Proud to be a Concious Craftie

My name is Laura. I’m 38, I’m Chronically Ill and I’m addicted to crafting and make jewellery…(mainly)!

There you have it, I’ve fessed up. It feels a bit like a naughty secret that I make jewellery, which is the most ridiculous juxtaposition because I advertise it on my personal and business Facebook page, Twitter, Etsy, Instagram and on some host sites, such as the awesome Conscious Crafties. I obviously want to advertise and give out loyalty/business cards and join in networking as much as I can because I undeniably enjoy selling what I make. I can only sell online because my illness is so severe that I am housebound and mostly bedbound, but I am hoping that one day I will be able to sell at a craft fair. At the moment, any sale style is just an added benefit and I’m certainly not running a profitable business (at a loss really). I really just enjoy creating jewellery and have done so both pre and post chronic illness.,

But there IS another side to all the positivity that jewellery brings me. Namely, GUILT: for not just laying in bed and resting all the time to make myself better, quicker (hmmm-said not so convincingly); for doing something when I’ve told my GP that I’m in so much pain I can hardly move (this is true-I’ll explain later); for being so addicted to beads, charms and buttons that I buy more than I need; for preferring the company of my pliers to the company of friends for long periods of time (don’t get me wrong, I love seeing friends for an hour or so but any longer than that and I start flagging, however, a day with all my boxes on the bed, so I can dip in and out and make something pretty is manageable); for doing a form of work when I am off sick; for making things in a quiet, almost dark room most of my waking day (on as many days as I can), when I can only see my family in blocks of time, with them coming to see me!

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So why do I craft and what made me start, during all this pain and illness?

“I have come about starting this jewellery business in an unusual way. I have been a Primary School Teacher since Graduating in 1999 and most of that time has been spent with Early Years where a lot of time is spent being messy but I’m not sure that that has prepared me for jewellery making.

I have 2 boys and when they were born I went back into teaching on a part time basis in different roles. When they both started school I found myself with some free time and my husband kindly bought me silversmithing classes as a gift. I was nervous as I felt very uncreative and was worried that I wouldn’t know what to make. Three weeks later, I had made the most stunning piece of unique statement jewellery in the form of a beautiful necklace of leaves in different textures. I found that I loved playing with this theme of texture and soon realised that my eye for detail was not only unusual but also appreciated by other artists; something that I’d never have dreamed of. (p.s.I hadn’t mastered the art of photographing my makes)!?
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I continued to have lessons for many years until in 2014 I was very unfortunate to suffer an ongoing migrainous attack (I’d been previously diagnosed with migraine) that was then diagnosed as a brain disease called Intracranial Hypertension. It means I have a permanent high level headache and light/sound sensitivity and that my mobility is extremely impaired. This condition exists alongside my diagnosis of migraine. It has meant that I have had to stop working and am virtually housebound and often even bed bound. I have even lost the ability to do many of my favourite pastimes, including silversmithing of course because of the operation of machinery and the noise. I can no longer even enjoy a good book because I forget the plot so I needed to find things that I could do. I started writing a blog called laughingwhileyourecrying in late 2014 and then in Spring 2015 I started making beaded jewellery for myself and then for friends using techniques I had learnt in silversmithing. I have received great feedback for all my makes so far. So I decided to keep making and build up enough stock to open an online shop and here I am.”

But I craft for a much bigger reason than ‘for something to do’. The number one reason that I craft is because it distracts me from the constant, unforgiving pain, despite numerous preventatives, pain killers, including constant morphine. Earlier I said that I told my doctor I can hardly move; he and I know, that that is only on a bad day or a specific time of the day (8pm), although I sleep most of the morning too. I have to keep my head still and supported for the majority of the rest of the time. This doesn’t affect my jewellery work as I have a tray that I can lift right up to my chin so I never lose a crimp bead or jump ring ever again. ??Picking up those pliers, for instance, diverts my attention away from the pain, loneliness and frustration of this disease. It can even affect the levels of pain, lowering it if I’m sensible and listen to my body. However, I’m not very good at that. I normally get too focused on a piece; want to finish it and then learn my lesson the hard way.

