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Sunday, January 03, 2016

New Year Introspection


Like so many other people I would imagine, I find myself at this time of year becoming increasingly introspective, internally interrogating myself on the previous year's achievements or perceived lack of.



The year – and in particular, the elements – has been difficult and draining, throwing many spanners in the works, preventing or delaying plans. It began this time last year, with gales ripping apart my studio, sometime later a fire destroyed a barn containing the year's fleece, then we lost our prize Icelandic tup to a bacterial infection. A working trip to Shetland culminated in the first of the autumn storms beginning their rampage across the British Isles trapping us on the island of Vaila for several days.



Back at the farm, our old stone buildings developed structural problems which were then exacerbated by rain and flood waters. Three barns currently lay empty, unfit for use until repair work and drying out can be accomplished. Our home now houses most of the accumulation from those three barns and feels extremely cramped and complicated to navigate physically and mentally as a result. We lost power, phone lines and internet for several days during the floods. We feared for a number of our ewes spending the breeding season in the North Lakes in the middle of the worst of the flooding. In lulls in the storms, we travelled up to bring them home surrounded by rising waters as we travelled. At home, we worried constantly, watching the waters and the weather by day, listening to it rampage all around us at night.



Add to that, ending the year with a dislocated upper rib directly below my collar bone, preventing me from either knitting or typing for more than a few minutes at a time, and you will forgive me for wanting to see off 2015 as quickly as possible! And yet, despite my total exhaustion, my inner self still had the energy to begin dissecting and criticising my achievements, leaving me riddled with self doubt. It makes me want to hide, disappear, never to have to offer myself up for public or private scrutiny ever again.



This is nothing new. Sometime during every major project – in this case, The Vintage Shetland Project – I seem to go through this debilitating, negative and non-productive phase. It always seems to come close to the end of a project when I really need to get my act together and get everything finished. I begin to truly believe I am not up to the job at hand, that everyone is going to be disappointed in my work, most particularly me, that it will be criticised, torn apart, and that it won't sell. I find myself waking up anxious, with a gnawing pit inside me, churning away. My brain refuses to settle and prevents me from concentrating on what needs to be focussed on and completely refuses to be silenced even for a moment. I reject each and every piece of work that I've created, desperately wanting to start again from scratch, convinced that the next time will be so much better. The perfectionist in me is never, every satisfied and delights in tearing apart my self confidence from within. I can't write prose, I can't write patterns, I can't take photographs – and so it goes on. It compares me to others and always finds me wanting.



Self-analysis is an important part of the creative process yet I cannot prevent myself from taking this to extremes. Like the bad weather I know to expect it, yet when it arrives I can do nothing to stop it from tearing me asunder. I find myself drowning in a deluge of my own insecurities. Despite being so tired I drive myself constantly. I can barely string a coherent sentence together, yet I work day and night. I don't take days off, I don't have time to knit or do other activities for pleasure. I don't go out or even to the shops. I feel intense guilt if I take a few hours off during a week or phone a friend and feel this will result in the failure of the Project. I push myself to the point of collapse.



Today, I decided to try and meet this force head on – Creative or Writer's Block accompanied with a liberal dose of crippling self doubt, perfectionism gone wrong, whatever it may be – and voice the dread I am feeling. It feels more powerful, more overwhelming than ever before and I think this is because the project and the book mean so much to me, and that so many people are excited about it, anticipating just how good it is going to be, supporting me in my endeavour, and perversely this in itself applies pressure and stress. Many of you are eagerly waiting for the book and probably don't want to hear that I am going through this, but if I don't finally let this dam burst, release my own flood of fear and doubts, it will continue to stifle and choke me. I desperately don't want to disappoint, so what happens? The road blocks go up inside my head and prevent the creative process, implementing my self-fulfilling prophesy. I hope this post today is the first step in tackling the fear. I have never spoken up about this before and just writing the post scares the living daylights out of me, but at the end of the day it is all part of what makes me tick and I have to try and learn how to deal with it somehow. I have lately found myself visualising it as a long, arduous walk to the bottom of a gorge. Once at the bottom I know that at some point I will start to climb out – once I am strong enough. But how do I build myself back up to climb back up the other side of the valley? And how do I make that journey without ruining the experience? I am so close to creating the best piece of work that I have ever done and the only thing that is stopping me is me.



