Hannah often writes about mental health and trying to navigate through life while making weird metaphors, pretending to be dinosaurs with her toddler and ranting about her obese dog.
My relationship with mental illness and creativity has been evolutionary. I was diagnosed with depression when I was merely 11 years old. I can remember feeling like an outsider even then, and not in the cute “no one gets my preteen angst” sort of way. Instead it was insidious self-hatred. I always felt as if I was stuck behind a glass pane, with my nose pressed against the window while I voyeuristically watched others enjoying their lives. I wanted so badly to have effortless joy, but had no idea how to find it or if I was even meant to have it. My acceptance of what I felt, of what I was, and just of myself truly started with channeling my creativity.
I began journaling with almost illegible, big lettered handwriting when I was in middle school and high school. My mother would take me to Barnes and Nobel before my therapy sessions as a teenager and get me a new journal once I had rapidly finished yet another one. She could see how important they were to me. As much as journaling was cathartic though, for me it ended up becoming a way to enable my self-destructive thoughts. As an adult I turned away from it, realizing I had taken something beautiful and sculpted it into something that could hurt me.
I want to say the most helpful tool I was able to find that grounds me during my most overwhelmed moment is to write, but it’s not. Writing is how I make sense of things after they have already happened. When I find my fingers clacking away on my laptop, it is so I can play detective and investigate what sent me into the deep end. Today, I am lucky that my depression is managed with the right combination of medication and therapy. For the most part I am one of the joyful people that my 11 year old self resented. Having said this, my anxiety has not been as fortunate as my depression. If I am able to be cognizant of my anxiety level before the attack happens, before I feel that boulder on my chest and I struggle to breathe, then I can turn to traditional Ojibwe crafts.
I am a member of a First Nation tribe. It is something that I never recognized as being important until I was in my 20’s, struggling to figure out who I was and where I came from. One of the ways I took back my identity, and eventually figured out was a tool against my anxiety, was making asabikeshiinh (which is the word for dreamcatcher in Ojibwe). Making them gives me the chance to create something beautiful out of a hideous moment. They allow me to simply focus on being present; one slip of the finger and my tightly woven sinew will become slack. When I am burning the sinew, if my flame gets too close then all of it will melt. Making an asabikeshiinh in a traditional manner means I absolutely have to be cognizant of just that moment, of just what I am creating. They give me a place to be with my ancestors, and forget about everything that is overwhelming me.
Today I make asabikeshiinh when I need an escape. They are a place where I can hide for hours. They are a way to connect with a piece of me I had long denied. If there is one thing that can soothe my anxiety, it is feeling the pain of the sinew against my index finger. When my hands ache from braiding the saplings I know something beautiful will come. Anytime I have made one, and caught my need to run from reality, I have walked away breathing easier. I have fallen asleep satisfied at having better eluded an anxiety attack. I do not know what the state of my mental health would look like without them. Asabikeshiinh are the support which caresses my soul when I am at my lowest point, and they give me the strength to resume my life. I do not always use this tool, and they do not magically erase my anxiety, but they are a way for me to be present and to feel loved. I have a feeling my anxiety will be much harder to rid myself of than my depression, but with the asabikeshiinh at least I get snapshots in time stolen from my mental illness.
Thank you so much to Hannah for writing this post for my blog!