Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Master Muggle

Tonight the Duke and I attended the adult session of our Stake Conference (a Stake is a group of wards or congregations similar to a diocese in the Catholic church.) It was a wonderful meeting. The topics were uplifting, the speakers were engaging, the Spirit was strong, and the words motivational. I naturally knit through the entire two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now, let me get a little personal here. I rarely talk about this, but I feel like maybe it's time to start. Maybe then, people like the Master Muggle (whom I will introduce shortly) will be less ignorant.

I have severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have been diagnosed by a professional mental health provider and I am engaged in several different types of treatment. It is difficult to talk about because of the stigma that is so common concerning mental health disorders. People, including myself at times, do not take such disorders seriously. I would like to believe that I can control my own emotions, but in fact, that is not always the case. We, as humans, are much more complex and delicate than we would like to believe.

I won't go into more detail, but just let me say, that if you are someone who doesn't believe that mental health disorders are as real as any physical malady, let me personally assure you that they are. I have been in some scary situations, but never in my life have I been more terrified than the first time I experienced a panic attack.

Now, how does this tie to Stake conference, knitting, and my friend the Master Muggle? (I know that several of you who read this blog aren't knitters- we knitters refer to non-knitters as Muggles, in a very loving way, of course.) Well, let me tell you.

So, I knit during church. Sitting still for long periods of time is very very difficult for me. I get very fidgety, I can't concentrate, and at worst, I have had panic attacks. I have tried several of my "tools" to combat this, as my church meetings are of great importance to me. Only two have, to date, been effective. I have been able to get through long meetings using a technique where you study a single object in minute detail. Yes, it works, the problem is, the technique requires that you carefully tune out all other incoming information, thus defeating the purpose of being in the meeting in the first place.

As many of you knitters know, the simple rhythmic motion and tactile feel of knitting is a very powerful type of meditation. While us knitters have known this for a long time, medical studies are beginning to demonstrate this as well. Schools throughout Europe and many private schools here in the US have also begun teaching knitting to children to help them improve concentration.

When I knit I am able to relax, concentrate, and focus on the message that is being presented. When I knit during my church meetings I come away uplifted, calm, and with a better understanding of the material that was being discussed. When I don't I come away tired, irritated, and jumpy.

Today immediately after the meeting was over, a man I have never met before approached me. I smiled expecting him to introduce himself. Instead, he scowled at me, and asked if I knew how distracting my knitting was. Taken back, I simply said "I'm sorry."
He continued along these lines, "We are all sitting here enraptured with the speaker, and then, there is your hand flying about, have you considered how distracting that is to other people?"
I, having now had my spiritual bubble burst, simply told him no, I hadn't considered it, and turned my back on him.

The Duke and I were both in shock that someone would, after such a wonderful meeting, feel a need to be so rude to someone he had never met. (Ironically, two of the main topics of the meeting were loving those around us even if they make decisions we don't agree with, and forgiving one another.)

Now, for your further consideration, there is also a deaf woman in our Stake who communicates through ASL. Naturally, she has translators at all Stake meetings, including this meeting. I love to watch the signers. I find them fascinating, and I will carefully watch them, if I am seated somewhere that I can see them. (As a side note, this has helped me get through Stake meetings in the temple, where it is not appropriate for me to take my knitting, and I greatly appreciate it.) I will not, however, hear most of what is being said by the speakers. I have found that if I want to get anything out of the meeting I need to sit somewhere that I can't see them. I guess you could say that I am distracted by them. I doubt, however, that the Master Muggle would approach one of the translators with the same complaint that he had for me.

After discussing my hurt feelings, and having the Duke comfort me, assuring me that it was nothing to worry about (remember anxiety is the problem here,) we agreed that he clearly does not know that my knitting is not a mere form of entertainment. The best course of action is to forgive and move on.

Moving on, for me, is always about writing. Once a concern is committed to words, I usually find it easier to let it go. (Another helpful tool in my arsenal against anxiety.) So here I am, writing, and feeling more calm than I have since Brother Muggle's complaint. I chose to write here, because the only way that other people won't make the same mistake is if they DO know, if they ARE informed.

This is my contribution to the Muggle Education Movement (and more seriously, to increasing awareness about mental illness.)

Tomorrow is another two hour Stake Conference session. I don't know if I will see Brother Muggle tomorrow, or even if I will remember what he looks like if I do. But I will be there, I will be knitting, and I will have a copy of this post tucked into my knitting bag just for him.

Happy Knitting


  1. Beautifully and perfectly written. Hopefully one of these days Brother Muggle (and everyone else out there who could just as easily be Brother Muggle when it comes to mental illnesses) will better understand those who do not function exactly the same as he does. I apologize to you in his behalf for the anxiety he has caused you.

    Thanks for being bold and sharing something so personal with us so we can be better informed. You are the best!

  2. Wow. I'm surprised you were so calmly able to just turn away from him? I mean, I wouldn't have ranted at him but I might have explained more to him.

    Anyway, I totally appreciate that knitting helps you with your disorder. I don't have a disorder but I find it easier to listen if my hands are busy. Wish i could take it to looooong meetings.

  3. I don't know you. But, I came across your post. I have GAD also and I know it can be debilitating. The important thing to remember is that there is always hope. Recovery takes time and you will get there. Good luck.


  4. I also am very proud of you on how you delt with Brother Muggle. I'm assuming that it being Stake Conference and not a Ward meeting is why this is the first time you've encountered him. Please, though, don't write him off as a misunderstanding muggle. I know in my heart that if he knew why you were knitting at Stake Conference that he would much rather have you there than at home.

  5. Thank you for posting this. We all need to be more understanding of others. I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression 6 weeks after Reed was born, and I struggled with wanting to take medication. As The Doc told me- if you had a broken leg, you would get a cast for it, or if you had strep throat you would take an antibiotic, having a mental illness is no different- you do what you need to treat it. I am proud of you for posting this!

  6. Hang in there kiddo! I had a great time this afternoon. Thanks for the good talk...

  7. You know, I'm really glad you wrote about this. People have their own reasons for doing what they do, and people should just stop being so opinionated (and I think this can be especially true in the church, sad to say) about what other people are doing. It's not like you were hurting anyone, and really, I have a hard time believing that your knitting could have been any more distracting than say, a talking teenager or a toddler being a toddler or a mom fiddling with her hair or an old man snoring (all of which are things you frequently see in church!). If he really was so distracted, he should have gone about it more politely!

    On a related tangent, a good friend of mine learned to knit during school because she had a hard time paying attention in class. It seems antithetical, but once she started knitting, she found she could sit still and listen, and she ended up at the very top of her class.

    Anyway, you are a brave soul to reveal all of this. I think if more people were willing to talk about their mental troubles (and I am of the belief that all of us have one of some variety!), there would be less of a stigma and more sharing of ideas of how to improve well-being for everyone.