I believe stresses manifest themselves physically and a couple of days ago I came down with the worst cold I've had in years. I think its telling me I've hit the bottom and it will soon be time to set about clambering back up. Additionally, this is actually the longest blog post I have written in some time, so maybe I have already taken the first positive step forward by acknowledging the struggle I am having? Yesterday I started on a small creative project unconnected with 'work' to force me to have some down-time. I feel I am taking steps in the right direction. I'm sure I'm not the only person to hit these barriers either creatively, professionally or otherwise. Maybe you have ways of tackling these anxieties that would help me? Your thoughts and experiences would be so very greatly appreciated.



For now,

a very weary, but infinitely calmer,

Susan xx

36 comments :

Anonymous said...

Firstly, sorry to say I have no helpful strategies, just wanted to say that if I accomplished half of what you have, never mind the added difficulties with the fire, weather etc., I'd be immensely proud of myself. As for the Shetland project, never mind if that runs late - and I'm speaking as one of the many who responded to the crowd funding - it would be awful if the pressure of that project were to break you. You have so much on your plate right now, take a breath, recognise how much you've achieved - a lot - and if anyone gives you a hard time, give them the finger!

Jane said...

It'll be all right, just keep going! All the best.

Mim said...

I go through similar phases myself, and I'm not creative like you - it must be far worse for you. The only thing I've learned is not to give in to the fears, to keep going, and remember that even if you're not convinced your work is good enough, all your supporters have faith in you.

The feelings will pass, and you'll have a gorgeous book to show for it.

Rose said...

Check out the work and writing of Brene Brown who addresses precisely this period of creativity. Not read her myself but just discovered her and been finding out more. Here is a good intro
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pam-stucky/the-reckoning-the-rumble-the-revolution-brene-browns-rising-strong_b_8068256.html
Am sure you'll be 'Rising Strong' soon!

Lieke said...

Thank you for your blog post. I know how you feel. As a freelancer, everything I do has to come "out of my toes", as the Dutch say. With self-doubt comes procrastination, and with procrastination comes failure (in my and sometimes other people's eyes) and exhaustion. Last year was even more tough as I try to juggle the care for my baby with work (the same amount as normal is fewer days). I sometimes am coping with stress bordering on a burn-out. When I was especially worn out from it all, a colleague told me to take little steps at a time. It's so simple, but I find it very comforting.
As for the self-doubt, unfortunately I don't have any way to tackle this, so I can't advise you either.
I can tell you how much in awe I am of your work. Maybe it doesn't help saying this, as it can give you more pressure (I know I feel more pressure as people praise my work), but know that you opening up about your struggles even makes me appreciate your beautiful work more.

LizM said...

With the year you have had it's hardly surprising that you are feeling tired, and there's nothing like a virus for dampening enthusiasm for life. you've already taken a major step by acknowledging that there's a problem - and for me, this is usually the start of the way through to the other side. In my experience, the key things to remember are that there is another side and you will get there; and that your wellbeing is essential to getting there - getting enough down time to have your brain and body ready to take on creative tasks is one of the highest priorities, not something to fit in when everything else is done. At a practical level, breaking the tasks down into small manageable bits and focussing on them one at a time, can give you a sense of achievement and minimise the fear and worry associated with contemplating the larger picture (usually best avoided when things seem dark, it is all too easy to see potential catastrophe at every turn, and all too difficult to realise just how unlikely those catastrophes really are) So, please look after yourself, I will be delighted to see the Shetland project when it's ready but would much, much rather wait for it than have it come at such a cost for your wellbeing.

Quinn said...

