In the Spring of 2020, “Alive with Purpose” facilitated the inaugural care package program. Applicants in both the United States and Canada were asked to share their mental health journey so far, explain how the fiber arts have contributed to the betterment of their mental health symptoms and to lastly relay what advice they would give to others who were also experiencing mental health needs. All applicants understood that their stories would ultimately be shared as a means to provide hope and encouragement to others.
AWP intended initially to select only ten applicants at random to receive a care package that included hand-dyed yarn from AWP, crochet/knitting tools, books and more. AWP also made a call to the maker community on Instagram and received numerous other donated goodies. Then, after the application period had ended, and about two weeks before packages were to be mailed to the lucky recipients, an anonymous donor with a huge heart contacted AWP. Their financial gift ensured that all persons who applied for a care package were able to receive one! In all, twenty-one packages were mailed during the month of May, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.
This program has been such a huge success that it is AWP’s intention to continue it each year. Every May, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Alive with Purpose will commit to sending Care Packages to persons with mental health needs who use the fiber arts to cope with and manage their symptoms. While the application period is presently closed, I believe it is important for readers to read the partial application responses that were received in the Spring of 2020. All of the responses below are from actual applicants. AWP has reviewed each response carefully to ensure as much anonymity as possible for each person, and that is why only the person’s first name and home state/province are mentioned. Persons with truly unique first names have had their names shortened to a first initial.
An important note – Some of these responses have been edited. While the majority of the edits made were to primarily retain clarity of their stories, AWP ultimately made the decision to remove graphic descriptions of abuse, suicide and self-harm. AWP does not do this in an effort to gloss over mental health. The effects of abuse are real and painful. Abuse, thoughts of suicide (and especially with a plan) and instances of self-harm are indicators of immediate need for intervention.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, please call 911.
If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm and/or is endorsing thoughts of suicide, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.
Lastly, it is important for the reader to know that mental health is extremely complex. What works for one person may not work for another and what works for one may not even work for them all the time. The views of each person are entirely their own and AWP does not promote nor prescribe one specific path for healing over another. Mental health is indeed a journey; there are often periods of satisfaction in life interspersed with times of great distress. Relapses and repeated hospitalizations are not indicators of failure, instead they are signals for necessary adjustment(s) to be made.
If there is one message to ultimately be relayed it is this – if you are struggling with the symptoms of mental illness, ASK FOR HELP! There is hope in recovery and no diagnosis defines who you are.
2020 Alive with Purpose Care Package Program Application Responses
Briefly describe your mental health journey.
I’ve had depression in the past after my first child was born, but sought help. Recently, I started noticing my attitude and my patience was very short. I would cry randomly, I would become hateful for no reason and my children would bring this to my attention. I decided it was time to talk to the doctor! They then diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia – Depression is one of the most common symptoms of Fibromyalgia!
Between losing so many family members in such a short time and dealing with constant pain and every doctor telling me there isn’t anything wrong with me, I didn’t know what to do. I felt myself going to a very dark place. It is scary to feel that way! I was told that I’m not alone from my family and friends and knew that with their support I could do this! My nickname is “Supermom” and my fiancé reminds me of that every day! And he understands that crocheting helps me! I get in a zone and I forget about everything else. Siera, Virginia
I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. I was recently evaluated for ADHD as well and I am waiting on the results, but the provider said that he thinks I will find out why I have been struggling. This has made me sad. For the last two years, I have been unable to work. Being a caregiver in multiple areas of my life, as both a nurse and as the mother of a child with special needs, has been very difficult. Michelle, Minnesota
About 5 years ago I was arrested for a crime I did not commit. This event has affected me hugely and the ramifications from that are still affecting me today in many ways. My husband and I went through YEARS of court and lawyers’ fees. We were a broken family. For years this consumed our lives. We lost friends, family, our house and more. It took me years to be able to see a police car without being terrified that I was going to be arrested for another false claim. I struggled to make friends, talk to people, or cope with any of my feelings for a long time. And we are just now coming out of debt from 3 years of court. I was eventually diagnosed with Severe Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD. I have a hard time processing emotions. Brandie, Georgia
I have struggled with chronic severe depression my entire life, since the abuse of childhood. I am also marred by the traumas of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. My traumas have radically affected my life, but does not continue to define me. I have spent the past almost ten years recovering by helping other victims find hope, peace, and healing in their lives. I have also spent several of the last years teaching and working with youth to help them process and avoid ending up in situations like mine. Although my life and mind have been affected from trauma and depression, I find peace and healing in making… I have helped a great many others to do so too. I am a single mom who also lives with 3 autoimmune diseases that radically affect my mental health and physical health as well. My life is may be hard but it is a blessing to be here. Shayna, Washington
I have had depression since I was a child (I’m 60 now). I spent my youth with older relatives because they understood my moods. My uncles suffered with mental health needs also, as did my mother. I spent years running away every time I couldn’t deal. My safety nets were dying, and I was lost. Then I had a major traumatic experience – I was brought back to Minnesota and dropped at the Mayo Clinic by my mother , where I spent nearly a year because of complications from a bad surgery. During that time I was also helped by being diagnosed with fast cycling Bipolar disorder, and Severe Depression. Since then I’ve struggled and have gone thru partial hospitalization four times.
