health

Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based writer and crafter. She is the blogger behind Crochet Concupiscence and has recently written and self published Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet.

There I am … a doubled-over heap of empty sobs balled up onto the bathroom floor, rocking back and forth trying to calm away the palpitating pain. My mind keeps racing around and around, exploring the tempting (but frightening) options for suicide. I could take some pills, I could slice my wrists … but I don’t really want to die. I just want to end the constant pain of living. I pull myself to my knees, then to my feet. I make my way back to my bedroom, crumple down onto the bed, and reach for a shiny G-size crochet hook. With hook in one hand, and a ball of soft merino wool in the other, I pull loop through loop until the thoughts of dying fade into the background and become less and less of an option.

Fast forward to January 2011. I have, more or less, survived a depression that had lasted for more than fifteen years. There are a lot of reasons for this, including a good therapist and the right medication, but I also know that crochet played its important part. The meditative qualities of the craft allowed me to relax when anxiety threatened to push me over the edge. The tangible act of making something from nothing allowed me to begin to believe once again in the possibility of creating a new life for myself in the years to come. The beauty of the things I made gave me a reason to feel a bit of self-esteem in a time when depression had made me feel worthless. I was healing, and I was ready to start something new, so at the beginning of that year I launched my crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence.

Through Crochet Concupiscence I explored, and continue to explore, all aspects of crochet. I profile crochet artists working in the streets and in the galleries. I review crochet books, discuss new types of yarn, interview crochet designers and find as much crochet news as possible. But the one topic that kept resonating with me and wanting more attention was the topic of crochet and health. I knew deep inside me that crochet had helped me heal and I sensed that I was not alone. I had a story to tell and I wanted to hear the stories others had to share, so I started opening up.

Research

By the summer of 2011 I had decided that I wanted to write a book about the topic. I began drafting the first chapter, about my own battle with depression and how crochet had come to help. I put out a few calls for stories on my blog and received an amazing response. Women I’d never heard from before came out of the woodwork to tell me the most personal and intimate details of their health problems. Liza told me how she struggled with the anxiety of intermittent blindness from an undiagnosed medical condition. Fran told me of the difficulty of trying to cope with PTSD after a traumatic, violent rape. Aurore explained how she had battled with hallucinations her entire life and had a serious break with reality not that long ago.

I used the stories that these women told me to guide my research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. It helped me to create an outline for the topics that I wanted to cover in the book, topics related to the way that crochet (and crafting in general) helps people heal from both physical and mental illness. I knew that it was important for me to share the stories these women had trusted me with in addition to sharing my own so I shaped the book in such a way that I was able to include each individual story.

I continued with my research. I read about the history of art therapy and occupational therapy. I explored studies that have been done into the benefits of crafting. I looked at the books that exist on why people are drifting more and more towards a handmade lifestyle in the 21st century. And I continued to ask people to share their stories with me. The result of all of this is my book Crochet Saved My Life.

Self publishing

I chose to self-publish this book for a number of reasons, but ultimately because I believe that self-publishing is often the right choice in today’s world and is certainly the right choice for me. I like the option of retaining creative control, which allows me to tell my story and the stories of these other women in the way that is best for me. I utilized many different resources and collaborated with some great people. I’m sure that there are little things here and there that make it obvious that it’s a self-published work instead of a work from a big publishing house but I’m okay with that. In the end, as professional as I try to be, I’m very much a member of the DIY movement who got her literary start publishing in ‘zines that got sent to pen pals via snail mail!

Although this book is about crochet, and my own story is about depression, I believe that it will appeal to a wide variety of crafters who are dealing with a diverse array of illnesses. Crafting heals us. Somewhere inside, I think we all know that, and that is why we are driven to do it.

Photography by Julie Michelle Photography.

 

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Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Heidi writes the mostly crafty blog, Speckless, and sells crochet and embroidery patterns in her Etsy shop of the same name. Heidi lives, loves, and makes in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her happy little family: boyfriend Nicky and a little orange cat named Penny.

Crafting is My Lifeboat

Becoming unemployed is devastating in many ways, but most profoundly, it is emotionally damaging. Each day that passes brings more fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and loss of self-worth and confidence. But this isn’t a sob story. This is a story about how creativity helped me weather the storm and how it made me come out the other side a better person.

The first few days after I was laid-off were kind of blurry. I was in shock. I think I slumped on the couch watching-but-not-really-watching daytime TV. Then I decided to get busy . . . busy being creative. Busy making. I can honestly say that craft and creativity helped me stay sane during this very trying time and shaped my outlook on life by giving me a sense of control in the face of uncertainty.

The first thing I had to get control of was my schedule. No more TV after my morning job searches. Instead, I lined up creative projects to accomplish and check off a list – macrame, sewing, paper crafts, jewelry-making, wood-working, crochet . . . you name it, I probably tried it. Crafting helped structure my days, kept me busy, and gave me a sense of normalcy. In turn, this structure lent a sense of purpose. I was occupied, working hard, and learning. At the end of the day, I had something physical to show for my time, and it felt good.