I can relate to everything you've written, and it's not an instant cure-all, but what I've found phenomenally helpful is very simple meditation. Just giving my mind permission to do nothing but focus on my breathing - nothing but my breathing - for a few minutes at a time, any time, day or night. If I tried to "formally" meditate for an hour every morning or something like that, it would never happen. But no one is so busy or important (or at least, I know I'm not) that they can't take 3 minutes from everything else clamoring for their attention, and Just Breathe.
It took a while for it to become part of my usual day, but now I turn to it often and find it helps both at the moment and also cumulatively, in terms of helping me put my thought and effort and energy where it will actually be helpful.
Good luck.

Carol Fry said...

Ahhh. And yet you do, in the end, create something marvellous. That's the difference between you and the wannabes. Allow yourself an inner smile. Tackling the smaller project sounds like a plan. You will soon be back in the zone.

Anonymous said...

Although I don't work in a creative business (I wish I did) I find everything you said very familiar and, for me, putting it into words for someone else to read is not a sign that I'm on the way out, it is my first step out.

June Hemmons Hiatt said...

Susan: As QEII so aptly put it, you have had an "annus horribillis" and are entitled to feel spent.

Speaking as a fellow-writer, I don't know how you managed to do as much as you have in the midst of all these dreadful events in your environment. We creative types tend to be rather fragile creatures, and unfortunately, the low you are experiencing now seems to come with the territory.

Take as much as possible off your To Do List and be good to yourself. As a new Mom, I soon realized I had to take care of me or I wouldn't be able to take care of the child. Books are like children -- a long period of nurturing before they are sent out in the world, and the timetable for each fledgling is unique.

And don't worry what anybody thinks -- I promise you nobody's life will change for the worse if your book appears later than anticipated (ask me how I know :-)

CityStitchette said...

First, perhaps allow your health to get back on track--rest and try to not think too much while sick (easier said than done). That seems to encourage monkey brain and self-doubts, in my experience. I find that when I have self-doubts about a design or project that working on a creative endeavor (music instead knitting or simply a different knitting idea) is calming, inspiring, and reinforces that I can accomplish something, even if no one else is listening to the song or watching the design process. But with all you've been through this past year, you must have had strength to have endured. Sometimes keeping moving forward takes care of the doubts and troubles and takes one back on track. Good luck!

Jennifer Smith said...

I am so sorry to hear of your struggles Susan we are often so hard on ourselves harder than anyone else would be with us! I can only relate what you are going through to the anxiety I started experiencing last year as a reaction to all the pressures I had been through over the last four years culminating with the loss of my mum. Even admitting I wasn't coping felt like a failure but the biggest step forward is talking about how you are feeling you will be amazed at how much support there is out there and how many other ppl have been through it. It's important you take some time for yourself just to focus on the here and now focus on the simple things it really helps �� xx

Catherine said...

Firstly I should say It will get better, you will begin the climb out. You have done it before and you recognise that. Also you have help, not with everything from one source but with most things from all over the place. But then I have to say that I could have written every word myself, about the feelings, not the physical failings of the infrastructure,. I don't have an ancient farm at once a joy and at the same time a terrible worry, my surroundings are safer, urban and I don't have the publishing success or affection of yarn wranglers, I just wish for it. But at this time of year, the feelings of inadequacy, the frantic need to get things done, the feeling of time running through my fingers, and all of it piling in as I assemble my thoughts on waking, struggling to breathe through a heavy head cold? I've got it. Thank you for putting all those feelings so well. My hopes for you and all of us... dry weather, some sunshine even, time for work and time to just be and most of all to arrive at that moment, the second you wake when you feel happy, light, and optimistic

Elsa said...

Dear Susan, first of all let me say that I do not think anyone will be disappointed in the book, however you feel about it. What I've seen so far in the prerelease is enough in itself. Instead of feeling pressured, feel assured that we in the knitting community all love your work and you, and whatever is there will be gratefully received. Perfectionism is a crippling disease and one I've learned more or less to cope with as an editor - I'm just resigned to the fact that there will always some blemish/mistake, and that that´s ok.

Second of all, this will sound really trite but actually yoga and meditation helps me a lot. During stressful times I try to do one or two sets a day at home, with a cd, and I can literally feel my body&mind slow down and become balanced and focussed. I practice MediYoga which is a very soft form of Kundalini Yoga, and which is specifically developed to reduce stress & anxiety.