While at my worst, one of my cousins came to visit – and made me pick up a crochet hook again. She brought yarn, paper crafts…all the things I had done in days when I was younger and able to control myself better. Through the years I have hit bottom and crawled back up with therapy. I try really hard now to keep my hands busy, especially with crochet (though I’ve tried knitting, embroidery and painting!). My Baba taught me all the fiber arts. T., Minnesota
I have anxiety and depression. It has been a long road. It started in Jr. high and got really bad when I went to college. Sierra, Oregon
I’ve had mental health needs my entire life, from a very young age. My mind went to very dark places due to inability at the time to process my fierce emotions. Fast forward to age 27. My 7-year nursing career was in a downward spiral and so was I. I was a single mom and divorced. Influenced in part by an alcohol relapse and dependence, I made horrible, irrational decisions and my life collapsed. I spent some time in inpatient and partial care, and was given one mental health diagnosis (later deemed by a professional to be ultimately incorrect) and then another. After acceptance (which is hard sometimes), I began to heal. Now I’m remarried, have 3 daughters, am a full time nurse, and am able to function with 5 years of sobriety and no thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Amber, Massachusetts
I have struggled with trauma, anxiety and depression for a lot of my life, yet I’ve always been in denial, assuming my pain did not compare to those who had dealt with visible issues. I grew up in a time of, “It could be worse, be grateful you’re alive.” I recently decided to face all the scary monsters in my closet and each day is indeed a battle but I am no longer telling myself my pain is invalid. M., Wisconsin
Two and a half years ago, I had a hysterectomy after a year of trying everything medically possible to stop horrible menstrual cycles. My mental health was a wreck. Then came menopause. I sank down deep into an awful depression. I’ve been working with a therapist and my surgeon to come out of it and am finally starting to get better. Stacie, Indiana
I had been an un-diagnosed bipolar sufferer since my childhood. I finally got diagnosed at 29 and started medication at 32. Medication helps enough to keep me from suffering too much. Knitting had been something that has helped me a ton in this journey. N., South Carolina
I was diagnosed with bipolar II, and generalized anxiety disorder in my early twenties. My teenage years were filled with a lot of depression, mixed episodes and self-injurious behavior. After I finally got my diagnosis, it was still a huge struggle to find the right combination of medicines, and lifestyle changes to help me be as stable as possible. This is also complicated by the fact that I have a special needs child. There were many times my mind went to dark places, but I was inspired by the semicolon project. I got a semi-colon tattoo to help remind me that whatever I’m feeling, no matter how bad, it’s not forever. Ashley, Ohio
After having my first son, I experienced what I thought was Postpartum Depression and was put on antidepressants which did help but I felt like some professionals were dismissive of my experiences. After some digging, I discovered that my autoimmune thyroid disorder makes my hormone levels go bonkers after giving birth so while depression is a symptom, it actually goes much deeper than that. My suspicion was confirmed after having my second son when the same thing happened, and I was this time put on the appropriate medication to regulate the thyroid function and treat all the symptoms I was experiencing. Lydia, Virginia
I was actually diagnosed with depression when I was 13, but wasn’t given any tools to help it until much later. I have my ups and downs and my doctor and I finally came up with a treatment plan. I’ve been on Prozac for a little over a year now and I still have my days, but they have become less and less. Shelby, California
After being diagnosed with epilepsy at age 12 I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which was only made worse by the cycle of pharmaceuticals I was given for the epilepsy. Until I discovered crochet in my early 20s, I was prone to intense mood swings, panic attacks, and fits of agoraphobia to the point where I couldn’t go to the grocery by myself without being overwhelmed. I would swing from mania to depression and have fits of unexplained rage. With crochet, I was able to center myself and focus my thoughts; I’ve come back to who I was before the depression in a lot of ways. 🙂 Chloe, Colorado
