This is the final post in the series of blog posts showcasing the contributions that everyone shared for the Mandalas for Marinke remembrance (and depression awareness) project. There have been more than a full year of near daily posts, showcasing an awesome range of beautiful crochet work, stunning color choices, heart-touching stories, insightful thoughts and thoughtful messages. (Updates on the next phases of the project to follow.)
I chose this contribution from Leanne (@nebslady on Instagram) because she so excellently writes about many of the things that this project was meant to be all about when I launched it as the seed of an idea last year. Leanne eloquently talks about depression, about how it feels and how it recurs and how we can learn to be open about it, how doing so helps us lessen its impact. She talks about the power of crochet and the impact of Wink’s life (and death). It seems like the perfect summary to this project. Before we begin, I wanted to mention that Leanne suggests the resource R U OK? for depression sufferers, particularly those in Australia. Now on to her letter.
“I am a 45 year old wife and mum living on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. I am also someone who suffers from depression. My crochet hook is my weapon in my battle against this illness. Stitch by stitch I’m taking back my life.
Thank you so much for creating this project. Not only is it a wonderful way to honor Wink’s memory, it has been a huge help to me as I tried to process my grief and then face up to my own depression – openly.
When I found out I was pregnant at 34 I had just started a fantastic new job, my wonderful husband and I had recently bought a house, we had plans to travel and life was great. So where were the feelings of joy and excitement that were supposed to be washing over me? I didn’t react to the news the way everyone around me seemed to think I should. Right from the start I felt I was falling way below expectation. I experienced severe morning sickness, which lasted the entire nine months, and my new job came to a sudden end. Needless to say, things became very dark for me. After awhile I could not find a single positive thing to focus on. All I felt was fear and resentment about how a baby would change everything … forever. And so depression wormed its way into my life.
After my son was born, this antenatal depression morphed into postnatal depression. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of a newborn and the nagging guilt that I just wasn’t doing a good job of being a wife and a mother. I also struggled with not working for the first time in 17 years. Always pretending to friends that motherhood was great was tiring. Being honest about my feelings was painful and caused others discomfort. Staying at home was just easier. So over the next four years I became a virtual recluse. I left the house to do shopping or for medical appointments and the like but avoided social interactions. I even stopped answering the doorbell and eventually the doorbell stopped ringing. Depression was my company.
Eventually I admitted I needed professional help. I learned that in Australia 10-15% of women who are pregnant suffer from antenatal depression and that 40-50% of them go on to develop postnatal depression. Realizing that I wasn’t the “only one” was incredibly helpful to me. So with the support of my wonderful counselor, an understanding GP, my loving husband and caring family, over a period of time I was able to “reconnect” with the world. We had moved interstate and I made new friends, had a great job and was content for the first time in ages. Then in 2011 I had the first of what would turn out to be five surgical procedures. By the end of 2012, I had spent nearly a year restricted to “bed rest”. Once again I felt unable to contribute to my family in any significant way. I couldn’t even cook a meal. Depression was back for more.
Something was needed to keep my mind active while my body was being forced to rest. I had learned to crochet as an 8 year old, but had never made anything other than traditional granny squares. Over the years I had become really adept at working round after round after round, but I wanted to do something different. With nothing but time on my hands, I began to search online for a pattern – something inspiring enough to make me want to pick up my hook again, but also something simple enough that I could follow as a left hander without too much difficulty.
I hooked a bright striped ripple blanket during the next winter – which wasn’t square! The repetition of the stitches was soothing, feeling the softness of the blanket over my legs was comforting and watching the work grow gave me a sense of productiveness. Here was something I was good at. Through crochet I was able to find some positives and as my blanket grew, so did my confidence that I would heal and once again be able to participate in life. I even found new friends who shared my love of crochet and yarn. The depression worm was squashed.
Blanket complete – I needed another project to keep me going. I discovered A Creative Being while stuck on the couch one afternoon and it was like striking gold. Here was a source of inspiration full of colour and textures and shapes. Here was modern crochet that was so much more than granny squares made with DK acrylic yarn. WOW. The more I explored Wink’s blog, the more I felt motivated to improve my skills and try new things.
I found her use of color to bring cheer into an otherwise drab space so uplifting. I loved the way Wink drew so much inspiration for her designs from nature. As I followed her tutorials and attempted many of her designs, I learned many new skills and improved so much. Because of Wink my hobby suddenly became my obsession. It was a “Eureka” moment when I realized that Wink, too, battled depression and that crochet had helped her so much. Her decision to share her journey in such a public forum was astounding to me as someone who had tried to hide depression for so long. I took courage from her bravery. I silently cheered her on – she was my champion.
The news of Wink’s death hit me hard. I was still working on my favorite of her designs (the 2014 blanket CAL) and suddenly found that I just couldn’t do it. Every time I picked up a square, I was struck with grief at the loss and anger that depression had exacted such a toll. For me the crochet world had lost some of its shine, and the joy I had found up until then in crochet had been diminished. I knew the signs, I had experienced this before – I was sliding down a slippery slope. Depression was waiting at the bottom.
When I read about the Mandalas for Marinke project, I wanted very much to contribute, in some small way, to give back and honor Wink for all that she had (unknowingly) given me. I grabbed my hook and a pattern and jumped in to my first mandala, but I was still not in a good place and the end product left me feeling fairly average. I was unhappy with my color choices and the yarn itself had stiffness to it and was not at all what I wanted to represent me. On top of that I just could not muster the motivation nor the energy to weave in all the ends. My counselor was back on speed dial.
A month on and it was still unfinished but the deadline was looming and that’s when it struck me – this mandala was much like my depression – less than the best I could be and still hiding the messy bits behind a smile that isn’t quite what it ought to be. So I chose a different pattern, used another color scheme, and the final product was something I could be proud of. Now all I had to do was write my story to go with it, but now I found that too difficult. Depression prevented me from doing that as well.
I knew I needed to keep on crocheting but it had to be something new and different, so I decided to try amigurumi for the first time. I made a raccoon for my son who is now 11. The pride in his voice when he cuddled it and said to his friends, “Look what my mum made for me!” was a turning point. After lots of encouragement from family and friends I have recently started taking orders for animals and teddy bears. This was the boost I needed to move forward. Crochet was a way I could feel productive and make a contribution. Crochet kicked the worm’s butt!
So I am finally able to put my thoughts and feelings into words. I will always be grateful for the impact Wink had on my life and hooking her mandalas is such a wonderful way to express this. Thanks to her I am spreading my creative wings and learning to fly. I only wish I had taken the time to tell her personally – to post a comment on her blog or send an email and let her know how amazing she really was.
My hope is that through this mandala project we can help raise awareness and understanding about depression. I love to think that one day there will no longer be a stigma associated with it. I cannot say that I will never succumb to depression again. I’m not sure the worm ever stays squished. But my husband and friends have become very good at recognizing when I seem a little down and asking me how I am doing and for my part I am getting better at responding with honesty. Together we are winning.
With love and a left hook,