what happened to you?

‘I felt a funeral in my brain’ – the opening to Andrew Solomon’s seminal TED talk and the most powerful description of depression I’ve encountered. Major depressive disorder, clinical depression, endogenous depression and anhedonia are a selection of descriptors which pepper my medical records, all of which fall woefully short of evoking its lived experience. Whilst I appreciate that labelling can be a gateway to support, I am uneasy with the increasing medicalisation of distress. I prefer the trauma focused perspective encouraged by Eleanor Longden, who exhorts that the most important question in psychiatry should not be ‘what’s wrong with you but what happened to you’.  

Andrew’s story of a series of losses, leading to a depression from which he believed there was no recovery, resonates strongly with me. Whenever people share what is real for them, my heart catapults and yet I wrestle with the desire to be authentic and a fear of the consequences. In conversation with Dan Harris, Brene Brown refers to ‘near enemies’ as things that masquerade as virtue but unravel connection. Revealing parts of yourself leaves you open to external feedback and the risk of being met with pity, the near enemy of compassion, so pithily encapsulated in her words ‘I feel sorry for you from over here where that shit does not happen’. 

And yet, I’m convinced of the power of the personal and feel compelled to be the change I want to see. The more I’ve shared, the less alone I’ve felt and the more conscious I’ve become of the divisive power of language. I prefer to talk about emotional, rather than mental health as emotions are something we all experience – not just the mad people over there – and trauma doesn’t always come with a capital T. Pain is an inevitable feature of human existence, no matter how privileged your position and grief the price we pay for loving.

Carolyn Spring is a trainer who specialises in trauma, and I found her online training for working with shame illuminating. Understanding how I need to change my state before working on my story was revelatory and her explanation of the trauma traffic light motivates me to continue engaging in activities which bring me into the green zone. 

This year’s Learning at Work Week theme is ‘create the future’, which can feel like an ambitious task when grappling with the enormity of getting out of bed. But thinking about it, creativity has always played a key role in helping me navigate my emotional landscape. In childhood, I remember eagerly anticipating the next episode of Why Don’t You …? and benefiting from a cessation of looping thoughts, when I put my hands to work.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of ‘looking after future me’ which has become a hook to extricate myself from a dog day standstill. Making things is one way of tending to future me when the present moment feels unmanageable and changing my state when I’m not quite ready to change my story. ‘Expect poison from the standing water’ is one of my favourite quotes and reminds me of the importance of movement when I’m overwhelmed by big feelings. Even the smallest creative act can be a move towards depression’s opposite, which as Andrew Solomon so beautifully asserts, isn’t happiness but vitality. 

why don’t you …? 

make a zine  

In 2 minutes, Austin Kleon demonstrates how to make a zine from a single piece of paper. This Winter I made a self-care zine which I keep on my fridge, as a visual reminder of what brings me back into the green zone.

knit a scarf  

Ravelry is a free website for knitters, crocheters and fibre artists. This simple beginners scarf is free and was one of the first things I made as a novice knitter

crochet a rainbow  

The spice of life blanket is another free pattern on Ravelry. Long before my blanket making days, I downloaded the pattern, just for the amazing visual step by step instructions for each crochet stitch. And recently, when vitality has been lacking, I’ve benefited from adding some colour into my life, one row at a time. 

play the ukelele  

I’ve always wanted to play an instrument in a group but never felt confident or skilled enough. This Winter, I joined Sheffield Ukelele Club with a ukelele and no skills and after just one class could strum my way through a tune. A few months later I’m serenading my disinterested cat, with the ultimate Miley Cyrus breakup anthem. There are ukelele groups a plenty and a plethora of on-line tutors providing free lessons. This 30 Day Uke Challenge is very accessible.  

sew your style  

Back in 2014, frustrated with high street fashion, I determined to learn how to sew and make my own clothes. I started writing this blog to document the process but, in all honesty, I wrote more about my feelings than the actual process of dressmaking. I’m not going to lie; progress was initially slow but improved significantly after attending classes at a local community college.