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for as long as I can remember, but I was in my 20s when I finally got a proper diagnosis. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is often described as the psychological equivalent of third degree burn patients, having no emotional skin. Even the slightest negative emotions can cause immense suffering. I struggled for years bouncing from hospital to hospital, from medication to medication, and eventually lost everything in my life that mattered to me. It’s been 5 years now, and I am happy to say that things have completely turned around for me. BPD is still a huge part of my life, but now I feel like I have the skills to manage it in a healthy way. In 2015 I finally found a therapist who specialized in BPD and had a genuine desire to help me get better. I started an intense regimen of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and began to start my life over. Christine, Colorado
I have had a long history of depression, the symptoms of which have been exacerbated by a permanent physical disability (due to a severe back injury which occurred more than 16 years ago), which has made me house-bound. Additionally stressors in my life include my family dynamics, weather, pandemics, social unrest…! Joy, Washington
In school, I was bulled very badly. My friends were not supportive (awful) and made up really mean rumors about me and things I was supposed to have done. I was really stressed, wasn’t eating and always sad. My mom suggested a number of things to help me feel better and de-stress, and I eventually switched to online public school.
I have struggled for years with anxiety and depression but after having a miscarriage in 2013, it got much worse. I started crocheting without knowing it would help me cope. My second pregnancy was filled with severe anxiety and panic attacks, which continued even after he was born. When my son was a little over a year old I decided I needed help. I started leaning into my crochet work more and started seeing a therapist who had been helping me for 3 years to heal and rely on my faith more than I ever have. I fully believe I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t done those things. I’m not fully recovered and probably won’t ever be, but I’ve learned how to cope and work through things. I can breathe and sleep again most nights.
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety off and on since I was a teen. I’m now 44, and I am able to recognize now when I’m slipping into it and usually can pull myself out. Rebecca, Iowa
In the year of 2014 I was diagnosed with anxiety and placed on multiple medications to try and help the issue. The amount of mental concentration and struggle I had was unbearable. After two years of struggling I finally picked up some knitting needles. And that helped SOOOOO much. But I found that knitting wasn’t cutting it for me. So I turned to crochet. Crochet is my outlet. My safe place my relax time. Crochet helped so much with calming/rationalizing with myself. Recently I have been struggling with PPD .. Crochet has helped quite a bit once I get the time to myself and am able to sit down with it. Briann, Ontario
I have struggled with mental health issues all my life, but there have been several memorable points in my life when those issues reached critical levels. Last year in particular was one of those times. I had recently begun therapy for PTSD and was working through that. I was still dealing with some grief from my mom’s passing a few years ago. I was working in a horribly toxic environment and my supervisor routinely engaged in verbally abusive behavior that set off my PTSD and severely impacted my work performance, which in term affected my sense of worth. I had two beloved and elderly pets pass away, then two friends (all in the same month) and then a few months later I had to put down my dog, who was one of my joys. Objectively, 2019 was the worst year of my life.
I broke. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I was exhausted. I ended up going on short term disability and my psychiatrist helped me get into a two amazing local outpatient programs, back to back. I spent several months working on building a toolbox of items so that I can remain resilient in bad circumstances. I returned to work, began again to excel and set firm boundaries with my supervisor through HR. I decided to return to college for a career change, I adopted new pets, and things got better.
