Submersed in the culture.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to be submersed in the culture.  You need to order your breakfast, ask where the toilets are, and pay for movie tickets in the native tongue.  Medicine is the same thing.  You can’t dip a toe.  You have to dive in.

closeup

If you’ve never been to nursing school, it’s nothing like college.  This is hard.  You study (yes, even the really smart people who never have to study have to study) like a maniac, then get up at 5 in the morning for rounds.  You take care of actual live human beings and try really hard not to fuck up and hurt them.  You work until you want to cry some days.  You run every time there is a bedpan to empty or a bed to change because you have to prove yourself.  You have to want to succeed and you have to prove it to your instructors and the hospital nursing staff.  You clean up puke without gagging, you do procedures that hurt the patient and you don’t cry.  You suck it up and keep going.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.  Then I remember that drama isn’t going to help me, so I get out my books. 

This piece is called “Waiting Room.”  It is hand embroidery with cotton and linen floss on a scrub smock from the Army hospital where I was born.  This shirt used to be a deep burgundy, but it has seen countless surgeries, lives and death.  This shirt has seen blood and vomit and tears.  It’s been washed too many times to count.  Now I see the blood and the scrubbing and I watch to see how it will change my colors. 

I’m just plain grateful to be a part of medicine.

5 foot 2, eyes of molded plastic

I’ve been a little busy.  I’m in clinicals 3 days a week and working my butt off studying for two tests a week.  I mean I’ve literally been working my butt off.  I’ve lost 48 pounds.  I average over 10,000 steps per shift at the hospital.  My pedometer doesn’t measure moving patients, making beds, and generally shaking in my boots as I try new skills on actual human beings.  Then I come home and run (okay I jog) a few miles. 

I’ve managed to finish these two pieces.  I’ve always wanted to do portraits of Pez Dispensers.  They have a personality all their own.  I was playing with the concept of hero worship when I decided to use repuposed USAF uniforms as backgrounds.  They turned out okay!  I really can’t believe that I found the time to finish them.  They are headed for a show in Chicago this November.  I’ll post more details when I get them. 

In other news, I found out that I have Addison’s Disease.  I’ve probably had it for over 15 years as my body slowly attacked my adrenal glands.  It’s rare and incurable, but very managable.  My body quit making cortisol, the “stress hormone.”  You can’t live without it.    The symptoms are:  fatigue, weakness, dizziness, hyperpigmentation (my armpits turned coppery brown), low blood pressure, hypoglycemia and…depression.  I was weak and sick and exhausted.  Now that I’m taking steroids to replace what my body wasn’t making, I feel so much better.  The medication makes me hungry, but I am exercising so hard that it doesn’t matter.  I’ve also started taking some thyroid hormone.  I’m finally on a level playing field and it’s amazing what I can get done in a day with a functioning endocrine system. 

Life is good.  I wasn’t lazy and dwelling on my depression.  I was really fucking tired.

That said, I had issues.  I still have issues.  I can’t just give up on exploring my emotions because I found a physical reason for my overwhelming fatigue.  I know that a lot of you still have depression that won’t have a “quick fix.”  (It only took 15 years!)  For years and years doctors treated me like my exhaustion was my fault for not going to counseling enough, exercising enough, for eating too much sugar, because I didn’t drink enough water, because I didn’t forgive people fully, because I lived in the past, for feeling sorry for myself, for being too negative, for not wanting to get better, because I’m such a hypochondriac, etc.

I don’t think that anybody should suffer for years because medical staff act like the illness is the patient’s fault.  I was tired of hearing how my fatigue was due to my noncompliance and piss-poor attitude.  I follow doctors’ orders.  I blamed myself.  I struggled.  I sincerely hope that you don’t put up with it, whether your problem is physical or emotional.  Nobody deserves to suffer.  Keep trying.

