Knitting My Mind Back Together

– Christy Grace Collins, March 16th 2019

When I learned to knit at the age of six, I had no idea it would become an important therapy later in life. I just loved it. Six concussions later (from figure skating) and a slew of post concussive symptoms ranging from slurring my words, losing my balance, difficulty with hearing, attention and memory, to an ongoing struggle to speak words that I am thinking, knitting is one of my lifelines.

I didn’t realize how much knitting helped until my most recent concussion on January 30, 2019; the first in over 10 years. I fell on the stairs in my home and was off work for a week. Unlike previous concussions, where I had recovered more quickly, this time I struggled to do very simple tasks.

It was around day 4 post-concussion when I picked up my knitting, simply because I missed it. My vision was still blurry and it was incredibly difficult to concentrate on how to make the stitches, but I pushed ahead and was more than surprised when my vision began to CLEAR within 5-10 stitches. It took 2 more days before I could knit for long stretches at a time, but the more I did the clearer my head felt, and the fuzziness that I had experienced with my vision was held at bay. Knitting was one of the only tasks that I could do that week.

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As I recovered, I began to think about how I feel when I am knitting every night, and realized that my mind is always clearer, and I am happier. In contrast, in the two months before I fell, I had switched to other crafts, such as sewing, because I was making Christmas presents. During that same time, I had a lot more of the post concussive symptoms. I fell in January because I was off balance and my head was feeling fuzzy. I hadn’t knit in some time.

If that experience wasn’t enough to make the case for knitting as top-notch concussion therapy, I had the “opportunity” to repeat the experiment again more recently. I made the unfortunate decision to push through the warning signs of pain related to an old neck injury, so I could finish putting together an entertainment center, and was rewarded with an intense relapse of the post concussive symptoms, this time lasting for over 3 weeks*. I felt more like I had a concussion during those weeks than the few weeks following my fall, particularly after long periods of computer work. I tried resting for several weeks, reducing stimuli as much as possible after work, but the symptoms did not get much better; until I picked up my knitting again.

I really struggled to get started knitting this time round. Counting was an intensely labored process. I was also surprised at how much harder it was to memorize the pattern for each line than usual. When knitting on a regular basis, my memory is much better and I can memorize a line pattern within 10-15 stitches. This time it took most of the line, over 100 stitches, to memorize the pattern repeat. However, the longer I knitted, the more my mind cleared and the easier it became to count, remember how to make the stitches, and keep track of where I was in the pattern. By the last 50 stitches of a line, I didn’t need the pattern anymore, and was able to memorize the pattern repeats on the next two lines fairly quickly. I was not up to my normal speed, but much better than when Istarted!

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I still couldn’t knit more than a few rows before needing to rest, but my husband made an interesting comment. “If you had come home from work and told me that you had stopped for a couple of drinks and smoked a joint, I would have looked at the way you were acting and thought, ‘That’s about right,’ but after knitting for a few minutes, you’re talking and acting like you’re normal again.” **I haven’t found anything else that helps to clear the symptoms up the way that knitting does; rest and medication by itself cannot compete with two sticks and some string.

Despite all of these handicaps and episodes, I am able to work in a fast-paced marketing job where I grow my accounts up to 287% annually. I’m also the regional President of our Church young women’s group where I am blessed to work on quarterly events, organize & host conferences, as well as speaking at events and leading workshops for our teens. Additionally, I’m a member of our local Rotary Club, and one of the administrators on our local chapter of JustServe.org. Home and family still take priority where each night is dedicated to some family and knitting time.

Participating in so many activities shouldn’t be possible with the injuries I have, but it is. My husband and I have both observed significant improvement in my symptoms within 5-10 minutes of knitting. I believe that knitting is one of the therapies that makes it possible for me to continue to live the life that I want to live with the handicaps that I have.

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

I am mindful, or perhaps “yarnful”, now of just how much I need to make knitting a priority as a therapy in my life; not just as something that I really enjoy doing. It is amazing what our bodies know about us. If we follow instinct, we know things like, ‘I’m stressed; I need to knit tonight.’ or ‘My brain is really fuzzy. I miss my knitting and I want to try to do that for a little while even though I don’t think I can…’ The problem is that we dismiss our own inner knowledge and think that this very beneficial activity is just for fun, something that is a guilty pleasure only to be rewarded after everything else is done and everyone else is looked after. So, I say:

 

Listen to your heart, your mind, and  your body; if it says Knit!,” then by all means KNIT!!!


* Pain over-stimulates the brain and triggers the post-concussivesyndrome.)

** I do not drink and have never smoked a joint. The actions he is referring to are the post-concussive symptoms that frequently show up in the evenings when I am tired and in more pain.

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