Guest blogger series | Crafting for health

by contributor on September 27, 2011

in Beauty+Health, Features, Guest blog series2 2011

Jodi Anderson grew up in the woods of Wisconsin and her past is very present in everything that she does today. Her greatest love is beauty in the mundane, which isn’t difficult to find, and she keeps track of that in her online journal, Daybook. She refuses to let her struggles with pain and illness define her.

Crafting for health

Crafting really can be a unique and useful tool in achieving a healthy life, despite circumstances beyond our control, while participating in something that is creatively productive.

These are things that, whether you are healthy or not, you may have experienced:

Waiting for the doctor to call with test results, the loss of a loved one, gnawing physical pain, trying to put your life back together after ending a relationship, biding your time while undergoing cancer treatment, feeling ready to explode from the pressures of everyday life, being laid up short- or long-term, or struggling to stay afloat despite depression.

We are united in our ability to feel emotional pain and in our inability to completely avoid disease. Our lives, even when in good health, are certain to contain trying moments, periods of anxiety-inducing waiting and emotional distress, not to mention an ill-timed and unexpected cold or flu. With more serious health issues, mundane tasks can become increasingly difficult and life is likely to include long periods of time when everything seems to be in limbo, maybe waiting for an appointment with the doctor, anticipating an unknown diagnosis, or watching for the earliest signs of healing and recovery. So much of it can not really be avoided, yet we can determine how we handle these times, whether we succumb to them or use them to propel us forward in some other measure.

Meditation and journaling are often recommended in addition to more traditional physical and mental healthcare methods. I find that both can be helpful in a variety of ways. Meditation may lighten our mental load, center our thinking, and provide a sense of peace that can pervade all areas of our life. Writing can bring us focus, a chance to vent our thoughts, a way to feel less burdened, and a map to navigate our way through confounding circumstances.

Living a handmade life through crafting and art can provide many of the same benefits as well as a very personal physical product of our experience. Earlier this year, I found myself particularly housebound. Despite loving the cold and dark hues of winter, I began to crochet a brightly-colored rainbow blanket for my daughter. It seemed like an impossibly long project: hundreds of tiny stitches in every row, nearly two hundred rows to do, thousands of yards of double knit yarn, and a small hook. Making that blanket, in hindsight, feels like one long and slow deep breath. At the time, it kept my mind off of my body. It allowed me to meditate, stitch by stitch. I felt a sense of control and peace. Sometimes I did think about my unknown future while working, but it was more constructive than when I simply fretted with my hands rolled into fists. Of course, the sweet icing on the cake is seeing my young adult daughter tote the blanket, a sort of map-journal of my healing, around the house, wearing it like a robe at times, and sleeping under it nearly every night.

Much handwork is repetition in both a small and a large way, with a great number of seemingly trivial motions producing a grand item, such as with embroidery, knitting, and crochet. A large knit piece may contain hours of meditative stitching, the chance to mindlessly work or, also, an opportunity to focus on something besides the self, like proper technique, tension, and the progress of the piece. This repetitious movement and chance to free the mind is so much like meditation, and some find it easier as negative thoughts can be replaced by intentionally thinking of the work at hand, refocusing the brain.

Craft comes in all forms and negate none of it. Take hold of what brings you joy and peace.

The act of dressing a plate with food can start out as creative experimentation, but develop into a satisfying ritual. Maybe you will again find your passion for fashion by piecing together your wardrobe into new outfits or sewing up a fresh addition. Scrapbooking may seem like merely a way to save photos, yet it can be the story of your journey, which is important to recognize and, perhaps, share. You may wish to keep it private, but that does not lessen its significance. Stick a small sketchbook in your bag, whether you feel that you can draw or not. Use it to see what is around you or use it to get out what is inside of you. Let it help you to pass the time while waiting at the doctor’s office. Other small projects, like knitting, are great for this too.

While you can not control all of what happens in your life and with your body, you can grab hold of yourself and live dynamically despite apparent obstacles. The busywork of creating can help to get you through the small crises, and the satisfaction of a finished piece can lift you during the duration of illness, perhaps even physically comfort you.

Crafting is unlikely to cure a serious illness, yet it may provide a sense of relief or contentment as well as a feeling of accomplishment when even the activities of daily living are difficult to obtain. Cross-stitching may not mend your broken heart, but it could be a healthy way to vent your feelings. (Yarn bombing, anyone?!)

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tez September 27, 2011 at 9:13 am

pass the tissue box please. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. I have been moved, and blessed and encouraged by you, today.
I’m in the midst of treatment for cancer, and am having a rough go of the mental/emotional side of being ill and unable and too tired and too hard on myself with high expectations. Thank you for the reminder to take long slow breaths. Crafting really is the peaceful meditation I need to soften the harsh reality of illness.

