Untangled – How Knitting has Helped Me

About a decade ago, I had a serious health crisis.  My kids were still in elementary school, I was a stressed-out super-busy Solo Mom who was trying to keep things together for my family.  I became suddenly ill with weird, seemingly random symptoms – I felt like I’d been “unplugged” from my body’s power source; lack of appetite, foggy brain, light-headed, skin sensitivities, extremely low blood pressure, and (what finally sent me quickly to the doctor) joint pain throughout my entire body that had me having to hold onto the walls or crawl to get up and down the stairs in my home.  The first doctor I saw tried to tell me I’d overdone it gardening and that at the age of 40 it was just how things were. (Seriously?!?!?!?!)  A week later I was able to get an appointment with the new doctor in my village and, with him being new to Canada, he ordered every test available to find out what was going on.
Exhausted and scared, I had to step down from my volunteer positions in the community to lighten my load but I still struggled to get anything but taking the kids to school and feeding them done in a day.  My blood-work came back showing that I had tested positive for Pernicious Anemia (my body does not absorb B12 through digestion), Celiac Disease, and Lupus.  Lupus is a serious autoimmune disease that I knew I did not want! As it turned out, I was among the 5% of the population that gives a false positive for Lupus (I was so grateful) BUT I did not find that out until I was able to see a specialist who determined that I’d likely suffered an adult case of a childhood disease (Fifths Disease).  It was a very long 10 months that I tried to figure out how to heal my body as best I could while I was waiting to see the specialist.  Enter KNITTING.
“Wait, what… knitting?” you might be asking.  I am a proactive, wholistic kind of person so I knew that as grateful as I am for western medicine, if there was anything “natural” I could do to heal my body, then it was going to happen.  The pernicious anemia is dealt with B12 injections, that’s easy.  The celiac disease?  I told the doctors I didn’t need to be sent for a biopsy to confirm, I was perfectly fine cutting gluten out of my life.  But the lupus… that’s where I had to do some research.
Lupus is a serious autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks itself causing pain and inflammation amongst other things. Much of what I read addressed the stress concerns of people who have autoimmune disease and that trying to find things to lessen stress levels can help (in some cases) the severity of the symptoms of the disease itself.  I kept reading about how knitting & crocheting was very calming for many people living with Lupus and other autoimmune diseases.  My aunt had tried to teach me to knit when I was very young but my mom wasn’t very good at it and I quickly forgot everything that my aunt had showed me. Suddenly I really wanted to learn again.
I went to my local library and got out books on beginner’s knitting.  I stopped by my local thrift store at the church and picked up some yarn and knitting needles.  I also found some videos online that I could watch to try to make sense of it all.  I started by knitting very plain, very simple scarves.  My kids and friends received them as gifts.  I was by no means a great knitter but I found myself looking forward to making time to work on new scarves.  The action of knitting was great for my hands, but what I noticed most was how it affected my mind.
My life then was very high stress.  There was so much chatter in my mind that it took me forever to fall asleep at night and it was difficult for me to stick with one task as other things I needed to be doing kept popping up in my mind and I would dash off to do the next “most important” thing.  With knitting, I would sit in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and some nice music on or a show that the kids wanted to watch and I would decide I could knit say 6-8 rows. After the first couple of rows were done my mind started to clear, it was as though knitting (essentially tangling yarn in a specific pattern) was UNTANGLING my stressed out momma-mind!  My breathing was easier and my body began to relax.  It was like magic to me.
I continue to knit to this day.  In fact, with the approach of autumn, I got out my newest project to work on in the early evening to help me unwind from my day.  I’m still a very beginner knitter, sticking with regular scarves, infinity scarves, and toques but I love the process and I love being able to gift people I care about with something I’ve made just for them.
That’s my experience with knitting… it helped both my physical and mental health in a huge way.
Some of the things I learned when I was researching knitting to help with health are:
  • It lower heart rate and blood pressure.  The relaxing effect lowers the levels of cortisol in the body.
  • It keeps your hands and fingers in good shape.  The motions of knitting keeps joints flexible and muscles toned.
  • It improves your Math Skills.  What???? True.  There’s a lot of counting, multiplying, measuring involved and that helps your brain function.  Cool.
  • It helps calm anxiety.  As I’ve already mentioned, it is very soothing and for me “untangling” my brain was a huge help to dealing with my anxiety.
  • It sharpens your memory.  You have to remember a lot of what you’ve done & what you are doing in knitting.  Memory skills improve.
  • It helps manage pain. Studies have shown that when people who are in pain are concentrating on something  then it allows them to be less aware of their pain.  Knitting definitely requires concentration.
  • It gives a sense of purpose.  A knitting project is like any project – it gives you a goal to meet.  That goal of a finished project can also mean you have created something to share with someone else if desired.  I’ve given away many knitting projects as gifts as I mentioned but I’ve also donated many to the homeless.
  • It boosts confidence and self-esteem.  Knitting is a skill.  You learn it, You continue to improve and master it.  When you’ve finished something you have a tangible item that you can look at and say “I did that!”
Oxford Dictionary

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