As I’m sure some of you know, being jobless and struggling to find employment can really strike a death-blow to one’s self-esteem. My self-imposed craft adventure not only gave me control of my days, but it also helped keep my self-worth ignited. I was reading every craft book I could get my hands on, scouring blogs, and flexing my creative muscles as hard as I could. Every day I felt mentally stronger – learning, growing, gaining experience, and expanding my skill-set.

Staying focused on creativity was helpful. Having a sense of self-worth was great. Still, there were really bad days – really awful discouraging days. And this is where craft helped the most. Being absorbed in making something – anything – was one thing that really transported my mind elsewhere. Crafting can be a very soothing, almost meditative experience, and this is invaluable for anyone struggling through a hard time.

I don’t want to say that craft saved my life, but it definitely kept me afloat when I felt like everything around me was sinking. Looking back, I see now that this experience shaped my life profoundly for the better. I learned an encyclopedias-worth of craft and creative knowledge, I found my niche in pattern-making, and I started my blog – a life-changer in itself!

Photos are a small sampling of projects I tried during my unemployment:

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Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Leisl, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, can be found blogging at jorth. Check out her stories on sewing, cooking, green living and knitting — go for the craft, and stay for the laughs!

I have always been a crafter. Ever since I was a little girl I was always happiest with busy hands, creating away. You name it I tried it – sewing, knitting, embroidery, paper making, jewellery making – life was good when I was creating! I used to spend many happy hours dreaming of an adult life filled with the joy of making things, and there were always the bright smiling faces of my children in these day dreams.

You can imagine my delight, therefore, when I found out that I was pregnant in the spring of 2003. And with a little girl, to boot! I couldn’t wait to meet my new buddy, and spent many happy hours making things to welcome our daughter into the world, from her cot sheets to soft knitted toys.

So the plan was to go into labour, head to the hospital, push for a bit and then bring home our lovely daughter, and then after a suitable amount of time start planning for the next one. Oh, and live happily ever after. That’s everybody’s plan, right? Unfortunately for us, though, the script was altered at the last minute. Unbeknownst to myself, my husband or the hospital staff, I was suffering from a condition called placenta accreta. Wikipedia defines it as a severe obstetric complication, and they sure didn’t get that wrong. Basically, it means that the placenta becomes embedded in the uterine wall. Nobody realised that this was the case for me, and when the placenta was removed after birthing my daughter, a huge piece of the uterine wall came with it. Uh oh.

I’ll spare you all the gory details (and trust me, there are plenty) but the short story is that I nearly bled to death, and the only thing that saved me was emergency surgery for 5 hours, culminating in a post-partum hysterectomy. Oh, and 19 blood transfusions. So much for my visions of a nice relaxed birth, with the pop of a champagne bottle afterwards. Physically and emotionally I was a mess, and had a very long road of recovery ahead, plus a new born baby to contend with.

My body slowly mended, but my mind took a bit longer. There was so much to process – the trauma of what I had been through, the constant thought that only by the grace of God I was there to watch my daughter grow up, the grieving for the family of 5 children that we had hoped for but would now never have, and the vulnerability that comes with the knowledge that your safe little world can crumble in an instant.

That, for me, was the hardest thing to deal with – knowing that I had so little control over what might happen. Life could change in an instant, and that first-hand experience left me feeling like I had no control over anything. I put on a brave face, and slapped on a smile and said I was fine whenever anybody asked, but it was a pretty rough time – one that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.

So there I was – wombless, mentally scarred and scared to death by the fragility of life. This was probably the point where most people would have called in an army of psychologists, but I instead turned to craft. Life, I knew, I had very little control over, but a crafting project I did. Every day when my daughter went down for a sleep, I turned to whatever project I had on the go, and worked at it until she woke. And even if I only got to sew a couple of seams, or knit a few rows, the very act of creating on my own terms began to heal me.

The sense of accomplishment I felt whenever I actually finished a project was dizzying. It was almost like a belligerent cry out to the universe: “I am still here! Look at what I made! You can’t take this away from me!”

So stitch by stitch, I got better. Less scared, more confident. I was still alive, and was still capable. The feeling of living in a body that could let me down at any moment began to fade away, and my mind turned instead to looking after my girl the best I could. Soon my favourite things to make were clothes for her. Somehow, just knowing that I could keep her warm in things made by my own two hands made me feel better.

They say that time heals all wounds. It does, in a fashion. Part of me will always be quietly grieving for the children we can no longer have, but it is a small part now – one that fits into the jigsaw of the person I am, rather than overwhelming me as it did in the beginning. And crafting helped me come to that place. It gave me a sense of confidence in myself, and sometimes just the feel of the fabric or yarn was enough to convince me that all was ok in my world, as long as I could sit quietly to make something.

Before I knew it, my daughter – who is the light of my life – was part of my crafting process, whether it was making something for her or just sitting down and making a good old crafty mess together. Soon I started a blog to document these precious memories, and before I knew it I had internet friends, some of which have become wonderful friends in real life. My blog has lead to jobs, to writing, to the finessing of my skills and I have crafting to thank for all of it.

By the way – I did get my happily ever after. It was a different sort from the one I was expecting, but the hard won version is always so much better.

 

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