Staring at the clock next to my work desk, I started counting down the minutes until my shift was over.
Everyday, my heart beat out of my chest as I waited to go home – back to my safe space.
I liked to think of myself as a strong independent woman, but once that little jitter started running through my body my brain began whirring with doubt and I felt completely and utterly out of control.
I often think about the point that my anxiety took over my body, and one memory makes me wince every time I cast my mind back to it…
Back in 2002, I was a technical operator for one of the TV shopping channels.
Working in the live studio as a camera operator, I was under the bright lights and then suddenly felt very hot, light-headed and then my camera pointed up to the ceiling and I had fainted on the floor.
‘Natalie, are you okay?’ I could hear my colleagues say, unaware of what was happening.
‘Yeah, I must’ve not eaten enough today,’ I told them, embarrassed and confused about what had just happened.
I was checked out at the hospital and all was fine but from then on, but I worried I would faint again and cause another commotion.
Life carried on, and so did these incidents.
This slowly but surely led me to have anxiety issues, not wanting to be out and about, shaking in public and just wanting to be home in my ‘safe’ area.
‘Come on Nat,’ I told myself. ‘You’ve got this’.
But I didn’t have this at all… life was lobbing hurdle after hurdle at me, and by the time I was 32 I had already had a traumatic hysterectomy, a divorce, and was a single mother to my two children, Ben, 19, and Toby, 16.
My mind had suddenly decided that I had run out of energy, control and I had to slow down and stop.
I took some time off work to look after myself, but ended up watching Netflix and completing puzzles to pass my time.
In my incredibly bored state, I found myself scrolling deep into rabbit holes on YouTube.
One groggy morning, one particular video stood out on my screen – crochet for beginners.
Curious, I clicked on it.
I’d always been into arts and crafts, and with plenty of time on my hands I wanted to try something new.
‘I’m going to have a go at this crochet thing,’ I told my boyfriend Paul, 51, shoving the computer in front of him when he came to keep me company.
I expected him to snigger at the old ladies hobby I’d just suggested, but he just smiled at me.
‘It looks interesting love, it’ll be good for you to concentrate on something,’ he said.
I thought about what he said, and wondered if he’d meant to say something much deeper than it sounded: ‘Maybe this will keep my mind busy, and help me with my anxiety at the same time.’
I’d spent a bulk of my lifetime with too much time to think, so this may be exactly what I needed.
The next day, I bought all kinds of wool and crochet equipment and educated myself on the niche of Amigurumi, the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures.
It was then that I realised that I didn’t have many close friends local to me, so a couple of months after recovery, I decided to put the word out there and see if anyone local would like to get involved in a craft group.
I posted an advert in a local paper, and waited patiently with my fingers crossed to find any crochet companions.
A week later, I sat outside my local pub, crochet hooks held up in the air, waiting for the three respondents to my advert to find me.
But my nerves evaporated when they all greeted me with open arms, wanting to crochet as much as I did.
It was so freeing to finally find my thing, and knowing that other people could join in the fun with me elevated all of the stress in my body.
It was great for my mental health as craft is an amazing coping strategy – where you can be in a bubble and just forget the problems around you.
I had made new friends of all ages and the crafting was the connection.
Knitted animals started popping up around my house left right and centre, and Paul and the kids were highly amused by my new hobby.
‘It looks like a toy shop in here mum,’ my eldest told me.
The crochet meets slowly but surely became part of my routine, and my boyfriend saw the benefits before I did.
‘You’re having less panic attacks sweetheart,’ he uttered, just before we went to bed one evening. ‘It’s like you’re free again. You laugh a lot more now, that crochet has worked a miracle on you.’
I lay my head down and thought about what Paul had just said.
Actually, I hadn’t had a panic attack in a month, which was a personal record over the last 10 years.
My hands no longer shook from anxiety, but from threading wool for hours on end knackering them out.
When I crocheted, I was free again.
My mind was elsewhere, busy entwining threads into anything I decided.
Once I noticed how much it was helping me be myself, I told myself I would never turn my back on it.
And it was helping more people than I thought.
Within five years, our little group has grown in size and we have our very own fortnightly event.
We craft, crochet, eat cake and talk about anything and everything on our minds.
It’s not just an old ladies hobby – it’s for anyone that needs a distraction – for anyone that needs their minds to be taken elsewhere.
Crochet well and truly saved my life.