Ask A Knitter Anything #1: The Appeal of Knitting

It’s been almost 3 years since I started knitting. During this time, I went from barely being able to properly knit a knit stitch, to knitting full adult sweaters, knitting fair isle with both hands at the same time and being able to read and write patterns. While I’m far from knowing everything, I do know a lot and people ask me questions often that I happily answer.

After one such question the other day, I toyed with the idea of starting an AAKA – ‘Ask A Knitter Anything’ series, where I answer questions people commonly (and less commonly) ask me based on my personal experiences. While I will start this series with a set of pre-collected questions, you are welcome to ask me any question you’d like to see answered by commenting on these posts! I’m keeping close tabs on this and try to get everything answered.

These questions will be spread out in a series of posts. How many that will be, I don’t know! But you can look forward to 1-2 of these posts a week. 🙂 Now, let’s get started!

What makes knitting so alluring?

I find it difficult to pin point exactly what keeps me coming back to knitting. I think it’s safe to say I’m an honest to god addict by now, and there is a certain charm that can be attributed to the yarn you use as much as the knitting itself. The pretty colors, the texture of the yarn and the idea of endless possibilities of what you can do with it certainly play a huge role in this.

More than anything else, the process of knitting became addicting.

Before I even started knitting on two needles, I was only curious. I saw what my friend did, knitting beautiful scarves, cowls and other goodies, and my brain kept poking me with the question ‘How is it made?’. I really wanted to find that out by doing it myself, and it’s this curiosity that prompted me to ask my friend if she wanted to teach me. I was excited and nervous. She made me start with a rectangular knitting loom because it was easier to finish a piece quickly and experience the satisfaction of finishing a project, rather than repeated failure from starting with needles.

Oh boy how right she was! I spent a whole day loom knitting away. I just couldn’t put it down. Once I had the hang of it, I immediately noticed I got better. It was a bit of a rush to see my simple little actions of wrapping a peg and pulling the yarn over the peg create an actual scarf. The motions tired my hands and tensed my shoulders, but I couldn’t just leave the loom laying on my desk. Every time I took a break, all I could think about was continuing.

I finished the scarf in less than two days. I was ecstatic! I had actually KNIT something, all by myself and with minimal help from my friend. I had a scarf that wasn’t just pretty, but also functional on my first try. Sure, there were some mistakes in it, but you couldn’t really tell because I chose a black acrylic. Looking back on it, I think it was this excitement of knowing I created something from nothing, being proud of the end result and wanting to make more that drew me to the craft.

I put the loom down for almost half a year after a couple of other pieces. I was busy and couldn’t dedicate enough attention to learning new things at the time. But at the end of the summer that same year, that same friend put me on the path of knitting with needles. This time, the challenge was a bit bigger. The learning curve was more frustrating because a lot more was going on with my hands at the same time than with a loom. It was the memory of accomplishment I had with the loom that kept me going.

The allure of knitting lies in the creation process and the goal of finishing a creation that is useful, for me.

Once you started knitting, what made it such a huge, driving force in your life?

The ability to create things from nothing is addictive. The motion of knitting has a highly meditative quality and once you work your way past the frustrating bits of learning the craft, you can sit down, zone out and keep your fingers busy while your brain does its thing. This is no surprise to anyone who knits regularly, but something that non-knitters tend to be skeptical of. 🙂

What knitting did for me was a way of coping with my mental health issues. When depression struck and I felt like I couldn’t do anything, I could knit and finish my project. The sense of accomplishment is a massive boost to my self-confidence and vital in maintaining my mental well-being.

Knitting also taught me important lessons, such as ‘it’s okay to let go’ and ‘mistakes are just things that happen and there’s no reason to be ashamed of that’. For someone who struggles with ‘not being allowed to make mistakes’ and ‘keep ramming your head into the wall until you get through it regardless of whether you hurt yourself or not’, that is huge. Coming to terms with the fact that nothing I knit (or do) will ever yield perfect results has lifted a weight off my shoulders I carried with me for decades. Learning that sometimes you have to start over by undoing all the work you did before, but understanding that you learned many things and can do better this time, has improved my way of functioning in everyday life.

When I found out that charity knitting is a thing, I did a lot of research on how to get involved. I struggle with social interactions and an avoidant personality disorder on top of my other issues, so finding something that could help me overcome some hurdles was important and scary. Having it be knitting lowered the hurdle, making it easier to find some ways I can contribute positively to the world even though I’m poor and limited in what I can do. Currently, I knit breast prostheses for breast cancer survivors and people in the versatile gender community who are in need of more comfortable and affordable alternatives than what is currently available.

What started out as a curiosity and a hobby has quickly become a lifestyle. Knitting is not just wrapping a piece of yarn around a needle and calling it a stitch, it’s a doorway into a world of possibilities, healing and socialization, even for those who feel they have very little to nothing to offer in this world. It gives my life meaning, and it gives me a purpose.