Rhiannon said...

Thank you for writing this. It is reassuring for me to hear others are as wracked as I become at the thought of 'failure'. There is no one easy answer but by taking time to nourish yourself and just be, you will get the strength to climb out the canyon. Rhiannon x

Vall said...

I find the fact that you want to and like to knit means that you are dedicated, strong and have it in you to finish. That may sound funny.... I loved beading, I opened an Etsy bead store, I have done well and still do.. carry tons of pretty inspiring colours of beads.. But do I still bead? no. not at all. Overload.. passion killed.. I don't think it will ever be renewed. I have a friend that opened a yarn store and although loves the store, no longer really knits.

Overload can do a lot to people, and in many ways. You still have a burning passion.. that will carry you though the mud and come out clean :) Go knit something so redundant, so not you, like a stuffed eel or hideous pot holder .. just know that you will be ok.

Liz said...

Dear Susan, thank you so much for sharing your innermost thoughts. It must have taken a huge amount of courage to write your blog, and I feel honoured to have been able to read it this morning. From my tiniest glimpse into your life, I am shocked at how many problems you have endured as a hillside sheep farmer, one after another, they have been relentless. But you have overcome each one in turn, and the latest flooding problems will resolve themselves and your home will be back to normal again. Maybe not immediately but it will happen. As for your career as a knitwear designer and historian, you are simply amazing! I am in awe of you. If your book is a little late, it doesn't matter, we can wait, nobody will mind, and it will be fabulous. Self-doubt is a heavy burden to carry, and you need to find some ways to lessen that burden. There have been some useful suggestions, but if mediation is a step too far at the moment then every day look in the mirror and tell yourself, that you are beautiful, clever and successful. In other words learn to love yourself. Nine years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I have travelled a hard road ever since. The biggest change was learning that my family and friends love me for me, not for what I can do or look like. I am starting to write a blog as one of my mechanisms for coping with relentless treatment, and a poor outlook, your blogs have helped me free myself a little to write, so thank you. You have had a very hard year, but you are not alone, you too have family and friends who love you, and you have us - all your fans - who support you, care for you, and are with you every step of the way. Liz

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you - I'll remember your advice :)

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you - I'll remember your advice :)

Liz said...

Dear Susan, thank you so much for sharing your innermost thoughts. It must have taken a huge amount of courage to write your blog, and I feel honoured to have been able to read it this morning. From my tiniest glimpse into your life, I am shocked at how many problems you have endured as a hillside sheep farmer, one after another, they have been relentless. But you have overcome each one in turn, and the latest flooding problems will resolve themselves and your home will be back to normal again. Maybe not immediately but it will happen. As for your career as a knitwear designer and historian, you are simply amazing! I am in awe of you. If your book is a little late, it doesn't matter, we can wait, nobody will mind, and it will be fabulous. Self-doubt is a heavy burden to carry, and you need to find some ways to lessen that burden. There have been some useful suggestions, but if mediation is a step too far at the moment then every day look in the mirror and tell yourself, that you are beautiful, clever and successful. In other words learn to love yourself. Nine years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I have travelled a hard road ever since. The biggest change was learning that my family and friends love me for me, not for what I can do or look like. I am starting to write a blog as one of my mechanisms for coping with relentless treatment, and a poor outlook, your blogs have helped me free myself a little to write, so thank you. You have had a very hard year, but you are not alone, you too have family and friends who love you, and you have us - all your fans - who support you, care for you, and are with you every step of the way. Liz

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you Mim, it means a lot to know people have faith in me, even if right at this moment I lack thaf faith myself - I'm sure I'll start to feel better after some rest xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much for the suggestion. I shall be investigating her tomorrow xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much Lieke. Please do take care of yourself. My daughter didn't sleep for the first 2 years of her life so I completely understand how hard juggling motherhood and work can be xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much Liz, I think your suggestion of small manageable buts is a great idea. It will hopefully help with the feeling of being overwhelmed. Still feeling ill and unbelievably tired but I do feel like I'm turning a corner :) xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much Quinn, I have a terrible habit of neglecting myself when busy so will most definitely try to incorporate this into my day, xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you Carol. I realised today that the blog post was the best bit of writing that I've done in a while so I must be on the mend :) xx

Just call me Ruby said...

