Please tell me a favorite story about your childhood? What positive life principle did you learn from your parents/caregivers - that still informs your life today?
When I was growing up, I usually watched my family make things. Sometimes, I would help them by picking out colors or helping with cutting things. I went full throttle when I grew up, got a job and started taking classes at quilting stores and yarn shops.
When I was a child growing up in Chicago, my mother and I would stay up all night on Saturday nights, cooking dinner for Sunday after church and making crafts. We always made crafts during Christmas for charities. I have family scattered throughout the country, but most of my family lives in Arkansas. When my parents would get off from work, they would pack up the car and we would drive down South to see our family for holidays and special events.
When my parents moved to Chicago, my family made quilts and afghans that we called “migration quilts” or “migration afghans.” They were made for good luck. We slept under these quilts and afghans in the car on the way there and on the way back. When we went into my grandparent’s house, it was not at all unusual to see my family sitting around a quilting frame, making quilts and/or sitting around a table, knitting and doing crochet. Sometimes, they would sit outside and do these activities. They made crafts for birthdays, graduations, charities, weddings, etc.
When we stayed there overnight, I slept under afghans and quilts my maternal grandmother and great grandmother made respectively for my mother when she was a child. You know how there are people who don’t get along with their mother in laws? Well, my maternal great grandmother and my maternal grandmother lived together and did fiber arts together. I never heard them argue or fight. They were too busy with their fiber arts. It wasn’t at all unusual to me. I thought it was a way of life. I knew from the very beginning that when I grew up, I would do the exact same thing.
Was there anything in your past that caused you pain, struggle or hardship?
Fiber arts helped me through a major crisis. Let me make it clear that the vast majority of my family have been warm and kind. However, this is not true of everyone in my family. I was raped by a cousin from the age of seven until the age of ten. My parents left me with family members they thought they could trust. Sadly, this part of my family did not engage in fiber arts!
Describe an event or circumstance in your childhood, teens or adult years that caused you to withdraw from life. How did your emotional pain manifest and limit your life thereafter?
I had an eating disorder from the age of sixteen until the age of seventeen. At the age of eighteen, I went into a psychiatric unit for one week for suicidal ideation. I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD: flashbacks, nightmares, body memories. After my discharge, I went into an abusive marriage for thirteen years. I had been in individual and group counseling for years. I also read self help books. Things dramatically changed when I went into extensive trauma therapy (EMDR therapy). All of this was paid out of pocket because my job benefits would only cover ten sessions. I needed more than ten sessions.
I went into family counseling with my parents. I also picked up fiber arts again. For almost two years, we had family counseling on Mondays. I finally told my parents everything that had happened while they were at work when I was a child. This seemed to help a lot. My parents were extremely supportive. They always called often and had a desire to see me, but we saw each other a lot throughout family counseling.
I had individual counseling on Thursdays. On Fridays, after work, my parents and I would meet at their home, cook, eat and I would engage in some type of fiber arts with my mom. Fiber arts was a lot more than a continuation of a family tradition. It was a coping mechanism and my mother knew this. My mother gave me fiber arts books. She also gave me her scraps stash. I made picture quilts featuring pictures of the supportive people in my family. My family loves the crafts I make.
I would sleep under the migration quilts and migration afghans my family made earlier in my life during this period of extensive trauma counseling and family therapy. I felt as if I were receiving additional safety and support, even though the people who made them were no longer alive. It was a profoundly healing experience that I spent a lot of money trying to write out in graduate school, but I still don’t have the words for it. All I have is my profound happiness.
Eventually, I ended my abusive marriage, enrolled in domestic violence counseling, filed for divorce, attended graduate school and I took quilting, knitting and crochet classes. In domestic violence counseling, I was exposed to the “lethality assessment.” This is a 50 item assessment alerting you to the fact that you maybe in a relationship where your partner may kill you. If you have more than three check marks, they strongly advise you to leave. I had 18.
What has been the main theme of struggle in your life? What is the main thing you have needed to heal in your lifetime?
Learning to find joy again. Learning exactly how to get back to me, my own self, my own energy after a major crisis like this.
What is your greatest strength today?