Earlier this year I found out that I was going to be laid off at some point by the end of 2020, and then COVID hit. While I backslid a bit, those two things could easily have sent me right back to where I was in 2019. Instead, I’ve been able to utilize what I learned in therapy and while I’m not doing stellar at the moment, I’m OK, and I have reached out for help so that I can be better than just ‘OK’. I have hope. Amanda, Minnesota
How have the fiber arts contributed to your mental well-being?
I currently crochet and it is my getaway and my stress reliever most of the time. Unless I’m really overwhelmed or worried I’m not doing it fast enough for the person who is receiving a particular item. I take pride in my work and love doing it and am somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes down to it. Siera, Virginia
I am so grateful for my knitting. When I am able to finish a project (because I have startitis, LOL), I feel such a sense of accomplishment and that is rare for me. My knitting keeps me sane and many times in the moment. My mind doesn’t wander too much because I am focused on what I am doing. It really keeps me sane. Michelle, Minnesota
After being dismissed from my class mom duties I had a lot of free time. I already loom knit, and I started an online Facebook group to teach others. Teaching people really gave me a sense of accomplishment. I then started selling my items which made me feel like I was helping my family in any small way. I then taught myself to crochet. When I was in a dark place I would grab my yarn and hook and create something, usually for my kids. Seeing their smiles reminded me of the things I still had. I had lost friends, relationships, but I had amazing children, a supportive husband, a tiny apartment that we were making into a home. I began making and donating items to women’s shelters, the homeless, and the schools for kids who couldn’t afford winter attire. Fiber arts became my passion. It’s still my escape today. Brandie, Georgia
My knitting is my therapy. It is one thing I can go to and find peace within myself when I am knitting. I do other things as well, crochet, spin, dye, but my knitting has been my rock for almost 20 years no matter what I am going through. It helps me find peace and breathe easier amid destress. Shayna, Washington
It has brought me into a circle of people who talk freely about mental health. It keeps my hands and mind busy. And I have crocheted and knitted some beautiful things, that has helped. T., Minnesota
Crocheting and looming has helped me so much with my mental health – it has let my brain and body rest while I’m working with it. Sierra, Oregon
I paint, draw and knit, but most importantly, I crochet. I crochet because in conjunction with my faith in Christ, it keeps me calm, sober, and my mind clear. With crochet, I am a better nurse and mom. I am sober, I am happy to live and look forward to the next day, next week, next month, next year. I am ready for my future. Amber, Massachusetts
My dad left for the military when I was 15 – I felt so lost and abandoned. I saw an older person knitting and at the time the movement on her hands was beautiful, I wanted to create and feel some sort of, control over my life and I found that in my knitting. All these years later I still turn to my craft to ground me. M., Wisconsin
I started crocheting a little over a year ago at the advice of my therapist. “Take up a hobby,” she said. Learning how has been one of the true joys of my life. It’s calming and meditative. It eases my anxiety and helps with mood swings. It’s truly been life changing for me. Stacie, Indiana
I started knitting and crocheting when I was about 17. It’s been a wonderful way for me to work through my manic swings and gives me something to keep my hands busy and quiet my mind. N., South Carolina
I love to knit, to soothe my anxiety and to distract me during depressive episodes. It also helps me keep things in perspective and have a feeling of accomplishment when I finish a project. Knitting things for others makes me particularly happy as I get to knit and also give a present! A double win! I’m so grateful for knitting in my life. It has helped me to keeping going on bad days- I can just focus on one more stitch or one more row. Knitting has been such a boon to my mental health during this quarantine. Ashley, Ohio
