A couple of years ago, following a long period of extreme financial stress, coupled with the constant fear that accompanied living in an unsafe area, I succumbed to a violent combination of depression and anxiety that required professional help and, eventually, medication.
I used to be very ashamed of this, as if not "having it all together" was somehow my fault, but experienced a painful shift in perspective after a dear friend lost her life to depression-induced suicide. Since then, I resolved to be more open about my own struggles, figuring that it will all be worth it if I can reach even one person with the following message: There is help out there and you deserve to get it! Your life has value! Please don't do something irrevocable.
Although medication and group therapy helped, I was extremely discouraged by the prospect of having to go through life using pills as a crutch. Besides, I was feeling kind of numb. I couldn't cry when I needed to. I couldn't laugh at things that had previously seemed hilarious. Food didn't taste as good as it used to. I had tried to wean myself off of medication, but the results were disastrous — I was in floods of tears daily and just couldn't function.
Later, when the circumstances of my life objectively changed for the better, I decided it was time to try again. I also began to read extensively about depression and anxiety, and the biochemical cycle leading to these conditions. In particular, I was interested in natural ways to boost serotonin, the vital neurotransmitter linked to feeling stable and emotionally healthy. There are different ways to aid these beneficial pathways of brain chemistry, such as a wholesome, healthy diet, sufficient sleep and exercise, hugging your loved ones often and, yes, crafts.
There have been numerous research programs focusing on how traditional crafts such as knitting and crochet help combat anxiety and depression. The soothing, repetitive movements, the sensory pleasure of different textures and colors of yarn, the benign interest of reading a pattern, the sense of accomplishment in creating something with one's own hands, all contribute to increased well-being. Even a person who is too depressed to get out of bed (or someone who is depressed because they physically can't get out of bed!) can pick up a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles and some yarn and work on creating something useful and beautiful. I also highly recommend the book Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo where this idea is extensively discussed.
Crochet and knitting, of course, are not the only crafts that can enhance emotional health. Basket weaving, cross-stitch, embroidery, traditional pottery, etc - any creative activity with rhythmic, repetitive movements would work on the same principle.
I had always crocheted on and off throughout the years, but it was my first time to begin using the craft consciously and consistently as a form of therapy. I focused on patterns that would provide me with plenty of variety to keep my mind occupied on things outside myself, and smooth, soothing stitches that would help me get into the flow.
Naturally, I'm not suggesting that one should just ditch medical treatment and pick up a ball of yarn. It's essential to proceed very, very carefully and take the best possible care of one's mental health, because depression kills. But it is possible to get better and, in many cases, wean off meds and feel like a whole new person.
In my case, I make a point to have plenty of outdoor time daily to work in my garden and hang out with my chickens. Often I combine all my favorite things as I sit under a tree with my crochet in my lap while the chickens scratch in the dirt and my children play all around me. It feels like a little piece heaven!
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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