Stitching for Sanity

Knitting is good for you. No, really, it is I swear! There’s science proving it.

And there we go, end of this post….

Okay, maybe not, I should probably elaborate a bit more. This is one of the more serious posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and it felt like time to get it done.

If you belong to any online knitting group you’ve seen the shared posts with a few bullet points with the benefits to knitting complied from a few recent studies. Even though these posts seem to be limited specifically to knitting, my gut hunch that the benefits spread across multiple crafting genres that require fine movement and concentration, like crochet, cross stitch, embroidery, on and on and on. These benefits have been listed as …

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced depression and anxiety
  • Slowed onset of dementia
  • Distraction from chronic pain
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Reduced loneliness and isolation

Great, right?!?

This is where things get a little more personal. I’ve had my own battle with general anxiety disorder and moderate depression issues since my late high school – early college years, and being a mere 20 years ago, in southern West Virginia, we still didn’t really talk about mental health issues that much. The family doc would occasionally prescribe something to help me sleep or I would be on and off a low dose anti-depressant now and then but little was done beyond that. Almost nothing beyond a script was mentioned, no therapy, no mention of ways to manage stress, just pop a pill, get some sleep, and all will be fine. I even had a doctor tell me once that I would grow out of it, that these issues were normal for most people my age. Instead, it has intensified over the years, but I still manage at a level that leaves me able to do my job, and interact with friends and family on a regular basis with little notice that I may or may not be struggling at times. Is there a day every once in a while where I need to get away from work and people and just breathe? Absolutely. Do I still take medication? Yep. Have I learned to recognize I’m struggling and act accordingly? Yes, with time and maturity. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of us paddling in this same boat. I truly believe that our constant connection to others and the world through technology, social networking and the media we are more anxious and stressed than ever. We’ve made it hard to “unplug” and have the quiet time we need to manage ourselves and our own wellbeing.

Since my own issues began, the world has gotten a little better about addressing mental health issues, but we are still coming up dramatically short on effectively helping those that have them. I’ve seen the medical community fail close friends and even family, time and time again by insisting on medicating them into oblivion with little to no therapy, or education on tools that could help one manage more efficiently with the help of medication, others have coped well with the help of medical intervention. Then there is a fair share of people that thought they could self-medicate through legal or illegal means and do a better job than modern medicine. It’s a multi-faceted debate on mental health treatment and this could be a very long conversation on its own but let’s move on.

I’ve been a crocheter since I was a little kid, and started knitting in my 20s, and would just work on a project here and there to battle boredom or simply because I enjoyed it. I didn’t realize these hobbies could be a therapeutic tool for myself until after the sudden death of my brother in 2014. It was then that I began knitting on an almost daily basis because it helped me clear my mind, and work through the grieving process. Time has helped heal that wound to the extent that it can be, but even with the recent loss of others or at times of high stress, my now casual (because I truly enjoy it) knitting will evolve back into a form of therapy, usually done in the evening to help process the day and how I feel about it. I find myself more stressed at times when I’m too busy to sit down with yarn and needles. For me, yarn work has been as effective if not more so than medication for coping with anxiety, stress, and depression, it’s just a part of how I stay “sane”. It’s an outlet that has the benefit of a finished product at the end. However, it is not the only means of managing my own issues, I still see my doctor on a regular basis to determine medication needs.

Now that all said…this is my experience with knitting as a form of self therapy. Even if all you can do is knit garter stitch or crochet granny squares one after another these acts have value. Am I saying jump off your prescribed treatment by your medical professional, ABSOLUTELY NOT. Crafting is a compliment to your treatment plan whatever that may be.

If you feel like you’ve been struggling with anxiety, depression, or any issue that could be impacting your own wellbeing, I can not more strongly recommend trying a fiber craft as a form of self-therapy, but first, see a medical professional, and then find your local yarn store.

Mitali: When a Project Idea Turns Into a Brain Worm

Did I really need to cast on another project with the handful of unfinished works (some of which are now very late Christmas presents for very understanding people), yeah, I did.  Why? Soul therapy.

I’ve not mentioned it here before but the local knitting community took a real punch in the gut in early November.  Claudia Purgason, owner of Yarn Rhapsody, knitting goddess, wife, mother, and cherished friend passed.  Her cancer returned.  So many of us who knew her could speak for hours about her kindness and generosity.  For me, she was part of my adopted family, and a mentor in so many ways. As far as knitting goes, she pushed me to try harder and harder patterns, learn new skills, and encouraged me to begin teaching.  The attitude of “it’s just yarn” came from her, she taught me how to be fearless when it came to trying something over my head or skill level.  The it’s just yarn philosophy is simple, try it, if a project isn’t working just rip it out and try again, or try something else, don’t get hung up over thinking it.

Claudia and I had a handful of projects where we would start on the same day, sometime at the exact same time and race.  It was just one of the goofy things we would do.  I think there is hope for a competitive speed knitting league.  Sometimes I would win, usually she would, other times we called a draw for one reason or another.  One of the last times we talked about racing it was going to be on a the Mitali Shawl. We had both chosen Berroco Ultra Alpaca and then I went into a very busy summer with work, and then found a house and dived into the home purchase and moving process.  By the time things began to settle, Claudia was beginning to have health issues, the race would never start.  I pushed the pattern to the very back of my mind.

1huugg8mrwa66unqhlqlqgEarlier this month, the knitting community took another hit.  We lost Tom Britton too.  What time I was able to spend with Tom, was spent laughing.  He always had a quick remark or a story that could bring even the grumpiest of people to tears of laughter.  He too was a master knitter, always encouraging, and you could not have met him and not considered him a friend before you left his company.  I wish I had gotten to know him better.

This week, the Mitali Shawl began to haunt me. It kept popping into my mind at the oddest of times.  With so many other projects on needles, half done, I swore I wasn’t going to start anything else.  The yarn came out of the storage bin Monday.  The ball winder made it onto the kitchen table yesterday, the yarn was caked, there was no stopping now, out came the needles and 321 stitches cast on later I started.

Oddly enough, the word Mitali means friend.  Maybe that’s why the pattern began to haunt me.  This one is for the friends lost too soon, to be completed as quickly as I can.  I’m racing myself, my thoughts, and as the yarn flies wishes of hope for all those left behind that called these two friends.