How I felt

Health Psychologist Karen Rodham gets creative during lockdown.

Covid-19 became properly real for us here in the UK in March. As is normal with a situation like this, along with many others I noticed my anxiety levels rising. I began to think about the coping strategies I could use to help dampen down the anxiety. The thing that works best for me when I catch myself worrying about something over which I have no control is to calm down my overthinking brain. 

Sometimes meditation works. Sometimes gardening works. Sometimes a long hot soak in the tub works. Sometimes a chat with a good friend works. But this was different – this was a situation that was going to be with us for some time and so I wanted to think about building something into my daily routine that I could do to calm down the worries, that I would not consider a chore and that was new to me so I could learn a new skill at the same time. 

I decided that part of my new lockdown routine would be to have a period of reflection at the end of each day. I would choose one event from my day and turn it into a felt image. You might think that is strange, but I started dabbling with embroidery earlier this year when I made a little book out of felt, complete with illustrations and (badly) embroidered text. The book was for a young relative who had experienced a spell of constipation which resulted in her being afraid of having a poo. So I made ‘Sue the Poo’ – a book about what poo is, why it is important to ‘let it go’ and what happens to poo after you flush the loo. I even recorded a little Sue the Poo song for her to sing when she was on the loo. This was well received and I found out that I loved making it.

Much of my work is about thinking and writing and so putting a book like this together sounds like ‘business-as-usual’, but this was fun and creative. Engaging in a task where I use a different part of my brain whilst also doing fiddly sewing things with my hands is especially good when I want to calm my over-thinking brain. The need to pay great attention to the practicalities: what ‘thing’ do I want to capture? Do I have the skill to capture it? How can I translate my idea into reality? And then the actual sewing process itself – focusing on where my hands are, how to thread the needle when even when I am wearing my glasses the eye of the needle is out of focus, what colour thread to choose and so on. It all forces me to be in the here and now – there is no chance to worry about what might be. I am practicing a form of mindfulness.

And so my lockdown daily sewing exercise began. I have 40 minutes or so each day when I am completely in the moment where there is no room for the What If Monster to rear its ugly head and I have something concrete that I have made at the end of each day. 

I decided to share the images on Twitter in the hope they would provide a moment of light-hearted distraction for anyone who stumbled upon them. For those who have been kind enough to comment, this seems to be working. And I suppose at some point, I will have to think about what to do with all these images once we are through to the other side of this strange initial stage of learning to live with Covid-19.

Today the metaphor of staying afloat was used in an email. I’d describe myself as afloat most of the time. The water is a bit choppy. And like lots of other people, I have moments each day when I need a bucket to bail out the water washing into my boat. . .”

- We're looking for your artistic responses to coronavirus and lockdown as part of our planned summer special on the 'new normal' and beyond; see the third strand in this call for contributions.

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