Madeleine was one of the first garments I made, and wrote about which felt reflective of my own style. Sewing clothes requires effort I haven’t been able to muster for a long while but lately I’ve been making small movements in that direction and with each step, I feel a little more vital. 


a liar and a thief

In 2015, I started a blog to document my sartorial adventures in stitch. I had set myself a target of learning to sew and crafting a handmade wardrobe of my very own. True to form, I embraced the plethora of opportunities afforded by socials and dived into a heady sea of sewcialists, sewalongs and hashtags.

Maude – my dismembered dolls head – graced the Readers’ Makes page of Love Sewing, Issue 22 and by Issue 31, my Kwik Sew meets Victory dungaree dress, gained me an honourable mention as one of their Stitchers of the Year. I even bagged myself a gig writing blog posts for Minerva in exchange for free patterns and fabric. Perhaps the height of my fame was winning #MIYmarch17 with my iteration of Wendy Ward’s Roehamptom culottes. As someone who had been fangirling my way through Wendy’s Beginner’s Guides … this was my moment.

Over time, I began to realise that my true passion wasn’t documenting the making process but exploring the intersection between creativity and mental health. However, the intoxicating lure of social media had begun to shape the pace and direction of my making. My authenticity – the only attribute I’ve ever been sure of – was being threatened by the schism between my real and ideal selves.

I started to question the performative aspect of operating on platforms where visibility relies on productivity. As my creative drive slowed to a standstill and the voice I’d uncovered became mute, it was evident that my sewing blogger honeymoon was well and truly over. Having come to a self-imposed impasse, I decided to burn my bridges, deleted my social media accounts and exited the blogosphere. Wrong doll had left the building.

Four years is a solid stretch. Time to shed what no longer serves, and forge onwards with a new sense of identity and purpose. Having gained footholds with my own mental health, I would support others with wisdom garnered from navigating the depths of distress. But life has a way of unfolding despite your plans and by the end of 2022, a series of losses brought me to standstill from which there was no recovery.

Or so I thought. Because depression is a liar and a thief, narrowing your focus and robbing you of hope. As I’m emerging from a winter cocoon, I know now, more than I’ve ever known, that connection is the life raft which carries you back to vitality. Through my blog and social media, I had the good fortune to connect with so many like minded souls who generously embraced my left of centre offerings. Hoping to do so once again, I’m dipping my toe back into waters I previously rejected. I’ve humbly returned to the dark side, and for those of you who never left, you can find me at the_wrong_doll

the birds are upside down

Merchant & Mills - The Dress Shirt #2

There is something intoxicating about buying crafting paraphernalia- the virgin promise of unchartered and as yet unspoiled territory. But as my sister pointed out to me recently, there is a world of difference between a mind stimulated by the rush of acquisition and the mindfulness of being single pointedly absorbed in an activity. And whilst making things with my hands has had a hugely positive affect on my mental well-being, the syringe model bypasses the huge range of emotions that accompany my creative endeavours.

My aspiration is always impossibly high – to attain the perfection that has previously alluded me. And this desire is my downfall, as I inevitably make mistakes in the process of learning new skills and honing my craft. In retrospect, I can survey the back catalogue of my handmade wardrobe and embrace each item – its flaws mapping my journey from novice to competent seamstress. Time has distanced me from the pain triggered by each imperfection and my attention is forward-focused on the ever elusive prize of a make perfectly executed.

Which brings me to my second attempt at The Dress Shirt from Merchant and Mills. My first iteration is on constant rotation and I was keen for the revisit programme with refined techniques. Due care and attention resulted in a finely executed front pleat and I also took my time easing in the bulk around the bib to good effect. Instead of butchering the finish on the inside with my overlocker, I dug out my pinking shears for the bib edging and the side seams are neatly enclosed French style. It was all going so swimmingly until I focused in a little more closely on that subtle fabric motif and noticed that THE FRICKIN BIRDS ARE UPSIDE DOWN.

