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Figen Murray Creates 'Bears Have Issues Too' Teddy Bears With Mental Illnesses

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Figen Murray believes all adults should own a teddy bear. Murray, 56, a mental health counselor from Manchester, England, is the owner of Imperfect Hearts, an online store which sells knitted teddy bears with mental illnesses.

“Anyone of us can suddenly become unwell with a mental health issue and living with this can be a very lonely and isolating place,” Murray told The Mighty. “People often feel very disconnected from the rest of humanity and are often unable to reach out.  We need to talk about this topic more openly.”

To help people feel less alone, Murray knits bears and gives them elaborate backstories relating to mental illness. Murray’s bears cover a variety of conditions, from Isla, who has anxiety, to Lucy, who has problems with hoarding. The stories for these bears – which are compiled in her book “Bears Have Issues Too” – come from Murray’s professional knowledge as a counselor as well as personal experience and requests from customers.

The decision to craft bears comes from Murray’s own experience of mental illness. After being diagnosed with sudden sensory hearing loss, Murray found it hard to continue practicing as a therapist due to her hearing loss. To cope with the grief and depression she was facing, she began taking antidepressants and running three to four times a week.

Running helped manage her symptoms but after developing pain in her hips, Murray was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and was told by her doctor she would have to stop running. Unable to run and having to limit her therapy practice, Murray felt her depression worsen. It was then, she decided to start crafting.

“I often encourage my clients to tap into their creative side, as creativity can bring calmness and balance in an often chaotic inner world,” Murray said. “Taking my own advice, I purchased a range of floral fabrics and ribbon and began making vintage-style decorations in the shape of hearts. The psychological effects were amazing, and as I continued to craft, I felt as though I had mentally turned a corner.”

At her daughter’s urging, Murray began listing her crafts in a Depop store she named “Imperfect Hearts.” When the store received little interest, she set up a stall at a Christmas craft fair with a friend. Nothing sold then either, until her son tweeted a photo of her stall, sharing his mother’s disappointment that no one seemed interested in her crafts. The tweet quickly made its way around the internet and within days “Imperfect Hearts” was sold out.

Moved by the generosity of her customers, Murray began writing personalized notes to go which each bear which then turned into backstories about the stuffed animals. “Each teddy would be given its own story and tackle a common issue faced by adults, with a look into how that issue can progress over time, and the theory behind dealing with it,” she explained.

While her book doesn’t cover every mental illness, she hasn’t ruled out writing a second book. “Each story is about the fragility of humanity,” Murray said. “I’ve had people approach me saying ‘you did not write about insomniac bears!’ and ‘you did not cover gambling [addiction].’ There are lots of other mental health issues I have not yet covered.”

To learn more about Murray’s bears visit Imperfect Hearts.

Originally published: May 19, 2017
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