Creativity is a very broad term that can conjure up some very different imagery, depending on your own experience.
To some it may prompt memories of school projects, messy hands and cardboard masterpieces; others may think of groups held in a village hall populated by Women’s Institute members and oceans of tea.
I have always been an ‘arty’ person, but when my mental health took a sharp downturn following a traumatic incident in 2010, I suddenly struggled to find my artistic side.
Adult colouring books were everywhere, but mindful mandalas and so many other similar pursuits that had proven useful to others simply frustrated me.
Constant negative thoughts swirled internally where others had found peace, the monologue of self criticism making it impossible to concentrate on the project at hand. The structured art or relaxation methods designed to help actually made me feel worse.
That’s where crochet comes in, and while I know it sounds dramatic: crochet saved my life.
That sentiment is not hyperbole, I’ve survived suicide, and resonate with others who have felt that it is the only option. Unknowingly, I was at a critical junction in my mental health and the path I was on fell away sharply into a pit so deep it would possibly never release me.
I was in a very dark place, on yet another waiting list for help and numb to all the things that had previously brought me a ray of sunshine. I had withdrawn from everyone and spent most days flicking through YouTube or crying.
I drifted through weeks of feeling like a burden, trying to cling on to anything that pierced the veil of grey that shrouded my days. Even as I tried to hide my despair, it became increasingly obvious that I was heading down a dangerous road.
Back then, I still believed I could be cured.
I listened when a clinician instructed me to take new medication, to give it a few weeks and I would see improvement. I nodded along when given another leaflet on sleep hygiene or meditation; hoping this would be the thing that would help.
When each new prescription had no effect, or following the steps of grounding didn’t calm my mind, I blamed myself. It was my fault – I wasn’t trying hard enough, not doing it properly. These emotions of worthlessness and inadequacy began a loud chant in my head, led in full voice by my inner critic…
I wasn’t worth saving.
I remember being slumped on the couch, in my ‘comfies’ scrolling through my phone and seeing a picture of a dragon posted by a friend. The dragon was quite detailed, rather than a cutesy style, and had been made from yarn. The post above the photo was full of admiration for the craft, with comments marvelling at the skill on show.
A few clicks later and I had discovered the photo posted actually linked to a pattern for the creature, to my surprise all done in a single crochet stitch. The fact that the anatomy had texture and different parts that were all given form via a single type of stitch really intrigued me. More than that, the idea of not having to learn lots of techniques or digest masses of information made the prospect less daunting.
The crochet I became drawn to was a style called Amigurumi; the word itself is Japanese, and is essentially a type of doll or toy making.
Crochet is nothing new, even though TikTok and Harry Styles may have made it trendy again – the craft itself has enjoyed its place in both decor and fashion over the years.
I knew of crochet and had even tried it years ago, but the technique eluded me and I got fed up with the knots! The lure of a more modern pattern was certainly a big part of trying again, it felt very different to the scary prospect of making a full garment.
I found some fantastic step by step photo tutorials of basic things – including how to hold the hook and yarn!
A week later, pound shop hook and yarn at the ready, I attempted a simple square, and quickly learnt the phrase for undoing your work (frogging in case you were wondering) as it happened a lot…
Tangles, swearing and frustration filled my early crochet journey but I stuck with it, the little picture of the dragon spurring me along. Each time I completed a row I felt so proud, like I’d achieved something on my own.
I made that dragon and sent it to the friend who had wanted one.
I was so pleased, not only had I taught myself a craft but I had made someone else smile with the gift, too.
The repetitive nature of crochet gave me something I didn’t know I needed – a creative framework. By following a written pattern and counting stitches, I gave my brain something to focus on that was a real tangible thing; something that I enjoyed making that another person would also enjoy owning.
All at once being creative didn’t feel pointless or frivolous, I didn’t feel guilty for starting another hobby or making items just to sit and gather dust.
That Christmas I made everyone something, which gave me purpose during a difficult season and also meant no hectic shopping trips.
Blankets, scarves, dream catchers, cardigans, dolls, you name it – I’ve probably crocheted it (trust me there is a pattern for everything), and I am still finding inspiration for new types of technique all the time.
That was six or so years ago now, and while I’m still on my wellbeing path and engaged in traditional mental health services (including daily medication), crochet has been a constant source of creative focus that sits alongside my therapy practice.
I found what worked for me – my respite.
The counting and sensory elements help my noisy mind to quiet while I crochet, for others it’s painting or gardening.
Crochet is part of my wellbeing toolkit now, I use it to quiet my busy mind and find moments of calm while losing myself in the reassuring rhythm of stitching.
I think the best thing about it for me though is the tactile nature of creating something soft, the sensation of yarn passing over skin and the comfort of touching a brand new piece of fabric that I’ve created. It’s bliss.
I’ve found my happy place, where’s yours?
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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