“A sense of purpose”: How crafting helped me manage my chronic illness
Kelly Reid is a blogger and Instagrammer, talking all things chronic illness. She also runs a pen pal matching service for people with chronic illnesses. In this blog post she shares how crafting become a big part of her life while managing a chronic illness.
Hi, I’m Kelly, a chronically ill crafter and content creator. I was diagnosed with ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) in 2010 when I was just 13 years old. For the last ten years, I’ve balanced school, university and now blogging alongside the chronic fatigue, muscle pain and other symptoms that ME causes.
When I first got sick I went down hard and fast. I lost about 70% of my functionality, becoming housebound in just a few months, and my mental health took a hit alongside it. I was scared and lost, desperately hoping that it wouldn’t be like this forever.
Discovering an old hobby
Every week my mum and I drove past this tiny sewing shop on the way to my flute lessons, with handmade quilts and knitted scarves in the windows. When we finally stopped for a look, I fell in love. I was always crafty as a kid, and as we wandered through seeing the beautiful quilts on display, I couldn’t help myself. I went home with a small bundle of fabric, a chunk of wadding, and the determination to hand sew a quilt.
That was just my first project. In the following years, I’ve tried my hand at quilting, embroidery and knitting. Over the years my health has slowly improved, and I started to pull away from crafting, distracted by the excitement of university. But when I relapsed a couple of years ago, it was one of the first things I turned back to. Having creative projects to work on, small and simple enough to do from bed, gives me something to focus on and a sense of purpose. It’s become almost meditative; the repetitive motion of each stitch pulls me out of the chaos of my head and situates me firmly in the real world.
It's more than just crafting, it’s a community
This is the joy of crafting. Unlike the digital creative work I do, when I’ve finished embroidering a necklace or sewing a new skirt, I get to hold the thing I've made in my hands. It's tactile and real and I can see my contribution to the world. Whenever I’m feeling lost or questioning the point of life, having something so tangible has become the best kind of therapy for me. I also get to share it with other people. Through Instagram, I have found a community of people like me who love crafting, sharing with me the ups and downs of each new project. It goes a long way to break the isolation of being housebound, making me feel like I’m still a part of the world.
Crafting can be super accessible. All you need to start knitting or crocheting is a ball of wool and some needles. With just a few stitches you can make a scarf, hat or soft toy from the comfort of your bed (you can also get machines that help if you struggle with mobility in your hands). There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube, but I also recommend The Reluctant Spoonie for some adorable, paced beginner's patterns.
The excitement of any new project is that you never know what it might turn into. You could fall in love with making clothes like Annika (@LittlePineNeedle), knit toys for charities, or advocate for the causes you believe in using embroidery art, like @SubversiveCrossStitch. I took my love of card making and letter writing and started Spoonie PenPals; a pen pal matching organisation for people with chronic illnesses. Now I always have people to make cards for!
So, what are you going to make? Pick something fun and easy to start, and then let me know how it goes!