Cross-Stitching as a Hobby for Mental Health: A Personal Journey
by Kate Anderson on May 18, 2023
Trigger Warning: mental health struggles, childhood developmental issues, suicidal thoughts and emotionally absent parenting.
My mental health journey from Australia to America.
I haven't spoken publicly about what I have dealt with since moving from Australia back in late-2015. People have dealt with worse, but for me, it was the toughest challenge I have been dealt with so far.
Back at the start of Q4 of 2015, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. At the time, I was a mother to my then-15-month-old daughter who we struggled to understand or get answers for why she was developmentally delayed. I was also happily and successfully working for myself doing web design and front-end development and loving the flexibility and freedom it gave myself and our family.
Two days after I found out I was pregnant, I told my husband, as he arrived back home from a week-long trip to California, USA. The next day, we said yes to his employer about taking on a three-year contract to move to San Diego to help his then-company build and grow in the USA.
Crazy, I know.
We quickly got married (after being together for 13 years and engaged for 2 years) to appease our Visa requirements, sold the things we didn't need and couldn't take, and moved across the Pacific.
Three days after Christmas, the three of us landed in San Diego and looked for a new rental house. After about 2 weeks of living in a teeny little hotel room, we found a [gorgeous!] place and were approved. We got cars, furniture and got settled.
After being officially settled in and coming to grips ever so slightly with health insurance in the States, I finally got my daughter setup with therapeutic assessments and subsequently, therapies. It quickly became apparent that the therapies we had been receiving back in Australia had been useless (basically trying to force her to do what she couldn't comprehend and giving me false hope with whimsical development timeframes).
I was also 6 months pregnant by this stage and although physically, I was having an easy pregnancy mentally, I was not.
This was the beginning of my downward spiral.
On the 11th of June, my mum and her partner arrived from Australia for a planned holiday to both visit us, see the upcoming baby and have a vacation. About five hours after they arrived, my youngest daughter was born [four days early, I might add, when her sister was two weeks late].
Once we brought her home, it became instantly clear that she had colic. If you've never experienced being the parent of a colicky baby, I hope you never, ever do. It is such a hopeless feeling, not knowing how to soothe your baby who has been screaming non-stop for hours and hours, week after week after week.
After my mum left, four weeks later, and my husband had gone back to work full-time (which was often extended hours, thanks to the reason he had been relocated), I was alone. With a toddler that couldn't communicate, walk or do regular 2-year-old things and a baby who would only stop screaming if I held her just right so she could get 20 minutes of shut-eye.
I hit my limit. I became a numb, shell of a human, just trying to pass each minute as they came without harming either of my children or myself.
I started to have suicidal ideations and regretted ever becoming a parent. I found myself believing that I had fucked up my children irrevocably and the trauma I was enduring was my penance for that.
I was alone most of the time -already dealing with poorly medicated depression- and not giving my children an enriching life I had always planned having the time and space to do so, since I was now a stay-at-home-mum. I was no longer working for myself (as I was not allowed to as I didn't have a work visa) and felt like I was a failure, overall.
I'm sure most of us know what happened in this month in American politics. It was the first outside source of dread that things were never going to get better for me and my family.
My now-4-month-old baby was still screaming at every waking hour (and would do so for another 3 more months until her colic disappeared), my toddler was finally walking (which to be fair, was a shining light of happiness in this dark, dark period of my life) and my husband was still working his butt off, trying to get home to relieve me as often as he possibly could.
Something hit me around this time, that I needed to do something for me. No one was going to come and "save" me; I felt like my only purpose in life was to tend to my children's basic needs and I had an epiphany that I needed to change that in some small way.
So I unpacked my cross-stitching and started stitching again.
I had a project that I had started the year before of an alphabet sampler with Pokémon starting with each letter (and I had edited it to include both mine and my husband's favourite Pokémon to replace two of them). I had promised it to my husband for his birthday and it was already super delayed, so I told myself I would complete that.
So I stitched. I held my baby daughter while she nursed and stitched. I set my kids up to make messes outside, sat with them and stitched. I stitched while my oldest did her therapy sessions and my youngest gave crawling a try.
And it helped.
In May, my husband took another job which also gave him more family time at home. We moved to Irvine, California. We got a kitten. I quickly felt settled (after so much practise moving home for the 12 years prior) and one of the first things I manage to do is something for myself: I found a therapist.
Shortly after my 31st birthday, I had my first session.
It wasn't easy emotionally. It was easy for me to open up, thankfully, but my poor memory skills (which turned out to be a massive red flag 🚩 to me actually having undiagnosed ADHD) plus my trauma response to the previous 12 months didn't help when it came to unpacking what I had gone through.
I learnt how important it was for me to find things to do that were outside of me being a parent and wife. And also find something I could do that was screen-free.
November 2017 - February 2018
So I dug deep and leant in hard to cross-stitching. I remembered an e-book I had ordered 2 years prior and used for Christmas presents and decided to give it another go.
That book was the DIY Stitch People book. I made my own family going back to 2012, documenting in a way the changes it had gone through over the years. I quickly designed and stitched them, enjoying the entire process a lot.
I also took up hand lettering and found I wasn't half bad at it. What I was bad at, was practising daily (lol).
I couldn't get enough. I made portraits for 5 of the mothers in my online mother's group to build up skills and examples and opened a shop selling custom portraits. I was elated when I had my first order the very next day! And even more amazed when I received my first "stranger" order shortly after!
I then started to absent mindedly tinker with my own patterns for home decor. I made my first pattern called "Happy Shitting" which you can still get to this day..!
After making quite a few portraits, I was sick of the fonts I had been using for words, so I then combined my new skills in hand lettering with my very new skill of pattern making and designed my first font called "Alison" which is one of my most popular fonts to date.
2020 and beyond
Since making portraits, patterns and fonts (especially fonts), I found my "thing". It wasn't the same as web design/development, but it was the creative outlet I needed that also involved screen-free time when I wanted. This gave me something to call my own that was separate from being a parent and a wife.
For a while I obsessed over it, but that's part of who I am: I find a hobby I like and I immerse myself fully. But after I came back up for air, I found my rhythm and made it a part of my life in a healthy way.
There have been ups and downs of course; When COVID hit I had to put a halt on stitching and focus on being a rock, a teacher and a playmate for my family. There was also a period in early-COVID where I got completely burnt out for a few months just from life itself and stitching took a backseat.
But I've always come back to it. Because for me, it is the perfect hobby turned hustle.
- I can be screen-free and still do it.
- I have a creative outlet that I was missing for over a year.
- It's a 'thing' that is purely mine in my family. (But I can share if interest shows..!)
- I have found purpose outside being a mum and a wife.
And within the past 1-2 years, I've found a way to use my story of mental health struggles, anxiety and depression to combine with stitching to spread awareness. I don't see why depression or anxiety or anything else like that shouldn't be spoken about because that only breeds suffering. So I've found extra purpose in stitching by destigmatizing the issues that so many of us silently face.
My journey took a wild turn since we moved from Australia to America over seven years ago. In a way, I'm glad I had to hit such a low point before I could find the thing that I currently find enjoyable in life. It made me who I am today and I am thankful for that. I found friends, I found support and I found myself, in a way.
Thank you so much for reading this. It's quite a bit different from my usual posts, but I like to think that even if it helps one person know that they're not alone, then it was absolutely worth it.
I'm not out of the woods with mental health suffering, by all means. But I have learnt tools and skills to help myself each day. And if any of this resonates with your story, I wish you love, happiness, joy and comfort in your very near future.