What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I can’t even start to explain why I love weaving so much without first explaining, as best I can, what it feels like to have an ADD brain. While I think I would still love weaving even if I didn’t have attention deficit disorder, its therapeutic and meditative qualities have been a life changer.
I don’t really know what other people’s brains are like, but mine has about 7-10 actual trains of thought going through it at once, and those trains of thought are speed bumping over other smaller thought distractions which appear and then vanish just as quickly as they arrive. Of those 7-10 actual thought strands, only a few of them are actually clear and followable; it’s like my brain is thinking about more than I could possibly keep up with, so the goal is to try really, really hard to focus on just one or two of those things running through my brain, letting the others reduce to a murmur in the background. The popcorn thoughts appear out of nowhere and can throw me off — “MY IM IS GOING OFF,” “OOH CUTE SHOES,” “SQUIRREL!” — and suddenly I’m like, “Ack, what was I thinking about? The layout of my new apartment and where to put all of my furniture? No, no, no, wrong one, Amelia, don’t follow that train of thought now, that’s for later. You were thinking about how to write this essay about your ADD — oh Christ another blinking IM, better click it!”
What was I saying again? Oh yeah, Adderall has been wonderful because it quiets some of the thoughts that I don’t want to focus on, making it so I can hyper focus on those that are actually important in the moment. The great thing is, the ADD brain when properly honed can focus really well on multiple things at once. It’s like the thing that is an enemy to your brain suddenly becomes an asset. It’s frustrating however, to witness thoughts — good, smart, funny, interesting, important thoughts! — zipping by and they’re moving too fast for you to catch them. I’ve learned to write down whatever I can that I think I might want to remember, even if it’s just one word to jog my memory, so maybe the thought that I missed will come back and I can try to follow it to some sort of conclusion.
This is the way my brain is all day long. It’s not that I can’t pay attention, it’s that there’s too much going through my head for me to pay attention to. I’m not staring into space because I’m incapable of focusing — I’m staring into space because I’m focusing on so much. That faraway look in my eyes is my brain’s Away message signaling that I’m busy doing some thinking right now, thanks. Some days are really, really productive. Some days I feel like an utter failure at life because things just didn’t click into place, I wasn’t able to follow any train of thought for longer than a few minutes and I got frustrated with my inability to finish anything I started.
But whether it’s been a good, hyper-focused and productive day, or a day where my brain gave no fucks and essentially played hookie, it’s pretty worn out by the time 6 p.m. rolls around. It’s not going to chill the fuck out on its own though — it’s still spewing thoughts left and right, keeping itself very busy. For many years, I would go home and continue to do work while I watched TV, because just doing one thing when you have ADD is very difficult. If I can occupy part of my brain on something that doesn’t require much concentration — watching “The Bachelor,” for example — then it can’t shoot out as many thoughts and the rest of my brain can focus on the thoughts that remain and hopefully do something with them. For a long time, that was work, but then I was just overworking myself and feeling resentment. “I worked all day! I deserve to just go home and drink a glass of wine and watch some TV, dammit!” The problem is, I can’t just sit and watch TV, especially if it’s a show that actually has a plot and details worth noticing. I have to distract part of my brain with something more mindless and repetitive. My go-to activity was to play a game on my iPhone while I watched TV or a movie, like Candy Crush. But spending my evenings watching shitty television and playing fucking games on my phone always felt like a tremendous waste of time.
And then I discovered weaving. I had been craving some sort of hobby, but finding one I could stick with had been difficult. ADD makes me always want to keep my hands busy, so in the past I’d gone through spells where I made friendship bracelets or knit a lot, but I always lost interest, maybe because what I was actually making in the end wasn’t particularly good or of much interest to me. A gal can only have so many wonky scarves/friendship bracelets. I had seen some cool woven tapestries on Pinterest and then while I was out in San Francisco for a wedding, my friend Lisa told me about taking a weaving class and showed me the small loom she got to bring home with her. I thought maybe it could be something I might like, and vowed to take a class.
