Mary Bryant 

New animation project combines nature photography and images of classic beauties

April 30, 2017 | Nature Photos and Stories, Video Projects | Permalink

My new animation, Visage de Fleur, was inspired by one of my beautiful friends’ faces in the light of a streetlamp. It combines some of my photos of flowers with images of some of my favorite female performers–Catherine Deneuve, Ann Margret, Liza Minelli and Sandra Milo. The soundtrack is a classic French pop song from the 60’s covered by April March.

A friend and I are applying for an artist residency with Caldera Arts for winter 2018, so I’m finishing up some projects and starting up some new ones.

Hope you enjoy!

 

 

Kristin Hersh’s latest project

October 28, 2016 | Interesting Links | Permalink

Just took a first listen to Kristin Hersh’s latest solo project. I’m looking forward to seeing her live at the tiny Mississippi Studios venue. They are making the whole space seated, which will be nice.

Ann Powers at NPR did a great write up about the record and a little of Kristin Hersh’s history and life as of late. I am so glad she wrote “Rat Girl”. Seems like music writers “get” her much better now. She deserves the attention… Such a prolific artist for 30 years.. Can’t believe I’ve been following her work for that long.

EASA Young Adult Leadership Council Film Project

March 2, 2016 | Video Projects | Permalink

EASA Young Adult Leadership Council from Mary Bryant on Vimeo.

Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA) is a statewide network of programs in Oregon that help identify and support young people who are experiencing psychosis. The EASA Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC) was created in April 2013 and consists entirely of young adults who have graduated from EASA, as well as representation from Youth Move. We are excited to present our first film project! It includes the stories, visual art and music of some of our members along with some of our ideas for a national platform to guide early psychosis programs and transform the mental healthcare system as we know it.

Credits:

Co-producers–Nicholas Buekea and Mary Bryant

Video/Sound Editor–Mary Bryant

Music–Nicholas Buekea, Titus and Peter Rudenko

Visual Art–Belle, Sam, Mary Bryant

YALC Members (in order of appearance)–Nicholas Buekea, Mason, Belle

Stepping up the game…

January 29, 2016 | Daily Blog | Permalink

After 6 months of proving myself and cutting through red tape, my direct appointment has finally been approved. This means I have a permanent, salaried position with benefits. And now I am a senior research assistant. Yay!!!

I’m working on a bunch of projects that I enjoy. But my favorite is a digital storytelling project with the members of EASA’s Young Adult Leadership Council. I’m having conversations with teens and young adults who have experienced psychosis where we discuss not only our shared struggles but also the insights and personal meaning we have gained from our experiences. We’ll debut the film at the Peerpocalypse conference in March and it will be available to the public on EASA’s website and YouTube channel. I am so proud of them and grateful for the opportunity to do something I love.

Feeling loose and a little lost sometimes…

May 16, 2015 | Daily Blog | Permalink

I started an 8-week mindfulness class a month ago and am feeling the benefits–including less anxiety and restful sleep with dreams. I’ve been having some realizations about the effects of prolonged states of anxiety and being revved up. It’s like the internal energy of those states stretches out your mind. Everything got all wound up and now that I am medicated, I feel like my head is swimming in vastness where everything moves much slower and I feel like I have way less energy. I was telling Kiri that it feels like the cogs of my mind are turned by belts that have been over-stretched, so there is way less tension in my mind and the way it works.

I know this is a much healthier way to operate, but I usually feel a little or a lot depressed about it. Now, I am just trying to accept it and not feel like I’m a shadow of my former self. I wonder if this looseness of mind is how most people usually feel. I’m glad I have mindfulness and walking and lots of opportunities to engage my mind in school now. Last night, I finished reading Ellen Forney’s memoir “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Micheangelo and Me” and I wrote a review of it today. It was hard to read because we had such similar experiences… This is what I wrote:

