Tag Archives | therapeutic craft

Therapeutic Craft, Creativity and Healing

So, astute observers may have noticed a change in the description of “what I do/talk about, etc.” either over on my About page or on my Twitter profile. It’s a little tweak, a change, reflecting a more recent diagnosis for me. I’m not going to lie, those 4-effin-words-put-together-in-a-row are some scary shit. They’ve been going around my head for 3 weeks now, like a horse riding a ring, wondering what this means, if things will change, if people will think I’m totally effin’ insane.

And with that change, comes the deletion to talking about “war” and the addition of talking about IT instead, because while personally (thankfully) I have never been in a war, I have known those affected by war my entire life. My issues stem from a different root, but show up and present themselves in much the same ways. Truth be told, those definitions in the last link are being changed in the next version of the DSM, changes you can read about here. What happened to me is not something I feel like I need to share, but I do want to clearly and seriously state that what happened happened almost 30 years ago and no one from my family hurt me (again, thankfully). Not thankfully, there was something else that happened by someone else that made it all worse about 20 years ago. (YES!) And I’m writing this because I think it’s important to note how important craft and creativity was for me in my life.

Over the past 6 months, while this has all been a work in progress, I’ve learned a lot about its various causes; the criticisms of it; the arguments about who has it and who doesn’t; the stereotypes… some good, some bad. Ultimately, what it runs down to is: child + incident + brain/emotional development = weird problems (hypervigilance, freezing, panic attacks, avoidance) that no one knew what the heck to do about. Because this happened SO LONG AGO and no one knew what it was, I’ve dealt with all of the symptoms above because I had no choice. And today, I’m the same person I was 3 weeks ago, and for the past 10 years.

What made the difference in reducing many of my symptoms was craft. While I thought it just alleviated my depression and anxiety, it relieved something much more than that. It helped me re-syncopate and live, really. It helped me find a rhythm in the stitches that brought solace and understanding of myself that no one could ever bring. And it’s not just knitting, not just craft, but creativity. Giving myself permission to create was what opened up the doors to let bad things rush in and wreak havoc and do their worse. In short, the stitches, the freedom to create them, the freedom to mess them up, the freedom to see how time passed as my scarf/hat/sweater grew longer, gave me a safe space. They provided a safety that I never would have guessed if I had never picked up the needles. They provided the kindest type of safety I have ever known.

I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone, because it’s not. However, I’m writing this because I wonder what would happen if we took creativity’s power more seriously. If we let those whom are sick and unsure and scared and alone create more, give them the permission to make a mess, try something new, be imperfect. If we let them dive into the imperfection that illness can bring through creativity; allowing them to unleash in a number of mediums until one makes more sense than the others. I say this, not as a therapist, or a doctor, but as someone who never takes it for granted when I find myself walking down the street without constantly looking over my shoulder for a possible threat, as someone who can be brought to tears of joy that they can feel the wind down to their bones, and as someone who is ever grateful to have found craft as an outlet in which to help keep me here, alive, well, and most of all, happy.

Who could we make happy, too, if we took the powers of creativity more seriously?

Here are a few links related to therapeutic knitting, as it was knitting that I first found as an outlet:

Lovely cartoon (!!!) called “Therapy Knitting.”

Stitchlinks: a whole dang website about therapeutic craft.

Knitting as Healing Therapy

More on therapeutic knitting by Betsan Corkhill, the founder of Stitchlinks

Soldiers Knitting, part 2!

More knitting soldiers! You may be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, war and craft are two things throughout history found in almost every culture, and each of them got more or less “assigned” to a particular gender along the way. Women, the childbearers, needed to stay close to home to watch their babies, so war was pretty much out. Men, well, let’s just say there are loads of reasons why they ended up with war instead of craft. As they are prevalent throughout history, I’m interested in the links between the two, as if you look at America’s wars of last century, the rise in popularity in craft, follows the same timeline. Crazy, no?

The accompanying text is the only mention I’ve ever seen of soldiers knitting for evacuated children.

Two soldiers knitting in wartime, 31 October 1939. ‘If you drop in at ‘The Peggy Bedford’ on the Great West Road in Longford, Middlesex, the landlady will ask you to knit. She will hand you knitting needles with your drink, and the idea is that you knit a few squares between the orders. These squares are later made up into clothes for soldiers and evacuated children. Two customers in uniform busily knit after obtaining their drinks’.

Slowly, I’m discovering more evidence of soldiers being taught knitting in previous wars because of its therapeutic nature. The text below accompanies the photo below on the website for Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine:

Great strides were also made in occupational therapy. The men were taught new job skills that could be used once they were dismissed from the hospital. Subjects taught in the Fort’s vocational school included telegraphy, metal work, basketry, commercial art, shorthand and typing. Carpentry, upholstery, auto repair, bookkeeping and even knitting were also offered to keep the wounded occupied and provide them with a possible means of livelihood. It was the first serious attempt to give disabled American veterans real employment.

Probably the spirit of the hospital’s rehabilitation program was best depicted in an illustration on the anniversary cover of “The Trouble Buster,” Fort McHenry’s own magazine, printed on its own presses by it own patients.

There is more about “The Trouble Buster” in Carry On: A Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers, Part 1 published in 1919 by the Office of the Surgeon General. Not only does Carry On have awesome article titles such as “The Seas of Opportunity are Waiting for Specialized Brains” and “The Sluggard and the Ant,” it also provides a pretty interesting look at what returning soldiers were facing after World War I.

And lastly, the first thing I found online that mentioned teaching soldiers to knit because it’s a “mental stimulus.” From the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester NY, February 7, 1918, page 12:

Rochester Women Have Proficient Pupils in Camp Dix Hospital
Rochester women are teaching soldiers in the base hospital at Camp Dix to knit. Wooford G. TIMMONS, of New York, and Elmer ADLER, of Rochester, were instrumental in procuring the instruments and a big supply of wool and the Y. M. C. A. has installed a number of small table looms. Among those who are teaching the soldier patients to knit are Mrs. Joseph ALLING, wife of Joseph T. ALLING, of this city, who is doing Y. M. C. A. work at the camp, and Mrs. W. J. WOOD; Mrs. ALLING is the chief instructress.
The physicians have declared that knitting is beneficial to the men as a mental stimulus.

I also really dig that Mrs. Alling is called “the chief instructress.”

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