When I was about 7, I learned how to knit. I made a few incredibly misshapen items, including a horrible gray scarf for my dad that he actually wore (he doesn’t wear scarves, it was truly horrible, and I made it out of incredibly cheap gray acrylic yarn, thinking mistakenly that gray was his favorite color because he had gray workshirts. And he wore it).
I stopped knitting within about 6 months and didn’t pick it up again for 20 years. When I learned again at 27, I realized that I had found a really powerful coping mechanism for anxiety. With knitting, I could sit still. I could wait for things, and I could escape my thoughts and feelings to some extent. It wasn’t harmful like drinking or drugs, and it was certainly much better than cutting or any other kind of self-harm. It was productive and wholesome and I love it.
While knitting is all those things – therapeutic and productive and wholesome and creative – I’ve been doing it obsessively for over ten years now. I really can’t sit still without it, it helps me deal with feelings, and I’ve even been told I knit faster when I’m anxious. In some ways, it was like any other compulsive behavior for me, because I’m really good at keeping myself busy enough to not feel feelings.
When I was in college, I used to write in my journal to the point where I was using it to escape. I don’t necessarily think that any of these things were bad – they were coping skills and I needed them. But it was definitely compulsive. I would write in my journal during class, during movies, during church, whenever. I would write so fast that I couldn’t read my own handwriting – it was more like I was running than writing. I was writing so fast that it is clear, looking back, that I was trying my best to stay one step ahead of something at all times – anxiety, depression, fear, self-loathing, etc. etc. If I wrote fast enough, it wouldn’t catch up with me.
Knitting has been a strange mix for me of that kind of compulsion and a fun craft. It’s never really been one thing or the other, but always the combination. And I’ve always been knitting – people remark on when they see me without my knitting. But lately I’ve been forgetting my knitting. And even when I bring it with me, I often don’t take it out. When I’m a passenger in the car, I’m not usually knitting which is very new and unusual. I’ve been sitting still at church and at meetings and when I’m talking to people. I’m getting very little knitting done.
This was actually bothering me until I realized that it’s freeing. I can knit but i don’t have to. I can also sit still, and I’ve never been able to do that before. It’s also scary – there’s part of me that feels like I’m losing my identity, and I’m not sure if I mean knitting or being anxious or what, but I’m afraid I won’t be ME any more. Then there’s the part of me that realizes that there’s me underneath all the running and fear and depression, and maybe I get to learn to know that me. I’m still not sure if I’ll like that more or less than copious amounts of hand-knit socks but I might find out.