Healing your mind, one stitch at a time

Kathryn Vercillo, of CrochetConcupiscence.com fame (a delightfully impassioned creative blog) wrote a book published this season called “Crochet Saved My Life.”

book "Crochet Saved My Life"

This book, available in print and digital formats from several retailers including Amazon, was written about how learning to crochet during her near-fatal depression helped her begin healing, which if you’ve ever had a depression that bad you know just how important those first tiny kitten-steps to recovery are.  Whether you knew what the problem was at that point matters not.

Now, I’ve only read the introduction so I can’t speak volumes about its content or of her illness.  But what I can speak expertly on is how nearly impossible it is to be creative when living in mental turmoil.  I’ve lived with waxing-and-waning depression, anxiety disorders, and ever-present OCD since I was a teenager, beginning in roughly 1985.  Most of the time those mental problems are in hibernation mode but they always reappear, often coinciding with periods of what I call Bad Head Days: those are days in which either I’m migraining or the ever-present occipital neuralgia headache is unignorable and untreatable.  All that makes me sound a mess doesn’t it?  Well, those are just the neck-up problems, for this article we’ll ignore all the problems down south.

Anyway, clearly I am familiar with both mental and physical difficulties happening on a regular basis so my interest was piqued when I saw Kathryn’s book.  And seeing as (generalizing here) women often communicate to form connections, I have been thinking about how creating things, or the lack of doing so, has affected my own life, and vice versa.

When one is feeling poorly the creative spark all-but fizzles out. It takes so much energy just to get through what you HAVE to do that there isn’t anything left for anything you WANT to do. Not that you usually care, anyway.

Last summer when my Muse was contemplating tapping me on the shoulder again I began teaching myself to crochet just so I would know how to make a few frilly thingies to add onto things I was sewing. Since that time I’ve graduated from hitting up YouTube for each new stitch I needed to know to patterns earmarked for those with “intermediate” experience to the ability to make up designs of my own. This is the fastest I’ve ever picked up a creative skill. It’s also the second time I tried to learn crochet but here is why the timing was just perfect for learning it last summer:

• My depression, anxiety, and OCD were hovering in the “bad but not terrible” level, better than it had been the previous couple of years, meaning that symptoms were still there but not bad enough that I could only lay on the couch and fret.

• I’d recently won a year-and-a-half long battle with the government over whether I was “sick enough” to receive Disability benefits, and I already have a “button” for people not believing me (when I finally had a day in court in front of a real person who could decide my fate that judge was incredulous that I had been denied to begin with).

• Summers in Texas are brutal, and because both heat and sunlight make me sick I finally figured that because I didn’t have to keep banking hours I could sleep during the day and be awake-and-at-’em at night – when no one else was – so I needed something to occupy my time.

• I wasn’t creatively juicy enough to make things out of thin air, but something was itching at the back of my mind to make something.

So crochet, with its seemingly exact instructions, could tell me step by step how to make something without my needing to flex a creative muscle that had all-but atrophied from lack of use.

Careful, there, I've got a mean right hook.

Careful, there, I’ve got a mean right hook.

Hooks, a one-time purchase, and crochet thread, an ongoing one, are both cheap, so it was a creative hobby I could afford on my meager income.

Counting stitches + invisible patterns made by hands twirling and swooping through the air = a very happy activity for one with OCD.

• Many of us with OCD also like repetitive movements and crochet affords many types of repetition.

• The ease of hiding small mistakes and correcting large ones makes crochet less daunting than many other creative skills, and when you feel poorly you want something rather easy to do.

• The ability to combine crochet with other materials, fabric and otherwise, makes a crocheted piece an extraordinarily flexible medium for design.  As in, you can only color things with paints, but you can use crochet as a fabric, as a cord or string, as mesh, for clothing, for accessories, for toys, for housewares, and for art.  And probably for a thousand other things.

It’s easy for a wandering mind to get lost in the movements of the stitches and the feel of the yarn slipping through the fingers the same way a thousand times an hour.

• And the best part: If something is so wrong with you that you, as a naturally creative individual, cannot think up something if your life depended on it (and sometimes you don’t care that you can’t, which is even worse), crochet gives you a hundred accomplishments in an inch-sized piece.  In an inch you have the achievement of lots of consistent stitches, of creating a recognizable shape, of making something out of string and thin air, and of having something tangible in front of you – THAT YOU MADE.  Then you notice you start caring again and begin looking for your next project, and soon after that your creative spark turns into an uncontrolled bonfire.  If any if the above hits close to home with you, I urge you to give crochet a try.  For me, the most important part is the process,  that you truly enjoy what you’re doing.  I mean, it’s super fulfilling if the end product is lovely to look at, but if you didn’t enjoy creating it you won’t look at it with the same eyes as if you did.  Process, not just progress.  You can throw away a thousand crocheted flowers because you won’t use them for anything, but you’ll always remember how good you felt making them.

6 thoughts on “Healing your mind, one stitch at a time

  1. Thanks so much for the terrific post!!

    Love this line of your especially: “So crochet, with its seemingly exact instructions, could tell me step by step how to make something without my needing to flex a creative muscle that had all-but atrophied from lack of use.”


    • Thanks so much! I did begin reading your book today, the whole book not just the introduction from the mini-preview provided by Amazon, and am finding that much of what I said above you already said in your own voice, and you included related research which I’m eager to follow up with. Thank you for providing your personal story and for bringing this whole concept to the buffet of my mind, as I’m internally agreeing with everything I’ve read so far; I keep saying “yes!” to myself on most every page.

  2. Do we really like the repetitive movement of crochet? I find it so maddening! But maybe you are right and I just don’t want to admit it…Hiding small mistakes and correcting big ones…YES. I used to run away from patterns after one (or two or three) mistakes! I am learning to settle myself down and figure out the problem. This is so refreshing and leads to your last and “best” point. I feel accomplished when I complete a pattern that I had found so frustrating only minutes earlier! For example, I needed to learn a surface crochet stitch to complete a pattern deemed “easy” by the designer. Instead of leaving that little decorative piece off of the garment I decided to youtube it and figure it out. I did! I completed a surface crochet and feel oh so very accomplished! OCD will not beat me, as long as I have crochet ( and I would never throw away a crocheted flower!

    • Thank you for reading and responding! It might be that you are one of those who don’t like all the repetitive movements, I find them soothing, like listening to a train clackety-clack down a track. Over, under, pull through, over, under, pull through. I’m currently reading about mindfulness in “Crochet Saved My Life” and Kathryn hit it dead on. For me, anyway.

      I totally agree with you, once you have figured out those difficult parts, there’s a certain feeling you get in your mind, like… like where there had been a physical blockage, now water (or air or whatever) can freely flow through, quickly in a surge at first then settling down into a comfortable speed. Congratulations on learning how to crochet on the surface! That’s something I haven’t yet tried. Embroider on top, sure, but not other crochet. Keep working on that OCD and its negative effects WILL ease up.

  3. Pingback: Healing your mind, one stitch at a time « madwhimsy « My Year To Thrive

  4. I do like the way you have presented this issue plus it really does give us a lot of fodder for consideration. However, through what I have experienced, I simply wish when the actual remarks stack on that individuals continue to be on point and in no way embark upon a tirade involving the news of the day. All the same, thank you for this excellent piece and though I can not really go along with the idea in totality, I value the viewpoint.

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