Blanket Renewal: How Crochet Helps Alisa Erkes Heal
Alisa Erkes lives with a rare autoimmune disease called Behcet’s disease. Because her symptoms prevent her from working a traditional nine-to-five job, she turned to crochet to stay productive. After a time, she found that she could sell her afghans on Etsy. Not only that, but crochet helps her heal.
LEARNING TO CROCHET
Alisa taught herself to crochet when she was fiffteen, the same year she learned she has Behcet’s disease. “My best friend at the time had been given a handmade blanket from her grandmother, and I was very intrigued by its beauty,” she says. “You could feel the love of her grandmother in her work. I wanted to be able to make blankets like that too.” Now Alisa crochets twenty to forty hours a week. She often crochets in the living room with the TV on, listening to a show while watching her hands work. At night, she crochets in bed next to her husband, a U.S. Army veteran, in their Atlanta home while he watches TV. Sometimes she crochets in bed when she’s alone, too, but then she usually turns the TV off and engages in more silent, meditative crochet.
Inspired by the love of that first handmade blanket, Alisa crochets blankets of all sizes. She also crochets other items, including scarves and beanies, but blankets are her favorites. The only thing she has ever made for herself is a blanket, and that was only after her husband begged her to finally make something for herself. She prefers to crochet for others, “giving them the gift of coziness, warmth, and love.”
Alisa likes to work a large blanket using just one stitch or an easily repeatable pattern such as the chevron. The repetition helps her de-stress, calm her mind, meditate, and heal, she says. She uses color variations to make each blanket unique and interesting. Most of her blankets have two to four colors in a striped pattern, although she works different designs as well. You can see the variety in her Etsy store, Allie’s Handmade Blankets. She also offers made-to-order afghans, allowing her customers to choose their colors.
Initially, Behcet’s disease didn’t affect Alisa’s activity very much. She went to college, where she was the president of a sorority, and worked in retail full-time while earning a degree in computer science. She says that she was a workaholic for a while, keeping herself busy all the time. However, in 2010 her symptoms became more debilitating, and everything changed.
Behcet’s is an autoimmune disease of unknown origin that causes inflammation in the blood vessels throughout the body. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including mouth sores, skin lesions, vision problems, joint swelling, vascular problems, digestive issues, and disorientation. Any area of the body can be affected, depending on where the inflammation occurs. Serious risks include blood clots, stroke, and blindness. There is no cure for the condition, and treatment is about managing the symptoms and doing what you can to avoid the worst risks.
Although crochet can’t help Alisa with all of her symptoms, including chronic abdominal pain, she does find that it helps her in many ways. She says that crocheting six or so hours a day helps significantly with the joint pain in her wrists. In addition, she says, daily crochet reduces her stress levels, which helps with the symptoms. Most important, crochet heals her emotionally. “I feel more at ease about my life because I have a purpose in life that fits me and my illness well,” she says. “I’m not just sitting around doing nothing. I am creating beautiful blankets for other people to enjoy, and this makes me very happy and satisfied.”
Alisa, now twenty-five, really started to concentrate on the craft four years ago after her condition got worse. She says, “I was stuck on the couch due to chronic pain and fatigue, so I turned to crochet to keep me busy and to lift my spirits. Going from being busy all the time to having nothing to do and no energy to do it put me in a really dark place. As soon as I picked up that crochet hook again and started making the blankets I had always wanted to make, things started to get better. I felt like I had a purpose in life without leaving the couch when I was my sickest.”
The craft began to help her immediately, but it took time for her to fully embrace it as a valid career choice and to get those societal messages about what constitutes “work” out of her head. “The way people react to my craft definitely affects the health benefits,” she says. “When people tell me that I don’t work, that I ‘just crochet,’ it really hurts my feelings and stresses me out, which makes my illness worse. I have had short-term jobs using my college degree over the past few years, and whenever I started somewhere, people would tell me that I was ‘finally working’ and that they were happy that I was doing more than crocheting. I have had to learn that the people making these comments do not understand my exact situation and that I need to ignore them and know that I am doing the best thing for me, and that is all that matters.”
KATHRYN VERCILLO is the author of Crochet Saved My Life and Hook to Heal. An entire chapter of Hook to Heal is devoted to working with affirmations in crochet. Kathryn can be found at her crochet blog: www.crochetconcupiscence.com. Published in Interweave Crochet Spring 2015.
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