Textile arts (any and all of the arts, really), prayer, meditation, affirmation, visualization, exercise I enjoy. Self care is key after a trauma. I have also worked as a psychiatric nurse. I noticed that my patients who were involved in crafts were discharged sooner. They seemed to need less PRNS (in other words, medical language for as needed medications, especially those for anxiety). They didn’t seem to relapse back into the system. There are a lot of people who go in and out of the psychiatric system like a revolving door. I noticed that the crafters were not like that. They stuck to treatment and fiber arts was a part of that treatment.
I never had a challenge trying to get fiber arts into the psychiatric setting. Generally, the families would tell the doctors how important it was for the patient. The doctors would write orders of them to have their supplies. We had to watch them and have them “contract for safety.” In other words, make them promise they wouldn’t cut themselves with scissors or hang themselves with fabric or yarn.
Typically, the crafters were one of the easiest groups of patients to treat. They knew if they wanted their crafts they had to agree to treatment, so they did. I noticed they wanted to be productive and not destructive. They just needed some support and direction back to what honored their true nature: fiber arts. Upon discharge, they figured out that crafting was better than being in a facility, so they tended to stay out of the system by engaging in their crafts.
You have to also remember that the fiber arts were a big part of occupational therapy treatment at one point, but then it was phased out. Why? I don’t know. I think it was shifted to art therapists. Our staff was into meditation, yoga, etc. They would teach classes and again, during the days that the patients had their meditation and yoga classes, I observed that they didn’t need PRNs.
What is your favorite healing modality? What makes you feel alive, passionate and whole?
Unfortunately, I love all of the above. I have to make the time. I notice some people are “okay” so to speak with not making time for themselves. That doesn’t work for me. I have been trying to answer the question myself: Why are the arts and crafts healing? I think they build confidence. They focus the mind.
The mind can take a mini vacation from whatever issue was perplexing for a moment. When your attention is diverted back, what was perplexing becomes so simple: Should I stay with that guy? No. I should actually break up with that abusive guy and find a decent one. What should I do with that yarn? Make a prayer shawl. I am feeling depressed. What do I do? Go into individual counseling and take some crafting classes. Should I go back to graduate school? Yes!
Describe yourself as whole and healed. Who are you in your essence?
I am very artistic and spiritual and I cannot be separated from my true nature for any length of time.
If the major healing theme of your life had a book or a movie title what would it be called?
"Recreating Happily Ever After"
How has your past pain informed your life purpose? How do you specifically want to contribute life?
As a graduate student, I worked as a registered nurse with a lot of children who were injured due to domestic violence. This is when I came up with the idea to do a mixed media anthology where the money would be given towards their medical and psychological treatment. I simply wanted to do something else besides punch a clock and say, "Oh how terrible."
What I am doing with my art instillations is known as "craft activism" or even "craftivism." There are books written on the topic (along with corresponding blog sites):
-"Craft Activism." by Joan Tapper and photography by Gale Zucker
-"Craftivism," by Betsy Greer
-"A Little Book of Craftivism," by Sarah Corbett
This is what I think about all the arts and crafts: Just do it! You know your life was worse when you weren’t engaging in your arts and craft and how much better your life has gotten because you now know what you must do to lift yourself up. Find what works and stick with it. If you are going through a crisis, but seeking appropriate treatment and engaging in arts and crafts, your life can and will change.
What strength-based inspirational advice would you give someone who has suffered in similar ways to you?
I would say keep searching until you have come up with a self-care program that works for you, be very patient and learn everything you can about manifestation.
What famous inspirational quote sums up your life journey?
When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my parents had a sign in their bedroom that was written in the King James version of the Bible, but I am pretty sure that this quote was nowhere in the Bible. It said, “Good things cometh to those who waiteth as long as those who waiteth work like helleth while they waiteth.”
Being unique is a gift. Whether it is a delay or an obstacle to a long cherished goal, respect yourself, even if no one else is bothering to do it, by practicing self care. Concern yourself with people, places and situations that honor the very best of who you are. It is okay to want what you want, professionally, artistically, personally or otherwise, even if you work like hell and wait to get it.
Create your own quote to inspire others on their life journey:
It maybe cliché, but it is true: "Don’t give up!"
Paula graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in creative writing and is a fifth generation textile artist. She also worked as a registered nurse for 15 years.
Paula has created art instillations around the Chicago land area including Hyde Park Art Center, the Phantom Gallery and Macy's Department Store on State Street. She has also been published in the book, "The Woman I’ve Become."