What’s wrong with me?

woman outdoors in chair, overlooking peaceful valley

Kelly loves to create. But she has a full calendar and most of her time is spoken for. Between social commitments, a challenging work schedule, and time spent volunteering, she seldom has the opportunity to wind down and unleash her creative spirit. Then the entire planet went on lockdown and Kelly suddenly found herself with days upon days of free time at home. While Kelly is understandably concerned about the future and about the health of friends, she has considered this time to be a gift. She has never been more creative. Kelly is energized, productive, and is posting new creations on social media daily. 

Then there’s Brenda. Brenda also has a full schedule, normally, and she would love to spend this unexpected free time creating. But for some reason, Brenda’s mojo is in the dumpster. She finds herself binge-watching Netflix and has already mowed through all the Cheetos and ice cream that she was able to score during her last (mask-wearing) grocery run. She wants to create, but somehow it all feels like too much. Brenda gets online and sees all the gorgeous work that Kelly is blissfully creating. She feels guilty. Then she wonders, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so empty and tired?”

What’s wrong with me?

Someday, when the history books write about the Age of the Internet, I think the subtitle will be “What’s wrong with me?” We humans are masters at comparing ourselves to others and now that we have the internet, we have SO many more humans to compare ourselves to. It might be Kelly and her chipper artistic productivity. Or it could be any number of other things we beat ourselves up about as we scroll through other peoples’ carefully presented versions of their realities. Even during an unprecedented and potentially terrifying world pandemic, we still play the game with our insecurity, wondering why we aren’t measuring up. 

Nothing’s wrong with you

The problem isn’t you. Or the pandemic. It’s comparison. Kelly has her own pile of stuff to deal with. (Maybe she has a phobia of Cheetos. Or is staying busy to drown out the fear that her job won’t be there when this is over.) We all have a pile of “stuff” inside our heads and we never know what is going on with anyone else’s pile of “stuff”. It would be most unfair to even guess! Your own personal pile of stuff that is real and it’s important. If it’s also making you feel unmotivated and empty, it can be pretty disheartening. But even though it’s real, it can change and most importantly, it will pass. 

Comparison is not your friend

Comparison is always an insidious enemy. But I’ve noticed that it’s become a significant factor in our interactions during this epidemic. We’re in uncharted territory right now. We’re looking to each other to know what to do. What should we be doing right now? Is there any news? What does this awful situation look like for you? What’s normal? What will the new normal be? We’re desperate for reassurance that everything’s going to be okay and we’re eager for connection to help us ease our way through this unprecedented time. It’s making us all feel a bit uneasy and easily overwhelmed.

But because our normal routines and social interactions are disturbed, we are even more likely to be blindsided by unproductive or even toxic emotional patterns around us. Comparison sneaks its way in as you check in the mirror and wonder, “Has everyone else already rearranged all their closets and am I the only one who hasn’t showered yet?” (No, trust me, we’re all winging it right now. Nothing is “normal”.)

Rest and Renew

First, give yourself permission to take it easy. This pandemic has come at a time when many of us were already feeling a bit overwhelmed and over-compared. Take this time to turn inward and rest. As the old saying goes, “This, too, shall pass.” 

As you start to feel better, you might feel comfortable with journaling, sketching, or doing some simple crafts. Do what feels good. Maybe it will just be freeform stuff at first, with no expectations. Consider doing some coloring books, Zentangles, or maybe even some color mixing and simple canes. (You can always use simple skinner blend canes.)

You’ll start to get the itch to create once again. Give it time. We will all need to process, and in a way, mourn our old reality. The healing properties of your crafts can help lead you through it. But please be careful to avoid comparing yourself to others. And if you’re like Kelly, above, please have patience for the Brendas of the world. They’re having a rough time right now. Be a friend. We’ll get through this!

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13 thoughts on “What’s wrong with me?”

  1. I’ve swung between the two so far. I’ve managed to make or finish a few things. But other days I’ve just been pushing random scrap into my pasta machine or avoiding my crafting area entirely. I had a day last week where I was really upset about something, and in the end, making a simple cane (badly!) helped calm me down a bit.
    Hugs to everyone going through this. We all have different coping mechanisms, and those can change from hour to hour. I hope everyone can remember through the stress, grief and anxiety to be kind to themselves.

  2. I found comfort in reading this.. it reminds me of the saying ‘we can’t compare our insides with someone else’s outsides’ I’ve been alternating between creating all day and then nothing for a week and completely losing interest..I just need to not get down on myself about it…and stay in touch with what I’m feeling to keep moving through more easily. Thanks for this Ginger.

