Knitting and Mental Health: My Story
“Properly practised, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.” – Elizabeth Zimmermann
This week, 1 in 6 of you will experience a common mental health problem. To be more exact, of the 693 people who currently subscribe to my blog, 115 of you will struggle with your mental health this week. Clearly, mental health problems are way more common than many of us realise and if you aren't personally affected by them, I can guarantee that someone close to you is.
Unfortunately, I'm no stranger to "the black dog" and the assorted mental health issues that can come with it. Thankfully, I have found a couple of coping strategies to help keep it under control - one of those strategies is knitting.
The Therapeutic Benefits of Knitting
Now, if you're taking the time to read this blog, you probably enjoy knitting as much as I do! But did you know that knitting is proven to have therapeutic benefits too?
Recent studies show that people who participate in arts and crafts, such as knitting, feel happier, calmer and more energetic the following day. In fact, in a 2013 survey of 3500 knitters, over 80% of them felt happier after knitting.
Betsan Corkhill has published a book on the therapeutic benefits of knitting and her website, Stitchlinks, features some beautiful stories of people who have found ways to manage their mental health problems through knitting.
One person shared that, "Knitting opens up a secret door, and lets everything flow freely”. For them, knitting was a wonderfully healing practice.
How Knitting Has Helped Me With My Mental Health
Since I was a teenager, I have experienced periods of depression. My time at school was not particularly pleasant and left me with low self-esteem that can still affect me now. It was around this time that I started to knit obsessively!
After a difficult day at school or college, I'd come home and rather than sink into the sadness I was feeling, I knit it all into beautiful garments that I could actually be proud of. It brought passion and enthusiasm to my life. I joined a knitting group where I was the youngest by about 20 years and I found community when I needed it the most.
In my late teens, I started working in the knitting department of a local department store, selling beautiful yarn and teaching people to knit. One of my regulars was a lady with severe mental health problems. She was an in-patient at a nearby psychiatric unit but was allowed to leave to buy yarn. Most Saturdays, she would come to see me and we'd sit at the table and knit together. For her, knitting was a comforting activity and a welcome distraction from the pain she was feeling every day.
Thankfully, the black dog hasn't visited me for quite a while now, however, anxiety is still a part of my daily life. Knitting is one of the best tools I have to keep it under control. When I'm overwhelmed by worry, I simply knit. The repetitive movements feel like meditation, keeping me present in the here and now, rather than the whirlwind of my anxious thoughts.
This is for Ciera
I'm sharing this now because, in late February, I will be releasing a scarf pattern in memory of my lovely friend Ciera. She sadly passed away in November 2016, after a long, brave fight against her own mental health problems.
She would probably tell me not to do this. She was a private person - never one to make a big fuss out of herself. BUT, I so strongly believe that we need to talk more about mental health. And I want to do something special in memory of Ciera, who her friends and family loved so much.
All of the proceeds from pattern sales of the Lovelock scarf will be donated to Harmless, a local charity, chosen by Ciera's family, who support those who struggle with self-harm.
I hope that this scarf pattern will raise a lot of money for Harmless, but I also hope that it will provide some comfort to those who need it. Maybe you will knit it for a friend who is struggling or maybe you will knit it for yourself. Either way, I hope that the process, as well as the finished product, will make you, just a little bit, happier.
Do You Have Your Own Story?
If you feel comfortable enough to share your own story of how knitting has helped you, I'd love to hear it in the comments section below. It feels good to know that we are in this together.