Ellen Forney’s “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me” chronicles her experiences, thoughts, feelings and decision-making process around being diagnosed with bipolar at age 30. She is a working comic artist and questions the link between creativity and mood disorders throughout the book. She doesn’t want to lose her creative drive because it is her source of income, but she also becomes less tolerant of the seasonal revved up episodes followed by depression as the years go by. Forney finally decides she wants more balance in her life, but it takes a few years for she and her doctor to find the right combination of medications and life style choices to make that a reality. In the process, she takes the reader through the existential realities of living with bipolar and how she learns to manage her symptoms by keeping track of her sleep, mood, medications and daily activities. Excerpts from her journals and sketchbooks are included in the memoir, which creates a pastiche that reverberates with feelings and thoughts from the past—especially during her depressive episodes. She weaves these with cartoons featuring interactions she had with friends, family and colleagues, sessions with her doctor, and her internal experiences of being revved up and depressed in Seattle and while traveling to comic conventions.

Each time Forney has another episode and needs to try a new medication to stabilize her moods, she returns to examining the link between mood disorders and creativity because she often loses some of her cognitive faculties when adjusting new medications and fears losing her creativity. She tries to find meaning in her experience by reading books her father sends her on artists with mood disorders—the “Van Gogh Club”. She decides that she doesn’t want to focus on her pain in her artwork like most of these artists did. But she relates to their thoughts and feelings and recognizes the dramatic shifts in productivity they experienced as her own creative process.  Forney struggles with the idea of being a tortured artist because she doesn’t want to focus on her pain in her work. She does yoga and swims on a regular basis to find relief from her symptoms and develops a good support network after disclosing her diagnosis with friends. These are all really healthy ways to take care of herself, but she has an internal struggle around completely changing her lifestyle to manage her symptoms. She smokes pot on a weekly basis when she is not depressed and engages in risky behavior—like using cocaine—when she is revved up. This may be a symptom, but it is something she doesn’t share with her doctor until the end of the book when she finally decides she wants to feel more balanced. This was the final decision she needed to make around her desire to focus on something other than her pain in her work and to live a balanced life rather than one of a tortured artist.  She still holds the experiences of these artists in reverence, but makes a decision to live her life differently.

Most of the details of the book focus on Forney’s bouts of anxiety, mania and depression and what prompts these episodes. In an effort to understand her experiences and make meaning from them, Forney explores all of the biopsychosocial components that contribute to her symptoms of bipolar. Her mother was diagnosed with bipolar and uses marijuana to self-medicate. Forney identifies with her “stoner mom” and tries to use pot along with medications to manage her symptoms. Rethinking this identification with her mother ends up being one of the hardest psychological tasks Forney faces, and ultimately is the crux of whether she will live a balanced life. Throughout the book it’s apparent that she is health conscious because she is really good about sticking with her complementary treatments of yoga and daily exercise, but this identification with her mother is really hard to shake. Forney also touches on the social interactions and cognitive patterns that drive her into manic episodes that ultimately end in depression. For example, Forney is already a little revved and not sleeping much. She knows that going to the comic convention in California is probably not a good idea, but she goes and becomes completely overwhelmed. When the bookseller runs out of her books before she even does her performance, she lashes out in anger and starts spiraling downward. Through this experience, Forney comes to realize thefaulty cognitionsthat might send her into anxiety, mania or depression. She explains that when she is agitated and something goes wrong, she has catastrophic thoughts and blows the situation way out of proportion in her mind. What becomes most apparent in “Marbles…” is that through experience and a little research, Forney comes to understand the stress diathesis model of bipolar. She realizes that the more stress she is under, the more episodes she has and the more medications she has to try to stabilize her moods. She also does some research on the connection between creativity and mood disorders and learns about the overlap between the characteristics of the minds of creatives and people with bipolar: loose associations, openness, mental imagery, impulsivity and high drive. This gives her a more positive view of living with bipolar as an artist that is scientifically based, rather than focusing on the pain and psychopathology.