2 mrs. g. September 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

“While you can not control all of what happens in your life and with your body, you can grab hold of yourself and live dynamically despite apparent obstacles. The busywork of creating can help to get you through the small crises, and the satisfaction of a finished piece can lift you during the duration of illness, perhaps even physically comfort you.”
This is so true and helpful to remember when you are in the thick of any mental or physical crises. Beautiful post, Jodi. I’m going to print this out and deliver it with pretty yarn to any of my friends who fall ill in the future. Thank you.

3 Jodi Anderson September 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

Oh, Tez. *hugs* Thank you so much for sharing your story, your perspective. I send you all of my best wishes for a peaceful recovery. xo

4 Tez September 28, 2011 at 9:51 am

I clicked over to your blog, Jodi. I can relate to the hypothyroid issue, the muscle pain and cramping and spasms, the extreme fatigue *sometimes I need to stop and sit down after one flight of stairs because all my muscles are burning.* I have no thyroid and cannot be on medication to replace the hormone until the cancer is gone. I just so very much needed your perspective and your post and YOU. Thanks for being willing to be vulnerable and open and share your pain and what you’ve learned to do with it.
Respect.

5 Jodi Anderson September 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

Tez, please feel free to remain in contact, if you’d like. I’d love to get updates on how you’re doing. Just this last weekend, we chatted with a friend who has been through what you have. He’s now on Synthroid (like me) and doing wonderfully. I see the same for you. :)

6 Tez September 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

Thank you.

7 Darla September 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

Such truth contained here and so well written. You didn’t mention photography tho and your own photos are so beautiful. I’m not a photographer but I live with one and I’ve seen first hand how photography can make you stop and really see something, see the beauty in everyday things. It is also something that people experiencing physical and mental pain can lose themselves in.

There is nothing quite like being so involved in your craft that the world slides by.

Darla

8 Lori September 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

This is beautiful. I’ve found myself with piles of ‘to dos’ and few ‘to dones’, and question why I craft. Thank you for defining why I craft. This very much spoke to me and as I neared the end, I found my mind wandering to ask “Who ~is~ this??”.
The pleasure is all mine.

9 Brian September 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

I’m not sure what Yarn bombing is, but it sounds like fun. I like to take recyclables to the collection area and throw the glass into the dumpster.
I was a house painter for a while while, and the repetition can be very meditative. I really enjoyed that. (It’s also nice and quiet up on the porch roof while painting the second story.)

10 Lisa September 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

A absolutely wonderful post Jodi! Thank you.

11 cynthia September 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Lovely post. That ripple blanket is stunning! Where can I find the pattern?

12 Jodi Anderson September 28, 2011 at 8:34 am

Cynthia, here’s where I found the pattern for the Granny Stripe Afghan: http://attic24.typepad.com/weblog/granny-stripe.html

13 Heidi September 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Lovely post. My aunt obsessively crocheted little doily coasters throughout her battle with cancer. We still have droves of them, replacing the very old with new, still to this day.

14 Stacy @ Sweet Sky September 28, 2011 at 12:29 am

In meditation, we talk of practice, and of how practice is not separate from living our lives.

The way you live your life — the way you practice the craft of creating — truly inspires me.

Thank you!

Love,
s

15 By Night September 28, 2011 at 4:43 am

That is such a wonderful message! I am in tears (I cry easily ;-))
I totally recognize myself in your words as I started sewing, crocheting and now knitting 2 years ago because I needed to do with myself after I found out I’ll never be a mother. It all began because I couldn’t see myself in picture anymore and I tried to make my own clothes. Then came accessories, softies, presents for my friends and family… and an online shop, and a couple ‘artists fairs’ every now and then… Selling stuff I made with all my heart and love to total strangers is propably the best thing that ever happen to the ‘useless’ me… every single one of these items is kind of one of my babies ;-)

16 Mary M September 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

Thank you for this marvelous post — just what I need this week, in a really uncanny way — and to the previous commenters as well. I’ve gained a lot from this. I lived in this kind of way at one time and desperately need to return to it. Thank you again.

17 di September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm

This is a fantastic post- such helpful insight into the value of craft and finding some way to keep some creativity in our lives, especially through difficult times. Thanks for sharing this!

18 Matilda September 30, 2011 at 10:50 am

I have survived two depressions through crocheting, a handbag when i was a teenager, and a long long scarf after mi divorce. I really understand your post.

19 Molly October 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm

this piece is fantastic. even after all these years, i think i know you and then i read something like this and think “geez. i didn’t realize, this.. or that..and just wow.” maybe i’m just stunned with your talent (as usual). love u.

20 Pistol October 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm

“Making that blanket, in hindsight, feels like one long and slow deep breath.”

That is so beautiful, and so exactly right. Thank you.

21 Improve Health December 11, 2011 at 1:22 am

Thanks for such a wonderful post. Very inspiring post thanks for the share.

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