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Difficult is not impossible

It’s been one of those days where my depression rears its head again. Extremely tired, feeling empty, having no willpower to get out of bed. I canceled group and I didn’t shower and get dressed until 4:30pm. I managed to drag myself to the store for dinner food by rewarding myself with two packs of chocolate chip cookies and it was an uneventful trip to be honest. I got home, cooked dinner (even though I really didn’t want to) and afterwards forced myself to change the litterbox and take out all of the trash in the house.

I also realized something important after reading a whole conversation on Facebook the other day: there is a difference between realizing your depression makes everything harder and you have good and bad days, and pretending your depression is the reason you can’t do things at all so you shouldn’t even bother trying. The latter is absolutely not true, and I know this will upset some people out here, but it’s so very important to recognize the difference if you suffer from this illness.

I mean, yes, depression makes you feel like you can’t do things, I won’t ever deny that. Today felt like I couldn’t get anything done, and I took forever to do things, but I made it work by canceling an appointment and taking it at a comfortable pace so I could end up doing some things. I won’t do dishes tonight even though I really have to, but I will do them tomorrow, whenever it works out with how I’m feeling.

Very often I see people instantly jump to the “I can’t ever do this so let’s just not try” mantra just because they have been diagnosed with depression and have their difficulties in everyday life acknowledged. While I have sympathy for this and I can understand it, I just cannot condone it. One reason is because I know what went on in my head when I was going through that stage, and I’ve always known I was lying to myself because trying is difficult, and difficulty isn’t fun or instantly rewarding. I wanted instant gratification, not a long-term payoff. I was told and understood that depression lies to you, but I still clung on to the idea that depression speaks the truth because it was easier not to do anything than to work on feeling better.

Having been there, and feeling disdain for who I used to be, I feel very uncomfortable when people use these lies to hide from their responsibilities to themselves. I know that everyone experiences depression differently, but not even bothering to try equals being comfortable in a miserable state to me. I feel less inclined to support people who relinquish to this side of themselves because it’s a waste of my energy.

I guess I want to blog about this in the hopes that someone out there who is like this will open their eyes and see what they’re doing, maybe change their ways a little too.

Let me get one thing straight though: I’m not saying trying will fix everything. I’m not saying you have to succeed right off the bat. I’m not saying you can’t ever have crappy days. I’m just saying, being honest with yourself and giving things a shot is the absolutely best thing you can ever do for your illness. Because if YOU are honest with yourself, it becomes easier to deflect the lies depression tells you. If YOU give things a try, you will eventually succeed with small tasks and you can build up from there, essentially proving depression’s lies wrong and making you stronger against it. This is the very foundation that leads to improving you mental health, managing your illness and in some cases even surpassing it.

It’s tough as balls, I’ll tell you that. “Nothing that’s worth it comes easy” is an apt saying though. When I have good days, I feel absolutely fantastic, and the more I work on being honest and trying things, the more I want to keep on feeling fantastic and the easier it becomes. I still have days where I give everything the finger and do nothing, but the feeling of dissatisfaction on those days is really bothering me now. I want to feel good, and that takes work. In my progress, feeling good has become something worth working hard for to the point that I’ll even happily do it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at least once or twice a week I give it my best shot. I stop complaining, I roll up my sleeves and get going.

I’ve committed going to my group twice a week most weeks to build up my social interactions, I use my bicycle to get to places and combine that with exercise, I set up meal plans for healthy meals and try to eat regularly; all of these things started off with small steps, but I started somewhere and I worked from there. It pays off. And when things don’t work out, I talk to my therapist about it and see what we can change to make it work out.

A few years ago, I thought none of this was possible. I was too tired to bother with anything, I felt worthless, I wanted to die just so I could stop feeling this horrendous emptiness shredding away at my insides. I couldn’t cope with every day tasks, I was stuck… That was depression ruling my life. Looking back, I realize it could only do so because I let it. Because giving in was easier. Because believing lies was easier than being honest with myself.

If you’ve come far enough to understand what depression is, but you’re still in that state where you say “I can’t do this because of my depression”, this might be worth thinking about. Try changing that line to “Depression is making this really hard for me, I need to break it down into steps and see how that goes”. It might surprise you how big of a difference it can make in your life.

When do you fight it?

I’ve found that letting things happen rather than putting up an always futile struggle works well for me. I’m not saying to just give up and not try to get better; rather, figure out when to invest your energy into your mental illnesses. It can be so utterly discouraging and draining to fight against yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone when, realistically, you don’t have the energy for it. Breaking it down into small steps and working with what you’ve got is the better approach, and eventually you’ll recuperate and get back on your feet.

