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"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." ~ Thomas Merton "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable." ~ George Bernard Shaw

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  • Winter/Summer SAD

    So yesterday, after a horrible week of feeling unable to settle down, I sat under my therapy light for the first session of the season. It was also a sunny day, after a few rainy days. A crisp, cool, perfect autumn day, but I didn’t venture outside until the afternoon, so I’m not sure how […]

  • Take Back the Winter: SAD, Labels, and Light Therapy

    Do you know what kind of person you are? I do. I have a pretty little list of labels now, and I have to admit, I kind of like them. Weird, right? I mean, we usually resist labels because Ugh. They make us feel icky, like we’ve been pigeonholed and we’re stuck as stereotypes and […]

  • Christmas Peace

    Dear reader, it’s Christmas tomorrow, and I’m rebelling. It has been a glorious rebellion. This will be my new December tradition, I think. I have said no to pretty much everything this year. And yes to the very basic necessities: knitting, thinking, drinking coffee, and hanging out with my kids. I said no to every […]

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Winter/Summer SAD

So yesterday, after a horrible week of feeling unable to settle down, I sat under my therapy light for the first session of the season. It was also a sunny day, after a few rainy days. A crisp, cool, perfect autumn day, but I didn’t venture outside until the afternoon, so I’m not sure how much that affected me, but it should be noted.

Those two small changes — weather and the lamp — were enough to put a new skip in my step. Nothing else changed. I still had to leave the house (although I got to stay at home for the whole day and didn’t go out until the evening, to something I always enjoy, teaching knitting). But I felt sooo much better.

The anxiety subsided, even though I’m still waiting to hear back on my proposal. The pressures that I’d be trying, with no success, to let go of, finally melted away. I still have about 10 projects on the go, all of which I normally enjoy but were feeling like a weight around my neck. But now, after sitting under my lamp, they feel fun again. I feel back in charge of my life, able to set things aside and choose just one thing to do. I call that a success.

Apparently, it isn’t unusual to feel the effects of the light therapy so quickly. It can take longer for some than others, so I guess I’m lucky so far. Or maybe it’s my high sensitivity kicking in to help me.

The Winter Blues book has alluded a couple times to people who are more sensitive to certain things, like weather and cloud patterns, temperatures, and the changing seasons. I wonder if there’s a connection between being an HSP and having SAD. Some days, I wish I were a researcher because I just have so many questions! Instead, I’ll admire and be thankful for the people who have the  ability to stick things out and explore their subjects so deeply. I will read as many words from them as I can.

But this question of whether having sensory processing sensitivity is connected to mood in this way (in addition to the ones Elaine Aron talks about in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person) is enough to make me wonder. I’ve been wanting to start a journal detailing environmental factors — like the weather, length of day, what I eat, sleep quality and length, how much coffee I drink, whether I go out or not, the state of tidiness in the house — and how they may affect my mood. Maybe now is the time.

In Winter Blues, Dr. Rosenthal classifies a couple types of seasonality. I was really surprised to read that some people feel worse in the summer, not the winter. And there is another group of people who feel awful in both winter AND summer. At first glance, I wrote those categories off as “not me,” but the more I read about it, the more it dawned on me: before we installed our central air conditioning, I hated summer. I basically existed as best I could and tried to endure it, but breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. My ability to function and deal with life in general decreased during the summer months, too. I think I might be one of those winter/summer seasonal people. Which means that my best times of year are spring and fall. But in fall, my winter SAD starts around October, so my windows of feeling-great-time are really small. And they’re easily interrupted by the high sensitivity acting up if I don’t really limit my stimulation.

This explains so much of my life.

I’m sooo glad I know these things now. I can actually do something about them to make my life flow better! Tomorrow, I’ll start writing about the things I’ve been doing that are helping me.

 

Take Back the Winter: SAD, Labels, and Light Therapy

Do you know what kind of person you are? I do. I have a pretty little list of labels now, and I have to admit, I kind of like them. Weird, right?

I mean, we usually resist labels because Ugh. They make us feel icky, like we’ve been pigeonholed and we’re stuck as stereotypes and we can’t really be ourselves. That kind of label, I agree, is 100% awful.

But I’m talking about a new kind of label. These are words that I’m applying to myself that fully describe who I am, in my own mind, with my own definitions. They are Me. No one else has given them to me, and they help me understand how I work, what I need, and how I can take care of myself. They are life-giving words, and I love them.