You think I would learned by now and ditched this quest for perfection. It’s been almost three years since I started this blog and began to document my adventures in stitch. That’s a serious amount of time to be oscillating on the same emotional rollercoaster.  But some of our behaviours and responses are so hardwired, I’m not sure it’s possible to radically change them in one short lifetime. Outwardly I’ve changed dramatically and shed habitual behaviours that were dampening my sprit. However at my core, my default setting remains the same and I propel myself into most days from a starting block of dis-ease.

I’d love to live in a world where people ask ‘How are you?’ and are open to the whole myriad of responses this question could engender. And where replies other than ‘ok’ are welcomed with curiosity rather than recoil.  If happiness is the end goal then I’m always going to suck at this living lark and I’ve come to appreciate that denying the depths of my feelings is akin to annihilation. But bleeding over everyone I meet isn’t the answer either, so sometimes I think it’s useful to employ a bit of shorthand so we all know the score, without having to plummet the depths.

In the past, I’ve referred to the dial of my emotional compass being set at ‘Father John’ – homage to the gig I couldn’t bring myself to attend for fear of actually having to interact with other humans. I’ve also been quite fond of scoring out of ten, which can serve to distance myself and others from the horrors of actually describing how we feel. The birds are upside down is my newfound euphemism of choice and interestingly wearing this dress throws the whole statement on its head, as it all depends on your perspective.

Don’t get me wrong – the reframe was far from instant and a swift boomerang from the brink is never my style. Emotions linger around me like perfume and there’s no fast forward button to escalate the process. But as I tried the dress on for the hundredth time, I looked down at the birds and began to view them through a different lens – as a metaphor for a life lived out of kilter and a celebration of swimming against the tide. When I shift my vantage point and relieve myself of the pressure to conform, the birds that face me are perfectly aligned.

the divorced garden


The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to my love of words. Of an evening, my mother’s drug of choice was the dictionary and a favourite pursuit opening a page at random and letting her finger fall upon a new discovery. Sharing her enthusiasm, I carried an old shoe polish tin around, waiting for the opportunity to use one of the words nestled within. A daily allowance of 5 words quickly escalated to 10 and whilst I’m sure this pastime did nothing to endear me to my peers, I’m grateful. For these words and an ever-expanding vocabulary, provided an infrastructure on which to hang my wildly oscillating emotions.

On visiting a friend earlier in the year, I was introduced to a descriptor which my childhood self may have struggled to shoehorn into everyday discourse. The ‘divorced garden’ is quite simply a garden which is separated from its house and a concept which set my imagination alight. Whilst walking up a lane to his little plot of wonder, I reflected on an inner conflict which I have only recently been willing to address – a strong streak of hedonistic wilfulness and an increasing desire to feel the ground beneath my feet. I extrapolated that the house was my chaotic mind and the path to its delineated garden, my seemingly never-ending search for solutions to tame it.

I’ve spent decades devouring self-help at a gargantuan pace, whilst reserving the right to press pause whenever the going got tough. Or to be more precise every Friday night, most Saturday nights and the occasional Thursday evening. And my panacea of choice, not my mother’s beloved words but wine ubiquitous wine. And why the hell not – life is bat shit crazy hard and respite with a large glass of Malbec was as good as it got … until it wasn’t. A habitual pattern of self-medication with ‘detoxifying’ forays into yoga and running was keeping me stuck in a perpetual loop of mental boom and bust. I finally worked out that part-time healthy living wasn’t going to cut it for me and I needed to approach wellbeing from a holistic perspective.

