When I was seeing the Counsellor last Christmas about the situation with my Mum, she said to me “OK, so what creative pursuit do you follow? I know you do something because you couldn’t have survived your life otherwise and stayed sane.” Her insight took me aback. I hadn’t realized how much I rely on my creativity. It’s a huge distraction, gives me a goal, purpose, challenges and connects me to the world from my bed.
As a child, reading books literally saved my life. I could lose myself in a story, taking a break from the chaos of my life. But I’ve also always been artistic, spending hours as a young child drawing and colouring. My Mum taught me both to knit and crochet when I was really little and I knitted all my doll’s clothes as a kid. When I went to primary school we had compulsive home economic lessons (while the boy’s did woodwork!) and it was there I was taught to sew, tiny delicate embroidery stitches which took hours to perfect. I love having the ability to create something out of nothing.
After I left school I was way too busy for hobbies and, reading aside, my creative pursuits were put on the back burner though I used my creativity in other ways, renovating my Victorian house and tarting up old furniture as I couldn’t afford to buy new. When I became ill, however, all that changed. I had to find a way of passing the endless tortured hours, so went back to embroidery this time buying kits and making tapestry cushions which took months (sometimes years) to finish as I could only do little bits at a time, and which I gave as gifts for Christmas and birthdays.
A decade on and my joints were becoming ever more painful, so I gave up the embroidery and took up crocheting which I find easier. I discovered the charity knit-a-square and now regularly make beanie hats and fingerless gloves to help AIDS orphans in Africa. They also take simple knitted or crocheted squares which they make into blankets – there are a few patterns on their website but if you’re going to send something please only make items they need. That I can still be useful, help others less fortunate than myself and contribute to the world is incredibly important to me.
Before my MCAS & HIT diagnoses when I was having anaphylactic symptoms every time I ate and living life in a permanent state of palpitations, muscle spasms, nausea and anxiety, I crocheted for hours on end. I find it very soothing, even if the repetitiveness killed my hands and wrists! It’s really easy to learn too, with only 1 basic stitch which is modified, so if you fancy giving it a go I’m sure there’s a YouTube video somewhere which would teach you.
Of course, I then discovered photography which I simply love although it is something I can only do on the days I feel well enough to be up and about. I admit to feeling a bit guilty about my photography, though, because it benefits no-one but me unlike my sewing and crocheting which are given to other people, but we all need something which is just ours and photography has taken the place books used to fill (my brain has been too poorly to read for over twenty years now). And having taken the photographs I can edit them in bed using Photoshop, brain fog permitting.
When we’re chronically ill we all find individual ways of coping and remaining creative has been a big part of that for me. It’s also a great distraction and if I make something usable at the end of it then so much the better. I’ve found that many of my ill friends are creative in some way or another: they make beautiful jewellery, cards which are sold for charity, are crafters or fellow photographers. That we can make art despite the most dire of circumstances is a testament to our spirits and our innate need to connect with the world, and each other.