So, let me introduce myself to you all over again.

I’m an introverted, HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), creative, right-brained, Scanner/multipotentialite who has SAD. Just saying it makes  me giggle because there are so many initials there, like I have a doctorate in my own special blend of weirdness.

But here’s the thing. I have always felt like a fish out of water. People give me strange looks that I haven’t known how to interpret and might have been reading too much into. Maybe it’s because they’re surprised when I say smart things because I’m introverted and don’t always express the depth of my processing that well. But I’m an HSP, and I process things very deeply. I see things in minute detail and feel things intensely. This whole HSP thing is amazing — it’s probably why I’m an artist, a writer, a noticer-of-knitting-details and therefore a great knitting teacher. It’s also really difficult because I get super easily overwhelmed by all the things my senses are taking in, and when I get overwhelmed, I shut down and need time and space to reboot.

Add SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to that sensory processing sensitivity, and holy meltdown, Batman!

For the past two weeks, I’ve been in absolute overload. It started with the perfect storm of of events: we left our house in some capacity every day for almost 2 weeks, AND I had a little extra stress from the high excitement/anxiety of submitting a couple design proposals and waiting to hear whether they’ve been accepted or not. So I didn’t have enough down time, and I even when I had a little, I couldn’t relax.

Now, in the summer time, I can handle the heightened emotions of submitting proposals and waiting to hear back. I have margin in my life, I’ve kept my schedule controlled to accommodate the extra stimulation of building up the courage it takes Every Damn Time to put myself out there, and it’s fun.

But something was different this time. The proposal was Huge, for one thing, and the waiting has been difficult. But I can usually take deep breaths and go on with my life. So it blindsided me when I couldn’t overcome the anxiety and everything felt too tall, too claustrophobic, too shaky and anxious. The normal mess of a large family and dirty dishes piled up and became ominous and foreboding, even though it’s just the usual. Leaving the house was becoming difficult, and I felt always on the verge of tears. Trying to write it out was a little helpful but didn’t take away the awful stomach-churning dread that kept coming at me.

I assumed it was because we’d been so busy and I needed a break from the stimulation. My HSP-ness was on overload and I needed a day or six at home in a row with my earbuds in and some comforting drawing or knitting going on. But it even my knitting wasn’t enough to calm me.

And then I had an aha moment yesterday. It’s autumn. The days have been getting shorter for a while, and I am like a flower who craves the sunlight. I keep every single light on in my house, and they are all bright, daylight-spectrum bulbs because I hate the dark. All my curtains are white to let in the glowy sunlight, my walls are painted like the sky in various states of sun and haze, from clear blue in the kitchen to  my favourite, a pale blue-grey that’s like the edge of the sunrise when the sky begins to lighten in my living rooms. I feel suffocated in the winter in dark rooms with dim lights.

This, my friends, is a clear indicator that I’m a SAD sufferer.

In the winter, all my systems slow down until I’m a sleepy shell of myself. I’ve been telling people for years that I have depression that’s under control, but I’ve finally realized something: I have SAD, and the mental anguish is under control thanks to some great learning, books, and therapy, but the physical symptoms recur like clockwork every September and last through to March.

I get sluggish and sleepy. Waking up is hard, even though coffee helps me immensely. I’m always a comparatively low-energy person, but in the winter, it’s brutal. Keeping up with normal chores becomes too hard. I step over messes, telling myself I’ll get to them later when I have the energy. But the energy doesn’t come until spring, and then I recriminate myself for being so lazy and letting things get so bad.

I let the dishes pile up until the kitchen becomes too stressful for healthy cooking, but I can’t make myself do anything about it. I need long naps. I get snappy and irritable. I avoid making social commitments, I cancel plans, I stop going to church. After December, I’m absolutely wiped out from all the Christmas visiting and shopping, and it takes me all of January and February to recover — or so I thought. But now I’m starting to wonder, this second, as I’m typing this, if the January/February slump is due more to the SAD than the Christmas overload.

I feel a sense of dread in late August and early September, and I try desperately to think of ways to combat or avoid the Christmas craziness. How can I cancel all our plans with family and friends in December without hurting their feelings?, I wonder.

Well. This year, for some reason, I remembered about SAD. And I did, finally, what I almost always do when I’m presented with a challenge: I found a book about it. So yesterday, I began reading Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Normal E. Rosenthal, MD. I guess I’d assumed that I knew enough about depression and therefore SAD by now that I didn’t need to look it up, but I was so wrong. I’m so, so, so incredibly glad that I started reading this book.