Dry January turned into sober 2017 and here’s the moment when I emerge triumphant like a phoenix from the ashes of my former self and tell you how wonderful it’s been. Except I won’t because it hasn’t and it would only make you want to stick pins in my eyes. What I am happy to report, is that not drinking has been surprisingly easy and the health benefits innumerable. Where it gets sticky is sitting with the feelings that lead you to drink in the first place and integrating into a society, in which every milestone and celebration seems intrinsically intertwined with social lubrication.

As the year progressed and my growing pains intensified, I found myself drawing inwards and yearning for warmth and comfort. The craft cottons I embraced at the beginning of my sewing journey were leaving me cold and a gaping hole of slouchwear alternatives revealed itself. I needed saving from the pyjama wearing, middle aged woman I was becoming and I knew just the person for the job – Wendy Ward with her portfolio of everyday clothes and no-nonsense approach to sewing with knits.

The Longely Cardigan is the first pattern I’ve sewn from Wendy’s MIY Collection. I was fortunate to win a pdf and initially my heart sank at the prospect of printing and assembling all those pages. However, the download comes with a full size copy shop pattern which I e-mailed over to Plancopy Online and they swiftly posted back for a song. For the fabric, I wanted something soft and luxurious and I splashed out on a couple of metres of Atelier Brunette Dazzle Night French Terry. There’s been quite some hype about this material, which in my opinion is completely justified. If you are a working woman looking for the comfort of sleepwear deceptively disguised as clothing, look no further.

I cut on a size 88-92cm based on my bust size and utilised a small arsenal of knit know-how to good effect. I used a size 14 ballpoint stretch needle, employed my walking foot at all times and notched the differential feed on my overlocker up to 1.5. Machine basting every seam before overlocking worked a treat, unlike using white Knit N Stable on the neckline which was a notable faux pas. In retrospect, I wish I’d trimmed it down to sit within the seam allowance and I ironed on some black knit interfacing to counteract the unsightliness. In an almost perfectly executed make, this was not my finest sewing hour but it did the job.

The instructions are fantastic for anyone harbouring a fear of knits, with lovely hand drawn diagrams and tips on sewing without an overlocker or any fancy equipment. The only tricksy part I encountered was attaching the hem band and this is purely down to my learning style. Sometimes I can find it hard to understand written instructions independent of the action itself. But all became clear as I walked myself through each step of the hem band sandwich. The italicised instruction ‘Make sure there is no gap between the folded edge + edge of the band’ is key, so it’s well worth taking your time here. The only alteration I made was to shorten the arms which were uber long on me. I took 3.5cm off the doubled over cuff and chopped another 6cm off the sleeve – a whopping 9.5 cm reduction in all.

Overlocking a cuff

When it came to attaching the cuffs I found some nifty instructions which resulted in a finish most pleasing to my eye. I was so enamoured with the technique that I’ve attempted to encapsulate it in a diagram.

Sewing up this Longley was an unadulterated joy and marked a gear change in my sewing trajectory. I faced my fears head on and made a garment befitting of my slouchwear fantasies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say my knit wear game is strong and I am itching to get my hands on Wendy’s long awaited third book – A Beginners Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics. I’ve also treated myself to a cardigan creation workshop at Sew in the City next year. The February date is fully booked but there are still tickets available for the March date if you’ve a yen to stitch under the mindful tutelage of the woman herself.

On discovery, the concept of a divorced garden had me reeling with delight – an escape to transport you from the vicissitudes of the everyday. The harsh reality is that for me, approaching life in this way creates a tension between two compartmentalised ways of living. I realised I would never fully reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, if I continued to cling onto my weekly re-tox cycle. Nearing the end of 2017, I’m thinking where the new year might take me and how to approach wellbeing from an integrated perspective. Having a creative outlet has been vital but sometimes the lure of quick hit can lead me on an acquisitive dance as dizzying as a high street splurge. In sewing as in health, I aspire to keep focused on the long game, making the clothes that I want to wear and creating a capsule wardrobe which reflects the tastes and values of who I’m becoming.