For the past few days I have been up at Noosa for a conference. By profession, I am a psychiatrist and my two main areas of expertise are youth mental health and sleep. I was really pleased to be asked to speak at this meeting about sleep in young people. Like most people, I was a little anxious about performing in front of a group of my peers but I was also concerned about what I would say when people asked me where I am working and what I am doing at the moment.
The talk went very well and I received lots of positive feedback. And so did telling people about my current activities. I decided to be honest in explaining that I have not been in paid clinical work for almost 18 months because I have been recovering from a relapse of a chronic autoimmune disorder and that during this time I have been establishing Shared Threads with Deanne. My colleagues and friends were sympathetic about my illness and curious and excited about Shared Threads. I handed out lots of business cards and discovered a tribe of closet knitters and crafters, many of whom were very keen to rekindle skills.
They spoke of their pleasure in getting together with others to make things – what fun it was and how relaxing.
I wasn’t even the only knitter in the audience and of course, we introduced ourselves and started talking.
I feel uncomfortable talking about my craft in front of my work colleagues because I fear being stigmatised. But I also feel that I should be able to feel proud of what I do. If asked, I now explain that I am a craftswoman, that I knit, sew, crochet, embroider, spin and dye wool. What are they thinking, I wonder: how odd? How quaint? What a daggy thing to do? If I said I was an artist or a writer or a poet or a dancer I expect it would have quite different connotations in people’s minds. But craft has so many negative associations, from being childish to being oldish, to being domestic, to being tasteless and amateur and unsophisticated. I know that what I do is none of these things, or at least not in a negative way (there is a lot to be said for playing like a child, emulating the skills of our elders and being proudly domestic). The positive reception I received from coming out of the craft closet is testament to the fact that many of my fears are ungrounded.
I am proud of my skills, delighted by the friendships I have made through my craft and sustained by the pleasure, relaxation and creative and intellectual stimulation it brings me. I am honoured to pass on what I know to others and keen to learn from the talented crafters I meet.
So I have returned from Noosa feeling excited by both my medical and craft work with lots of ideas about how I might find new ways of working within the limits and uncertainties of chronic illness and a renewed sense that these two worlds might start to merge.