Crochet Saved My Life is filled with nearly two dozen stories from real women who shared how crochet helped them in treating or curing a number of different physical and mental health conditions. I have mentioned these women multiple times. For this morning’s post in my 10-day series of crochet health information, I thought I’d share one of those stories with you. Here is Aurore’s story.
Aurore is a French woman with a diagnosis of chronic hallucinatory psychosis, a condition that is comparable to schizophrenia and is characterized by difficulty maintaining a sense of what is real and what is not. This strong woman uses crochet as one tool to help her maintain a connection to reality as she deals with this condition.
Aurore has had a really tough experience with mental illness. Aurore’s illness first began to really reveal itself to her in 2002 at the end of a two-year mental health decline that ended in her first “burnout.” Like many people with mental illness, she didn’t really know what was going on with her at the time. To complicate matters, she did begin seeing a psychiatrist but the psychiatrist did not give her a specific diagnosis. Aurore explained to me that a common belief among many French psychiatrists, and one that her psychiatrist subscribes to, is that that it is better for patients not to know the label of their diagnosis lest they begin to conform to that label. Aurore was told only that she is considered psychotic.
In 2008, Aurore had what she describes as a serious burnout, and the ramifications of that burnout continue to this day. In 2010, Aurore accidently saw her specific diagnosis on some legal papers that her doctor had to fill out when she applied to gain status as a handicapped worker (allowing her to have a legally protected job and a pension despite her mental illness). It was in 2010 then that she learned that she was diagnosed with “chronic hallucinatory, psychosis, generalized anxiety and acute depression.” She essentially has a form of schizophrenia with related anxiety and depression. Crochet has played a key role in helping her to feel stable and sane despite the disassociation, time loss and hallucinations associated with her condition. Aurore explains:
“Crochet helped me cope with this because it’s something that’s tangible. I wasn’t sure of anything but what I made with my hooks. Because of my hallucinations, I’m also terrified I eventually could not differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, so crochet helps me because I know it’s real. It’s like an anchor into reality, and it’s all the more important to me because it’s something real I’ve made.”
Aurore explained that touching the yarn and feeling the actual physical process of stitching helps to ground her. It also helps her to deal with the anxiety related to her condition; she says, “when I’m anxious, the concrete feeling of the yarn against my fingers is something to focus on.” In addition to being something tangible, crochet has helped Aurore maintain a sense of continuity over time in spite of her condition. She explains:
“Another thing I’m getting better at is placing an event in time. But from 1995 (last date I remember because I passed my Baccalauréat exam that marks the end of high school in this year and I remember seeing the date on my exam papers) until about 2008, I could tell if an event happened in the past, but I couldn’t date it and couldn’t tell if another event was before or after it. It’s as if the past was a big haze. So seeing the stitches actually forming under my fingers helped me restore my sense of continuity.
Crochet also helps Aurore in another way, although she’s not one hundred percent certain that it’s a benefit – more like a useful adaptation for her given her condition. She explains:
“I often have magic thoughts of all kinds. One I often have is: if I finish such crochet project by such date, I will be protected from XXXX. I know it’s not particularly good for me to reinforce this kind of behavior, but I don’t have yet the state of mind where I could cope without thinking like this.”
It can certainly be argued that using crochet to reinforce magical thinking isn’t a good thing. Then again, it could be argued that crochet itself is a harmless, and even healing, craft and that if Aurore is going to experience magical thinking then this could be a relatively safe way of coping with it. Aurore explains that her magical thinking and daydreaming do frighten her, because she’s afraid that she’s going to lose touch with reality altogether, but that “crochet creates a safe place where I can imagine something and make it real without anxiety or harm attached to it”.
Hearing about how beneficial crochet is to Aurore’s health and wellbeing, I was really curious about how she came to crochet in the first place. I wondered if it was something that she had always done. Like many of us, she didn’t do so much crochet until she really reached a crisis point in her life and then she came to rely on it heavily. Here’s her story in her own words:
“It was after my second burnout, in 2008. I was working as a sales assistant in a shop, which initially helped me coping with being confronted with other people but, as time went by, I felt more and more anxious when there were crowds. I coped because my coworkers were like a family to me, very strong women who helped me a lot. But the direction changed and they were all fired or they resigned.
The new team was more neutral at first, but then became more and more hostile when faced with my difficulties, saying things like “Aurore only weeps when there’s too much work” and belittling me because I’m slow and need to check several times what I’m doing to be sure I’m actually doing it and not imagining it. I was trying to do my best and was belittled for it. That’s when I really began to rely on crochet, initially because it was something I’m good at, and I got praise for it when I showed what I made on my blog, so it helped restore somewhat my confidence.
During the first six months of 2008 (I didn’t work from January of 2008 till September of 2009, if I recall well), I was so obsessed with work that I almost constantly hallucinated the music that was played in the shop during the holidays (very specific music I couldn’t have heard anywhere else, so I’m sure it was job-related; I heard and heard it again during my anxious moments, along with phantom phones ringing and angry voices berating me). I couldn’t concentrate on anything but obsessively crocheting.
When I’m anxious, I feel like a hollow hull. Crocheting helps fill up the void.
Then I got back to work in September of 2009. Things went well during the holiday season because they needed all the people they could hire. But in the beginning of 2010 they downsized the shop. I couldn’t be fired because I had a very protective, unlimited contract, so they used my health as a pretext, requesting an appointment with the doctor who was legally in charge with the health of the employees of the company and sending him a letter with a big list of my behavioral problems, some true (like pacing obsessively the floor), others untrue (it said in particular that I looked funny at pregnant women, which is not true and really shocked me). The doctor then pronounced me unfit for working with the public. As a result my depression got worse and I had to go in a nursing home to recover. While there, I didn’t finish anything but I obsessively kept on crocheting and unraveling. You see, I was too confused to have a goal and have a definite crochet project but the process of forming the stitches and working with yarn soothed me so I kept crocheting und unraveling my work.”
Since that time, Aurore has been crocheting consistently, because she knows that it is such a healing craft for her. Aurore has a French blog where she writes about all types of different things. I mention this because although she doesn’t write specifically about the health benefits of crafting in her blog, she notes that the style and subject of the posts suggests a lot about her experience with the ups and downs of her mental illness. Aurore explains: “Most of my entries are either posts I made during moments of crisis or more serene posts about crafts and most importantly, crochet. I didn’t link healing and crafts per se, but the juxtaposition of these two types of posts suggests it enough, in my opinion.” You can check out Aurore’s blog at http://cynalune.blogspot.com/.
Photo credit: Julie Michelle Photography