For one thing, I’m a huge geek who loves to know how my weird brain works. Like I said, having those little labels has given me such freedom to just be my strange self because it turns out that there’s nothing wrong with me. There are actual biological explanations for most of my quirks! Thank God. (Now, I’m not including being a jerk in the list of things that are not wrong with me. Being a jerk is just so not okay, ever, and that’s why I keep looking things up — I have people that I love and want to treat well. Learning about how my brain works allows me to take care of myself properly so I can be a decent, although still-imperfect, person to live with. Learning to accept myself, quirks and all, helps me to accept them as they are so we can all coexist in a supportive, caring environment.)

So back to the book: it’s so encouraging to read how effective light therapy and other, supplementary forms of treatment are! I have been really wishy washy with my light therapy over the years, and I think now I’m ready to fully commit to it. I want to see if I can go a whole Canadian winter without losing myself. It’s so frustrating to know that I’m going to slowly slip away and not reappear until next spring. I’ve had to plan my deadlines, projects, and goals around my winter foggy-brainedness and lack of concentration. I’ve had to push things back and delay them because I just couldn’t function without long naps. I’ve lost weeks and probably years of my life to being just too tired. It sucks.

So this year will be the year of the lights. I’ve ordered one that fits the specs backed up by the research. These lights can get quite expensive, so I was really glad to find one on the Costco website for “just” $99. I already have a light that’s probably 15 years old, but it turns out that they’re supposed to have UV filters on them, and mine doesn’t. So I’ll keep it as a back up for a secondary location or something, but I’ll try the new one for every-day use.

I also got a little carried away and ordered a dawn-simulating alarm clock. My sleeping schedule gets really thrown off in the winter, and I really don’t do well with inadequate sleep, but I find it hard to get to bed on time in the winter. The early sunset really throws me off, and I get super sleepy at supper time and then catch a second wind around 9 or 10 pm that keeps me up too late. And I’ve never been a morning person, an energetic person, or an early-to-bed person, so suggesting that I just go to bed at 9pm makes me laugh. Thanks, but no thanks. I just don’t seem to fit into that mold. I’ve tried. But I’m hoping that the dawn simulator will at least keep my own natural rhythms from getting thrown off.

So that’s my experiment for this winter to battle SAD. I’m going to commit to using my light every morning, in the time when I normally would sit down with my coffee and scroll through Facebook while I wake up. Instead, I’ll drink my coffee under the light and read something interesting or scroll through Instagram on my phone. 🙂 I’m also seriously considering seeing a psychotherapist, as someone who could be objective about how I’m doing. (Part of the problem with winter is that the descent happens so gradually that I think I’m doing fine until I start to awake again in the spring and realize how much I’ve missed.) But I have no idea how much that would cost and if I can afford it. Man, I wish mental health therapies were covered by OHIP. Side rant: Don’t you love how everyone is all like, “Oh, we need to support mental health!” but there are no affordable programs to support outpatients unless they’re in a crisis? What the heck?

October is when the Write 31 Days blogging challenge takes place, and last year, I participated but on my other website, the one about knitting. It was great, so fun, and a good challenge. I learned a lot. I wanted to do it again this year but couldn’t think of 31 more knitting tips or any other knitting topic that I could write about every day for a month. What I really want to write more about is mental health, taking care of our tender selves, and generally surviving life when we’re part of the fringes in terms of personality. I looooove knowing that I’m an HSP; it has changed so much of how I take care of myself for the better. (Ear plugs are my friends!) The introvert lightbulb was also a huge turning point for me, as was finding out I’m a multipotentialite and it’s normal for me to have so many interests and hop between them, even though not everyone functions that way. My productivity and sense of wellbeing have gone up as a result of all these discoveries.

So I think I’m going to come here and write about that stuff. I’ll keep publishing my knitting patterns as I finish them and doing all my normal knitting stuff because it’s one of my comforting activities. It keeps me grounded.

But I’m going to pop in here every day to chat about sanity, and how I don’t always feel sane anyway, and how that’s a normal thing for HSP’s especially but there are good ways to manage it. 🙂 I’m going to show you my dark underbelly because I’m getting very confused by the people who think I have it all together and then compare themselves unfavourably to me. That makes so little sense to me, so I must not be communicating very well. And darn it, we need to support each other, not compare ourselves to one another. What is that saying? We can’t compare our insides to somebody else’s outsides. Everyone loses when we do that.