Papa Badger’s New Stripe

My husband is getting promoted August 1st.  I’m pretty excited about it.  I’ve been getting ready for the ceremony.  We’re also looking at houses.  Our VA loan came through and I have my eye on a 4 bedroom on a corner lot with a fireplace. 

I love Sgt. Walters.

I know that this blog uses a lot of emotions–most of them painful.  I want to make it clear that my life is full of joy.   I’m tired of keeping my happiness a secret because I’m afraid to hurt the feelings of someone who is miserable.  I’ve done that for too long.

So many good things have been happening.  I’m in nursing school.  My husband is getting a brand new stripe on his arms.  We are buying one of three beautiful houses.  I am getting close to seeing the end of 20 years of medical problems.  I’m off Prozac.  I’ve lost 25 lbs since my birthday.  I’m training to run a 5K in November.  I have the most beautiful, smart, and hilarious second grader.  My husband loves me more now than he did when we got married.  I have two of the best dogs on the damn planet.  Life is really good.

Art works.  It’s the best form of therapy in the universe.  I am a whole person.  My past doesn’t hurt.  I embrace my mistakes for making me Alexandra.

Blah, blah, blah…whatever.  I hope you readers are doing well, too!

not good enough

, originally uploaded by beefranck.

I’m nervously awaiting school applications. I’m trying to get into nursing school. If accepted, I’ll be 36 when I start classes. Here is my favorite fear stitched in my favorite font by the lovely and talented Beefranck.

Something about this embroidery makes me smile a little bit. It’s kind of like when I have a headache and my husband tells me it’s probably a tumor. That’s hilarious to me. Maybe it’s actually the opposite of Stuart Smalley.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvgMIerTXl4

Wish me luck!

Another One

Stormin' Norman

I hate this part.  I hate looking at what I’ve made and feeling like a failure.  I hate feeling like I’ve made a mess that I should hide from everyone.  I hate looking at that brown clump on the right side and wondering if David is right, that it looks wrong, that it’s too much brown, that it won’t look right, that it won’t look like a face.

When I was in grade school, I was the type of kid who tried so very hard to get things right, that I’d tear up my paper for the slightest error.   I watch my 7-year-old daughter struggle with pencil and paper the way I did at her age.  I could never make the pretty cursive that pretty girls made, so I didn’t want to try at all.   The leap from child to artist means that I have to live with uncertainty and imperfection–hoping for something more meaningful in the end.

My hand makes imperfect letters and imperfect stitches.  But I know my handwriting from anyone else’s and I love it–just like I love the exact color of my eyes–because it’s mine.  My artwork is marked with my hands, too.  It’s as personal to me as my fingerprints.  My heavy, clumsy hands have been all over it and it’s mine.   It means so much to me, it’s so beautiful, because it’s mine.  A thousand stitchers with a thousand embroidery kits couldn’t make what I made because it’s mine.  It comes from my very personal hands. 

It’s an Alexandra Walters.  I will work on it doggedly.  I will fuss and worry.  I will stare and regret and worry more.  When it is done, it will be fine.  It will be mine and it will be beautiful.

Handsome Devils

Kalashnikov is about 50% done.  I’m pondering my next “ancestor.” 

I appreciate you, dear blog readers.  You are welcome to use my knitting and crochet patterns.  You can copy any garment I sew.  You can use the spinning techniques and the recipes.  These are all crafts, and I love sharing them.  I get a special kind of thrill from seeing my hat pattern on the head of a lovely little girl I’ll never meet in person.  Crafting is sharing.

I don’t appreciate art theives.  Please don’t use my artwork, especially to make money.  My embroidery and embroidered quilts are off limits.  Art is something personal.  It came out of my soul and the labor was painful and emotional.  It’s my intellectual property.  Please don’t copy it.  You are welcome to post any of my content as long as you link back to me and give me full credit.  Don’t steal anyone else’s art, either.

I feel so much better now that we’ve cleared this up.

