Anxiously knitting


This hasn’t been my favorite week. It wasn’t really bad, it’s just been anxious and sad. There have been unexpected changes at work and someone I love to work with was laid off. A new friend from my knitting group will be moving across the country for a great job opportunity and to be closer to family. And I visited the dentist for the first time in a very, very, very long time.

You got hung up on that dentist thing, didn’t you? I know. I’ve made it through a lot of truly scary things in my life. Even at its worst, a dentist appointment is such a little thing. But to me, it isn’t. I don’t know the whys, but I have been truly and completely terrified of the dentist my entire life. I could probably track it back to my mom and her aversion to dentistry. Maybe she said something one time when I was little. I truly don’t know. The why doesn’t matter. I am so afraid that I haven’t been to the dentist for a long time. And it’s been fine. Until now when I found I have a cavity or chip in a back molar. So my husband, being the saint he is, made an appointment for me to make sure I didn’t back out.

The anxiety for this appointment has colored every single thing this week. I haven’t been sleeping well. Things that make me sad, have made me even sadder. I’m not a crier, but I’ve been on the verge of tears all week. I’ve been jumpy and antsy and a little bit crabby.

So, of course, I knit.

Maybe you’ve already read about the emerging science: Knitting helps to calm people down and sooth their nerves. It has been found to help with fear and anxiety and PTSD. But knitting is so much more.

One of the most powerful essays I’ve ever read on knitting was by author Ann Hood. It has stuck with me since I first read it. Hood writes about the ten things she learned from knitting. Each section walks the reader through the process of learning to knit, from casting on to casting off. But what her essay is really about is the process of going through grief and learning to live again.

Jen gave me the needles again, now with fourteen stitches curled around one of them. “I’ll keep casting on for you until you’re ready to learn how to do it yourself,” she said. —Ten Thing I Learned From Knitting

I first found Hood’s essay a couple of years after my mother died. The relationship with my mom was a complicated one my entire life. Knitting was a safe place for us. A shared hobby. A way to be together. Something easy to talk about. When my mom died, her knitting became mine. Her beautiful and often expensive yarn. Her stacks of books and patterns. The needles hidden all over the house, always purchased new when she began a new project. The unfinished projects left in boxes and bags as my children grew before the sweaters were finished. I have had to work through the love and beauty and baggage left behind in those stitches. When I’ve unraveled a half-finished project I have no intention of finishing to reclaim the yarn, I have to work through those feelings anew. It gets easier but I don’t use her yarn a lot.

In a poignant and lovely Buzzfeed article, Knitting Myself Back Together, author Alanna Okun shares her own struggles with anxiety. An anxiety I know very well. An all-consuming, ever-growing anxiety. One that, despite my best efforts grows and grows into a giant ball of fear. One that says the absolute worst is going to happen and maybe, just maybe, if I think about it all the time, nothing bad will happen. An anxiety that is soothed by the rhythm and control in knitting.

The rhythm of stitches, the steadiness and the solidity of the ever-growing project—these are REAL, the antidote to the made-up apocalyptic extrapolation that is my anxiety’s bread and butter. What’s more, they’re under your control, progressing at exactly the rate and (sometimes) in exactly the manner you choose. —Knitting Myself Back Together

So this week I was always knitting. I poured my energy into learning to read a lace chart. I knit, pulled out and knit again the future shawl. I knit slow and intentionally. I tried out different ways to track my pattern progress. One evening, I spent a couple of hours digging around my stack of paper and art supplies to figure out if I could create my own chart keeper (I did). I pulled my knitting out at every free moment. I sat on the front steps on nice evenings slowly reading and knitting through the chart.

And when I finally made it through my first dental appointment in years, after hearing I had some cavities that should be taken care of and a few places to watch and a lot of surprise from the dentist that my teeth were as good as they were after so long, I knit in the waiting room waiting for my husband to finish his appointment. I knit from relief. I knit because it makes me happy. I knit with some anxiety knowing I will be going back several times over the next couple months to fix what I didn’t care for. I knit because it brings me joy to create something beautiful with the skills I’ve worked hard to learn.

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