Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Let's talk about how different facets of health intersect (I don't see the campaign today in an unproblematic light given its corporate connections, but visibility is so critical that an awareness day can't hurt). When I first bought the skein I knit these socks from, in October 2014, I darkly joked that these were going to be my "s.a.b.l.e. socks" - the acronym meaning "stash acquisition beyond life expectancy," a term crafters use for folks who have a tremendous quantity of yarn, fabric, or whatever might be their medium of choice. When I got this wool, however, I had perhaps a half dozen balls of yarn in my collection. I was brutally sick that fall, having just been diagnosed with #neuromyelitisoptica - a rare autoimmune disease that resembles severe MS. I asked my neurologist what he thought my prognosis was. He couldn't tell me, and the stats I found online for my condition were pretty grim. As my health declined in ways I couldn't have imagined, I feared I wouldn't live long enough to make more than a couple more pairs of socks - let alone write a PhD thesis. My poor hand function meant that knitting was excruciatingly slow and often painful, so I figured that a small amount of yarn would last me the rest of my natural life.
The people around me saw the physical manifestations of my condition (not hard, as I was driving a conspicuously large scooter or, on good days, shuffling about with a Mussorgsky-themed walker). But only a handful of friends made space for conversations about what I dealt with emotionally. It was not just the physical illness that felt like it was literally killing me - I also feared that my declining mental health would bring me to a breaking point. A physiotherapist told me I'd never walk again, and at first I actually accepted that as not a huge deal - I figured I could cope with that, if only I could find a way to not wake up with a sense of dread each morning, and if only my physical disability weren't so isolating. If only the friends who'd pulled away that fall became close again, if only I could trust that my thoughts were my own rather than the product of a cocktail of medications.

Partial paralysis was a physical challenge, but the emotional impact of an acquired disability and its social consequences was devastating. I sought counselling, but the resources available to me were limited - my family was supporting me in paying for physiotherapy, and a therapist would have been more than we could do at one time. The health centre at my university allows for six counselling sessions per student, and I maxed out on those much earlier in my illness; instead, when I begged for help shortly after my worst relapse, I received one short session in which the counsellor repeated how resilient I was, then referred me for group therapy - something I'd have liked, if the group were targeted for people in my situation, but it was a general anxiety group for stressed out students, and they were coping with different issues than I had. The hospital social worker encouraged me to move back to Toronto to be closer to my family, but that would mean leaving my friends, a new choir, and the cat I fostered. Plus, our home there isn't wheelchair accessible. I was too scared to tell most people that I alternated between wishing that I were dead, and being terrified that I'd die before I was ready. I was afraid that if I didn't act optimistic and inspiring that my friends would drift away.

So for a long time I associated the yarn I'd bought with the challenges I had at the time. It was well over a year before I got it out of the closet to cast on a pair of socks, because of the emotional weight that I'd bestowed on this bit of fibre. It took me another few months to finish the knitting project. I've been relapse-free for nearly a year now, and just finished them before the holidays. I'm in a far better mental health situation now. So, I guess these are now my "stable" socks.