Bang

hand spun and dyed wool on a Martha Stewart K-Mart tea towel
hand spun and dyed wool on a Martha Stewart K-Mart tea towel
I’ve embroidered the M-9 before.  It’s the gun strapped to my husband’s thigh while he works.  What I mean to do with wool stitches is to soften, blur, conquer, control, and understand. 
 
Side view of texture
All of the floss for this project was hand spun on a spinning wheel and dyed with acid dyes.  I wanted to control the texture and color of each part of this gun. 
 
nose
 
I created this gun from nothing more than cloth and fiber.  I gave it shape and texture.  I have disarmed some of my fear and frustration.
 
always clean your gun
Now I’ll bathe it like a baby and put it to bed.
 

Pretend I blocked this

I sewed a hand grenade for you.
I sewed a hand grenade for you.

I have been a bit lost since I finished my Promise of Pills series.  It didn’t help that we moved across the country to a place I didn’t want to go.  (The Air Force gave us orders to England and cancelled them.  They replaced England with Oklahoma–I cried for 3 days.)  The truth of my life right now is that the military has a tremendous influence on my happiness.  I didn’t enlist, but my job, my children, my depression, my address, my almost-everything is dictated by the US Armed Forces.  My truest art comes from this experience. 

Every time I stitch a military-themed picture, I’m taking back my control.  I’m trying to claim my own honor and dignity for the sacrifices I make.  I don’t get medals for campaigns, but I live my life to help David achieve his.  I do this gladly, but I’m frickin’ ready to sew my own damn badge of honor!

Anyway, please pretend I mounted this on the canvas and that I took a decent picture of it.  I’ve got a lot of stitching to do right now and I can’t wait to share it.  My newest joy is hand spinning my own wool floss. 

hand grenade embroidered with cotton and wool
hand grenade embroidered with cotton and wool

Zoloft

I think I'm done with pills
I think I'm done with pills

My pill demons have been exorcised.  Either that or I’m tired f embroidering pills.  I feel great about what I’ve created.  With this series, I am finally able to call myself an artist without sarcasm and self depreciation.  I am because I do.

For those of you following along at home, here is my artist’s statement. 

The Promise of Pills explores the identity of illness, the promises of drug marketing, and frustration with the current healthcare system in the US.

I use embroidery to mimic the swirling colors and visible brushstrokes of oil painting. I use dozens of colors of cotton, silk, and rayon floss on each image. I spend 30-60 hours stitching every one. The time and labor it takes to create these pieces reiterates the uphill struggle of recovery and the depth of compassion needed to conquer mental illness.

I use my background textiles to comment on my subject matter. The cheerfulness of printed fabrics echo the drugs’ promises of sunny, uncomplicated happiness while standing in sharp contrast to the reality of depression and anxiety. I occasionally use textiles pulled from my daily life–scrub smocks, kitchen linens, bedding, and my daughter’s clothing–to show how much of a person’s life is affected by illness.

I want to bring beauty and individuality to the stern geometry of pills. I want to blur their rigid, clinical lines. With the warmth and softness of fiber, I am giving humanity to medical diagnoses and their chemical solutions.

Doctor’s Orders

I was really honored to get this piece in my inbox.  The artist wishes to remain anonymous.   I absolutely respect my contributors’ privacy.  Anyone can contact me at alexcateye [at] msn [.] com.  I’m always available to talk.  Don’t be afraid to share!

 shhh

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to being assaulted when I was a kid. Things have been under control for a long time, but due to recent stressful events in my life, I’ve been experiencing symptoms again and started seeing a therapist to deal with it.

One of the problems that recurring is a reaction to certain auditory cues. Sometimes when I hear things that were said during the assault, I get anxious or have a flashback, if only for a split second. My therapist found out about my hobby and suggested that I stitch the words that have power over me as a way to get the control back from them. I decided to try to contain a word with stitches. I decided to start with shhh.

I’m not sure if I’m going to continue or not. I feel like it actually makes me think about things more than I really want to.