The past 1-2 weeks have been degrading fast for me. Insomnia strikes again, my appetite is dissipating with every passing day, I’m tense and wake up bathed in sweat or in the middle of a panic attack. I’m starting to avoid things too, and it’s not good. But part of me is oddly calm about it; I know this will pass, because it has before. I know I’ve been shouldering too much and the stress and uncertainty of my near future is weighing me down. Thing is, there’s not a whole lot I can actively do about it right now, so I try to remind myself of this fact and focus on other things.

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Like knitting! My dad’s socks are coming along well. This picture is from yesterday at group, and I still had about 3 inches to go before I got to the heel, I think. I just finished the heel on the first sock, and am working the second now. I can start the leg tonight, hopefully finishing it by Monday. That makes turnaround for a full pair of (wide) socks a week. My dad’s feet aren’t particularly long, but they’re quite wide, which means I need a 76 stitch combo on my usual gauge. For comparison, my own socks needed only 70 sts. And that’s all with negative ease worked into the pattern. Yeesh! However, I worked his the first on purpose; my mom’s and sister’s feet are smaller so they should go faster. 😉

I let my boyfriend’s sweater soak for an hour last night in cold water in my handwash bucket. What started as clear water quickly became a murky ordeal that needed 2 extra rinses to clear out! I don’t know if it’s part dye or if the sweater just collected a lot of grime off my hands and the surfaces it laid on, but this is the very reason I wash everything before I send it off.

The yarn’s label says it should be machine washable at 30C, but I don’t trust it. I was getting a lot of extra fuzz off the yarn as it ran through my fingers and it seems to want to felt easily, so handwash it is. I used a woolwash after the soak and rinse (followed by more thorough rinsing), and now the sweater is almost dry on my table. I think it helped that I let a fan blow on it all night!

I do seem to have some trouble trying to squeeze enough water out before rolling it up in (a lot) of towels. I don’t want to wring it but I don’t think I have enough strength in my hands to squeeze it properly. Or maybe I’m just too impatient. How do you do it?

Good Feels

Life has been going fast lately and I feel a little blown away by… Well, everything. Good or bad? Definitely some of both!

For starters, I’m having a moderately good grip on my blood sugar levels. They crash pretty quickly when I do some moderate exercise, but I still have weird and unexplained peaks every now and then. (That might be my pancreas struggling.) Overall though, I noticed my own tests’ averages have gone down from 9.5 to 7.5 (mmol/l) which includes fasting values and peak meal values. Not too shabby!

I still have bad days where my mental state just breaks down and I get stuck in my downward spirals. Unexpected events still do a big number on me and that sucks. Doing too many things (even just shopping) tires me out so badly I’m down for a couple of days afterwards.

The good news is I’m able to focus on positive tasks again! I had a meeting with my friend/client to discuss the future of my VA job with her and we struck a compromise. I got the equivalent of a promotion with the condition that I can take sick days when needed as long as I properly communicate this to her. She has other assistants for backup in case I get overwhelmed so I can still do my tasks and have the other assistants pick up the overflow. The great thing about this is that the small projects that come in become my projects so that she can focus on the ever growing number of large projects that focus more on programming. She’ll take care of all the client communication to avoid the stress of dealing with clients (the main reason I only want to work with professional freelancers are the regular clients).

All of this is pretty damn exciting! She never really put pressure on me in the past, but I did feel pressured by seeing ‘no way out’ when I had too much on my plate and I felt horrible putting a dent in her project progress, which became a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy as it stressed me out. I dropped projects and hid in a corner feeling ashamed and inadequate. There’s a noticeable difference in my coping ability now that I know there are people in the background who’ll pick up what I can’t do so that the projects don’t end up jeopardized. I’m breezing through the tasks she has for me and it feels awesome.

I feel so incredibly lucky and fuzzy that she stuck with me through thick and thin and works with me to make everything work out. Anyone else would have found this to be bothersome and dropped me (like all of my previous employers) but she likes my work so much it was evidently worth it to find a balance. I’m so thrilled I can help her and help myself at the same time!

Just a little crash

The past week has been insanely busy for me. I didn’t have a single day where I could sit back and relax, something needed to be done constantly. I’m seeking legal help from an attorney to deal with false utility charges from my landlord, I’ve had group therapy, I’ve had doctors appointments and my birthday was last Friday.

With all this, I realized how impossible it is for me to function like a normal person and it’s depressing. I’m so exhausted beyond belief and my head is all over the place, going from feeling extremely content to extremely depressed and anxious for no particular reason. All because I had what for most people is a pretty normal week with a full time job on top. How do you all manage it? I can’t fathom having another week like this after the weekend is over.

On the upside, I got new shoes. I still have to take corset pictures but I haven’t had the time or energy to put them on. They’re still on my to-do list, I promise.