If only pain and depression could be cured with a single pill. No matter how many billion dollars are spent on pharmaceutical research, these conditions remain too complex to be solved by manipulating one chemical. But…crocheting? Yes, crocheting. Here, I interview Kathryn Vercillo, author of the book “Crochet Saved My Life”, about her experiences.
Can you tell us a teeny little bit about yourself?
My name is Kathryn Vercillo and I’ve been a professional writer for more than ten years, working primarily in non-fiction writing for both online and print publications. I am also someone who has struggled for years with chronic depression. A few years ago I went through a really rough period with the condition and one of the things that helped me to get through that period was learning to crochet.
How did you stumble upon the crochet <–> chronic condition link?
Crochet helped me in so many different ways. It provided a productive thing that I could do so I didn’t feel useless in the face of my condition. The repetition of the craft was very soothing, relaxing and helped me in reducing the anxiety associated with depression. Eventually this led to me creating my crochet blog and finding the crafting community, a community that is generous and supportive and friendly and that offered its own benefits.
I would mention on my crochet blog sometimes that there seemed to be a link between depression and crochet as therapy … I would receive many, many comments from people who experienced the benefits of crochet for depression as well as other mental health and physical health disorders.
Pick someone you interviewed, give them a fake name, and tell us about how they used crocheting to help with chronic pain.
Sara-Jane suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). She has found that crochet stops her painful leg twitching and helps her to relax. This allows her to do things that she wouldn’t be able to do if her RLS wasn’t under control, things such as going on annual Washington D.C. trips with her students.
She says: “When I sit at night, or in the car, if I’m at all tired – the legs start twitching. I will pick up my crocheting and the legs stop. I’m not sure if the same part of my brain that tells my legs to twitch also tells my fingers to move in a certain way, but that’s the way I think about it. Just knowing that I can alleviate the wiggles gives me great emotional relief.”
In general, has your experience with doctors and other health professionals been positive or negative? Have you told them about your experience with crocheting?
I have had really mixed experience with doctors/ therapists over the years. When I was really deep into the pit of depression and needed the most help I had a lot of trouble finding the right help. I didn’t know how to find help and nobody I asked (my health insurance, a local crisis center, a suicide hotline) seemed to be able to tell me where to go. I saw one doctor who was completely unhelpful and even though I was sitting there bawling and saying I wanted to die he was extremely cold and completely disinterested in helping me. That was a real low.
BUT then I did find the right help and that was absolutely invaluable. I found a terrific psychologist who worked magic to help find me a good psychiatrist and that really helped put me on the path to better healing. What I would tell others is that not every doctor or therapist is good and sometimes even a good one might not be the right match for you but it is so extremely important to keep searching because the right one is such a terrific part of a support system and healing plan.
Do you do other activities in the “relaxing, soothing” vein, such as meditation, yoga, or just taking hot bubble baths?
Absolutely … I used to do a lot of yoga and still sometimes do that. I have done meditation in the past although I’m not very active with it. My relaxation, other than crochet, is through reading and writing (journaling regularly is especially helpful), taking long walks and practicing mindfulness.
If a reader wanted to start crocheting, how steep is the learning curve for the uninitiated?
Everyone’s experience will be different but in my experience most people find crochet to be a fairly easy craft to learn. What’s great about it is that you only need to learn a couple of basic stitches and then you can make many, many things. You can certainly go on to learn a lot more but with just the basics you’re really set to do a lifetime of crochet if you want to!
The most important thing I’d say about learning to crochet is that everyone learns differently so if you’re finding it difficult, try another method of learning. Options include learning from YouTube videos, printed tutorials in books and and on websites, taking a class at a local yarn and asking someone in your area to teach you. I taught myself mostly by reading kids’ crochet books and making the projects in them.
[My post-interview takeaways]
Pain and depression are kissing cousins. Why? This bugger called the human nervous system. When pain lasts longer than a few weeks, areas of the spinal cord change their physiology, and “learn” to maintain the pain even if you don’t want it. Similarly, long-standing depression changes your brain, reducing the amount of grey matter in important regions. Depression can be the result of pain, and pain can be the result of depression.
Nobody said that battling pain and/or depression is easy. But a good first step is realizing that you need more troops on your side. “Holistic” things like sunshine, healthy foods, and positive friends go a long way in changing how the nervous system responds to stress. A productive, soothing activity like crochet can be a useful tool to keep things moving when depression and pain seem insurmountable.
So brainstorm some things you like doing or might like to try. Tai chi? Volunteering at an animal shleter? No doctor is going to prescribe crochet for your pain, but doctors just aren’t heavily influenced by the crochet lobby, ya know? If you have any suggestions for other readers, go ahead and comment below.