Since I have been living with bipolar disorder for the last 24 years, I could relate to Forney’s experiences. I also tried to understand my experiences by acquainting myself with the tortured artists in my late teens and early 20’s. But by the time I was 24 and had my first mixed episode that ended in a psychotic break and hospitalization, I was finished relating to my life that way. Like Forney, when I was diagnosed, I was given a book (can’t remember the title) that linked creativity and bipolar disorder. Since I am an artist, this gave the disorder a positive twist, at first. But as you live through periods of medication-induced depression where creativity is low or non-existent, you do begin to think you will never return to a creative mindset again—especially if you don’t want to focus on your pain in your work. I also found that while I may not have access to the mindset I use to write or produce videos when I am depressed, I really enjoy crocheting and making jewelry in all emotional states. The repetitive motion of needle crafts reduces anxiety and depression. Learning about neuroscience, the state of flow and the recovery movement have been most helpful to me. The brain and mind are incredibly resilient and living a balanced life is possible with a lot of work and the right meds.

As Forney suggests, the expense of care for bipolar is a major stressor and probably the main reason people with bipolar don’t receive care. I tried to manage my symptoms with complementary methods only so I wouldn’t have to worry about the expense anymore, but that didn’t work for me. I have had periods in my life where I didn’t have insurance or I was not eligible for care at college counseling centers because I have a diagnosis. This is extremely frustrating and anxiety producing… Even with the new insurance plans, if you don’t have a job, you can’t pay for them. I am thankful I have a part-time job as I near graduation, even though it is a research job and doesn’t have any benefits. Hopefully, I will find a job with benefits by mid-September when my student health insurance expires. And in the meantime, I am working with Avel Gordly where I receive care to figure out which insurance I can use if I am unable to find a job with benefits by September.

I’m dealing with some stressors, but my slowed down brain and mindfulness training are really helping. I’m able to prioritize much better and not get overwhelmed with all of the things I need to do before I graduate. I have been biting things off in very manageable chunks and that is new for me. I’m going to be presenting the content from my Peerpocalypse presentations on campus on June 1st as part of the requirements for receiving a travel grant from PSU. This is 6 days before my final exams, so I’m staging out the last bit of work I’ll need to do for school.

Digital Storytelling: In Our Own Words, Sounds and Visions

February 3, 2015 | Academic Work | Permalink

Documentaries that use interviews with people with lived experience of mental health challenges and the mental health care system for advocacy purposes are very popular now–examples on YouTube include The Open Paradigm Project, PEERS TV and Daniel Mackler’s films. While these projects are effective means of educating the general public, sharing information in peer communities and reducing stigma, they aren’t produced by the story tellers themselves.

The Open Paradigm Project began as a response to the controversy around the release of the DSM-5. The tagline is “Stories of Hope from People Who Rejected Psychiatric Diagnosis”. It’s not clear who produces the videos, but they have a five-figure budget and partner with Mad In America. The videos are shot all over the US and Europe and include interviews and documentation of individuals speaking at public events such as protests and conventions. There is a little variation in terms of prompts that are used in individual interviews, but some interviews include personal photos from the subject. The voice of the person being interviewed or filmed stands on its own without any interpretive text. There are over 1,000 videos in this project to date.

PEERS TV is produced by the Alameda County PEERS (Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services) program. Their YouTube station includes a weekly talk show and clips from presentations made by leaders in the peer movement. There are also interviews with participants in their programs and footage of workshops run by peers. The transition aged youth program also produces videos featuring interviews and workshops run by youth peers and a documentary called “Shine” that is based on interviews with them. All of these videos are documentary in nature and professionally produced.

Daniel Mackler is a former therapist whose films document non-medical mental health treatments from the US and Europe that have been found to be more effective than traditional medical model treatments. He captures the dynamics of each movement by filming collaborative meetings, then records detailed interviews with key leaders/practitioners and individuals who have taken part in each modality. Mackler uses interviews with people on the street in New York City to illustrate the stigma around psychiatric medications and mental health issues in the US, which he juxtaposes with the more humane, collaborative modalities his films explore.  Mackler is present in his films as narrator, interviewer and subject, but the majority of the ideas are not his. When he was a therapist, Mackler supported clients coming off of medications and acted as intermediary with psychiatrists and primary care doctors. He uses terms like “shared decision-making” and “we” in his role as ally in peer communities. But he is the only person in the film who has control of the means of production, which places a lot of power in his hands. He distributes the films via his personal website and YouTube for no cost, and he also sells DVDs.

