I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. I have also diagnosed myself with dyscalulia and just a touch of OCD—these two are especially interesting for me to observe in my own mind, because they function almost as opposites of each other.
The dyscalulia kicks in when I look at Excel sheets, a phone number, an OTP number for an online payment, or the cheque at the restaurant. Series of numbers, at first glance, dance before my eyes and look like another language. I will read 434 as 443 and 343 and 344 before I direct all my attention and focus and finally manage to read it the right way. This whole process lasts no more than a couple of seconds and feels a bit like a sudden bolt of blinding lightning inside my head.
Given this, the OCD manifests in an interesting way. I am obsessive about… counting. Lines, shapes, the number of dots on a dress, the number of tiles in a bathroom, the number of creases in a sheet.
I know, I know, it makes no sense. But it also does in a strange way.
L-R Images from https://www.anthropologie.com/shop/breanna-polka-dot-wrap-dress, https://www.toppstiles.co.uk/section1156/page1/bathroomtile, https://www.flickr.com/photos/creative_stock/17190377130
I do the counting quite unconsciously in moments of anxiety. The anxiety typically feels like loud white noise in my head, chaotic and impossible to sort through or understand. The counting is the perfect anathema to that—a way to artificially impose a sense of order in the seeming chaos around me.
Last month, a friend who is bipolar had a manic episode while I was staying in his house. Over two days, I stayed in close quarters with him as he went from seeming “a bit off” to full-blown manic, following me around the house, screaming at me like an angry bull. At one point, I was hiding in the bathroom, texting his friends, “Send help.”
A few harrowing hours later, he was being taken away in an ambulance to an institution outside city limits. I was shaking, crying, terrified, huddled in a corner, whispering the three times table under my breath. Somewhere in my subconscious, I called upon numbers to bring back order to this chaos. Like the numbers are some higher power I don’t understand but simply believe in.
Crochet is a truly mathematical craft—in learning how to make beanies and baskets and rugs, I have learnt about fractions and geometry and the basics of division. This is something I learned but did not ever truly understand at school. Primarily because I was never not once shown how memorising the formula to calculate the circumference of a circle had any practical application whatsoever. Turns out, it helps you make sure your hat is a good fit for your head and you don’t die of hypothermia in an English winter. Which is kind of important stuff.
In crochet, as in most kinds of weaving, all this exacting numerical wrangling really shows in the craft. In a crocheted bag or afghan or jumper, you will clearly see the pleasingly symmetrical rows and columns of stitches. At Chindi, all we do is crochet, and I love being surrounded by these symmetrical yet organic handmade objects with perfect squares and circles seemingly appearing out of thin air.
L-R Images from https://www.craftsy.com/crocheting/article/decorative-crochet-stitches/, https://www.craftsy.com/crocheting/article/crochet-a-flat-circle/, http://www.cherryheartcrochet.co.uk/2014/09/join-as-you-go-jayg.html
No wonder then that I find myself picking up my crochet hook in times of anxiety and depression. In the repetitive movements of the hands, in the exacting mathematics of the weave, in just the touch of imperfection in all the symmetry, I find my mind settles and breath slows down. There is some, not a lot, but enough, calm.
This isn’t just my my own experience—there is science and more than enough anecdotal evidence to back this claim. A simple Google search of the topic will show you what the general opinion on this is.
The findings have led to numerous projects using crafts like crochet to support at-risk groups…
And also as a force for doing good…
Let me be clear about this: I still find numbers confusing and calculating the change I’m supposed to get back still takes me much longer than your average 6 year old.
But somehow combined with yarn and a hook, the three times table I’m furiously whispering under my breath is only to make sure the hat fits.