And it’s a bit more than just the joyful bi-product of how to make stitches to form a garment.
It’s about a mindful practise that naturally flows as one knits - I call this #Knititation.
I always believed that someone suffering from depression just needed a good kick up the bum and get on with life.
That was, until the black dog that is depression arrived at my door and bit me hard.
I did not see it coming.
But it arrived silently in the morning.
The day after my partner Thomas’ birthday party.
I couldn’t move my leg down the bed.
Hands up who knows of someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety or panic attacks?
Statistics from the charity MIND state 1 in every 4 people in the UK will suffer at one point in any given year.
And I am not ashamed that I suffered.
And I stand here proud to talk about it.
At the time, I was 35, I woke up and could not move - could not get out of bed. I was not lazy, I just could not move.
I was diagnosed with a moderately severe depressive episode. What? Life loving me?
This did not make any sense. Things had bottled up, one thing after another and then the final snap came. Best described by Gillette as toxic masculinity.
It was too much to bear.
Fear, anxiety, a catatonic physical state, panic, black. Very black.
If you have not been through a mid-life crisis, take note, make it spectacular, because when you fall, it needs to be memorable. Mine was, like me, fabulous. So much so some of it even played out on Prime Time TV.
Meanwhile, while I was breaking, I was also breaking the mould. I have never done things normally, after all I spent my gap year in Siberia, presented food TV in China, and this was no different. I lost the sports car and opted for the older model in the form of Dr. Thomas: who may not look so good in a bikini, but does look great in a raglan!
My head was the deepest black, I had no energy, the depth of sadness in my head was too much to bear.
I could not sleep.
I could not eat.
I could not function.
I had lost ‘me’.
All I could do every day to calm my anxiety was to stay in bed and watch Netflix.
I spent a whole year in bed, I could not get out, Thomas loved me through it and as a Dr himself, he was aware I was acutely ill.
I was conscious I was wasting my life. I felt deep shame from this. I was a distant shadow of myself, my life was wasting away and I did not know what to do, or have the energy to do it. I felt no reward.
I had been successful in life, I was the only Westerner to present Food TV in China getting about 100 million viewers a week on my TV shows and was awarded with the equivalent of a BAFTA in China.
I was also the Global Ambassador for AGA cookers and had the privilege of launching AGA all over the world, and was the man who brought AGA and Rangemaster to China.
Dr Thomas Ernst is a senior Consultant Physician in a large teaching hospital in London and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
Thomas meditates for 3 hours a day, every day. His dedication to the practice of mindfulness, is a blessing and shows its fruits in our lives, both together and separate.
He’s the only NHS consultant that operates a mindfulness clinic to treat chronic illness and pain. His in-patients are geriatrics, out-patients are related to autonomics - that’s faints and blackouts to you and me.
I don’t remember why I started to knit, but I found 2 chopsticks and a piece of string, watched the YouTube to learn how to cast on.
Before I knew it I had created a knitted something or other.
I showed it to Thomas who is of German extraction and he said ‘let’s get ze wool ja’.
I started to knit a jumper on 12mm needles in beige Alpaca - itchy bloody thing.
The resulting product is somewhat shapeless, but will live as a trophy to my health for many years, albeit at the back of my wardrobe.
Why do moths never eat the ugly items?
In my illness Thomas sent his Ward Sister, to see me at home after her shift on the ward. In her Southern Irish brogue she taught me to knit properly with that Irish ward-Sister no-nonsense approach:
‘stick the right one into the loop on the left, wrap the yarn over, then pull it off. There you go, do it again’.
Sister knows about knitting and wellness, handing a ball of yarn to a demented patient can stop the screams of anguish as they are hospitalised while re-living their fears. Dr Thomas says that we all must confront our fears to move on. This is naturally daunting and scary for everyone.
I remember putting that misshapen article of clothing on my body, looking in the mirror and for the first time, in so long feeling proud of me again. Albeit looking like a grown up Von-Trap child with knitted curtains for my new clothing. I thirsted for colour in so many ways. Colour is healing. Colour is life. At this point in my life that beige alpaca was as daring as I could deal with. My first knitted garment allowed me to love myself again, I felt human. A deeply precious and intimate feeling.