What would it be like for people with lived experience to produce and share our own stories? Current research in new media, health promotion and education are finding promising results in digital storytelling methods where small groups of individuals who share a common experience come together in workshops. The multidimensional facets of each individual’s experiences are discussed. These experiences are then represented in video projects to share with the storytelling circle, family members and the community at large. This is very different from being interviewed as a subject for a documentary or documented as a participant in a workshop and not having any part in the production of the finished product.

In 2014, I produced a first-person narrative in a 5-session class offered by Portland Community Media (PCM). I took the class with a friend and we interviewed each other for our pieces. We both focused on stories where our creativity and outdoor pursuits pulled us through difficult times. He discussed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and how painting helped him recover from the physical and psychological pain of long days, and I discussed how I regained a sense of myself in three years of protracted withdrawal from benzodiazepines through my creativity. Neither of us had access to editing software at home, but now that we have taken the digital storytelling class, we have access to cameras and editing suites. It’s a great place to learn and share skills with others and is open to the public.

I was researching narrative and self-determination when I made my story and a lot of doors have opened for me from producing it. I have a degree in video production, but had been away from producing anything for a while. Putting together my digital story gave me a chance to showcase my skills while telling a story as it is emerging. This was a very difficult process, but putting my story out into the world was a huge step in getting my ideas and intentions clear within myself and with others.

In February 2016, I facilitated a digital storytelling project with members of the Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA) Young Adult Leadership Council entitled In Our Own Words, Sounds and Visions: EASA Young Adult Leadership Council. EASA is a statewide network of programs that help identify and support young people who are experiencing psychosis. The Leadership Council was created in April 2013 and consists entirely of young adults who have graduated from EASA. The film provides insight into experiences of psychosis through the stories, visual art and music of leadership council members. The project also highlights the importance of early assessment and support with recommendations for a national platform to guide early psychosis programs and transform the mental healthcare system.

In Our Own Words, Sounds and Visions: EASA Young Adult Leadership Council from Mary Bryant on Vimeo.

I co-produced this project with one member of the leadership council. Our process for producing the film was akin to digital storytelling methods. Each person’s narrative was developed through a casual conversation with us (the co-producers). The framework for these discussions was the construction of a story of change which started with a struggle and reflection on that struggle. We then moved to what was learned from the experience and how that has affected what the storyteller is doing now. Finally, the storyteller described what they are doing now and what their hopes, dreams and goals for the future are. From our discussion, we built a shared understanding of the storyteller’s experiences, their feelings around these experiences and the personal meaning they carry as a result of reflecting on these experiences. From the themes we gathered in the initial conversation, we collaboratively developed guiding questions or prompts that we used when filming each person’s story. Overall, this method helped create a collective language across the varied narratives of the leadership council members’ experiences and a framework of inquiry that subtly interrogates mainstream viewpoints on psychosis and other mental health challenges.

I used my research on digital storytelling and the work I do with the My Life project to develop the framework for the collaborative narrative building process. My Life is a coaching and near-peer mentoring intervention with foster youth with disabilities. I have been coding video interviews of the yearly assessments for My Life for the last three years. The questions in the assessment are strengths-based and focus on accomplishments, goals, steps to reach a goal, strategies for attaining support from adults and stress management strategies. These kinds for questions create a narrative of change through the personal agency of the storyteller with support from adults and internal coping strategies. I thought this would be an empowering narrative for EASA graduates to explore.

We used the story of change model from digital storytelling methods to inform our approach to making meaning from the storytellers’ experiences of psychosis and the mental health care and criminal justice systems. Gubrium (2009) describes digital storytelling as a form of community-based participatory research based on the Freirian model that emphasizes the construction of stories as participants construct change in their lives. As a group, participants construct a shared reality. This reality is transformed into the physical form of digital stories, which in turn, offer individual participants a means of owning and being able to tell their individual stories. I also thought about how these stories could impact audiences because digital storytelling projects provide potential viewers with a more complex understanding of participant’s lives and the ways they choose to represent themselves.

