I do not, in any way, think of myself as a “crafty” person. Aside from elementary school art classes (from which I do not have particularly fond memories), I’ve never painted a picture, knitted anything, or made a piece of pottery – and never felt particularly inclined to, either. My thing is brain stuff – if it can be turned into an Excel spreadsheet, I’m your gal. But I’m all thumbs when it comes to handy stuff. So no one was more surprised than me when I suddenly decided I was going to make myself a bracelet.
My bracelet idea actually started as a tattoo idea. I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for folks like me who have mental disorders to get tattoos that reflect their particular battle. The tattoo is typically a word or image that provides a feeling of strength or comfort to the wearer, such as the word “hope” or an image of a butterfly. I’ve often been tempted by the thought of getting a tattoo myself – certain ideas have emerged as helpful touchstones for my recovery from my anxiety disorders, and I love the idea of having them right there on my arm (or wherever) to act as reminders when I need them. But I could never seem to muster the nerve to commit to something as permanent as a tattoo – my anxiety means I struggle with decision-making under the most innocuous of circumstances (my husband can tell you how long I take to make up my mind in the supermarket cereal aisle), and the idea of making such a significant and irreversible decision felt way beyond my grasp.
Then one day it somehow popped into my head that maybe I could take some of the ideas I had for tattoos and see if I could find little charms that were similar in nature, then make a simple bracelet to put them on. That way, my helpful reminders would be right there for me, but in a form that required considerably less commitment than a tattoo.
I wasn’t sure if my idea was feasible, so I went to the place I always go when I feel confused or uncertain: the internet! First I looked around to see if I could find any charms along the lines of what I had in mind. And it turned out to be surprisingly easy to find nearly exactly what I wanted (thanks, Etsy!). Next I had to figure out how to get the charms onto a bracelet. And boy howdy, there is a lot of information out there about how to make your own bracelet! Web sites, YouTube, Pinterest – there was no shortage of tips available! I eventually decided the easiest-sounding idea was to make a beaded stretch bracelet.
Before long, my chosen charms arrived in the mail (from two different Etsy stores), and I was delighted to find they were just what I’d hoped for (more about them in a bit!). Next, I paid a visit to a bead store, which was definitely an exercise in decision-making – so many pretty beads to choose from! I spent so much time in the store that my husband texted me from home to ask if I’d been “kidnapped by the bead fairies!” But eventually I actually managed to make a decision, and I left the store with the beads of my choice, along with a few other bits and pieces that I would need to make my bracelet.
I spent the next few days reviewing numerous bracelet-making instructions online (some of which contradicted one another, very confusing), and thinking about how I wanted to put my bracelet together. Now it’s at this point when I tend to falter in my pursuit of a project: the research is done, the needed supplies are gathered, the only thing left is to get the thing done. That’s when I typically go into my anxiety-triggered “avoidance/procrastination” mode – I feel nervous about how a project will actually work out, so I just keep putting it off. And I was certainly tempted to do that again. But this time, for whatever reason, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could start a project and actually finish it, even if it wasn’t perfect or exactly what I’d originally planned. And somehow, I did it – I finished my bracelet! I felt pretty proud of myself – here was this thing, this bracelet, that hadn’t existed before but did now, all because of me, the person who thought she couldn’t do anything crafty!
So I’ve been wearing my new bracelet every day, and I often feel inspired and strengthened when I look at my three little attached charms, each one with a special significance for me. The first charm is a little silver circle with the words “be here now” stamped on it. I’ve always found that to be a very helpful phrase to bring me back to the present when my worry-brain is preoccupied with some problem in an imagined future that likely won’t even come to pass. When I remember to stop worrying and just exist in the present, I usually find that it’s actually a pretty nice place to be.
Then there’s my little peanut charm (in an “Antique Bronze” colour). I chose the peanut because I’d read about a year ago that the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for responding to threats (and the theorized source of Generalized Anxiety Disorder), was the size of a peanut (my psychiatrist recently told me it’s actually the size of an almond, but close enough!). The idea of the amygdala being like a peanut had stuck with me, and thinking of my anxiety issues as being caused by a little peanut had made me feel oddly reassured – for one thing, it meant a large part of my brain worked just fine, it was just that little peanut-sized amygdala that was screwed up. Plus there’s something about peanuts that just seems kind of funny to me – who knows, maybe it’s because of Mr. Peanut (the Planters Peanuts mascot). So when I start to feel overwhelmed by anxiety, I try to imagine these big, scary feelings coming from this silly little peanut, and it just seems to take away a lot of the power that anxiety usually has over me.
My third and final charm is a small, silver-coloured rectangle with the word “BRAVE” stamped on it. I chose that word because living with anxiety means that I often fall prey to negative self-talk. On my bad days, my anxiety disorders tell me I’m stupid, weak, or pathetic – I think about how “everyone else” can do “normal” things (like eating in a restaurant, going shopping, or driving on a highway) without becoming the tense, sweaty mess I sometimes do. But along my “healing journey” (I know, corny), I started to realize that when I struggle to do those “normal” things, I’m not being pathetic, I’m being brave. Doing those things makes me anxious, but I (usually) do them anyway – and I guess that’s the measurement of bravery, not the act itself.
A few nights ago, I went out with my husband to a busy restaurant and ate pizza. Most people wouldn’t consider that being brave, but a couple of years ago, that experience would have nearly induced a panic attack for me (and realistically, I probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place). I still felt some tension this time around (and sort of obsessed over which tables were making the most noise), but I mostly enjoyed myself, and finished my pizza. When I got home, though, I was feeling annoyed at myself that I hadn’t been able to just relax and let go of the distractions around me. But then I looked at that “brave” charm on my wrist, and reminded myself that just going to that restaurant had, for me, been an act of bravery. And I felt a bit better about myself.
So I’ve been happy to find that my charm bracelet is working for me just as I’d hope it would – an ever-present reminder of the ideas that are, at this point in my recovery, the most helpful for me (and the ones I need to be reminded of most often). I’ve also discovered an additional, unexpected benefit of wearing my bracelet – when I look at it, I feel a self-esteem-boosting sense of accomplishment. I suppose there are two reasons for that feeling: first, the knowledge that I made something that I wouldn’t normally expect to be able to make at all; and second, the reminder that I’d managed to get past my pattern of putting off doing something that intimidates me, and actually followed through on finishing it. I guess my bracelet makes me feel like I’m capable of more than I often think I am, and that’s pretty empowering.