Crochet Helped Me Suvive Trauma

How Crocheting Helped Me Survive Trauma

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.

Crocheting as therapy

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.

crocheted basket

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.

* * *

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!

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  1. For me, it was running. When I went through a difficult time, I was tempted to cope by escaping into an endless Netflix binge. Instead, I laced up my running shoes and dashed out the door. The physical activity was enough to break the cycle of rumination and put me in a better mental place. If running isn’t your thing, I highly recommend yoga for the same purpose.

    Prayers for your little one!

  2. Coriander says

    Sounds like you have a great husband. Way to go Ben! I’m so glad that crocheting turned out to be useful and enjoyable to you at a time when your mind could hardly stop dwelling on the gravity of your child’s situation. I can’t wait to hear about how things are going at home with you, and how Lydia is doing. I hope you’re having a new, better normal.

  3. Coriander says

    I find that cooking, and even cleaning the kitchen really well, to be cathartic and diverting when my mind would dwell on things I would rather it not.

  4. amen! I was a Wool and Sheep festival here in Maryland yesterday and I kept thinking about you as I toured all the different vendors looking at their yarn. There was one particularly adorable vendor that sold felted gnomes like a pattern I’ve had the idea of making you FOREVER but never actually attempted. But I kept wondering if you would keep crocheting now that you’ve moved back home, or if crochet would be that thing you did in the hospital. I like that you pointed out here that its a skill that you now have forever and that you’re so grateful you learned it when you did. Knitting is that thing I learned that helped me stop ruminating on my empty arms, but its grown into so much more for me over the years as well. I’m still excited to see all your creations one day! Do you have a ravelry account?
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  5. I always used to take a crochet project with me when I had to fly. The stitches may have looked awful, but it took my mind off the fear of flying. Plus it was something productive to do during layovers.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s made me realize I should pick this hobby up again. I’ve had precious little creative outlet lately, but plenty of ruminating-worthy stress.

  6. Jackie L. says

    Yes, yes, and amen. There’s something about handicrafts that is comforting to body and soul.

    My husband has been in counseling finally dealing with the sexual abuse he endured in his childhood. Digging up these decade-old wounds has been very difficult for him, and it hurts me to see him in so much pain–like you, I have felt very helpless.

    The only thing that is getting me through is working on embroidery and playing my guitar for at least an hour every day. My faith is very important to me, but I often found myself too upset to pray–and my guitar-playing and embroidery became a kind of prayer, lending words where my broken heart could not. What a healing gift.

    I’m so glad that you found crocheting!!!

  7. Cynthia says

    I did alot of knitting while I was pregnant (just simple squares for a blanket), and I found it helped distract me somewhat from my morning(all-day)-sickness. Plus, like you say, it helped me feel a little more productive when all I could do was lay on the couch all day.
    I LOVE seeing all the things you’ve been creating! :)

  8. I’m a knitter, and I definitely understand how doing something like crochet might help. If you keep it up, and haven’t discovered it already, can be a fun place to browse for new projects.

  9. I’m happy that you found a distraction. I, too, used crocheting as a means to cope. After my toddler son passed away, and I still had a 3 year old to mother, I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. A friend taught me how to simply crochet squares(I didn’t have the internet and couldn’t even concentrate on reading). I made squares while visiting others, playing at the park, sitting passenger in a car etc. I compare it to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and the running-I couldn’t stop. But then one day, I did. I stopped. And never picked it up again. Not that I was healed but I could engage in life again. And it was wonderful. All these years later and 3 more babies birthed, I have fond memories of my stint with crocheting and journey that it brought me on. I just had to comment because I never met another that crocheting was their means to healing. Enjoy this new season at home with your son.

  10. My Oma taught me how to crochet back in 2011 when I had just undergone brainsurgery.
    I couldn´t watch tv (which was what my family prepared for me to do so they had piles and piles of movies for me) and I couldn´t read (which was what I´ve prepared to do) because I was in so much pain that I couldn´t concentrate and the light gave me headaches to the point were I nearly passed out. So when I had gotten out of intensive care and hospital and was at my parents for recovery (since I needed help with everything from walking,dressing to feeding myself for almost two months) my Oma bought a crochetbook and came to “babysit” me. She had brought yarn and a hook from her old craftthings and she first re-taught herself to crochet grannysquares and then she taught me.
    It was my save. I started crocheting every waken hour and it gave me something to do other than to stare at the walls waiting for the next medication,meal or nausea-attack (Morphine is not my friend. At all). I made a small blanket to cover the top of a big floor-pillow and then I moved on to hats,amigurumis,rags…
    It´s 3,5 years since then and I still crochet. And am learning to knit better and better. I´ve made me-size blanket and I´ve been to craftfairs. I started a crochetcharity here in Sweden where we crochet squids to earlyborns/neonatal-babies , the tentacles mimics the umbilical cord which is a great comfort for so small babies and they nestle up to the arms instead of pulling tubes out- which the nurses love, go figure ^^
    I am still in hospital a lot, I got diagnosed with MS 2013 and have treatment to be done, and when I can I bring crocheting up. I got a colouringbook for adults from a friend and I am loving it! My kind of mindfullness :) But crocheting saved my sanity and I am still thanking my Oma for teaching me

  11. I’m so glad that crochet has made such a positive impact on your life, it really is such a therapeutic hobby to have.

  12. You have a nice family, your husband gave you a nice distraction and a creative outlet. I wish you are doing well.
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