My co-producer and I felt like it was important that we produce these narratives in a close and closed social circle without outside technical support in environments that the leadership council members were familiar with. This production process supports individual and group needs as they emerge within the process—not predetermined by anyone else. Framing of experiences in narrative form is a necessary part of making sense of experiences and retrieving them later in the form of memories. Davis and Weinshenker (2014) describe identity as “the enduring, sincere and significant first-person accounts of who we are that we tell ourselves and others.” (p. 55) In a story of change, putting a future vision one’s self into a digital story and presenting it as a finished object is a step taken toward embracing that new identity. The act of producing the story freezes it in time and externalizes it as a possibility to contemplate. This contemplation not only brings about pride in one’s work and hope for the future, but the video itself can serve as a tool to help the storyteller move in the direction they portray in their story just by sharing it with others. Screening and speaking about your story can lead to greater self-understanding, and a greater understanding of the social issues represented in the story by audience members.

We debuted the film at Peerpocalypse, which is a yearly conference for people with lived experience who work in the mental health field and their allies. Participants in our workshop asked if they could share the film with the peers, clinicians and young people they work with because they felt it portrayed a different viewpoint from “patient narratives” that are produced by clinicians. Clinicians at the workshop also asked to share the film with their colleagues and the young people they serve.

We also screened the film at a brown bag gathering at Regional Research Institute for Human Services. Viewers sent the following feedback:
“The film provided an authentic narrative of the lived experiences of individuals who experience mental health challenges. It provided the viewer with an understanding of the current state of science, policy, practice, and experiences of mental health services and supports. It calls the viewer to action by offering ways that the mental health system can be improved while acknowledging the importance of it for improving the health and wellness of individuals. Developed on a minimal budget, this film offers the viewer with a positive multi-media experience which appeals to numerous senses.”
–Bridget Murphy, Program and Policy Analyst, Reclaiming Futures
“There was a great sharing of the physical space of the room, and the personal narratives of those present, before the film was shown. This group sharing before the film set the stage for deeper awareness of the film and deeper acknowledgment of each of our paths. There is a very nice balance in the film with words on the screen, personal narrative in for form of face/voice and voice alone, and beautiful art. The pace of the film was not too fast and made time for personal reflection about the content and about my own personal experience/ narrative.”
–Mary Oschwald, Director, Regional Research Institute for Human Services

I intend to follow-up with the participants in the project with a group discussion to learn more about their reflections on how the experience of sharing their stories in this format has impacted them. From conversations after the first public screening, some members felt a little overwhelmed with disclosing their personal narratives and receiving so much feedback all at once. Others said they felt empowered and have shown enthusiastic interest in doing more film projects as soon as possible. I am also working with the director of EASA Center for Excellence to develop a workshop on public disclosure at one of the leadership council meetings because we are planning on doing more film projects.

References:
Davis, A., & Weinshenker, D. (2012). Digital storytelling and authoring identity. Technology and identity: Research on the development and exploration of selves in a digital world, 47-64.

Gubrium, A. (2009). Digital storytelling: An emergent method for health promotion research and practice. Health Promotion Practice, 10(2), 186.-191.

 

This Is Your Brain on Crochet: Repetitive Motion, Flow and the Secret to Self-Efficacy in Protracted Withdrawal

