Aurore’s photos from Ravelry
If you’ve read my book, Crochet Saved My Life, then you’ve been introduced to Aurore who has used crochet to help her cope with auditory hallucinations and other symptoms of schizophrenia. You can also read her story here. Aurore recently got a new job and connected with me for an update that I wanted to share with you here today. Here’s our interview:
Q: Congrats on the new job! What’s your work like?
A: I am working in the laundry of a job center for mental health patients. (It’s called an ESAT: Etablissement et Service d’Aide par le Travail. ALL ESATs specialize in one type of disability, are government-regulated but managed by non-profit associations and require the approbation of your department’s disability office to work there.) We do the laundry and ironing for the kitchen and restaurant of the ESAT, take care of the uniforms for the workers in the industrial cleaning and gardening sections and do work for external customers. For example, one restaurant gives us all of his napkins and tablecloths and we do the ironing, but not the laundry, for that private customer. We also wash duvets and pillows.
What role did crafting play in getting back to work?
Crafting helped to sooth my anxiety during what was a very long process. It took one year for the disability office to process my case and then another six months before I actually got a spot in an ESAT so it took eighteen months total. Not only was the process long but I was kept in the dark in terms of knowing what was happening. Crochet and crafting helped me to focus on something other than the lengthy job process so that I could worry less.
Also, I think I use crochet like magical thought. I think, “if I finish this crochet piece by this date then only good things will happen”. Of course, there are pros and cons to this. It can be dreadful if I happen not to complete the project in the time I’ve set because then my anxiety rises exponentially. But if I do finish it then it feels helpful to my mind.
You mentioned to me that you crochet every day before you go to work. How does that help you?
I take thirty minutes every day to crochet before work and it really helps me to calm down before I leave. I had been home since 2010 so I was avoiding a lot of stressors up until now. I was at home in a safe environment that wasn’t challenging. Now that I work again, my anxiety has gotten very high again. I’m apprehensive to leave the house. Every single task at work, even something as mundane as putting ironed clothes under plastic, is a source of anxiety. Plus there are more than 100 workers there so it’s a very stimulating environment. The first prat of the day is always getting coffee, greeting everyone, chatting with everyone and it’s a lot of people so it’s hard to adapt. Crocheting before work allows me to prepare myself that I will be leaving the house, taking the busy, facing the world and doing this job.
What do you think a day at work would be like if you didn’t crochet before you went in?
I can answer that for sure because I recently had two days in one week when I only crocheted for twenty minutes instead of thirty and even that made a big difference. I was very agitated. I needed more Xanax than usual. I felt constantly on the verge of hallucinating.
Since our last interview together, I have had far less hallucinations than I used to. Risperdal has been helping. However, without the thirty minutes of crochet, I feel right on the edge of hallucinating even though the hallucination never comes. To be honest, I’d prefer for the hallucination to really come so that it could be over, because the whole feeling is very unpleasant. But if I crochet for thirty minutes then this doesn’t tend to happen.
There is another feeling I get more when I haven’t had enough crochet, which is the feeling of a slight shift between my perceptions and reality. It is as if my perceptions were slightly unreal, even if they are still grounded in reality. It’s hard to explain. If I can quote a book, it’s like in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the food machine gives the here something that is “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea”. I feel as if I’m experiencing something that’s almost, but not quite, entirely unlike reality.
And there is the magical thoughts aspect of things, too. A few months ago, I had to reapply for my disability pension. The pay in an ESAT has three components: the part the ESAT gives you, the part allotted by the state and the rest is completed up to minimum wage level by the disability pension. This is also a very long process (eight months to a year) during which I don’t know how it’s going. In my head, I decided that if I crocheted for thirty minutes every day then it would go well. I don’t know how I came to this conclusion. And I’m of two minds in the sense that I feel like it’s true even though intellectually I know that crocheting has nothing to do with my pension application. So in this way, if I don’t crochet, I get more anxious about that as well.
It sounds like you’ve been able to use your crocheting in a helpful way, for the most part, to adapt the symptoms that you’re going to have otherwise into something more manageable for yourself. In general, how have your symptoms been lately?
I had gotten really stable for awhile but now that I’m under stress again the symptoms are back with a vengeance. That’s what happens with stressors. The psychologists at the ESAT hope that it’s transitory. They say that it’s really hard to adapt to a real job after being home alone for so long. However, my personal psychiatrist wanted me to stop working for a small period of time when I get a new symptom, which has been an obsession with medication overdose. When the stress gets too high, I start thinking about and researching overdoses. So that’s been tough?
Would it help at all to be able to crochet during work or after work as a way to decompress?
I try to crochet after work but often I am too tired to do it. I do crochet extensively on the weekend and that is very healing. One of the two psychologists at ESAT has encourage me to crochet at the coffee time that happens before work and after lunch but I haven’t dared to try it yet. I like to have projects that are very complicated because they help to keep my mind occupied and I’m afraid that I couldn’t concentrate on them at work, which is where I feel the most stress. I’m still considering trying it though.
Do any of the other people working there do crafts?
The other people working in the laundry have tried knitting or used to knit when their children were babies but none kept at it. However, they are still interested in it, and talking about my projects is a way that I can relate to them.
What is different about crochet for you since we did the interview for Crochet Saved My Life?
My use of crochet has changed slightly since then. When I was very sick, I was mostly doing nothing but swatches, concentrating on the physical, real sensations. Now it still happens that I need to do this, but my crochet usually is far more sophisticated than back in 2008, which is when I had my big decompensation. It may be because, in spite of occasional relapses, I’m far more stable than I was then. It seems I’m using crochet more and more as a way to express myself, both by dreaming about and creating the project (I use less and less patterns now) and also by talking about it on my blog. My psychiatrist says it’s the only field where I allow myself to have imagination. I’ve learned to sing, too, which is expression, but not self-expression since I’m singing others’ creations. With crochet, it is MY creation. I’m directly involved in it. It’s quite liberating, and validating as well.