By Genevieve Howard
My most treasured item is a blue, acrylic sweater my mom knit me. It has a horse on the back and my nickname in block letters on the front: GEN. I only wear it once a year to keep it from fading and falling apart.
I didn’t always treasure my mom. When I was younger, I often felt confused, embarrassed and overwhelmed by her behavior. She lived with schizophrenia her entire life and had episodes of feeling suicidal. She told me she felt so bad in second grade that she went on the roof of her elementary school and wanted to jump off.
Her life was topsy-turvy with high peaks of joy and dark moments of panic, sometimes within the same day. She went through periods on and off various medications, but she never found the perfect treatment plan. She was hospitalized many times. Employment was difficult for her because of the unpredictable nature of her issues.
It’s a mystery to me how she learned to knit, but she picked it up in her early 20s. Through knitting, she found a meaningful method to express her creativity for more than 50 years. Among other things, knitting allowed her to succeed, socialize, calm herself, regain control and participate in a craft on a limited income. I’ll explain:
After she died in 2009 from lung cancer, I taught myself to knit using a book so I could honor her memory. I respect my mom more after learning her hobby—I understand her in a new way. She was a sophisticated, creative, brave woman who rose above her limitations.
You, too, can be a knitter, regardless of any mental illness you live with. Reach out to your circle of friends and let them know you’re interested in knitting. If you don’t have many friends, check your community for local knitting circles—some yarn stores offer free space to sit and knit. As with any new activity, you might find knitting tough in the beginning. Be patient! Stick to simple projects. After you get the hang of it, you will come to rely on knitting as a source of relaxation and so much more. And when you hold your first finished piece you made by hand, you’ll have a deep sense of satisfaction.
Once a year, I wrap myself in the horse sweater my mom made me by hand. I prize the thousands of perfect stitches, each motivated by her affection for me. The blue yarn holds her love around my shoulders, all these years later. Beyond illness and death, her love remains and I can feel it now more than ever.
With a deep affection for knitting, crochet, hot tea and puttering, Genevieve A. Howard plans to reach her peak as an old woman. Author of the Creative Women's Devotional, you can connect with her at genevievehoward.com
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