My grandma taught me how to crochet when I was in middle school; I never really felt like I belonged anywhere and that gave me a feeling of togetherness. I dropped the hobby for a bit but picked it up when I was pregnant and it helped me through my postpartum phase tremendously. Feeling like I could control something when my body and mind felt out of control was so important. I recently taught myself to knit via YouTube and it’s a great sense of accomplishment when, as a new parent, you feel like you’re doing everything wrong all the time. Lydia, Virginia
Crocheting has helped SO MUCH. It’s helped me when I was in an abusive relationship, it continues to help with my anxiety, and it gives me something to be proud of. I’m determined to learn how to knit but I don’t have the dexterity for it -at least -I think. Shelby, California
I crochet, with some dabbling in loom knitting. It brings me focus; if I have a project and my hook with me, I’ll be ok no matter how big the crowd is. I can work on a project and it helps slow my thoughts that were so often chaotic to something I can process, instead of a million thoughts and fears bouncing around at once. It gives me a peaceful safe space wherever I go; if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can center myself in the stitches instead of having a panic attack. Chloe, Colorado
I was encouraged to learn a new craft to help me regulate my emotions and keep my hands and mind busy for when things got especially intense. I chose to learn how to crochet via YouTube, picked up a few supplies from the craft store, and got to work. I was instantly hooked (haha)! I noticed as my skills improved, so did my mental health. Building mastery is a skill I learned in therapy, and crocheting definitely fulfilled that for me. I was so proud every time I completed a project, which helped build up my self-esteem in turn. I was even able to finally quit smoking thanks to crocheting…any time a craving hit I would grab my project and keep myself busy until it passed! This past year I really stepped out of my comfort zone and started sharing my crocheted creations with the world, and all of the positive feedback has been amazing for my self-image. I even got an awesome yarn tattoo! I’m finally excited about what my future holds. Christine, Colorado
Yarn crafts, especially knitting, are almost the only things that offer me any relief (outdoor physical activity used to be my go-to treatment/solution!). A place to focus, that I can actually feel useful, not useless. A chance to have successes, however small, in my now ultra-limited life! Joy, Washington
My mom had a friend teach me to knit and I took up knitting as a way to de-stress and have positive time to myself. I continue to knit as a way to create. Mom is teaching me to crochet and I also paint to help keep healthy mentally. RIannah, Iowa
Crochet had been such an outlet for me! Working with my hands gives me focus, and I allow myself to admit that I’m good at something to the point that I’ve done several shows over the years. Crochet helps me feel empowered, like I have something to contribute, something useful – it allows me to feel like I am useful. Chelsea, Pennsylvania
Knitting is so important to me. The counting stitches, the rhythmic click of the needles, it’s all so calming for me. So calming. And seeing a project grow and learning new skills, it’s all confidence-building. Rebecca, Iowa
It helped a crazy amount with my coping skills, being able to talk myself down, and to just relax my body. It gives me something else to focus on and takes my mind off/away from the bad thoughts and places that my anxiety can’t take me to. Briann, Ontario
In group therapy, I use my knitting and crochet to keep my mind focused. The rhythm of the motion is soothing, the act of creating something positive lifts my spirits, and the project itself provides sensory comfort. When I’m anxious, knitting and crocheting help me channel that anxiety and allow me to be mindful. I am better able to concentrate on whomever in the group is speaking and offer my insight or experience or support. Amanda, Minnesota
What do you want to tell others about mental health?
