It’s no surprise in today’s society to hear someone admit that they have some sort of depression or anxiety as part of a movement of individuals to normalize mental health issues in our culture and world, but rarely, unless you are close to someone or reading an op-ed on the topic, do you come across first hand accounts of what that really means for someone on a day-to-day basis. While a growing number of Americans are embracing mental health issues, many are still unaware of what it means to live with a mental illness.
I have depression and anxiety, among other possible issues I have yet to dive into with my therapist (my mom has bipolar and my dad has Adult ADHD, so there's a possibility of me having both), and like most, it can be increasingly difficult to describe what I go through to a society who is trying to normalize and decrease the stigma of mental illness. All of my recent conversations have been “Well that’s normal for you, right?,” or “I totally understand, I have anxiety attacks, too,” which can be comforting, but at the same time all I hear is, “You have a problem? Me too! Let’s discuss!,” when all I really need is someone to listen. My therapist fills this hole most of the time, but my therapist is paid to do that.
I’m not going to harp on society’s ability to listen when needed, especially knowing that most people truly mean well, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Instead, I’ve found something that fills a void I didn’t know I had; dyeing and designing (both knit and crochet wear).
I’ve been dyeing for nearly two years, and designing for less than one, but the benefits of diving into such endeavors have been nothing less than positive.
Let’s take a step back…
October 1st, 2017. Las Vegas, Nevada. A lone gunman breaks his window at Mandalay Bay and fires an assault rifle modified with a bump stock into the Route 91 Harvest Festival crowd across Las Vegas Boulevard, in the end killing 58 people and injuring hundreds of other spectators.
I was awake that evening, though trying to sleep, when I received the call from my now ex-husband telling me people had been shot at the festival. He wasn’t there, but his friends were. All of them survived, but only barely, as one of his friends relayed the frightening story to us. They had been running, attempting to escape, and people were dropping beside them, in front of them, behind them, directly next to them, all hit in the barrage of bullets. He described it as like being in an action movie, except the danger was real, and they knew they could be next. The only thing they could do was run, tunnel visioned on the exit gates.
I watched video after video hit social media before the news outlets knew what was happening. I saw horrific things, content you can’t show on media outlets, videos you only see on big screens and produced entertainment. I saw real horrors, things I never should have seen. I watched the life leave people’s eyes, blood leave their faces, and those who had stayed behind to help become victims themselves.
That night I pulled out my phone and did the only I knew how to do at the time, record my reaction. It was short, mostly showing my shock, my fear, the lack of understanding for what was really going on out there.
I will never know what those people went through that day. I will never know how scared they were, how desperate they were to escape.
I’ve always been a bit of an empath. I can feel emotions I’m not initially experiencing. I will cry when others cry, laugh when they laugh, get angry when they are frustrated, but I can also feel energy in times of great stress, and the closer I am in proximity, the stronger that energy affects me. My office is right across the airport tarmac from where the shooting happened. I could see the lot from my window. For weeks after the tragedy I could feel that energy radiating from that space. So much pain and fear had been left behind in that lot. It was chaos, confusion, panic, and it was everywhere in the city. I couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think without nearly busting into tears. I could feel every single loss as if I had known them.
Disclaimer: I will never have the memories these people have. I will never have to live with that loss or fear. But it affected all of us in our own ways.
I had to do something, so I got to work on my very first design. Something simple, yet elegant, and with a story. The end product was my Guiding Light shawl. It featured a diamond cable on a simple stockinette base, and fringe on one end. The cable was a representation of how life can lead us in many different directions, but always brings us back together. The stockinette was a symbol of the simple beauty, and the blank slate we all begin and end our lives with. The garter bumps surrounding the cable were the obstacles we will all face, and that section was bordered with a simple twisted stitch, a reminder that amidst it all there is beauty hiding in plain sight.
The shawl was knit in my own hand dyed yarn, a yarn I called There Is Always Hope. It was a gold speckled yarn that made me think of the simplicity of light, and how often I wished it would shine at times when my life was darkest.
Everything about this shawl was an ode to the pain I felt and the journey I had to go on to try and find peace. I hoped, as a resident of Las Vegas, that I could share the pattern and yarn and help my community find peace as well. The pattern never really took off, but my dyeing and my designing did.
Ever since then I’ve tried to infuse my need to find peace and cope with my mental illness into my fiber crafts. When I come out with an erratic colorway, such as Power Surge, its because I was feeling chaotic and unsettled, but on days when I produce something beautiful and simple, such as If I Was Green I Would Dye, its because of a moment of peace and clarity.
I never want anyone to think that I deserve sympathy for what I experienced on that October night in 2017. What I went through is only a fraction of what others have experienced. But I will defend my belief that everyone has their own journey, their own pains, and their own problems. I had to learn to deal with mine as everyone else has to learn to handle theirs.
But that’s why I dye and design. My yarn will listen to how I feel when no one else seems to understand. At the end of an extensive dye day, I walk away with a feeling of accomplishment, of purpose, and of calmness, because that yarn now knows who I am, how I am feeling, and what I need to get better.
Don’t hide from how you’re feeling. Emotions are a natural response. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind. Find help when you can, and for everything else, keep crafting.