Emma S. has an as-yet-undiagnosed chronic pain condition that limits her daily activities, leaving crafting one of the only things that regularly brings her joy. She has found that even though it doesn’t fix her physical problems, it can take her focus off of them for long periods of time. And even though crafting doesn’t offer the kind of physical activity she would love to be doing, it does provide a positive alternative.
How did you learn to crochet?
I originally learned from my Dad. I have memories of him sitting there making huge beautiful blankets when I was a little girl! I didn’t stick with what I learned from him, though, so I forgot even the basics. A few years ago I rediscovered crochet through YouTube.
How has crochet come to help you in your illness?
Before I became ill, I was a super active person. I had lost a lot of weight (approximately 100 pounds) and was enjoying going to the gym and ice skating and taking my dog for really long walks. I was about to take up running when I fell ill. I have a chronic pain condition that hasn’t been diagnosed, and it makes me unable to do any of these things that I so enjoyed doing.
I do still take my dog out for walks because she needs to go out but I no longer enjoy it very much because of the pain. She is a fantastic dog, so it’s hard to ignore her cuteness, but I am not able to take her out for long. I can’t do any of the other activities I enjoyed, and I regained the weight. Due to this, and to the fact that I don’t even have a diagnosis for what is going on, I struggle with depression.
Every day living is hard. Getting up, dressing, housework, all of the daily things are difficult. My only real joy in life right now is my craft. Painting, drawing, knitting and crochet all help me feel more like myself again. I enjoy learning new techniques and new stitches and I especially enjoy trying new, exciting patterns.
What types of projects are your favorites?
I enjoy being able to fully immerse myself in a project, something that offers me a lot of new things to learn, things that really require a lot of attention. But, of course, there are also days that I need to just simply relax, and then I like having a repetitive project that requires less concentration. Each day of life presents a different challenge, and each aspect of crochet gives me a different benefit. Regardless of what I’m working on, crochet provides a relief from the pain for a little while. The pain is there, of course, but being able to focus on something else helps to make it more bearable.
So would you say that crochet heals you?
Well, there’s not really any healing from what I’m going through. It is more like it is an escape, but an escape that I can always rely on. Crochet helps me focus less on the pain, and it especially helps me to escape the bubble of sadness that I am in. For a short while, as I craft, I am able to feel like the old me, capable of doing anything!
So crochet helps because it allows you to forget the difficulties and discomfort for awhile?
Yes. I find crochet relaxing, a form of meditation in itself if you will. I can get so focused on it that I don’t even acknowledge the outside world. There have been many times that my sister was talking to me, and I haven’t heard a word she said because I was so engrossed in the crafting. That focus helps take away from the pain and depression.
Are the people in your life supportive of your crafting?
Yes. My sister is on the autism spectrum and struggles with learning new things but I have actually taught her how to crochet and she enjoys working along with me. We often craft together. She and my boyfriend love to see the finished work that I create, which in turns gives me satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment that is sadly lacking in the rest of my life at the moment. Having my family around me brings me joy, and being able to give them something in the form of homemade gifts is an amazing experience.
So you enjoy crocheting for others?
Yes, I usually crochet for my family. I enjoy making Christmas presents. I like making things for others because it gives me a sort of deadline – whether they are actually waiting for me to finish it or just in my mind I know that I want to give it to them. It gives me a sense of purpose and encourages me to complete the work with a determination that I wouldn’t have if I was just making the item without a recipient in mind.
Is it just your sister around when you are crafting?
My sister and the animals! You can usually find me working on the settee in my living room, with my feet propped up and one or two cats sitting on my knees. There might be another cat behind me on the cushion, one on the arm and the puppy, of course, is also always there.
Do others in your life, besides your sister, enjoy crafting with you?
My best friend does all sorts of crafting and also finds that she benefits from it. I am also part of several different online craft communities where we share patterns, ideas and friendship. My sister and I have been invited to Knit and Natter in my hometown but we haven’t gone, yet.
You mentioned that you enjoy several other crafts in addition to crochet, right?
Yes. I am an artist. I paint, I draw, I knit, and I simply create. Each of these art forms helps my pain in similar ways, drawing my focus away from the pain, out of the bubble of depression, and creating a safe area for me where I can create anything that I want. I might be following a pattern or creating something original; either way it helps me.
Are there any drawbacks to crochet?
Arthritis pain. This is probably the bane of every wool working person’s life! There are time limits to crochet, when my fingers say that enough is enough. Usually I push a little further! I have ergonomic hooks, bamboo needles for knitting, etc. but at the end of the day sometimes my fingers just need a rest.
Is there something else you would like us to know?
I want others to know that crochet can help. There may be other people out there like me who are suffering with undiagnosed illness, wondering what is going to happen, afraid of how they are going to cope. I don’t have the answers to any of these things, but I do know that crochet has helped me personally to push away fears, anxieties, misery and yes, even my pain to a degree. It’s important to do something that you enjoy. It’s not the same as going to the gym and burning off calories. It’s not the same as walking for miles and miles in the glorious countryside with my dog. It’s not the same as feeling the freedom of being on skates on the ice. Nothing compares to those things. But I don’t know if I’m going to get those things back and it’s important that I get pleasures where I can. Crafting, crochet, creating … that’s where I get that. The number one reason that I crochet is to make me feel like me again!