Like many people in our fast paced, high pressure society I suffer from anxiety and depressions. Stress and conditions such as anxiety and depression affect a vast number of people, with a wide variety of symptoms experienced meaning that each individuals experience is unique and personal to them.
For me personally I started to experience a decline in my mental health after the birth of my eldest. Initially it was thought that I was grieving a personal loss that occurred in the months before falling pregnant and that the process had been delayed, and then amplified, by the birth and all those hormones. In retrospect I was probably suffering from post natal depression, and this is exactly what I was diagnosed with after the birth of my youngest. Although I felt quite well between pregnancies I found that after the second bout of post natal depression I was far more prone to becoming depressed and less able to deal with anxious thoughts.
I’ve found a number of different ways to help with my anxiety, both in terms of my witchcraft and my yarncraft.
Often, particularly when I am feeling depressed, I find it very difficult the raise the energy necessary to practice my magical crafts in the way that I would prefer. Even though this might mean scaling back my activities to mundane and simplified devotions I am able to continue to draw strength from my Goddess and feel the benefit of my believe as I struggle with my black dog and the tangle that is my anxiety.
Yarncraft, particularly crochet, is something that has been a constant support to me through stressful times. I find picking up hook and yarn and loosing myself in a repetitive stitch or pattern (I am particularly fond of the Granny Square/Stitch) is a really positive, and also productive way, to clear my mind and ease my thoughts.
There has been a lot of research in recent years around the positive benefits of arts and crafts to people experiencing poor mental health, although research tend to concentrate on knitting as it is the better known craft. Crochet has exactly the same health and therapeutic values as its better known big sister and is probably easier to a first time yarncrafter to pick up, having fewer needles and stitches to mess around with.
As well as helping with the mobility of the hands, it keeps the brain active and can ward off or slow down the development of dementia. Additionally yarncrafts help with relaxation, ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, help with insomnia and aid the grief process just the name a few.
Kathryn Vercillo has a lot to say on the subject. She is the author of Crochet Saved my Life and regular blogger at Lion Brand Yarns and her personal blog Crochet Concupiscence. I didn’t become aware of her writing until writing this blog, but a lot of what of what she said really resonates with me. From my own experience I know how crochet supports my mental wellbeing and have used crochet to achieve a higher state of mind on more than one occasion.
As well as the book Kathryn has blogged a number of good suggestions on how to incorporate yarncraft into your recovery. I particularly like her suggestion of a sacred space for crafting. Although Kathryn is suggesting a non-religious space, be it a whole room or just a corner, It’s obviously something that appeals to me as a practicing pagan.
The idea that the side table that serves as my work space is also a celebration of crafting as much as my magical altars has spurred me on to spruce it up a bit. I think I will take the time to create something a little more relevant. Maybe an image of the Spindle of Necessity (link here) or Fate oriented.
Colour is also playing an important part in my recovery. Just as Kathryn advises you to choose yarn colours that feel comfortable to you when using crochet as meditation the healing (and magical) properties of colour and coloured light have long been known about. Orange, blue, indigo and violet are considered the most therapeutic colours as they are more relaxing and have positive associations, whereas colours like red and yellow stimulate the mind and energy levels which can be counter productive to someone who experiences anxiety. Decorating the home in a way which promotes emotion, and sitting under natural light boxes with colour fitters can bring colour therapy into the home.
Art is another way of bringing colour into therapy. Joining art classes, as well as knit and natter and other types of yarncraft groups, are a great way of building self-esteem. Learning is a great leveller, especially in specific ability groups and mixed ability groups. If you walk into a beginners class, having never picked up a crochet hook in your life, you can guarantee that everyone else in the room is in the same boat. Joining classes and groups will also allow you to build up your social network over time. Unfortunately I don’t have time for classes at the moment so I have bought myself a mindfulness colouring book (a mandala or geometric pattern book would also serve just as well) and some felt tip pens and I am planning to have some mindfulness sessions with the children where we just sit and think about what we are colouring. A lovely Saturday morning activity.
I think talking about personal experience and sharing what worked for you can help others to feel more confident about sharing their own experience of poor mental health. Its increasingly important that we remain open and able to talking about mental health as the world recoils from the latest airplane crash. Not all the responses have been positive in fact many have been downright inflammatory and mental health organisations are fighting hard to ensure that perspective is kept when talking about mental health. We need to keep talking about how these things affect our lives and how we are able to cope. It might change someones life someday.
This is just my experience, and alternative therapies (of any kind) should never be used in isolation from conventional medicine. What worked for me may not work for you, though that is no reason not to give it a go. Hopefully I’ve given you some inspiration and resources.
If you are struggling with anxious and intrusive thoughts, feel down and depressed, of just generally feel that life’s stresses and strains are overwhelming you and your health is being affected go and speak to a medical professional or get in touch with primary mental health services in your local area.