Everyday Crochet: Recovering from PCS with Crochet

About a decade ago, Llyn McClure suffered a serious fall that resulted in post-concussion syndrome (PCS), which has a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. She almost had to drop out of massage school but found that crocheting helped her stay calm and focused enough to get through her classes. Years later, when subsequent issues were diagnosed as depression and social anxiety, she immediately knew that crochet had to be part of her total wellness plan.

Llyn learned to crochet at the age of seven, when her paternal grandmother arrived from Northern Ireland to spend the summer with the family in Montreal. Nana patiently sat down with Llyn and her sister on several occasions to introduce them to the craft she herself loved by trying to teach them to crochet a sunhat.

Neither of the girls took to the craft at the time, and Llyn says that her grandmother went home that September convinced that despite her best efforts, both granddaughters were hopelessly inept at any kind of needlecraft. Little did she know that the lessons would stick with Llyn and end up helping her many years later.

In 2004, Llyn had a bad fall at the massage college she was attending, resulting in head trauma with a grade 3 concussion followed by PCS. PCS symptoms include sensitivity to light, a permanent headache, eye pain, anger bordering on rage, and personality alteration. Physical pain and emotional difficulty coupled with a terrible inability to focus made it almost impossible for her to continue studying.

Two nights after Llyn fell, she was unpacking a box when she found a cheap plastic crochet hook and some acrylic yarn. She hadn’t yet gotten her diagnosis of PCS, but she knew that something was wrong with her emotions and that she needed to do something to calm herself down.

“On a whim, I sat down and started to chain . . . the only stitch I could remember from when Nana had tried to teach me,” Llyn says. “Chain, frog, chain, frog, chain, frog . . . repeating it over and over. I found that by focusing on moving the hook through the yarn, I didn’t have time to be irritated by the minutiae that was aggravating me so uncharacteristically.

“I carried the ball and hook to the college with me the next day,” Llyn says, “intending to chain and frog my way through classes in the hopes that the calming effect from the night before would carry through to a new setting. I focused my attention as best as I could on the instructor and just let my hands do what they wanted. So long as I could feel the hook catch and pull and the yarn slide through my fingers, the irrational emotions stayed in the background.

“During a break, one of my classmates asked me what I was making. At first I stared at her in utter confusion. I wasn’t making anything; I was trying to control what was going wrong in my head as a result of the concussion.

“Then I looked down at what my hands had been doing while I was focused on the instructor. It didn’t take more than a moment to recognize the pattern. While my conscious mind had been focused on my class, my subconsciously guided hands had been diligently crafting the sunhat that Nana, now nearly a decade deceased, had tried so hard to teach me all those years ago.

“I finished the hat and recovered, as much as I was going to, from the brain injury. The world of crochet was open to me from then on.”

Coping Through Crochet

Llyn has been crocheting ever since she used it to get through school in 2004. Most recently, she has found that it helps her cope with a diagnosis of depression and agoraphobia with severe social anxiety. She has difficulty leaving the house, dealing with people, and especially, facing any type of confrontational situation. Crochet always helps. She keeps panic attacks at bay by crafting when she’s in stressful circumstances and says that she’s able to be a functional person today because of crochet.

“While my hands are busy, I do not have room in my mind for thoughts of what the worst possible outcome of any situation might be,” she says. “I cannot be anxious about a possible imaginary future (whether that future be five minutes or five years away) while I am busy crocheting. Therefore the runaway train-of-thought that would otherwise lead to a panic attack never gets a chance to leave the station.” Crocheting also helps boost her self-esteem, she says.

Llyn really considers crochet a critical form of therapy for her. She crochets for about five hours each day, and also does knitting, spinning, sewing, wire weaving for jewelry, and chain maille. She says that of all the crafts, crochet is the most healing, followed by the rhythmic art of yarn spinning. Llyn loves to crochet complicated patterns, and she enjoys crocheting items to give to others.

Fantasy Craft Night

If Llyn could invite any group of people to a craft night at her house, her grandmother would be at the top of the list. She would also invite her mother, who struggled to teach herself to knit when Llyn was a child, and Janet, her best friend from high school and a lifelong knitter whom Llyn describes as “a rock of upbeat stability in my often stormy world.”

Also on the invite list would be Karyn, the owner of Birkeland Bros. Wool, the local yarn shop in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, where Llyn now lives. Llyn says that Karyn is “a fellow crocheter who is currently engaged in a battle with cancer. She opened her shop as a haven to a stranger and created not only a safe place for me to learn to spin and knit but also a jumping-off point in the downtown area of our town from which I could expand my shrinking world.”

Finally, she’d invite the Fifth Doctor from Doctor Who (Peter Davison) because she’s a geek at heart and he was her favorite Doctor.

Writer Kathryn Vercillo’s column, Everyday Crochet, appears in numerous issues of Interweave Crochet. In 2016 Kathryn’s blog, Crochet Concupiscence, was named 6th on a list of Top 100 Crochet Blogs by Feedspot.

This item was originally published in Interweave Crochet Winter 2015.

All images courtesy of Llyn McClure.

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