If you’d like to join me this month, you can do it in a couple ways. The easiest way for all of us is probably for you to subscribe and receive the posts right in your email inbox. You can also find my Facebook page and follow along there. I’m on Instagram, too, but I post a LOT of pictures of yarn, so be warned. And most importantly, can you guys let me know how you’re doing? We’re all so much the same inside, and  it’s so comforting to know we’re all in this together. So please leave a comment if I’ve said something that resonates with you. Then everyone who visits will know they’re not alone.

Christmas Peace

Dear reader, it’s Christmas tomorrow, and I’m rebelling.

It has been a glorious rebellion. This will be my new December tradition, I think.

I have said no to pretty much everything this year. And yes to the very basic necessities: knitting, thinking, drinking coffee, and hanging out with my kids.

I said no to every church activity. Every. Single. One. Except the one I want to be a part of, which is tonight’s Christmas Eve service. It doesn’t feel like Christmas without a hug for my friends and family there. But I may have to miss it anyway because every single person in my house is coughing right now.

I’ve said no to the frenzied temptation to publish five new knitting patterns at my best sales time of the year. I thought about trying… but I knew I’d drive myself crazy with all that pressure. I’ll have to be the knitting designer who publishes things NOT in December. I’m working on a couple things, but the final push to get them ready early wasn’t worth the stress. Instead, I’m focusing on the fun of toying with new designs. To me, that isn’t work. It’s play.

Actually, now that I think of it, I’ve decided to let myself play this year. I’m done being the grown up who thinks she has to achieve all the Christmas goals in order to make the holiday special. I’ve let go of my own expectations (from my own childhood memories) of baking ten different kinds of cookies and hauling all the kids to the mall to shop. I shopped online instead. In my pajamas, with a cup of honey hot chocolate and a Farscape episode playing in the background. Glorious.

I’ve let go of all my old expectations, and it has been a delight. My kids are still entranced by Christmas and its anticipation. To my surprise, no magic has been lost.

In fact, as I’ve let go, I’ve found the peace of the season again. And I think I’m learning something. The magic of the season, for grown-ups, for me, was getting lost in the frenzy of creating the “perfect Christmas,” whether for myself or my kids. Instead, surprisingly, that holiday magic has reappeared to me in a new form as I’ve let go of perfectionism. As I’ve let go of busyness (a necessity to preserve my sanity), I’ve rediscovered peace. Once I let go of guilt over Christmas’ excesses, I realized I didn’t have to push God away all December out of shame. By accepting that Christmas is what it is — an imperfect, strange combination of celebrating the birth of the God of the universe and celebrating Merry Presents-and-Turkey-Tree Day — I’ve found peace.

God and I have kept on talking. I can tell Him about my frustrations with December, and even laugh about them now. He is my peace.

One of my favourite mantras from Celebrate Recovery (a re-Christianized version of AA for anyone with hurts, habits, and hangups) is “It is what it is.” Slowly, this idealist is learning to accept life as it comes, not in the way that I would have it, but as it is. In all its glorious messiness and contrariness. In the combination of greed and giving, of striving and peace, of heartbreak and joy.

In the strange story of a baby born in a smelly stable about 2000+ years ago who was actually God Himself come down to walk with us so we could know Him. In the incredible yet true message that all our striving can cease, that the Holy One Himself has taken on our sin and borne it away, that we are redeemed and yet still imperfect. Still living here in this grief-stricken, beautiful place, still longing for home, still making mistakes and hurting ourselves and each other… yet forgiven. And free. And given the wonderful gift of peace in the midst of it all.

This is my prayer for me. For you:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; knowing that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. ~Reinhold Neibuhr

And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.

And, of course, refined-sugar-free hot chocolate:

1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa (the good stuff, if you can)

1 tablespoon of honey

a sprinkle of cinnamon (the real stuff, not the cheap cassia parading as cinnamon)

Stir together, then add a dash of boiling water and stir again until it’s all mixed together. Then pour in the rest of the hot water to fill your cup, stir, and add some cream. Mmmmm. Rich and dark and delicious.

(I sometimes make this as mint hot chocolate by leaving out the cinnamon and adding a drop or two of peppermint flavour. Yum.)

Merry Christmas, and happy Present-Turkey-Tree Day. 🙂

Amanda