As regular readers know, back in February Ben helped me have a revelation.
We’d been in the hospital for over two months with our sweet Felix, who was (and is) battling a life-threatening disease, and the constant grip of anxiety was threatening to suffocate me. Worries about his future spun around my brain like a never-ending merry-go-round. There was absolutely nothing I could do to help my baby. I wanted to run away. I wanted to die.
Instead, I cried. Constantly. In his room. In the cafeteria. In bed. On the phone with my mom.
I was exhausted.
And one day when I was watering my cafeteria pizza with my tears, Ben suggested I take up a hobby to ease my anxiety. Hadn’t I always wanted to learn to knit or crochet?
That suggestion changed everything.
I took a free online crocheting class. Sitting on the cot in Felix’s room, armed with a size-H hook and some cotton yarn from Wal-Mart, I learned how to chain, and then how to single-crochet. My yarn got all twisted up and I didn’t know the top of my piece from the bottom, but before long there was a new piece of tangled cotton fabric dangling from my hook. I had made something! I had made my first swatch of fabric!
I learned a few taller stitches and then how to crochet in the round. I learned how to make a granny square. I learned how to stitch the granny squares together to make a blanket.
I had made a tiny little granny square blanket! Out of yarn!
I started to frequent different yarn shops in the city, getting acquainted with different fibres. I needed new sizes of hooks for different projects. I made a simple cotton bowl and a simple scarf. It felt like magic, creating real objects out of nothing but yarn.
Suddenly, I had something else to think about besides my son’s health and how much I missed my home and my daughter. I sill worried about him almost constantly, and felt pangs when I remembered how distant my old life was. But I had purpose now. Crochet helped me to hang on.
I will always have a tender place in my heart for crochet. It helped me survive the trauma of our stay in the hospital.
I’ve mulled over some of the ways crochet was so therapeutic. Here are a few of them:
It’s kind of like meditating.
Like meditation, different kinds of handiwork like crochet allow you to empty your mind. When you need to concentrate on making even stitches, there’s less room in your brain for worries and ugly mental pictures.
Some people count their breaths to help them meditate. I counted stitches. And when I did that, everything else disappeared for a little while.
It gave me a sense of purpose.
When a loved one is going through illness, there’s often very little you can do at the bedside but wait. I had nothing to do but sit and worry.
After I took up crocheting, I had projects lined up that helped me to feel productive and valuable when I felt otherwise useless and helpless. I could make a cozy blanket for my baby! I could make some storage baskets for my little girl’s treasures back home! Hadn’t I always wanted a black-and-white throw blanket for our living room? Maybe I could start crocheting infinity scarves for my friends!
When I went to bed at night, instead of dwelling uselessly on the scary future (Is the procedure going to work? Is Felix going to be a part of our lives for years to come? How would I explain his death to Lydia if it came to that?), I could think about my projects. What colour scheme did I want for my next blanket? What material should it be made from? How big should it be?
When I woke up every morning, I was eager to get back to my project and finish one more stripe on that blanket or the legs of that little amigurumi creature. When I put Felix back into his crib for a nap, I could cross the room and finish up the last rounds of that bowl and get it ready for felting.
It felt good to finally master a skill I’d always wanted under my belt. I could already cook, sew, and paint; now I felt like if I mastered crochet I could make just about anything.
It gave me a chance to be creative.
Crocheting gave me a chance to utilize the artistic side of my brain, the part that rarely gets a chance to shine when you’re taking care of babies. It was refreshing to think about colour palettes and texture and drape. I would notice colours in wall tiles and be inspired for a patchwork afghan. I would notice the delicate stitches in a woman’s sweater in the elevator and wonder what fiber it was made from and how I could achieve a similar look. I saw potential for inspiration everywhere. I felt like an artist again.
It provided me with a distraction.
I recently watched a TEDx talk about emotional hygiene (Guy Winch). He talks about the unhealthy psychological habit of ruminating — the mental act of replaying upsetting scenes in our minds, over and over again. As he explains, the urge to ruminate seems so important that it can quickly become a habit which eventually jeopardizes our psychological and physical health. However, studies show that even a two-minute distraction is enough to break the urge to ruminate in that moment. Given enough practice, we can break that damaging habit.
I was caught up in a constant, dangerous habit of ruminating at Felix’s bedside. I needed a safe, constructive distraction. In the time it took me to add sixteen stitches to my wool treasure bowl, I was able to break through yet another urge to ruminate, repairing a bit of my psychological health.
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Now, I’m sure there are many different crafts that provide similar therapeutic experiences. Knitting, embroidery, needle-felting, drawing/sketching, and colouring come to mind. If I spend much more time in hospitals or similar environments I hope to spend time learning or developing some of these skills, too.
One advantage of crocheting is that it requires so few materials to begin, making it portable and inexpensive. All you need is yarn and a single hook (and a hook typically costs about $2). I could pop most of my projects in my purse and take them with me if I wanted.
Crocheting uses a combination of creativity, repetitive movements, and problem-solving skills. All of these things kept my mind busy and honed my mental abilities in a productive way.
And there is so much you can make with a few basic skills, from stuffed toys to clothing to housewares. You’re bound to land on a project that excites you. Blankets? Hats? Lace doilies? Dolls? Softies? Dish rags? The possibilities are endless.
I hate that I had to go through this, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to pick up this amazing skill. I will have it now for the rest of my life. Crochet will always have a special place in my heart.
Have you experienced something similar? Have you found some other practice or craft that has helped you through troubling times? Do share!