Fall down 7 times, get up 8…

I am a work at home artist. A couple of decades ago I became “permanently disabled” by the government guidelines after years of working through crippling anxiety and a rare neurological disorder that causes extreme head and eye pain multiple times a day. At the time I felt like life was over for me and I became extraordinarily depressed and rarely left my apartment for the next 3 years. Fast forward a bit, time and less depression led me to taking my creativity to the next level. I had desire to contribute to society as well as take better care of myself, I had been working as an artist for as long as I can remember. I draw and paint and embroider and always have. I am largely self-taught although I did take art and design classes during my years at college when I was young but my degree is in Opticianry.

Not knowing what to do next but knowing I wanted to try to do something outside the home, I answered an ad in the paper to be a private caregiver for the elderly. I was able to work a few hours a week which helped my quality of life on every level. During this time I was learning to tat. I had had one lesson from a woman who belonged to a lace-makers guild and from there I took the basics and began to create my own designs…mostly snowflakes and simple pendant and bracelet patterns.

One night I saw the online platform for artists and the handmade movement, Etsy, as a blurb on the nightly news. I was curious, looked into it, opened a bare bones shop, and sold a bracelet. BOOM…Snappy Tatter was born. That was April 30th of 2009 and I have learned so much since that time. My work has now sold to every continent except Antarctica, of course. And if penguins wore pendants…I may sell there as well. Lol.

Later in 2009, I was in a gallery outside Pittsburgh, PA, and the curator noticed the dragonfly necklace I was wearing. My then husband piped up and told him I had created it. I soon became a best selling artist in the Blue Heron Art Gallery for the next two years. I worked hard to create new patterns from scratch for my Etsy shop and the gallery. I also coordinated the other artists in the gallery for the Director. We had a wonderful enterprise going on until the board that oversaw the gallery decided to disband us and use the building for other purposes.

I was heartbroken. I loved being around the other artists and the activities and fund raisers we had. I began to go to art festivals to sell my work. How I did this, I do not know. The preparation and actually working the festival was incredibly draining. Aside from the 3 days in bed I would spend after the festival was over, I did have heavy lifting help from my then husband. I did shows and festivals for a couple of years. But with divorce and my neurological condition overwhelming me, it has not been an option for me to work a festival for several years.

So what’s a Snappy Tatter to do…back the car up turn the wheel and go another direction! I moved to Northeastern Washington state to live rustically with my now husband in a 600 sq. ft. A-frame cabin on a mountain in the woods. We were surrounded by hundreds of acres of untouched Washington forest that was unbelievably beautiful. We had electricity, one satellite TV station from Canada and a 55 gallon homemade stove for the long, drafty, cold winters. Notice I did not mention running water. That would be because we did not technically have it. Although, Jay, my partner, did rig a garden hose and pump system in a 275 gallon holding tank outside the kitchen window. He drilled a hole in the wall, brought the hose through and voila….I had water that ran on an electric on/off switch for my lovely stainless steel double sink. The work it took to live in Washington where I had to haul fresh spring water daily made me slim down considerably. Life was simple, but it was hard. I got to bathe outside in the sushine in a large rubbermaid tub because I am just that small. Bathing and having to have Jay wash and rinse my hair was probably one of the most amusing things we had to do. My sense of what a “clean house” means had to change with living with a barrel stove. The house would get sooty and always smelled like smoke so no more tatting for me unless I created and finished it outside. Jay purchased digital software and a tablet for me to paint/draw digitally so that artistic part of my self was satisfied. Jay worked to keep wood cut, harvesting the trees on his 4 acres and I worked hard to keep the inside of the cabin clean and dinner ready. It was a very conventional relationship and we both were very happy except I was getting sicker by the day.

Eventually we had to do something. Every day I was going through this cycle of attacks that brought excruciating pain into my face, the back of my head and straight through one eye all on the right side of my head. I have a rare trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia which is fancy for “Cluster Headache”. But Cluster Headache does not give this condition the weight it deserves and that is why people call it “suicide headache”. People have and will kill themselves to escape the non-stop excruciating attacks that involve so much more than pain and feel more like an aneurysm with stroke like symtoms. It hurts worse than broken bones, burns or even childbirth and it’s only saving grace is that it stops before you die and comes back later. I was diagnosed the same year I became disabled after suffering seasonally for years and was put on basic treatment but did not follow up. I lived with CH until the attacks became daily and that was when I moved to Washington. We sought out a new specialist who confirmed my diagnosis and told me…I had changed to an Intractable CH patient. Intractable as in, does not stop. Attacks come all through the day at roughly the same times and are treated with heavy meds and 100% oxygen inhaled at a high rate. It was horrific and became my “new normal”. Lord knows I have adjusted to so much and this was the next thing.

We decided to move off the mountain after 2 years of very satisfying “living off the grid”. We moved back onto the grid here in Idaho where we have a nice half acre and a much larger A-frame home…with running water in the high desert surrounded by 2 mountain ranges with less than a thousand people in our “city”. Lol. By now we got used to the daily 3-4 attacks I would get and always traveled with oxygen and medications. And to get back to my lacework has been made possible because the air is clean and I have less hard work to do during the day.

I suppose I should wrap this up. I am up early this morning and just started writing…too much coffee, maybe, maybe not. I like to get to know the people I buy handmade from and was thinking that my patrons may feel the same. I am now married to Jay, living in sunny Idaho and the clusters are not a daily issue due to new treatments and nerve blocks that are injected around my eye and back of my head. My extreme anxiety doesn’t fail me, though, so I still work through that. One thing that counters my anxiety is my work. Whether I am drawing Mandalas, painting or lace-making…I am cool as a cucumber, so my work serves as a therapy for me. God works like that, I believe. Every bit of the life I have shared has been touched by something greater than me at work.

I may miss taking sunset “spa baths” outside in my Rubbermaid tub but running water in a real home can’t be beat. Me, my husband Jay, the dog, two cats and two little guinea piggies are right where we are supposed to be. I do hope you enjoyed the little snapshot into my life. I gotta get to work now…life is waiting. Bless all of you that took the time to read about my life.

Stay safe and Live, Love, Tat!
Jennifer

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