You are not alone! Don’t try to hide what is going on – it only makes it worse! When you first realize you are depressed or anything, seek help! Siera, Virginia
It’s okay to to struggle and ask for help. Depression and anxiety are more common than we realize. Please ask for help. Michelle, Minnesota
Never feel ashamed. I was terrified to seek help. I thought it made me weak, a failure, like if I couldn’t cope with my own emotions – how was I fit to raise kids? But your mental health is important, you have to take care of you to take care of others. It’s not weakness, it’s a sign of strength to recognize when you need help, and it’s okay to reach out. It’s okay to say, “Hey I’m not okay today”. But most importantly, just know when you need that help. Brandie, Georgia
Life is ALWAYS worth living. Even at its worst. You can never get it back once it’s gone. Do not take it for granted, shame yourself, devalue it or wish it away no matter what. Do the very best that you can when you can with what you have. Live well today. Shayna, Washington
I always believed I was a shadow person. One of gods filler. Not on earth for anyone to notice. I WAS WRONG! We all are broken in some way. I know people are always saying you’re not alone, you’re not…I am here. T., Minnesota
It’s ok and you can find help – don’t be afraid to reach out. Sierra, Oregon
It is ok to have a mental illness. No matter the diagnosis. Acceptance is where your healing begins and then life begins. You can come out of that hole and you can manage your diagnosis, no matter what letters. BPD can be managed. PTSD can be managed and you can function daily life with it. Depression sucks, anxiety sucks, but you can come out of those tethers with the help of community. Accept that you need help, then reach out and get that help that others are willing to give so that you can live your fullest life. Amber, Massachusetts
It looks different for us all, just because we may not have visible scars does not mean that our pain is not real. Your anxiety is as real as anyone else’s and just your depression does not need to be stuffed down for anyone. It’s time we start embracing these feelings of fear and uncertainty, understanding who they are and what they’re doing here instead of ignoring them and letting them fester. M., Wisconsin
Seek help. Seek help. Seek help. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You cannot pour from an empty pitcher. You have to take care of yourself in order to care for others. Stacie, Indiana
More of us should share our mental health ups and downs to try and de-stigmatize the taboos that surround it. If it was more normalized than finding help and community would be easier. N., South Carolina
Mental health matters. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s so important to take care of. Don’t slack on protecting your mental health, nothing is more important. Stigma of mental illness is still out there but we can help fight it by talking about it openly and honestly about it. Ashley, Ohio
Talking about your struggles will help eliminate the stigma. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for help. Even if you think it’ll never affect you (like I did), it probably affects someone you love and shouldn’t be dismissed. Lydia, Virginia
It’s okay not to be okay. And it’s even more okay to ask for help when you feel you need it. Don’t feel bad if your doctor suggests medication. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes our brains just aren’t wired perfectly. Shelby, California
The healing process often isn’t easy. It took several years of self-analyzing and critical thought about myself and how I interact with the world to get me to where I am today. Be patient with yourself. Treat yourself like you would a small child; kindly, gently, with love. Your journey may be shorter or longer than another person’s, but it matters. YOU matter. Mental wellness isn’t a competition and it’s ok to take time for yourself to learn who you are and what brings you peace. Just like we all learn academic subjects at a different pace, we learn how to take care of ourselves at a different pace. Mental health is a journey you take with yourself (and a therapist, if you have one you trust), not a destination. Chloe, Colorado
It sounds so cliché but I want people to know that it really can get better. Please reach out for help if you’re struggling. And if you’re not getting the help you need from one place/provider, keep trying until you find the right fit! NOBODY deserves to suffer, and the world needs your light. Christine, Colorado
I personally believe EVERYONE has mental health issues, whether they need help coping with or overcoming them, or not. Truly, it’s a human condition and the stigmas surrounding them are bogus & need to be abolished! Joy, Washington
You are the most important thing in your world. If you aren’t healthy or happy, it’s super hard to see the world as a healthy happy place. Fix yourself first and then fins those people who will help you make your life a happy place. Riannah, Iowa
YOU’RE NOT ALONE! YOU’RE NOT CRAZY! You will be okay. It might take hard work, but you can do it. Don’t be afraid to do the hard work. There is hope. Don’t suffer alone just because you want to be seen as strong. It takes so much strength to decide to reach out. There is help. Just ask for it. I try to make my social media a safe place for folks to reach out if they need to. I think we’re all in this together (especially now) and we need to support one another if we want to get through. Chelsea, Pennsylvania
You are not alone. Find someone to talk to. Call someone. Reach out. And find something that you love to do that calms you. Take time for yourself to do that. Rebecca, Iowa
That it’s okay! It’s okay to feel this way. Don’t let the stigma get to you. Anxiety is TOUGH! But people that struggle with it. Are even stronger than their anxiety. We got this!! Briann, Ontario
It’s alright to struggle, and it’s OK to reach out for help. You are not a failure if you do these things. A lot of people hit rock bottom but it’s not good to camp out there. There are so many good resources and it’s worth asking for support. You’re worth it. Amanda, Minnesota