I started by visiting a place called Loop of the Loom here in New York City, which offers classes on Saori weaving, done on big floor looms. Within five minutes, I noticed how the repetitive nature of stepping on the pedals, moving the shuttle full of yarn back and forth, row after row, lulled my brain into a sort of submission. I was able to think more clearly with part of my brain focused on the movements of my hands and feet. My mom, bless her but she doesn’t know much about ADD, used to urge me to meditate, not understanding that meditation, already difficult to do, is next to impossible for a brain like mine which simply will not ever quiet down. But as I sat there weaving, I felt my mind let go and wander, and I could follow little threads of thought if I wanted, or not, and that lack of pressure, that release, was the closest I had ever felt to meditative bliss.
As a homebody, I was desperate to weave at home, to have access to that bliss all the time, but buying a floor loom was not feasible. Because my goal wasn’t to make tapestries at a rapid rate — I was all about the journey, not the destination — I was amped to get a small tapestry loom that could rest on my lap while I sat on the couch, handweaving with a needle. I took my first class with Maryanne Moodie, an amaaaaazing weaver in Brooklyn by way of Australia that Lisa had told me about, and went home that day with a small loom. And with the exception of work obligations and a social life, I have basically not stopped weaving since. I took a second class from Maryanne and came home with a larger loom so I can make bigger pieces, and I’m already planning on buying an even bigger loom for Christmas. If I’m at home, I am weaving. If I am watching TV, I am weaving. If it is 2 a.m. on a school night, there’s a good chance I am still awake, weaving. Sometimes I find myself eating quickly, just for energy, because I want to get back to weaving. Weaving, weaving, weaving.
What is it about weaving that I love so much? It feels like therapy, like meditation, like medicine for this furiously busy brain of mine. When I weave, I am able to think more clearly than ever before, but there isn’t the pressure to then turn those thoughts into a blog post, or to make a list of all the things I have to do, or to craft responses to the endless parade of emails I get, or to be productive. My hands are being productive and my mind, my mind can just be. It can think about what I’m weaving, or not, it doesn’t matter. The thoughts are slower, easier to catch — that is, if I want to. Like I said, there’s no pressure, no frenzy, no demands. I can witness them and then let them pass, or follow along if the thought is something I’m interested in thinking more about. Those popcorn thoughts still explode too, but they’re more mellow and less of a nuisance. Instead of “SQUIRREL!” it’s “Oh, ‘sup squirrel.”
It’s not perfect, by any means. If I’m watching TV while I weave, sometimes I miss important details and have to go back and rewind, but hey, at least it’s because I got super focused on just how much fringe I wanted to cut as opposed to zoning out on the same damn Candy Crush level that I’ve been on for two weeks now. I’m definitely also sleeping less because I’ll suddenly look up from my loom to realize it’s 1:30 a.m. and I’ve been weaving for four hours, that’s just how much I enjoy it. I’m getting technically better too. I’ve probably made a total of 12 finished pieces (a few of which turned out legitimately MEH, but hey, practice makes perfect), a few as gifts and the rest are hanging on my apartment walls. I encourage visitors to pet the fringe. I’m a selfish weaver. I want to keep each new completed tapestry for myself, but at the rate I’m making them, soon enough my walls will be covered, so I’m going to start selling them and doing commissions.
When I wrote about my depression a few weeks ago, I mentioned that though I have been feeling worse, I’ve felt like I, as a person, am getting better. Weaving has been a big component of that. I feel a level of contentment when I’m weaving that I don’t normally feel. There’s something pure about it. Sitting down at my loom always feels like a reward and having beautiful yarn to create with is enough to put a certain skip in my step. It also feels like mine. As much as I love to write, and writing has been my “hobby” since I was a child, writing has been a job for me for quite a while now, consumed and commented upon by others and I feel so lucky to be able to make my living this way — but having something in my life that isjust for pleasure has made me feel like a more whole person. On my worst depressive days, I still don’t want to do anything but sleep, but in the back of my mind there’s the hope that the contentment and peace I feel while weaving is something that actually lives inside of me, just waiting to come out.
Reprinted with permission from The Frisky. Want more?