September 28, 2014 | Academic Work | Permalink

Despite sleep medicine doctors and psychiatrists telling me that the amount of Klonopin I took each day for 9 years was “nothing at all”, the intense withdrawal symptoms I had whenever I went a day without it lead me to believe I was physically dependent. I decided I wanted to find a way to safely taper off, but the lack of information and support I received was unexpected. This was particularly disturbing since I worked and received care at OHSU, which is a research institution. I had no idea there was a peer recovery movement where I could have received support, but it seemed reasonable that someone at OHSU would be able to help me. I did a literature search at OHSU’s library to see if I could find any information or research. The only academic resource I was able to find was the Ashton Manual, which was developed by Dr. Heather Ashton of Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience from a 14-year longitudinal study of people withdrawing from benzodiazepines. I talked with my primary care doctor who I liked and trusted and she agreed to support me in my taper. She suggested I also start counseling sessions with the social worker in the family medicine department. My doctor was glad I found Ashton’s tapering schedule and said she intended to share it with other doctors. We followed the guide to a “T” and started the taper by switching from longer-acting Klonopin to shorter-acting Valium in the autumn of 2007.

I took my last dose of valium on the evening of December 30, 2009. My first day off benzodiazepines was New Year’s Eve; the end of a year and—I had hoped—the end of two rough years of tapering. I was aware of the long list of withdrawal symptoms listed in the Ashton manual, but I was convinced that I had been through the worst of it and would be feeling better soon. I was working out and doing yoga every day at that point, and was in really good physical condition. But I didn’t sleep at all on New Year’s Eve and for many nights to come. I participated in an online forum called BenzoIsland where people who had previously tapered off benzos using the Ashton manual offered support to folks in withdrawal. Everyone assured me the insomnia and rapid thoughts I was experiencing were “just the benzos talking”, but my paranoia grew. I didn’t want to go into the hospital, but I became completely detached from reality and knew I needed to sleep.

I was extremely unpleasantly surprised to experience psychosis in acute withdrawal because the Ashton Manual doesn’t discuss it and I had tapered off the valium so slowly and with so many supports. But I had quit counseling a year before my taper ended and was depending solely on the support of the BenzoIsland forum. I had also gone through some very traumatic family emergencies in the two years of my taper. In retrospect, I realize that I really needed counseling, but I couldn’t deal with the end of life closure the social worker wanted me to work on with my parents… it was too much with the stress of the taper. I imagine this is a difficult balance for many people to bear and I have forgiven myself. I was able to take up the emotional healing with my parents once I was stable again with the support of my holistic care team, partner and friends.

I had experienced and recovered from psychosis once before in 1991 when I was 24 years old. At that time, I was struggling with sexual trauma I experienced in my teens and early 20’s, and needed support to start my coming out process. I knew it would take a while to recover and there would be a period of deep depression, but I had never experienced the cognitive problems I had in early 2010. I couldn’t focus enough to speak coherently and I was so disconnected from my body that none of the activities I did for self-care felt good or made any impact on my mood. I slept 16 hours a day and was in a state of near-catatonia for the rest of the day. My hands shook, so I wasn’t able to do draw very well or do other kinds of crafts like beading. More complex skills like creative writing or video editing were beyond comprehension because I could barely keep my thoughts organized enough to make myself breakfast and get dressed in the morning. I was completely compromised in every facet of my life and felt like this was the way the rest of my life would be: an over-medicated haze where I was unable to feel, speak, create or engage with the world. I deeply longed for the creative life full of love and connection that I once knew.

Despite trying everything that usually made me feel better, this deep depression went on for nine months. My unresponsiveness to my usual self-care strategies led me to decide to go back to work to see if daily activity of that sort would help. In November 2010, I started a new medical research support position at OHSU. Despite being very nervous and feeling like I was about 50% “there”, I gradually met new people and started talking again. I had huge anxiety attacks, but I found a restorative yoga class a block from my house that was taught by a woman who used to work with people who were coming off of psych meds. Going to this class twice a week helped me feel more grounded and helped with the body pains caused by my sympathetic nervous system. I also found an acupuncturist in my neighborhood who used to work in a drug rehabilitation center. The treatments and Chinese herbs helped with my fatigue and insomnia. I had a great care team with classes and natural treatments that helped me build skills to fight the anxiety and insomnia I’ve had since childhood. I would take short breaks at work to go to the library to do breathing exercises—especially if I was going to have lunch with a new work friend, because interaction was still hard. As the winter started, I was triggered by the anniversary of my months of acute withdrawal. I knew that creative pursuits helped me feel better in the past, but I wasn’t inspired to do visual art or videography, and writing poetry sometimes took me to dark places that I wanted some relief from. I had briefly experimented with crochet in 2005 and 2006, and had developed a series of three easy stitches. I remembered enjoying the sculptural nature of crocheting without rules or patterns, the colors and textures of the yarn, and the soft, cozy hats and scarves I had made.

