“Behold the benefits of sticky-back plastic”: Lucy Mangan on the mood-lifting perks of crafting

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Lucy Mangan
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I’m so down at the moment that I can’t even read. This is usually my failsafe method of escape. But times change – by which I mean ‘get sh*tter than ever and then just when you think they can’t get any more sh*t, they do’ – and we must change with them. As I search Google in vain for a quick cure for everything (how has no-one come up with a proper solution to depression, anxiety and OCD yet? We’ve all had ’em for ages now! And matters are, in the Trumpocene era – how can I put this – increasingly pressing), I keep seeing crafting touted as one good, non-medication answer. It’s all to do with the dopamine don’cha know – a natural anti-depressant – that’s released when you’re doing something creative, and the concentration involved in bringing something into existence.

Reading, in case you were wondering, is different. Possibly because it is essentially passive and requires you to get absorbed in the book before you can escape yourself, which is exactly what anxiety and the like militates against. Plus, you can stop a book at any time in order to do another few hundred cycles on your wheel of interminable worries without it unravelling, or the glue drying out, or the cat spilling your glitter everywhere (delete according to type of craft project currently embarked upon.)

The only problem is that I’ve always stayed away from crafting, assuming that I can’t do it. This is down to two reasons: a) I assume I can’t do most things, and b) I really can’t do most things. But, like I say, my normal methods for banishing bad thoughts and restoring my spirits are not working, so last week I got my sister (a master crafter) to teach me a few basic things. We began with origami stars. These are great. A bit like putting on foundation (squeeze tube onto back of hand. Smear over face. You have a whole new skin!) they provide a massive return on minimal skill and effort, which is always pleasing. Fold paper according to instructions. Keep folding paper according to instructions. Have star!

Yes, they take concentration, but – unlike my icing skills, which we have also tested – only rarely frustrate. Soon she’s going to teach me to make tulips. After that – well, in my headier moments I confess that visions of handmade cushion covers dance in my head. Though in all honesty this is less for the creative challenge than the fact that the price of cushions in shops CONFOUNDS me. Fifty quid for two squares stuck together. GTFO.

I’ve also dusted off the knitting skills I learned from my godmother when I was very young, and that too is soothing. I can literally only do whatever the basic stitch is called, and someone has to cast off for me, but that’s OK. I just go on until someone comes round and does so, and then give the scarf to whoever is tall enough to carry it off.

I feel bad that I am, in essence, retreating from life instead of hurling myself into the fray and doing something more constructive – campaigning, protesting, fundraising for people who are already campaigning and protesting against proliferating injustices – but sometimes it’s necessary to take a bit of time to lick your wounds and work through whatever stages of grief are standing between you and normal life. Hopefully I’ll emerge on the other side soon, ready to do battle. If not, I’ll at least try and knit a lead-lined bunker for you all so that I have something to contribute come the day when we all give up praying for daylight. See you there.