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Jigsaw Puzzle Therapy

            I finally got my Covid vaccine booster a few weeks ago. I’d been putting it off, first because I didn’t think I qualified, then because it was unclear if I should get one, and then because I was worried about how my body would react to a third shot (Mom had a bad reaction to her booster shot back in September). My plan was to wait for winter break, so that I could rest afterwards and not worry about having to do battle with, I mean teach, my students. But then Omicron came along, and the doctors on TV who’d been questioning the morality of getting third shots in the United States while poorer countries still weren’t getting their first shots suddenly did a one eighty and said that we should go out and get our boosters, yesterday. And, of course, by that time all of the appointments had been taken, by other adults getting boosters and by the kids getting their first and second shots. But then my synagogue magically sent out an email about a booster clinic happening at a local college, and I found an appointment right away, and since the boosters were now half the regular dose, instead of the full dose Mom got in September, the only side effect I experienced was pain in my arm at the site of vaccination for two days.

“Two days without enough scratchies. Harrumph.”

            And yet, once that anxiety was out of the way, I was still anxious. Very anxious. So it wasn’t just Covid, or Omicron, causing my anxiety, it was more than that. At around the same time, I realized that I was not up to thinking about New Year’s resolutions this year, because I’m still struggling with the ones from years past: trying to get my writing on track, working on Intuitive Eating, trying to figure out better ways to deal with my health, etc. I was actually offered a good part time job as a social worker, by someone I really respect, and I couldn’t take it because two full days at work would wipe me out for the next two weeks. It’s become clear to me that I am an even slower turtle than ever, and that that’s where the anxiety is coming from.

            But I can’t fix my health issues all of a sudden, or become someone who makes changes at the speed of light, and I realized that what I still need to work on most is how to accept where I’m at, and respect my own pace, without letting the anxiety overwhelm me.

            One thing that’s been working for me lately is jigsaw puzzle therapy: whenever I feel anxious about all of the things I haven’t done yet, or feel so confused and discombobulated that I can’t even figure out what I’m feeling, I work on a jigsaw puzzle. I like everything about jigsaw puzzles: the sorting, matching the colors and patterns, the image gradually appearing in front of me like magic, the sense of accomplishment, and then the chance to start over from the beginning and do the whole thing again.

           I used to have piles of jigsaw puzzles in the old apartment, because they helped untie the knots that kept me locked in place. I was so thrilled when I was able to give those puzzles away, because I’d found other things that helped even more: like knitting and baking and cooking, and eventually going back to school. But lately, I’ve needed my jigsaw puzzles again. They don’t require a lot of physical effort, and they don’t inspire too much self-criticism; they just activate the analytical and visual parts of my brain and help me slow down my thoughts to a more reasonable pace, so that I can try to deal with them one by one.         

“Hmm. One toy at a time? Interesting idea.”

   And knowing that I have jigsaw puzzle therapy available whenever I need it makes it easier for me to test my boundaries in other ways, with more baking (a Mille Crepe cake that took all day to make and came out sort of Meh), and more outings (HMart, the Korean market, was a mushroom bonanza!), and more essays delving into the past, bit by bit.

            I’m looking forward to a time when I won’t need quite so much Jigsaw puzzle therapy to help me through each day, but until then I’m happy to have something that works for me (and, conveniently, pairs so well with binging on Christmas movies!).

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

69 responses »

  1. I love the place mats (and the living lap warmers)!

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  2. A friend once said she didn’t know why she loved jigsaw puzzles so much. I said without hesitation, “Bringing order out of chaos.” She laughed at my table-top psychology (and I think, the glib way I came out with it), but I think I had a point. I’m happy to hear how the puzzles help you. I hope they continue to help and you find other source of comfort and aid. I may try some jigsaw therapy mysef.

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  3. I’m glad you have something to help ease the anxiety a bit. Jigsaw puzzles are definitely great pastime activities.

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  4. Glad you find jigsaws to be useful. They have become very popular of late.

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  5. Glad to hear you got your booster done. I had mine on Wed and was wiped out Thurs plus also had a sore arm.

    I used to buy loads of second-hand jigsaw puzzles from charity shops to give my mum for Xmas + birthdays but she hasn’t done any for a while now. Because I don’t have room in my flat to do them, I found a couple of free jigsaw apps for my tablet and phone that have ever-changing selections of puzzles – you can change how many pieces they have, if the orientation of individual pieces can be swapped round and even make puzzles out your own images! I find them relaxing to do when travelling, eg on a long coach journey I don’t always feel up to reading the whole way. Happy puzzling! Jeanette

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  6. Finding ways to work through your anxiety is a useful skill. I bake as well as color when I’m anxious. I have also found that instead of making a big resolution in January, I do better to start with something small for a month. Good luck on your journey

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  7. I, too, do jigsaw puzzles (see my blog: https://wp.me/p2HouS-y9) Loved this post!

