So last year I undertook my Honours in Creative Writing. Last year my anxiety hit its peak, worse than I’d ever experienced it. Last year I learned how to crochet.
It’s no coincidence these three events happened in that order. It’s a rare occasion where correlation IS causation. After finding myself a wreck of stress and health-related paranoia, I happened to stumble upon a friend who was starting a crochet class on Sunday afternoons. Eager for procrastination and something to do on Sundays other than waste hours on facebook, I went along.
With the crochet hooks I discovered in my mother’s long-abandoned craft stash, and some acrylic yarn Maria sold to me, I learned how to make a granny square. It was a slow start. I took about 20 minutes just get the hang of the movement, to learn how to make a magic circle (one of the easiest starting loops). But soon it clicked, and I was off.
I was instantly enthralled by the methodical pulling of loops through loops, and how it formed a stitch, the necessity of counting, and the speed at which my project began to take shape. I went home and made the 3 other squares. They were all a bit misshapen, and hardly uniform, but they were colourful and they were mine. Some sessions later, I went back. We attached the squares, sewed a lining and a zip, and suddenly a few balls of yarn had become a zip-able case. A pouch. I decided this would be the perfect way to carry the tools of my new hobby.
After that, I went on to Ravelry (a fantastic resource of crochet and knitting patterns) and picked out my next project; a slouch beanie. It required a new stitch, but I quickly learned that YouTube’s secret horde, after cat videos and Disney cover singers, is crafting tutorials. I learned the puff stitch, and spent hours upon hours counting to 7 (the number of loops up need to have on the needle before pulling through). A week or so later, I had a new hat.
Posting my new hobby on social media, my friends were enthusiastic and supportive. Two of them wanted hats too. I made them, happy to simply have more projects to work on, perfecting the stitch as I went, and learning the value of adding and subtracting in shaping. I had to frog one of these hats (the act of pulling out the yarn and undoing your stitches) about 3 times before I got the shape right, but it was worth it in the end. Crochet is more forgiving than knitting, with the stitches generally loose enough to accommodate the occasional hole, but if you screw up your counting early, the whole thing can be thrown off. Luckily, it’s such a fast craft, redoing a couple of rows (or seven) isn’t that big a deal.
With my new hobby, I found a new community. Attending Maria’s craft-afternoons proved just the activity my thesis-fried brain needed after a big week. But the online community was unexpected. Hookers (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) have their own memes, sayings, jokes, and of course, network pages. Crochet Crowd became an early favourite, sharing amazing patterns almost daily. Crochet 101 shares excellent tutorials, from basic stitches to the more complex. I found myself around people who understood my new-found passion for looping yarn for hours on end and spending excessive amounts of money on coloured skeins, just because it’s on sale. In a time when I felt so alone in my studies, I found crochet.
Craft is like that, though. Many people seem to come to these arts out of a need for therapy–not that yarn and needles should take the place of an actual professional–but in my case I found crochet helped me de-stress enough that I didn’t end up needing to book an appointment (which probably says more about how relatively mild my anxiety was in the first place). Studies have already come out on the therapeutic nature of adult colouring books. The act of creating can give you a sense of control, in your otherwise chaotic life. It’s a chance to turn your brain off and focus on something else, something productive. Something that can produce a snazzy new accessory that you can’t get anywhere else.
I’m really glad I found crochet when I did. It’s now become so ingrained in my identity, I’m not quite sure what I did without it. If I’m ever caught out waiting for someone, or bored, I always have a project with me I can pick up (just last week I was crocheting at a bar, I kid you not). It’s an especially great talking point–you’d be surprised just how many people out there are secret hookers.
Ultimately, what ended my anxiety spiral was finishing my thesis. No longer with the stress of this massive assessment, I’ve been able to truly relax (and now just contend with the lesser stress of trying to find a job). But crochet definitely helped me get there. I would never recommend craft in place of professional medical treatment for a serious mental illness, but crochet or knitting or colouring is definitely something you could do in addition to getting real help. Your therapist might even recommend it. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse (or any other sort of apocalypse) you’ll be all set for hats and scarves come winter.