturally comes along with living in this world.
I’m letting my mind work through the messy stuff.
And even if that translates to a messy project, something that doesn’t quite turn out, I can be proud that I’ve given myself the gift of trying.
It’s a safe space to fail, nothing is riding on the outcome – and as a perfectionist who has always prided herself in her ability to do it all, failing is the best thing I can do. It’s an experience I need – because it’s not the end of the world and I need to practice that over and over.
What I hope for everyone is that they give themselves a space to try, to MAKE SOMETHING.
And then give themselves the space to fail and start over.
It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t require endless supplies or a huge investment. All you need to do is be willing to make a mess and see what comes out on the other side.
I still have some battles to fight when it comes to replacing “I’m not enough” with “I AM enough” in my head, my heart and my soul. I have created my whole persona around this belief, it colors how I find my way through this life. I’m grateful that I’ve reworked my unhealthy relationship with crafting and turned it into what it’s meant to be, a place for my soul to re-energize and to grow. A safe place to practice failing and even see the beauty in it.
It would mean so much to me to pass that healing power on to others by helping them get over the first hurdle, “What if I’m not enough?” The craft supplies don’t judge, all you have to do is find something you want to try and jump in.