(This particular post may be triggering to some people with a history of depression, abuse, or self-harm — please proceed with caution.)
My grandmother has been trying to teach me how to crochet for most of my life. I’d always thought it was just a lame thing that old ladies did to pass the time while watching their soap operas, and I’m terribly impatient, anyway, so I never had much success with it. I can’t tell you how many times I heard her wail about not being around forever and that if I didn’t learn, no one would be left to pass it down to the children she assumes I’m going to produce someday like her mother did to her, and her mother’s mother and so on, so forth. Then both crochet and knitting had an explosion of popularity among the crafting community, specifically with people my own age who figured out how to parlay ancient doily patterns into more modern (and often nerdy) areas, and several friends of mine, like the beautiful Tiny Leviathan and award-winning Crystal of /knit, really managed to pique my interest. Without them, I doubt learning to crochet, knit, or otherwise transform yarn into something fancy using nothing but sticks would ever have made it onto my New Year’s Bucket List.
Technically, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now, either.
Fear and depression are, sadly, regular guests in my life. The past few weeks have been slowly adding on layer after overwhelming layer of stress, culminating in a sudden need to face one of my past traumas — admittedly one of the “minor” ones, if there is such a thing as a minor trauma, but still enough to send me into an awful spiral to rock bottom. I spent a whole day shuffling around the bedroom, barely able to drag myself to the computer to check emails. Most of the time I was laying in bed sobbing and thinking of how I should just file for divorce and allow The Husband to go on with his life, maybe find a wife who wouldn’t be so sad all the time.
Then came the terrifying nothingness, the same state I was in all those years ago when I attempted suicide. I’ve tried to think of good ways to describe exactly what that kind of mental state feels like, as it isn’t quite the near-hysterical sadness most people picture it to be, at least not for me. It’s more like lucid dreaming, where nothing seems real and you’re completely convinced that anything you do will be free of any consequence. Despair turns from a tumultuous ocean to still waters. You’re still trapped on that vast, black sea with no end in sight, but you can’t find a reason to scream or flail anymore. It almost feels as if your very existence is running out, like a reel of film nearing the end. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is where the end comes.
I don’t remember exactly what led me to pick up the crochet. One minute I was slumped against The Husband, listening to him ask me if we needed to go to the hospital so I could be put on watch. “I don’t know,” I said, and suddenly I was sitting at my desk with a skein of cheap white yarn and an aluminum crochet hook — I must have asked my mother for them at some point, since these aren’t things I keep in my craft bin. The first of Naztazia’s tutorials for beginner-level crochet was up on the screen and somehow my hands were following along. I counted each chain, each stitch. I kept counting until 3 in the morning, when I had half of a dishcloth finished and a completed TV series on Netflix. The next morning I got up and did it again. I finished the dishcloth, a horribly uneven thing with at least a handful of dropped stitches and haphazard tension towards the beginning. But the rows near the end… hey, they actually looked pretty good.
Everyone who saw it praised me. Several people with crochet experience were surprised at how comparatively well my first project turned out. The Husband held it in his hands for a few seconds, then hugged me tightly and told me he was proud of me. I was caught off-guard by this. Why would he be so proud of something so riddled with mistakes, something I knew for certain I could have done better?
“Because you’re still here,” he explained. “And because you accomplished something.”
I’ve quickly determined that crocheting is an almost instant cure for any awful feelings I may be experiencing. Stitch, stitch, stitch — my hands are too busy to harm myself. My brain is keeping track of what row I’m on and how many I have left to go instead of how hopeless the future is. It’s something I apparently do well, something I can be proud of, something that reminds me that yes, I am capable of things. Being able to touch and squeeze the soft yarn in my hands has a soothing effect, one that brings me back into the here-and-now when I start to drift, something not altogether dissimilar to the grounding therapy I was taught as a way to counter flashbacks from my PTSD. Leaving a project unfinished overnight ensures that I’ll have a purpose, a goal for the next day. Even managing to add a single row is a step closer to accomplishing the whole, which is, in and of itself, an accomplishment. In just a few days I’ve gained new friends from the crochet and knitting communities, all of whom are incredibly welcoming and eager to share tips and tricks, and to encourage me so thoroughly I’m finding it impossible to feel bad when I make a mistake. It’s empowering to know that if I mess up, I can just pull gently and undo a little bit of work. Sure, it means a little extra time spent to complete the project, but seeing a bad stitch corrected to a good one, and knowing that I was the one to improve upon it fills me with indescribable pride.
And maybe part of my newfound love of crochet is due to my grandmother after all. If you asked me to picture her in my head, it’d be with a crochet hook and yarn in her hands. As a small child I was always surrounded blankets, sweaters, hats, even doll clothes that she had painstakingly crocheted for me. Even as an adult, I’ve got at least one fuzzy scarf and a gorgeous Gothic Lolita-style capelet she made for me. My grandmother’s house was always full of crocheted works in progress, and it was also a safe haven for me when things got bad at my house, especially after my parents divorced. I remember running for my life through our backyards with my biological father chasing me down, ready to beat me to a pulp (or worse) for some perceived slight. She heard the gate slam and knew what was happening. The back door was already open when I got there. I blew past her into the room I slept in when I stayed there. I grabbed a baseball bat from the closet and locked the door, eyes clenched shut and tears running down my face, waiting for the door to be kicked down, mentally practicing my swing for the kneecaps. Except the door never opened, not until I was the one to turn the knob. While I was hiding, my biological father had discovered that an extremely overweight five-foot-nothing old Mediterranean woman with two bad knees was a more formidable sparring opponent than any cage fighter out there. I moved in with my grandparents shortly afterwards, but the association between my grandmother’s house and safety had already been chained onto the association between crochet and my grandmother’s house. With every stitch, I feel like I’m back in my room there with the ancient avocado-green shag carpeting, those same four walls that served as my bastion of safety on so many occasions. Nothing and no one can get to me as long as I have the yarn in my hands. I am like my grandmother. I am unstoppable.
I called her yesterday to tell her I’d finally learned to crochet. The only other time I’ve heard her so happy was when I announced my engagement.
There’s still a lot for me to learn. I’ve got a laundry list of projects I want to make, some of which will undoubtedly end up in my still-empty-and-badly-in-need-of-a-new-style Etsy store once I get a few more of the fancy stitches under my belt. But now I know for certain that I’ll be around to practice them.