I followed that impulse to tap into my creativity and bought a really pretty dip-dyed, wool blend yarn in every color of green you can imagine. Green has always been one of my favorite colors, and just looking at the yarn and feeling the softness as it went through my fingers lifted my mood. I made a cozy cowl in three sittings while I unwound from work in the evenings. When I wore the finished product to work the next day, so many people commented on it that it made me overjoyed to finally regain some of my creativity. I proceeded to buy every color of that dip-dyed yarn and cranked out cowls every night. Having a new cowl to wear in the morning also motivated me to get dressed and go to work, and even though I was still depressed, the anniversary of my hospitalization passed without any problems.

From 2012 to early 2013, I managed to taper off the antipsychotic medication and mood stabilizer I was prescribed in acute withdrawal with the help of my empathetic counselor who specializes in existential psychology and an open-minded psychiatrist who was willing to do some research on alternatives like fish oil and vitamin D. These natural supplements and visits to my acupuncturist for a treatment and some herbs if I have trouble sleeping have kept me off the meds. My self-care routine of daily walks, hikes in nature on the weekends and my home yoga routine once or twice a week when I’m feeling good and daily if I’m feeling ungrounded have also kept me stable. Stability is great, but I am 100% positive that crochet and my other creative endeavors have been the source of recovering my sense of self-efficacy, which has kept me going steady in attaining my goals over the past 7 years. I’ve found evidence to support my beliefs in current literature in neuroscience and occupational research.

Positive psychology describes flow as harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. Many activities can promote flow experiences where one is completely absorbed in the task at hand and able to focus on the present moment and release stress. In the late 80’s, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly studied flow in chess players, mountain climbers, dancers and surgeons and found a set of characteristics common to flow experiences: 1) complete absorption in the activity, 2) reduced awareness of the external environment, 3) sense of “oneness” with the activity, 4) immersion in the present moment, 5) reduced fear or anxiety with engagement in the activity, 6) feelings of personal satisfaction (Gutman & Schindler, 2007).  Anyone can experience a sense of flow in activities they find rewarding such as cooking, gardening, playing a musical instrument, sports or daily walks. The basis of flow experiences is neurological… the brain’s reward system distinguishes pleasurable activities that should be repeated from harmful ones that should be avoided by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine (Gutman & Schindler, 2007). With each cowl I made, a neural network in my brain was strengthened as I built a routine around a rewarding creative activity that released stress and improved my mood and cognitive skills. With an improved state of mind and a new hobby to talk about with friends and strangers, I started feeling more confident about myself and my abilities.

The cognitive and emotional benefits of flow experiences are similar to those found in meditation practices. Activities that promote flow experiences reduce internal conflict and environmental stimulation that can contribute to sensory overload. Activities that enhance flow can be used to prevent or reduce symptoms of depression by training the mind to regulate emotional responses to negative stimuli. This results in increased levels of concentration, and the release of anxiety about the future and regrets about the past, which all contribute to complete immersion in the present moment (Gutman & Schindler, 2007; Riley, Corkhill and Morris, 2013). When I crochet for even a few minutes, I can literally feel tension leaving tender points in my body—especially in my abdomen and chest. When I crochet for 15 minutes or more, no matter how stressed or agitated I am, my perception of things that usually irritate me changes. I can accept chaos more easily and am able to clear my mind of circular negative thought patterns. Crocheting on the bus also reduces the anxiety and sensory overload I often experience in any form of transportation. I really wish I could crochet and drive at the same time!

