I scroll Twitter and see the millionth tweet from someone who drove past somewhere and saw that people weren’t masked. My blood pressure rises. How can some people STILL not get that this virus is killing people indiscriminately? It’s insane. I shake my head. That moment of GAH! on social media can be the one thing that keeps a person’s head from exploding. But for me, it might be the final thing that makes my head pop off its mooring.
Psychiatrist Dr. Jackie Kinley, the founder of the Atlantic Institute for Resilience, has been talking a lot about mental fitness and keeping ourselves mentally strong. She advocates using brain power on things that are within our control. There will always be people who ignore the rules, the science, the best advice we have at the time. Getting upset about them usually changes nothing and it hurts our resilience. At least, I know it hurts mine.
Years ago,, when I was arguably at my least mentally fit, I was enrolled in a program for people recovering from a severe bout with depression. It was a workshop. We painted ceramics and made leather belts. When I started, I challenged the organizer about the value of these pastimes. She said, “there’s something therapeutic about seeing a project through. You’ll see”. So, I reluctantly painted a kitchen utensil holder in the shape of a chubby chef that I gave to my Mom. She named it Luigi and used it for many years, until it got dropped and shattered.
After Luigi, I moved on to making belts. I cut strips of leather on a big, sharp steel thing. It took some practice to get it right. Then I used metal tools to emboss the leather. I dyed it, made holes and added buckles. I loved it so much I became a belt-making machine who lay in bed at night thinking of different styles of belts. Each person who was closest to me got a belt. My Dad wore his until it disintegrated. So did Derek, who was a pal way back then. I wore mine until one day it literally fell off my body.
The lesson obviously stuck. Now, I feel a little out of sorts when I don’t have a project underway. It could be a painting, refinishing or upcycling furniture, and sometimes a meaty writing assignment fits the bill. It is therapeutic and immensely satisfying. Concentrating on something I’m making keeps me from fixating on things I can’t control. I call it distraction therapy. Some people knit or have a Cricut machine. Others garden. Whatever works.
Dr. Kinley is also an advocate of routine. She says it can start as simply as making your bed in the morning if that’s not your habit. Like my initial response to ceramics and belt-making, it might sound overly simplistic, but you add to it as the days pass. Before you know it, you’re not thinking about the stuff you can’t do anything about and you’ve got a neat bedroom to nestle into at the end of the day.
She is also an advocate for more compassion. I have compassion for our political leaders. Sometimes it exists alongside anger and disappointment, but they are, ultimately, only human beings. It sucks that it’s not going better in Ontario and it could have and should have but – this is where we find ourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put another coat of poly on a table I just refinished.