Everyone, from family members to strangers on the subway, knows that I love to crochet. It’s rare to find me without my lightweight, ergonomic hooks and a ball of yarn. This year, I completed seven shawls, four scarves, two purses, and one big blanket. I hope to finish more projects in time for Christmas.
For me, crocheting and other forms of art are much more than merely a way to pass the time. They’ve improved my quality of life since I grew up with juvenile arthritis (JA). Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I spent hours drawing or crafting while lying on the couch. My art served as both distraction therapy and a way to keep busy when I wasn’t well enough to go out to play with friends.
Reflecting on my dedication to my crafts over the years, I realize it’s been more than a physical coping method. My hobbies also help me to deal with the emotional burden of JA. Engaging in activities that I enjoy offers me hope, benefits my mental health, and gives me an identity apart from my disease.
Something to look forward to
Hope is a powerful thing that can inspire us to work hard to achieve a goal and to maintain a positive outlook during dark times.
I’ve had flares that knocked me down for days or weeks at a time. I may not have been up to crafting then, but my next project was never far from my thoughts. I would scroll through Pinterest, longing to follow the tutorials that appeared in my feed. Looking at boards full of new projects made me eager to recover. I found it easier to stick to medication and physical therapy routines when I had something to look forward to.
As I recovered from flares, I often pushed myself to work on my projects. I would start slowly, with 15-minute stretches, before building up to longer sessions. Spending time crafting and drawing helped to keep my spirits up and was probably good physical therapy, too.
Taking my mind off the negatives
I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve never struggled with depression. I had some dark times, particularly in my teens. Living with chronic pain made me feel isolated from others, and my usual activities, including art, became unappealing to me.
I didn’t start feeling better until things changed in my life, including the introduction of a new medication regimen and counseling. I also credit my improved mental health to taking art classes. Learning how to draw improved my self-esteem, gave me confidence, and brought joy into my life. The first drawings in my sketchbook were somber, black-and-white portraits. But by the time I graduated from the course, my portfolio was filled with colorful paintings of fluffy animals, babies, and musicians. I also made a lifelong friend through the class.
Of course, hobbies are not a cure for depression or anxiety. No amount of wreath-making or crocheting can take away negative feelings. But yarn crafts, painting, and other forms of self-expression are used by therapists to help those suffering from mental health problems.
A part of my identity
Juvenile-onset arthritis has affected me every day since childhood. While I’ve learned to cope with chronic pain, the disease still affects many aspects of my daily life. Some days, it’s hard for me to remember that having arthritis is not who I am — it’s just something I have.
My blog and social media accounts may be titled, “The Girl with Arthritis,” but I’m glad that the people in my life don’t call me that. My family and friends call me “the artist.” More recently, I’ve been “the girl who crochets pretty shawls” and “the baker.” Taking pride in my favorite activities and sharing them with others have helped me to create an identity separate from JA.
Hobbies inspire joy
Parents: Encourage your child to pursue an activity they show interest in. I genuinely believe that anyone with a chronic disease can benefit from participating in a hobby they love. While crafting happens to be my favorite thing to do, the possibilities are endless.
My friends write stories and poetry, learn computer coding, make music, scrapbook, create comics, and even play the board game Dungeons & Dragons. Find something that brings joy to your life and adapt it to suit your needs. Your child might find a supportive community through classes or clubs. You’ll never know until you encourage them to follow their passions.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.