These changes in perception that I experience are the result of activating the relaxation response, which is the physiological counterpart to the body’s stress response or fight/flight syndrome (Gutman & Schindler, 2007). Some common characteristics of activities that promote the relaxation response are: 1) performed in a quiet place, 2) enhances the ability to focus inwardly, 3) increases concentration on task-specific skills, 3) promotes the release of everyday worries, 4) involves focused attention on a repetitive mental stimulus or activity (Gutman & Schindler, 2007; ; Riley, Corkhill & Morris, 2013). With each loop I make around my crochet hook, I become more focused on the task at hand and any other idea or worry in my mind fades. This is particularly true if I am at home or another comfortable environment in silence or listening to calming music. I sometimes crochet while I watch a movie, but this reduces the attention to the repetitive motion and focus on the task at hand, so it isn’t as physically relaxing, but it can elevate my mood if I am depressed, worried or agitated.

Crafts like crochet, have been found to promote: 1) motivation and self-esteem, 2) sense of self and positive identity, 3) sense of competence and achievement, 4) perceived sense of control and choice, 5) sense of purpose, 6) means of coming to terms with illness (Riley, Corkhill & Morris, 2013). Crafting also involves learning practical skills that build self-confidence and pride in one’s work. Making household items, clothing and accessories for oneself and gifts for others is also associated with being more content in life, less materialistic and feelings of self-sufficiency (Riley, Corkhill & Morris, 2013). I started my crochet practice in earnest when I was cognitively impaired. In 2011, I taught my partner the three simple stitches I developed, but she got bored after completing three projects. She encouraged me to learn standard crochet stitches, but the instructions were hard for me to follow and I got frustrated and anxious. Without reading any research, I instinctively knew what I needed. I explained that it was really important for me to have a sense of mastery over something I could do every day because my sense of self and what I could do had been so diminished. Plus, my usual self-care routines didn’t feel so good in my body. The form of crochet I do is relaxing to me because the stitches I use are not standard and I make projects without following any patterns. People have told me my stitches resemble a slip stitch, which I gather is more of an attaching stitch than a building stitch in crochet. I’ve also been told that my stitches look like old net-making stitches and that the end result looks more like knitting than crochet. All I know is that I watched a beginning crochet instructional video on YouTube back in 2005 and riffed on it experimentally until I found a way of sculpting shapes I liked. I did it as a way to relax and made hats and scarves as gifts when I first started. The first project I felt proud of was a cloche hat I crocheted for myself. A friend bought a vintage woven braid cloche that I coveted. Since I couldn’t steal if from her, I used her hat as a pattern for the overall shape and tailored one out of a wool and mohair blend yarn for myself. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. This is very true for me regarding crochet. I definitely feel like it was a necessary part of my recovery and I’m proud to share my practice through the instructional videos I’ve produced. I know I will continue to crochet for the rest of my life and hope my presentation and videos help others develop a relaxing form of creative activity.

References

Gutman & Schindler, (2007). The Neurological Basis of Occupation. Occupational Therapy International, 14(2), 71-85.

Riley, Corkhill & Morris, (2013). The benefits of knitting for personal and social wellbeing in adulthood: Findings from an International Survey. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(2), 50-57.

 

 

 

Sneak peek at my latest project–the opening sequence C O W L S P L O S I O N

September 8, 2014 | Video Projects | Permalink

IMG_20140103_134602The momentum of receiving PSU’s Student Educational Travel Grant gave me the rocket boosting I needed to get all of the editing and processing for the instructional part of my video project “This Is Your Brain on Crochet: Repetitive Motion, Flow and the Secret to Self-Efficacy in Protracted Withdrawal” completed over the weekend. Halleloo!

I’m taking a break from anything video for a few days and it’s going to take a while to get everything uploaded, but I wanted to post a sneak peek in the form of COWLSPLOSION. This is an extended remix of the theme song and opening animation that I edited into a stand-alone animation project. Have to say, it kept me sane as I waited for other pieces of the project to render. Please be sure to click the “Settings” icon at the bottom of the screen and choose 1080 HD to avoid painful digitization…