Friday, November 5, 2010

making my own sunshine: a quilt story

Thanks to Amy for hosting the fourth Blogger's Quilt Festival. Here's my quilt story.

I remember one day in my teens lying on the back seat of my parents' car, staring out the window at the bare, grey branches of a tree against a dull grey sky, and knowing deep down in my soul that the world would never be colorful again.

My first semester of college, as the days got shorter, I lost interest in food, and people, knitting and classes. I had less and less energy and stopped doing things one by one until eventually I didn't eat, didn't shower, didn't talk, or get out of bed, or go to class. My friends brought me food in bed, urged me to eat, to read my favorite book, to pet my stuffed monkey, anything. Eventually one of them made me an appointment with Health Services, dragged me out of bed, walked me over, prompted me to speak when the words didn't come. The nurse told me I had mono, drew some blood, and sent me back to bed.

But the blood tests came back negative. They drew more blood, ran more tests, looking for rarer strains of the disease. So they sent me to the school psychiatrist, who, without making eye contact or asking me a single question, told me I had seasonal affective disorder (whatever that was), and started to write me a prescription for Prozac. For the first time in weeks, I felt something: panic. I didn't want Prozac, my family didn't believe in altering one's brain chemistry, and I refused point-blank to take drugs. The psychiatrist looked up at me for the first time since I'd entered his office.

Reluctantly, the psychiatrist told me he had a colleague who could tell me about an arcane treatment involving a "light box." Clearly, he thought this was a ridiculous idea and that his colleague was outdated and out of her mind, but I went home with a loaner full-spectrum lamp that looked like had come straight out of the 70s.
I sat with that light box, day after day, and my energy came back, I came back to life, and when the light was on, other people were drawn to my room and the feeling of sunshine. I bought my own "happy lamp," and rejoiced the day it came in the mail, and told everyone they could borrow a lamp from Health Services, if they were insistent about wanting one.
Winters in Wisconsin are even more difficult, and as the end of summer approached, I wanted to capture the cheery feeling of summer in cloth. I pulled out bright yellow and blue fabrics, looked online at quilt after quilt and tutorial after tutorial, looking for just the right pattern. I settled on a bento box pattern, which has soothing straight lines but lots of visual interest. I added lots of quilting to give the quilt texture, something to touch and pet during the dark days of winter.

This autumn while as the seasons changed, the fog came down again, and this quilt, which I had loved when I first made it, suddenly looked impossibly garish. My favorite foods became repulsive, their flavor overwhelming. Knitting lost its appeal. I dug out my happy lamp, gritted my teeth, and kept going.

Now every day as I sit under it, my sunshine quilt convinces me to eat, to go to work, to try to keep busy, because it is my promise to myself that the sun will come back again.

Thanks to Cherri of Cherry House Quilts, who shared her story of the gospel of quilting, about how quilting helped bring her back to life. She inspired me to share my story. Her book, City Quilts, is full beautiful quilts and inspiration of the quilty kind.


  1. Ha veramente i colori del cielo e del sole!
    Ciao Domenica

  2. I love your quilt. I have a bento kit with pinks &'s on my list.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I like the idea of a happy lamp..who knew?

  3. Thanks so much for showing the quilt and sharing your story. That can't be an easy thing to live with, but hopefully you've found a way of coping with it.

  4. What a wonderful thing, that you felt you could share your story. Thank you.
    I went through a time much like yours, after my husband's first stroke, and it is so difficult to live through. There is just no desire left at all.
    I'm so glad that you found help.
    My help is in the LORD, but it also took a little chemical therapy for a few months to get me on my way to where I could even seek HIM. God bless you......the quilt is very special and so are YOU !

    By the way....heaven is full of LIGHT !

  5. Thank for sharing your lovely, bright quilt and your story. I have this problem and I'm in "sunny" California. I have to turn on lights in any room that I'm in all day long to keep from sliding into the abyss.

  6. I'm so glad that you found relief with your happy lamp. i have been researching them for myself and my daughter - my psychiatrist has not been helpful. He just wants to give me more drugs. i truly think that this could help us - the winter months are so much worse for both of us.
    Would you be willing to share with us the brand of lamp that you use? I'd soooo appreciate it!

  7. Hi all,
    Thanks so much for your kind comments! I've been looking for info on my happy lamp, and unfortunately have come up empty. The darn thing doesn't have a brand name or any info on it, and I got it 8 or 9 years ago, so I just don't remember where I got it.

    Just be sure to find a full-spectrum lamp, and look for a design that will make it easy for you to sit very close to it; they usually recommend that your eyes be within a foot of the lamp, and ideally that you use it for at least 30 minutes every morning, so finding a lamp that will fit wherever you eat breakfast (or otherwise fits into your morning routine) is important.

    I do hope that helps a little. Good luck, and I'll be sending sunny thoughts your way!