I phoned my Mum one day saying my head was like a metal box, and the hammers inside the box won’t stop. Northern Irish Mum’s are great ladies, within a few hours Mum was in Peckham - the posh part where Dr Thomas and I live.
We started to talk, I started to get better.
We went to John Lewis.
Mum knit the ribs, I did the stocking stitch, Dr Thomas put it in a boil wash.
I had to start again, both with that boiled washed item and my career. You see, the tablets from my GP were kicking in and I was accessing other psychological interventions.
I was getting better.
Through all of this my mind was racing it would not stop.
Cold sweats were a constant reality.
The tender little flame that is my soul seemed to be oxidising in the naked air and it was deeply painful as it was kicked by toxic masculinity and stereotypes in society. My little inner candle flame that was my soul, that was all I was and held dear was nearly blown out.
That one stitch, and then another allowed a sense of calm. A creation growing that I had made, a reason for me to be proud, to find my circadian rhythm with my knitting needles. Each stitch became a breath, each breath a feeling, each feeling acknowledged and understood. Each stitch a tangible product that my feelings were worth something. That I was worth something. The tablets and therapy were not a quick fix or happy pills, thoroughly boring pharmaceuticals that gave a base line, a middle c, the lattice to stand on. Side effects too. Dreams so vivid yet cathartic, metallic tastes, nausea, enlarged tummy.
Slowly, as the knitted items grew from my needles, my confidence was growing too. The tatters of my mind were being knitted back together one stitch at a time. I was able to leave our home again, I was able to have a life. Like the snowdrops in February, I was starting to emerge again, a living functional creature. I learnt to talk about my feelings. To realise that they were valid, they were mine and they needed to be understood.
I call it Knititation.
Knititation is my form of meditation to bring joy back to my life and see in colour again.
Thomas came home one evening and noticed I was able to have washed the laundry. Me doing laundry was a miracle in itself!
I was not exactly better at this point, I was starting to regain a little bit of my normal function.
But I was getting better. And the stitches were growing on my needles.
I’m proud to say, I’m better, I’m off the tablets and I wake up at 6am every day and have a purpose again.
Knititation - Hand knitting as a mindfulness practise.
I was never any good at traditional mindfulness or meditation.
Embrace the negatives
Embrace the negatives Dr Thomas would say to me. Don’t hide them, learn to love them. I did not want to do this, it was too painful and daunting. Moreover, I did not understand what the Dr was on about. I mean, negatives are not nice things unless your into mental sadomasochism. I had enough of the mental pain so I spent many arguments shunning the advice of the Dr. You know how it is with couples at home. I gave in as I wanted some peace and quiet from the yakking in my ears and asked Thomas how to embrace the negatives while thinking negatives about embracing the negatives.
Thomas explained mindfulness, my head was not able to concentrate on the present, so Thomas suggested ‘mindful movements’.
Picture the scene. We are both standing in our living room, listening to a CD and whilst being aware of the present, moving as per instructed to the voice of a monotone man who is telling me to move in a particular fashion, one leg in the air looking like a flamingo in full ninja mode.
Next thing I was lying on my belly on the rug being instructed by said monotone voice to form a position entitled the lower cobra. I was thinking of the Indian Cobra beer at this point. Dr Thomas next to me taking all very seriously and my inner core strength while thinking of Cobra beer weakened. My nose hit the rug, I started to laugh. Dr was not impressed. I asked if the Dyson was broken as there was rather a bit of dust on the rug. Mindful movements were not for me. But my body envied the Dyson to be mentally sucking up life with 12 cyclones.
But when was the last time you moved mindfully? Thought about the actions and sensations of your body when carrying out a task like brushing your teeth, walking along the pavement? When you actively feel the sensations of your body while doing these things it’s healing. Just being in the present and accepting your feelings and sensations, this is what they call 'mindfulness', and it does not involve sniffing carpets, just feeling and acknowledging what is in the present and embracing it, and if that involves the negatives, letting your body feel these helps you to deal with them.