  3. Well said. I’m retired so I should be used to having time on my hands, but with so much volunteering I never seemed to have time to myself. Now that I do, I find I can’t get anything “useful” done. And those messy closets are still waiting for me. Thanks for the article.

  4. Thank you, Ginger. I’ve felt this a lot, and a few friends (from a knitting group) have also discussed it, but for the most part I have believed that everyone is learning new languages, cleaning out closets, and of course, doing lots of crafting. Strange how soothing it is normally to get your hands in clay, but right now that’s not what feels right to me. Maybe tomorrow….

  5. Arlene Birmingham

    Thanks for putting into words what we all wish we could do right now. You are very gifted at that. I still have 5 feet of snow outside, minus zeros and spring is refusing to alleviate or ease our anxiety. If I could get it together, I would take advantage of all this extra studio time and go 24/7 . But …. The What’s Wrong With Me …. is winning right now. So instead of trying to force myself into the …. best piece I have ever done …. I am using this time to simply mix colours. Lots and lots of them. Replicating the hues of dried flowers from my garden, a scarf I bought only for the colour palette, tones from a kleenex box, a toss cushion, anything that has a colour that is eye candy to me, I am trying to duplicate. I have faith this will pass, not soon, but it will and when it does, i am going to have the best collection of knock your socks off colour combinations and the best piece I have ever done is really going to rock. I might be the only one who thinks it is, but who else should I be trying to please. Be safe and stay happy.

  6. Most of the time we humans need alone time to process our days, renew and refresh. At the moment I have too much down time and am also struggling with my creativity. I have tried all of my many crafts (and there are a lot!)….with differing levels of success. I try to remind myself that by staying home, locked up (sorry that should be self isolating😊) with my family I am doing my bit for my fellow humans. While most of us struggle with change and that bright future is a little way off, it is there and we will make it through. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. Be kind to yourself and if you don’t feel that spark today, there’s always tomorrow. 💕

  7. Whow, very incisive Ginger, great article. Have been busy myself going through all my tutorials and playing, still have an untidy home, so be it.

  8. Very helpful. Thanks for your words of wisdom. I am just learning polymer clay and have to super patient and nonjudgmental during this time when everything feels like a risk of failure. I have to reassure myself constantly that I will fail, and it’s okay to fail. That is the learning process. Comparisons are fatal at this stage!

  9. Claire Maunsell

    I am not very productive at the moment, not at all. For me though it has nothing to do with comparisons although that might have been a factor before the pandemic. When it arrived it I felt as though this was a culmination of some epochal and history changing events and that I must watch with respect and listen closely so it doesn’t just pass me by. Since I am living with my children at the moment (20 and 23) I am painfully aware that though I don’t have a ton of time left (although possibly more than I think since my mother lived to 99) they will be living with the consequences of many things that are happening now and in some ways that is more real than anything I am making.

    Perversely, when I do work on things, this larger than life focus is freeing. I don’t really care what other people think, I will make what I want to make to please myself and investigate what I want when I want. (Still interesting in playing and figuring stuff out…lol!). I’m immune compromised, possibly I could die if I got the virus. So while I take care I am fatalistic too. Puts things in their proper perspective….

    And remember this and take it to heart – ‘comparisons are odious’ – or ‘odorous’, as Shakespeare said!

  10. These are the words I needed to hear. I am not working in polymer clay right now. I may be lazy some days, I’m working in the yard, cooking, and cleaning. I’m doing all the stuff I never seem to find time to do when I have polymer clay deadlines. I don’t compare, but I feel guilty that I don’t feel creative right now. Thank you for reminding all of us to give ourselves permission to not worry and that the creative urge will return.

  11. Thanks Ginger! Like many, I am alternating between the two. Although saying that any day is VERY productive would be exaggerating. Any reminders about self care are good ones! We are all dealing with collective and individual grief and a truck load of unknowns but together can grow stronger through it.

  12. I bookmarked this specific article, and I keep coming back to it like an old friend whose needed advice and guidance is still relevant beyond measure. Thank you again and again for the sage advice. I suspect, like a well-read page in a well-loved book, I will reach for this bookmark again and again when I need to hear “There’s nothing wrong with [you]. … Stop comparing yourself to others. … This too shall pass.”

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Polymer Clay Love is a celebration of the creative people, art, and community of polymer clay. It is curated by Ginger Davis Allman and is a community project from:

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