I craft because I love the feeling of making a finished item that nobody has had to help me with. I make beautiful things because it gives me hope. I make jewellery because I love the satisfaction of completing my own design; having some thing that I’m proud to show off. I get a rush of satisfaction when I see people wearing the jewellery I’ve made and I really love it when they post pictures of themselves wearing the jewellery on my FB wall. I’m ecstatic when someone I don’t know, takes that risk and buys one of my unique products; suddenly, I’m not worthless anymore. Even though I know I shouldn’t feel worthless because of my beautiful family, I think it’s an unstoppable feeling when you lose a career that you love and have worked hard for; especially teaching, which is more of a lifestyle choice. Crafting has given me a little bit of that feeling back. Of course it’s not the same and never will be; but my priorities are different now.

I have learnt new skills, such as how to take a really good photograph of my pieces and was even given a lightbox for my birthday (after spending days making one out of card and tin foil)! ???. I tend to sell most of my jewellery to friends through my FB site, but my other sites are starting to pick up, especially my newest stall on Conscious Crafties. I have to work hard to advertise my goods online, especially in the flooded jewellery market.
I make a lot of jewellery and accessories for charity and I did a massive fundraiser for both Migraine Action and IIH UK (web links are here) in September 2015. I raised £60 for each charity using the profits and this felt a huge achievement as It was the first time I had accomplished anything in over 18 months. But more importantly, it was to give something back to the people that are trying to raise awareness and funds for research into my conditions.
At the end of that very busy month, I had a venogram and venoplasty, where they put a camera into the veins in my brain and then inflated one of the most compressed veins with a balloon; I was able to remember that feeling of helping others and it helped me to remain calm. Wanting to continue to contribute; I now sell charity /awareness jewellery on all of my sites permantely. I will make jewellery or accessories for any charity in that charities colours, if desired, then I donate £1 to that charity! You can find them all of my stalls and the links are on the bio and websites page of my main blog and of course on my Crafties stall.
My next step was to join Conscious Crafties and I have just made my first sales. I’m so pleased that I’d finally got round to making these and similar repurposed guitar pick keyrings. Each one is unique as I make them from recycled plastics, you can find the range on my stall.

'I pick you' repurposed guitar pick keyring

‘I Pick You’ repurposed keyring

Conscious Crafties is so much more than just a selling platform. Karen who decided to start the group when, after becoming unwell herself with POTS and EDS and taking up crafting; noticed that so many people with chronic illnesses turned to craft to provide mental stimulation, distraction from mental and physical pain and a sense of worth. The idea of a place to bring like-minded people together and offer a secure online selling platform was born and after the sad loss of a very close friend to other chronic health conditions; Karen or Scooter Angel as we know her, was on a mission to set up Conscious Crafties, there was no going back and she had no idea just how popular this idea would be. I have quotes from a few other members of the group about what crafting and Conscious Crafties, in particular, means to them…

“Crafting has got me through some difficult times, and at the moment with the issues I’ve had with family, it’s keeping me sane when nothing else is.” Joanna

“Hubby said I’m doing better since crafting started. Considering I was suicidal just over 6 months ago it’s amazing I’m still here.” Jenny

“I started crafting cos benefits were a farce and soul destroying and (………lite) didn’t take off like I’d hoped (plus its really draining do parties). I do four parties a month now and I make silly cute stuff. Its not much financially but my mental health is sooooo much healthier!” Ceri

All three of these Crafties have stated that their mental health has improved because of their crafting. They all suffer from different health conditions, mental and physical. To think that craft could impact so much on someone having suicidal thoughts just six months previously, gives a very strong message! I think that the link these 3 crafters are also so lucky to have is the safe place (the Conscious Crafties secret craftie support group); a community of like minded people where they’ve made friends who empathise completely. We all have friends that try to understand and they can be great support but if they don’t suffer from a chronic illness (thank goodness) then they can never truly get it. There’s always someone on the discussion group to talk to; a safe place where we can let our mental health and well-being be nourished. This idea that craft could help people suffering from chronic health issues was backed up in my research.

Research in this area was difficult, as it seems to be quite a new idea that crafting can be just as effective as art therapy. It seems a little explored idea that it can also help people who suffer from physical pain. I did find a little bit of research that backs up the anecdotal evidence I’ve found in my observations from people in the Crafties group. All of my research comes from writing about ‘Art Therapy’ but I still think it’s relevant.

