Sometimes I crave pulling weeds or a good jigsaw puzzle, or sitting down with an embroidery hoop.
Why? I’m not passionate about an immaculate garden… Planting flowers is a lot more fun than weeding. I’m also not passionate about jigsaw puzzles. I don’t collect, display, or otherwise record the completed puzzles. I enjoy the assembly. That’s it. And the type of embroidery I usually do is mindless and kitschy cross-stitch. I still don’t know what to do with them once they are completed. Most are living in a bin in my basement.
Shouldn’t I be working on the projects I _am_ passionate about in my free time? Shouldn’t I be out hiking? Writing my way towards another finished book? Planning some more travel for me and mine? Even sitting down with a novel?
I asked a mental health professional about this once. She explained that jigsaw puzzles, weeding, cross-stitch are all regulating activities for me.
Regulating is a word the Trents use with a lot of frequency. We talk about regulating our emotions, regulating our bodies. We identify being in states of regulation–when we are in control of our bodies and emotions. And states of dysregulation–when we are out of control. We look for strategies to stay in control–stay regulated. Sometimes staying in control or regulated is also expressed as “organizing”. Emotions/stress/and the internal landscape can feel very disorganized, right? It makes sense that the opposite state is called organized… Even if organized for me is a word I only associate with the absence of physical clutter. Much the same way I used to associate the word handsome exclusively with male beauty. Words are weird sometimes.
(obviously I struggle with the absence of physical clutter def of organization too)
Anyway. I was somewhat surprised to discover that me, an adult, periodically turned to activities that were regulating. “No, cross stitch is not your passion, but it is organizing,” Mental health professional said.
There is a utility to these activities that help me cope with all that comes with parenting people who can get dysregulated… and have been known to get dysregulated at times in big ways.
Because while the focus has been on helping my children regulate when meltdowns occur, I am a person. I have feelings and thoughts. Sure, I can hold those in… But I too need an outlet. And look at that: My outlet is ripping out weeds in the backyard. Or getting one single piece into a puzzle and knowing it fits there perfectly and is doing its job. Or the order and control of assembling a picture out of x’s in pretty colors of thread.
I used to make fun of myself for these weird “cravings.” But now I respect that these pastimes are regulating and that they have their place. No, they are not my passion, but they are emotionally and mentally organizing. Now I try to listen and not ignore when I feel my hands itch to make something. My hands are often a better barometer than I am of what is up. Because while I am an adult, I’m a mom. I haven’t been my priority in eons.
We spent a week in Vancouver and Seattle for spring break this year, and halfway through that week I bought a cross stitch kit. My hands were craving something… And rather than fight it, I leaned in. Because travel is wonderful. I am happy and proud that we prioritize it as a family. But travel is also a lot. Same with being away from the “kittiest of them all.”
(Spot the kitty. I walked out of the ploffice yesterday and this is what I saw downstairs…)
What activities do you find yourself doing to stay regulated? Are they different from your passion projects?