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  8. I think such repetitive routine activities can be both soothing and absorbing

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  9. Christmas movies and jigsaw puzzles are great for calming. Glad you have both.

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  10. I have always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, and I think you’ve helped me understand why!

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  11. My Beloved Human also loves jigsaw puzzles and got four for Christmas!

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  12. My sister loves jigsaw puzzles. They help her remain “centered”. She has one of the New York skyline in progress now.

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  13. You did well with the jigsas. I never had the patience for those.
    Happy new year for 2022, Rachel. And to your mum and the dogs. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  14. I have never heard them called “therapy” but I have long enjoyed the therapeutic side of doing jigsaw puzzles. I use them as rewards (as in, “as soon as I finish…, I will start a new puzzle”) and love having a stack available. I also share puzzles with my sisters and a few friends, like a lending library.

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  15. Weirdly enough reading/recording a chapter of your book once a monthfor my podcast has been therapeutic for me. I didn’t read it in advance, my I am enjoying the journey.

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  16. Good post Rachel. Glad you got the boost. As to jigsaw therapy, we have used that here as well and this year got a 1,000 piece puzzle from friends?. That is a lot of therapy. Stay well. Allan

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  17. Rachel, good job with the booster. This stuff has not left us yet, sadly. Keith

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  18. We also discovered how jigsaw puzzles can be a balm. Echoing a previous comment, “Order out of chaos” is definitely therapeutic.

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  19. I had to stop doing puzzles because my boys insisted on “helping”. 😂. Do your pups show any interest in the pieces or get jealous when your attention isn’t on them?

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  20. Do yourself a favor, Rachel, and stop making resolutions. I haven’t for years, and nothing bad has happened because of it, LOL!

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  21. Hubby has bought me two jigsaw puzzles to do……… one with 1000 pieces and the other 500 pieces.
    Both will be framed and hung when completed. I find them very therapeutic.

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  22. Oops, hit send by accident! Hope you are enjoying the holidays Rachel. Take care, glad you’ve had your booster, and chicken treats by proxy to Ellie and Cricket ❤

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  23. It’s vexing Rachel, if we had ensured the entire population had been immunised with effective immunisation products, the emergence of lineages like Omicron would be reduced. That said, globally we need strong economies to be maintained otherwise we hasten impoverishment of many struggling economies which depend on the strong ones.
    I had my booster with Pfizer last week after being fully immunised with AZ. The data is clear and I’m grateful the Australian Government has acted for its people (I should declare I work for the Australian Government so my opinion is influenced).

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  24. I like that term Rachel- “Jigsaw Puzzle Therapy.” Right before Christmas I found a set of 10 puzzles ranging from 100 pieces to 500 pieces at a local thrift store. All the picture had a country setting and included a dog. We spent many hours over our holiday visit with my parents sitting and doing these puzzles. I had forgotten how relaxing and satisfying jigsaw puzzles can be. Summer even contributed. She was quick to find any dropped pieces and make it known that she had them in her mouth. Other than some doggie drool they were no worse for the wear.

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  25. The e-NYT Spelling Bee gets my head gathered and mind working.

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  26. Puzzles are absolutely therapy, and a great way to kill time with the in-laws like we did this week. Loved this line: “I used to have piles of jigsaw puzzles in the old apartment, because they helped untie the knots that kept me locked in place.”

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  27. Oy – don’t get me started about anxiety! At least you have found something that helps, which is brilliant.

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  28. Happy New Year, Rachel 😙🌹🥂✨

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  29. I’m definitely with you about jigsaw puzzle therapy!! Happy (hopefully improved) New Year!!

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  30. Zigsaw therapy! – definitely one of the wonders of the world.

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  31. I too love doing jigsaw puzzles. They definitely give me a lot of hours of pleasure.

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  32. Rachel,
    The way I look at it, you are a success because you are finding ways of keeping your anxiety at bay. You may not be a success the way you want to be, but you are working toward it. Jigsaw puzzles are good therapy, for the reasons you cited.

    As one commenter said, jigsaw puzzles are popular again. I used to work at a major retailer, and was surprised at the large display of jigsaw puzzles for adults.

    A cousin of mine keeps a jigsaw puzzle out most of the winter. Anyone who drops by is welcome to add to it. I love the idea of that; it seems so hospitable.

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  33. I just gifted a jigsaw puzzle to someone recently! I hope they enjoy it and see the benefits too. These are making a comeback!

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  34. I build puzzles all the time, two at a time using http://bigpuzzle.net/.
    It helps pass the time away along with my three blogs.

    Reply

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