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This is from a case study about Jerome who has Schizophrenia. Taken from a study on WebMD

Jerome Lawrence: Art is all about problem solving. And I think the major problem with having a mental illness is that you lose the ability to solve your own problems.
Susie Sherrill, PhD, LPC: All therapy with art creates a mirror for the client to look into and see what’s going on within themselves when they’re not aware of it consciously.
Narrator: Susie Sherrill has had success in using art as a therapy to help her clients unravel their problems. She cautions, however, that it is not a replacement for patients getting on the proper medication.
Cancer Research UK are looking at how Art therapy can be used beyond just mental illnesss. For more information visit Cancer Research UK website.

Art therapists believe that being creative helps to heal. They believe that we have emotions and abilities beyond our everyday awareness. They say you can access these through different forms of art therapy.
For many years, art therapy has been recognised as a way of helping people with mental illness. Although there is relatively little scientific evidence proving that it helps people with cancer, many health professionals think it may:
Encourage you to express your emotions, which could help improve your relationship with other people
Encourage you to be creative and self confident
Help to control anxiety, depression and low self esteem
Help take your mind off pain or discomfort
Art therapists work with people with a variety of problems, including
Chronic or life limiting illnesses, including cancer
Mental health problems, including depression and addiction
Relationship problems
Eating disorders
Learning and behaviour problems in children
In conclusion, I have convinced myself that making jewellery is one of the best things to do to keep me mentally alert (a really big battle with IIH, migraines and all the medication), sane and feeling part of a community! I have read articles that all suggest that art/craft therapy can help you heal; help you deal with problems that you are facing with more confidence; help you express your emotions and control anxiety and low self-esteem. And I’m not crazy, it IS (just about) documented that it can take your mind off of pain.

In listening to other Crafies stories I’ve found that I am not alone finding craft to be a gift of self assurance and a new, happier way of life. I have found a group who have welcomed me with open arms. After only a few months of joining the group, I had to shut up shop due to illness and then days after getting rid of the infection; I had skull surgery. I received a card from Karen, Sonia and. Haze. This was so astonishingly lovely as I hardly knew them really ?. I went against Karen’s and my Husband’s advice and opened my shop again just about 10 days after surgery (!!) as I hadn’t had any sales so thought It would be quiet. It’s been the busiest time across all of my sites (still not in profit) during probably the hardest time of my life. This has made me excited and happy that my craft is reaching a wider audience but to be honest it’s been hard work and I’ve needed a little helper on the computer! I guess most people would have just tucked themselves up in bed and watched films all day. I just can’t do that and I can now say that craft is probably the safest and most clinically proven healthy way to use my time.

So should I feel guilty?

”Guilt according to the Cambridge online Dictionary is ‘a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person”

I wish I had read this definition years ago. I think I need to write this quote out and hang it somewhere in the house to remind me of it’s meaning. I feel guilty about so much and crafting has been worrying me a lot lately. I noticed that Ceri spoke of getting benefits as being ‘soul destroying’, I wonder if she felt guilty using the benefits system; a system that as a UK citizen she has every right to use; even though right now, disabled people are being targeted as a waste of resources (but that’s another story)!

I no longer feel guilty about doing something that I love that seems to be clinically proven to help with Pain Distraction as well as all of the Mental Heath benefits. How can I worry when I know how many people love my jewellery and how much I love making it?
Crafting certainly doesn’t make me or anyone else I know of unhappy….I mentioned my fear of telling the doctor. I think writing this blog may have made me brave enough to do so when the opportunity next arises.
I definitely haven’t done wrong by causing harm to another person! I don’t use anything that is dangerous with the medication I take and I make sure that everything is safe in my house for my children and for my PA who helps me carry my boxes around.
So, what is my my future for crafting? I have ideas In the back of my mind but right now I have to focus on a day at a time. I do my physio every day, I meditate every day and I make/work on something every day. These three things are helping to keep my body, mind and soul healthy whilst I hurt, can’t sleep and wait. This time, I wait to hear what the next brain surgery I will need is and I will keep you posted, but in the meantime, I have a recycled guitar pick keyring order awaiting my attention……

Published in Anxiety / Depression, Chronic Migraines, Chronic Pain, Craft, Depression, Illness / Disability, Intracranial Hypertension
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