Mastering self-care through creativity

By Sgt. La'Shawna CustomMarch 3, 2020

Mastering self-care through creativity
Col. Shawn McCammon, the chaplain for 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command, pose with his woodworking pieces at the headquarters building. (Photo Credit: Sgt. LaShawna Custom) VIEW ORIGINAL

People have multiple solutions to identifying an outlet for depression, but having a foundation remains the solution to self-care.

For Col. Shawn McCammon, a native of Southern California and the chaplain for 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command, he found his self-care as a woodworker when he was a young officer in the U.S. Army.

He did not always have a strong foundation. He was considered a passive individual in high school and growing up, McCammon stated that he was naïve and didn't want to have anything to do with the U.S. military.

However, everything that McCammon does and will do aligns with the three basic tenets of his corps: Nurture living, care for the wounded and honor the dead, while still performing self-care.

"If it wasn't for what I believe in prayer and God telling me to give the Army a chance, I probably would have never done it," said McCammon.

He enlisted in the reserves on April 24, 1992 as a Food Service Specialist. As a "94B" from 1992-1996, he was determined to believe in his savior and discover his purpose in the Army.

"For the first couple of years, I hated the Army," said McCammon. "It took a little while for my blood to turn green."

Although he had an interest in woodworking since high school, the spark came after he met his father-in-law. He admired the fine craftsmanship from his father-in-law and they began a mentoring relationship. From there, McCammon became committed to his self-care as he used woodworking to channel the stressors of his job.

When McCammon was a family life chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he gained interest in carving as a way to take his mind off of all the sad stories he was hearing during his time as a counselor.

"Self-care inspired me to woodwork and it's more of a creative outlet," said the introvert. "I started to become depressed and carving broke that depression."

His aspirations derive from making a mistake in a carving and finding a way to make it look intentional as if it was always supposed to be there.

"I used my mind and hands in ways that they weren't accustomed to," the man of God continued. "That's why I still do it. It's an active fighting agent against depression and I make sure it doesn't come back."

The majority of his creations are specially made and given away to someone. McCammon stated that he receives satisfaction by bringing his art to life.

"I like to make signs the most," the Christian said. "The signs are usually scriptures that I have carved out. Sometimes they have pictures."

During McCammon's self-care, he meditates when carving scriptures. When working alone, this allows him to have an outlet for his introversion.

"I have written some great sermons because I have been meditating on a single passage while carving it out for someone," the theologian said. "They are my best sermons because I am not just putting thoughts on a paper then spitting them out later. When I'm done, I'm spending 35- 40 hours meditating on one passage. All kinds of things come to my mind. I get great illustrations and new ways to communicate in a way people understand. It's a good meditation tool and it's good for my spirit."

He likes to work outside when the weather is nice and warm. At times, his wife has to tell him to come inside and take a break.

"I zone into my carvings," said McCammon. "I could spend 4-5 hours in one sitting while I'm carving and it feels like 30 minutes because I'm in a totally different space in my head. I like to be outside to feel the breeze. I'm particularly fond of sawdust blowing away."

He creates unique pieces that have their own characteristics.

"I just jump right into it to see if I could do it," said the artistic man of God. "The beauty of wood is unmatched and that's why I like working with it. I consider myself artistic, it's in my blood."

"I'm not always artistic though," he added. "I have to be in a relaxed non-anxious frame of mind. When I can chill, my artistic side really comes out."

McCammon starts by cutting a border around his workpiece. This creates a good frame for him to begin his art. Sometimes he makes the letters pop out and other times he make them go into the wood.

"Usually I'll draw or use a burner to etch the artwork onto the board," the chaplain said. "It is still a picture. So, I'll take my tools and carve out the picture that I burned into the wood."

The introvert enjoys reflecting on his finished products and its perpetuity.

"Woodworking has its permanence," McCammon continued. "In the end, I could look back and say I did that. There's something that got accomplished and I could see it. It has an award in itself."

Regardless of one's hobby, one must be able to take fear out of the equation and challenge themselves to be the best at their craft or self-care.

"Go for it," said the unique creator. "Get in, get messy and make mistakes. If it's irrecoverable then scrap it and start over. The best teacher for that is doing it."

McCammon is loyal to the advice that his mentor gave him. He continues to grow in his craft as he works with his hands.

"There's so much more that I can learn," the hard worker noted. "I learn as I go. I'm a hobbyist. If you have a good hard day of work and you feel some pain, then you have satisfaction and could say, 'I did that.'"

Whether one identifies themselves as an introvert or extravert, it is important to work hard at whatever one decides to accomplish. It is also vital to rise up and fight pain with self-love, joy and strength.

"I'm a theologian and a lover of the word of God," said the loyal chaplain. "I'm always working, studying and practicing to become a better communicator, preacher and counselor. That way, I am well-read and studied. I am a subject matter expert for chaplains."

Mental health and self-care are important for one's well-being. Having chaplains like McCammon who serve with their heart, mind, strength and their body, allows for greater quality of life for Soldiers and increased readiness and morale.

"Woodworking does not complete me, God completes me," the faithful servant concluded. "Woodworking is just one component. If I had to leave it tomorrow in order to gain more of Christ, I would do it in a heartbeat."