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Call me crazy

There’s really no other way to start this, except to say: nearly a year ago, in mid-November of 2006, I just barely stopped myself from having a full-on meltdown at work, and was able to postpone it until I got home…whereupon I experienced the beginnings of a full-fledged balls-out nervous breakdown.

This was not a ha-ha this-will-be-a-funny-story nervous breakdown. It was the real deal, and it kept me home from work, and away from many people, places and things, for just under seven months.

As you read this, I will (hopefully) be starting full five-day weeks at the office after a succession of medications and a long and tiring reintegration period. Those who know about my situation have been generous with their time and their support, and I am grateful to have them in my life.

(Some of you who know me personally may be shocked to find out about this here and now, and to you I can only apologize. It’s not something I’ve been able to tell everyone, and picking and choosing has mostly depended on circumstance. Sometimes it was just nice to get out of the house and ‘pretend to be normal,’ depending on how loose your definition of ‘normal’ might be.)

Now, it was not knitting that caused me to go off the rails—though you might well wonder. It was in fact a combination of things, many of which were work-related, some of which were personal, and all of which were likely affected by my particular biochemical makeup. If anything, knitting had given me a productive and sustaining activity to focus on in the months prior to my collapse, occupying my trembling hands as best it could and quieting the relentless tumble of thoughts inside my head. But, as calming and constructive a force as knitting (or any creative passion) can be, it can’t prevent the accident that’s waiting to happen.

I know that some of you have suffered from anxiety or depression and have spent months or years denying or suppressing the symptoms, concealing them from partners and children, friends and co-workers, acquaintances and strangers. Not wanting to burden them or worry them. Feeling it was your problem to deal with on your own. Some of you may even have felt the same snap of the fine thin line that I did as I watched my ‘saner’ self—the coper, the helper, the listener, the shoulderer—dart away brightly coloured through the watery waves, leaving the rest of me alone and lost on a quickly darkening shore.

I spent those early days shut up in my apartment, crying and sleeping and wandering aimlessly from room to room, a green cotton throw clutched like a cape around my shoulders. Once or twice a day I picked up my needles and yarn and staggered through a few rows before putting them back down and meandering off again. I had been close to finishing the first of a pair of toe-up socks before all hell broke loose. It was a good thing, as now the reassuring repetition of k2p2 was pretty much all that my poor fog-shrouded brain could handle.

Then came medication, and side effects, and dosage changes, and more side effects, and new medication, and more side effects, and dosage changes, and more side effects. The brain fog slowly burned away and with it the shroud of gut-twisting anxiousness and despair that I had clung to, and that had clung to me, for so long. But while I longed to immerse myself in the activities that had always brought me comfort—books, movies and DVDs, albums and CDs, videogames and knitting—I found that, in addition to all the usual physical problems that come with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), my attention span, stamina and powers of concentration were suddenly in short supply. I stopped reading, stopped listening to music, stopped watching TV. My knitting went from a few rows at a time to a few stitches at a time, i.e. barely worth the trouble to lift the needles. However, I developed a renewed interest in craft books and magazines, and became a loyal reader of a wide range of knitting, crochet, sewing and craft blogs from all over the world. Even the shortest entries could contain surprising insights into the creative mind, as well as a feeling of connection and community at a time when I felt most isolated.

I took inspiration from Flickr groups, web forums, podcasts and knit/crochet/sew-alongs, even if I couldn’t fully participate in their activities. Whenever I could summon the energy, I turned my attention to improving my office-cum-craftroom, making it less cluttered and more inviting for the day that I would be able to resume my creative work. I corresponded with other crafters through my own blog, pushed myself to make regular updates, made carefully prepared and timed visits to yarn stores, bookstores, gatherings, parties and get-togethers. I pushed gently but insistently against the limits of my endurance without actually pushing my luck. There were a few minor disasters, and a few other setbacks, but gradually I reached the point where I was awake for longer than I was asleep, and was growing increasingly restless, casting about for something to do—which I took to be a very good sign. And so I picked up the long lost sock again, and I began to knit.

I’m the first person to say that knitting, like marriage, is not a solution to all of one’s problems (sorry, Stephanie!). If anything, it just adds a new set of problems to your current ones. But for every problem you solve, for every step up the ladder you climb, your mind grows a little sharper, your confidence a little stronger, your heart a little larger, your worldview a little brighter.

Even when I couldn’t act creatively, I could think creatively, and that helped put a future in front of me when I struggled to think past the next day. “When I’m ready,” I would say to myself as I looked through some patterns for knitted toys. “When I’m ready I will try this.” Or “I can make that, I know I can,” as I gazed at a feather-and-fan baby blanket. “I can make that when I’m better. I’ll get better soon, and when I do, I’ll make that.”



David would like to note that Pierre the Yarn Snob has started up an internet campaign at his blog to raise awareness for mental health. He is asking anyone who has suffered from an illness like this or knows someone who has, or even someone who has used knitting or crafting to work though grief and tough times, to take the time to talk about it. If you want to share your story please email him at ginger_nut(at)bigpond(dot)com and he will add it to his weekly “Knit and Fight the Black Dog” posts. If requested, he will not share personal details so you can tell your stories anonymously.

David’s obligatory knitblog can be found right here.