By Sandhya Menon
This is an extract from Sandhya Menon’s blog ‘The Restless Quill’. In this post she speaks about the diagnosis of and her struggle with multiple mental illnesses, the loneliness that can accompany that experience and how crocheting has become an important method of coping for her.
Crochet is as feminine as you can get. It uses thread and a hook to create extremely beautiful things, a skill that’s been handed down from one generation of nimble fingers to another. Folks ask me, sometimes, how I started to crochet. It was a bored summer vacation, we hadn’t gone anywhere that year. I was in class eight or nine, or in between and possibly getting on my mother’s nerves. A neighbour offered to teach me crochet and my mum jumped at it. I was a non-indoors kid. I wasn’t interested in sewing, cooking, working with hands (or any of the other things that were thought generally “girly” or non-cerebral) but I am also extremely polite and couldn’t say no even though I wanted to. I made some really ugly pen-holder covers and coasters in bright red and yellow acrylic yarn. Safe to say I was nowhere close to being hooked. I let it go after that summer and didn’t pick it up again till I was 27. From then on, I crocheted intermittently till last year where I launched into it rather feverishly. It saved my life, and not just literally.’ […]
The other thing I discovered (post diagnosis of illnesses) was not everyone will believe you, understand you or try to understand you. Family members will be in denial (my father and brother still are, constantly challenging my explanations of why I am the way I am or blaming me directly for my “failures”.) Friends will say, “oh, that’s the latest fad, everyone seems to have it”. (I don’t blame them for thinking that, though, India has a very very large numbers of depressed people alone, so I can’t imagine the numbers for other mental health issues.) Others will quietly listen to you and make sure they don’t get in touch often. But then there are others who will put every bit of kindness and gentleness their soul can summon and shower it on you. In my estimation, none of this is their fault. We talk too little about mental health issues in India and the reason I write this fractured, and possible uninteresting post, is to contribute to the small number of voices that talks about mental health issues to bring it out into a less shameful, more supportive space. (In fact, even as I write this I hesitate to post a link on my Facebook because, you know, how will it affect my family. I don’t even know if this is worth sharing, in fact.)
And this is where I will come back to my crochet. The mindless hours I spend doing the work of crochet, of repetitively using my hook, of constantly being surrounded by my yarn, helped me see some things. First of which was to see how working with your hands gives you some level of focus and clarity. I found out making beautiful things that people like is deeply gratifying, but there also lies the trap of validation and seeking approval. Doing hours of crochet allowed me sit at home, be asocial and yet be productive. I understood why many, many treatment systems use occupational therapy. Seeing all the colours of my yarn, envisioning a product, designing it and finally finishing it all give me varying levels of satisfaction, and joy. It’s a great tool to shut my mind down and not think about the bad things, and by the time I am done fighting the darkness in my head, I’ve created something that’s beautiful and usable.