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I’m crocheting a cardigan

Processing anxiety in the pandemic, one stitch at a time

<p>When I start feeling anxious, I tie a new knot, practice a new stitch and am suddenly more aware of the breaths of air entering and exiting my lungs.</p>

When I start feeling anxious, I tie a new knot, practice a new stitch and am suddenly more aware of the breaths of air entering and exiting my lungs.

I have always been viewed as the mom of my friend groups — despite the fact that I am almost always the youngest person in the room. So, it makes sense that I would pick up a bonafide grandma hobby like crocheting during the pandemic, right? 

Looking back on it now, I cannot remember which came first — a genuine desire to learn how to crochet or a sudden urge to fill the little remaining time in my schedule with something to do. I could have filled my time with anything — as long as it was one of those activities that society collectively deems “productive.” 

Even so, I found myself wandering through the aisles at Michael’s on a Sunday night with a growing tumbleweed of unprocessed thoughts on my pandemic-induced anxieties and two arms full of rainbow-colored yarn. I had to hold the bundles in place with my chin — I don’t like using shopping carts anymore unless I have to. The doubts and uncertainties that COVID-19 has planted in my mind make the hairs on my arms stand on end in grocery stores and draw me to every sanitizer station I pass — it is like they have their own magnetic field or something.

Now, I use crocheting as a way to push these thoughts out of my mind, like I am sifting feelings instead of flour — keeping only the lightest, most digestible thoughts. There is something so comforting and warm to be found in the unvariedness of looping yarn into itself, creating patterns out of hundreds of repeating stitches. I know that I can start with a simple chain and one neat stitch at a time, I can create something beautiful — a rainbow sweater born from a skein of yarn. The kind of predictability that comes with starting each pattern with a single slip knot and finishing it in the same way is hard to come by these days.

These days, I often find myself asking if it’s weird that I actually miss the start of quarantine. Back then, we were so frozen with shock and uncertainty that it felt like the entire world just stopped. My days consisted of long walks with my dog and TikTok trends, family dinners and Netflix’s “Outer Banks” — how is it possible to take such an uneventful, unpredictable time for granted? 

I suppose it does not matter anymore — we have adapted. Our system has resumed its involuntary spinning, and the world’s freezing fear has thawed enough to allow us to readjust — to get a bit more comfortable with this new normal. 

I have started to realize that maybe it is home that I miss and the warmth of last spring, not quarantine. Last March, solitude was a welcome change of pace, and I just knew “this whole thing” would be over by Christmas. This March, a purely virtual existence with the occasional double-masked outing thrown in is growing tiresome. 

That is how it always works though, isn’t it? We have too much time to consume every facet of the present — seeing all of its pores under a magnifying lens — and we recognize within ourselves a strange nostalgia for a past that was far from ideal, but looks much better from a distance. Even as I write that, I shake my head because it seems so unlikely that I will miss this moment in 11 months.

When I crochet, one loop, one stitch, one pattern at a time, I allow myself to feel these strange emotions and to process them one after another, instead of all at once. I know I have said before that writing can be therapeutic for me, and I still believe that — but writing still necessitates the capacity to comprehend what I am feeling and put it into words. All crocheting requires of me is stitches.

From my conversations with other writers, it seems to be a shared sentiment that writing in the pandemic is especially difficult. And for me, writing about the relatively minor symptoms of anxiety that I experience and link to the pandemic is even harder. I seriously struggled with writing this column because the last thing I want to do is improperly portray anxiety as something that is not complex by oversimplifying its effects with a one-size-fits-all solution.

To the person experiencing it, suffering — or anxiety — is absolute. It is incomparable to the suffering of another individual in the way that something like privilege or physical pain is. Zadie Smith revealed this truth to me in her book of essays written in the early stages of the pandemic, “Intimations.” 

And the longer I follow the thread of thought Smith began, the more I realize that pandemic-induced anxiety is probably one of the most collective experiences that I will ever witness in my lifetime. It is something that is impacting everyone at the exact same time, in incomparable ways — and it requires processing before healing.

For me, that processing and the very beginning stages of healing, comes through crocheting. Having something to work towards — something to do with my hands besides fidget and anxiously pick at my nails — has made such a difference in my mental health. By channeling my unconsumed energy into one thing that does not require an intense focus on the harsh light of my computer screen, I can pick apart my emotions and feel them one digestible piece at a time — one stitch after the next.

To anyone reading this column — I hope each of you is able to find an activity that is restorative and soothing in the same ways crocheting a cardigan has been healing for me. When I start feeling anxious, or overwhelmed by my inability to control many aspects of my life in this unpredictable time, I tie a new knot, practice a new stitch and am suddenly more aware of the breaths of air entering and exiting my lungs. I wish you the same — whether it be in crochet or writing or something else entirely.

Emma Keller is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at