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  • Aubrey Keating

Healing the Past

Ebroidery thread, hoop and scissors

One “bonus” of my ADHD is extreme difficulty completing projects, especially big ones. Diagnosed in my 40s, I have left a long slew of incomplete crafting projects in my wake. For example, I have the start of a blanket I planned to give to my brother when he graduated high school (he turns 40 next week). I have a multitude of cross stitch kits with bits and pieces completed. I have many “hats” I started that more closely resemble coasters. This left me feeling unfocused and inept, and angry with myself for “wasting” so much money.

After a summer project of mass decluttering and mini organization, I finally had all of my projects in one place and could see the buckets of well-meaning crafts that I had begun, worked furiously for a short while (hyperfocus, anyone?), and deserted for a newer, shinier, fresher thing. I realized I hadn’t attempted a craft since my diagnosis and now wondered if I could complete something – ANYTHING!

In the pile of cross stitch kits, I found a dilapidated cutesy kitten kit. I could not for the life of me remember when or where I purchased the thing and it’s so different than my more current attempts of fantasy or wildlife figures. The copyright on the front picture was 1994. Tickles of recollection surfaced as I opened the kit and looked at the directions.

Around that time, I was a twenty year old employed at a major retail chain. I began to have vague memories of joy for a new craft where I could fulfill my love for following explicit directions, a coworker upselling me on gold thread to use in the eyes to provide a visual pop, and pouring over the directions inside for basic cross stitching skills.

Now, 25 years later, I decided to start here, with the very first project that kick started a cross stitching thrill. You see, my ADHD treasures art projects with clear instructions so I can make certain to do it “perfectly”. What creation can become more perfect than a craft where every single stitch is laid out in a clear map?

This thing was a freaking mess. The aida cloth was stained in places, the stitching is inconsistent, and layout is sloppy. My inner perfectionist almost threw out the entire thing, but I stubbornly trudged forward, convinced I would – COULD – complete it.

What transpired was a frustrating, yet somewhat beautiful, process. It began to feel like a cathartic conversation with my twenty year old self, as if the kit was an allegory for my personal growth over the years. I didn’t understand many of the decisions I had made regarding paths I took across the cloth. A multitude of the stitches were in very wrong areas, but would be too difficult and costly to remove, as I had a limited supply of thread.

I fought the strong pull of my perfectionism and continued forward despite a near overwhelming desire to start over and just do the whole thing RIGHT. I had to go “off map” and develop new paths and make executive decisions to correct bad choices I had made in the past. My chosen stitching two and a half decades ago had resulted in a shortage of certain needed colors. Scrubbing at the stains achieved nothing.

As our personal growth develops over decades, we gain new skills and strengthen old ones. We are able to adapt to situations and plans for the future becomes easier. My 45 year-old self has had decades of (sporadic) experience with cross stitching, whereas my younger self was fumbling eagerly forward without the muscle memory, basic skills, or knowledge of my neurodiverse situation.

We carry stains or scars that tell a story of where we have been and what we have experienced; some fade over time while others remain as a constant reminder our past was not boring, easy, or simple. These may be seen as imperfections or may be left on display as part of who we are and where we have been.

I completed the cross stitch kit. Although it’s a silly little cat with a bow, it was truly a project I completed with my much younger self. The process took me back to a time where I was out in the world as a new adult and making the best decisions I could with the knowledge, skills, and tools I had at the time. The directions hadn’t been followed correctly or completely, yet everything still turned out okay.

Completion of the kit also helped me to see the other projects in a different light. That blanket I was making for my brother’s graduation in 1999? I gave it to him for Christmas and changed the descriptor from “blanket” to “scarf”. He loved it and its story and I was able to chalk another point under “complete”, getting a little dopamine boost in the process.

There was forgiveness, understanding, and a whole lot of self care weaved in those kitten stitches, resulting in a higher kindness to myself and my past decisions. It wasn’t completed exactly to plan, but there is more story and experience in its imperfection. I wouldn’t change those odd stitches and cloth stains for all the perfectly executed silly kitten kits in the world.


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