Panic subsides, anxiety subdues, worry is dealt with by your body.
I learnt the body actually has the answers, it's about spending time with the body. Hand knitting is the same, felling the yarn and needles as a stitch forms allows thoughts to run through your mind as you are aware of them and feel the bodily sensations of stitch creation. This is knititation.
The biggest negative I found about dealing with the negative is not talking about the negative or recognising the negative.
Holding 2 knitting needles in-front of me gave me support, it allowed a barrier between myself and someone else - a safety net - to get better as mentioned in Betsan Corkhill's, book of Knitting and Wellness. This book gave Dr Thomas and I the text for clinical recovery. Dame Hilary Blume’s publication with Knit for Peace in the culmination of professional and medical articles allowed Thomas and I to read every one and formed the basis academically for my recovery.
The anxiety had stopped when I was knitting. My head was clam. I rarely stop knitting now.
I knit on planes, tubes, trains, in night clubs on the N36 night bus and have been known to teach members of the Chinese army to knit as well.
I produced a book in colour, developed knitting accessories that are gender neutral, jumpers that were fitted and not baggy, recipes to nibble at knitting club with games to play with yarn.
Knit and Nibble is a book of joy, intro by Dr Thomas about knititation and the visuals are stunning. The title of the most innovative book in the world at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards was bestowed upon my work. I cried with tears full of colour for the first time in years.
My heart felt thanks to Sirdar. Who worked with me to make everything a reality. The professionalism and dedication of your team is something to be treasured. Vision, reality and colour is what I was presented with. Having a life in colour again has allowed a new career.
Knit Pro - love you, not only for your support on my book, but your love and charity work. The profits of this company go to abused women in India, providing a job, a home, food, education, schooling, transport and food for their children. The support Viridian gave Thomas and I through distributing Knit and Nibble as well as providing all of the Knit Pro products for the book showed great kindness. David, and all at Viridian thank you for supporting us, you are a true gentleman.
So Knit and Nibble - well, it's a book and brand full of joy aimed at male knitters.
Why men? Well, there is a gap in the market. The outcomes, particularly in males suffering depression are not so good, even resulting in suicide.
Now, there is no news in men knitting. I’m sure as fishermen we invented the craft.
But I am no longer depressed and I want to come to your shop.
I want to run events in your shop and tell my story, I will work with you to market the event and explain knititation to your customers and by being a man in a yarn shop try and encourage other men to come and take up the craft to help them embrace their negatives and do my wee bit to diminish toxic masculinity.
Embracing the negatives is not a scary process, after all, they are in the past and as I knit new stitches the future is literally in my hands.
I found my best friend through knititation, and he is worth getting to know.
I’ve become very close to him. I like him and have learnt to love him and spend time with him.
I found my best friend was me.
Or, for those of you who don't knit, PSSO is an abbreviation meaning Pass the Slipped Stitch Over. I liken it to a lot of things in life due to societal pressures where issues are pushed under the carpet and left there supposedly decreasing the visibility to others of an issue like the shaping on a garment edge is only known by the knitter, but others don’t want to look to see the passed over stitch - but it's still there, trying to be hidden, yet the cornerstone of the visual.
Feelings and reality can not be passed over, they need discussed and allowed to be visible like a stunning crisp raglan edge resulting from PSSO rather than the bump provided using the alternative of K2tog.
My dreams, I can have them again, my hopes, are becoming reality.
Life is good.
Dr Thomas has now learnt not to put knitting items into a boil wash now. He’s a great fan of Eucalan from Viridian now.
I am James McIntosh, I am well, I am back and it is because of the craft industry, that I am here today.
Stitches are life, knitting patterns the manual.
Knitters are fabulous, knitters know true love. Knitters produce a hug.
The sum of the parts of knitting make you whole.
A stitch in time, saved my mind. I call it Knititation.
So that’s my story. And it’s as simple of just 2 stitches that lead to my wellness.
#knitandnibble #knititation #knitmcintosh #knitsirdar #depression
Knititation and Knit and Nibble are registered trademarks of James McIntosh Omnimedia Limited
© McIntosh Publishing 2019