You're so right. Writing the post has felt incredibly cathartic and I'm hopeful I'll soon be on the mend xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you so much June. I doubt anyone knows better than you about putting every piece of yourself into a book! I appreciate your comment so much. Its very hard to give yourself permission to slow down a little xx

Just call me Ruby said...

Thank you - I think in a day or so I'll be ready for something 'else' to work on creatively. For today its mindless garter stitch :) xx

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan, Shetland knitting and your lovely new book can just hang on a little while. We all know it will come and we are all happy to wait so that you can enjoy it Do enjoy knitting little pretty whatevers, if something makes you smile unexpectedly give it your whole attention. It is brightening the day. The pursuit of perfection is exhausting for you and you loved ones, no matter how much they all understand, share the good things with them as well. You will climb out of that gorge, I am almost out myself, there is a good path lit by small bright moments. Keep looking.
suewheel@rocketmail.com

A Woolly Yarn said...

Dear Susan, thank you for your post and I hope you know that you have lots of friends in this country and in others, whether they be face to face friends who feature daily in your life or people who follow your work and life on the internet. There are a multitude of people who are looking forward to reading your Shetland book but certainly don't want it to cause you all this anxiety. How about forcing yourself to have a couple of days off, get lots of rest both physical and mental, cook something nutritious and do something you really want to but haven't had chance to amidst all the work - whether it be catching up with a friend over coffee, a read in a hot bath, watching old movies in the afternoon, knitting a small project just for your or whatever takes your fancy. Then when you do go back to work write a realistic 'to do' list that you can tick off and achieve, rather than the 'finish the whole project in a week' type we are all wont to do. Two good things to remember, the first being ... it's just a book. A potentially extremely good book but, at the end of the day, it's just a book. No-one's going to die if it's published late or hasn't got a photo in you really wanted. If you need help I'm a Professional Member of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders and would be happy to proof the book for free if another pair of eyes would help. The second is that tomorrow is another day. Life never stays the same and just because today may be awful it doesn't mean that tomorrow will be. When I'm in so much pain that I don't even want to knit or read that thought really helps me. It gives me hope x

earthtone said...

Dear Susan, I thought I would check in on your blog today....thank you for having the courage to share your difficulties with us. All that you went through with the weather and the farm is already an awful lot to deal with, and completely out of your control. Then top that off with an exciting, ambitious project coming close to its' end, and no wonder you are having a hard time! As everyone else writes, I am happy to wait for the book's appearance in its' own sweet time, after you are rested and well and the farm is back on its feet. What you have created already is inspiration to keep me going on for a long time as it is. By sharing yourself so openly with us, it is truly a gift to us,because in response your readers are also opening their hearts with you and each other, which supports us all, and really, it changes the world in a good way for everyone.

Mariƫtte said...

Dear Susan,
You are really brave to post this and ask us for advise.
One day I realised that my thoughts like: I'm doing everything wrong, are just signs of stress, and that means: they are not true! When that happens again, sometimes I can manage to meet these thoughts as a signal, and as something I can better take serious, but not something I must believe.

susanpwilson said...

Susan. Maybe hugging a sheep would help. I suggest Lucy. Our thoughts are with you and Gavin. Xxx. Sue and Martin

Emma said...

Sorry to jump on the end of this, but there's a fantastic app I've recently discovered called Headspace which has a 10mins a day meditation to work through. It's really useful and I've found it a bit easier to incorporate into my day. After seeing the discussion above I wanted to recommend this in case you'd not already heard of it and might find it helpful.

I wish you all the best, just take your time and look after yourself first. Everything else will wait until you are ready.

Emma x

Scrapiana said...

A brave post, Susan. Familiar territory. There are a number of strategies you can employ, any and all will begin to reverse the spiral into negativity and start the opposite, positive cycle working for you instead. I'm sure you're getting plenty of advice, but if you need a further sounding board, do get in touch. Xxx