Opinion: Pink-Hat Knitting As Antidote For Post-Election Depression

The author sports her hand-made creation. (Courtesy)
The author sports her hand-made creation. (Courtesy)

This certainly isn’t the first time my candidate has lost the election. My choices for president usually don't even survive the primaries. But this loss was different. Before, I used to go through the usual stages of grieving and recovery; this time, I became more depressed and less optimistic with every post-election day that passed.

The country seemed to me more than divided; it was unraveling. There seemed nothing left holding us together, no familiar pattern to follow in order to stitch together compromise and a path forward.

Trying to find solace in like-minded friends only increased my stress, because it inevitably led to arguments: 'We should have stuck with Bernie,’ 'Hillary should have gone to Wisconsin.’ I’ve even heard the classic 'It’s all Obama’s fault.’

By December, my distress was worsening rather than lifting. As my two sons dashed around me, I read the post-election self-help articles and followed their advice. I called my congresspeople to remind them of the importance of civil liberties and minority rights. I signed petitions and planned to attend the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., this Saturday — a march fueled in large part by concerns about women's health issues, from abortion to birth control to cancer screening done at Planned Parenthood.

But none of it could alleviate this gnawing depression and anxiety about the future. Every day, I was more isolated and on edge. There are only so many times you can re-watch Alec Baldwin’s skits on "Saturday Night Live" to cheer yourself up. And while 10-day cleanses and heading to the gym provided some temporary relief, focusing solely on myself was just exacerbating the feeling of isolation from the national unraveling. I needed more community and less self.

When the email for the Pussyhat Project first hit my inbox right after Thanksgiving, I read it, laughed at the image it evoked of multitudes of women knitting anatomical creations, and hit delete. But it wouldn’t go away. The post kept popping up in my Facebook feed, on Instagram pages, on Reddit and Twitter.

Finally, I dug the email out of the trash and clicked the link. It is a ridiculously easy pattern: two basic stitches, stockinette and rib. And since knitting always reminds me of Shorty, my beloved Scottish grandma who taught me to knit, I took the plunge.

I clicked around the web looking for a shade of pink I liked and was shocked to see "only 3 left" or "out of stock" on many of the shades of pink yarn. It was silly but it instantly lifted my mood. Clearly, I wasn’t the only person with a need to do something.

Finally I found a yarn I liked at a great price ($12 for Royal Alpaca in bright pink). It was imported from Bolivia and still available (no trade war — yet.) As I imagined farmers shearing their sheep, the world felt a tiny bit more united.

Casting on my stitches, I at first had just one goal, to distract myself — much like my earlier efforts. However, by the time I had all 50 stitches on my size 8 needles, something larger was taking place. As I made my way through the two-stitch knit-and-purl pattern that made up the initial ribbing, my anxiety started to retreat. Every stitch completed made me smile, as I thought about all the other homemade pink hats being knitted across the country.

Scanning Instagram for other knitters, I saw women (and some men) of all ages and ethnicities knitting away and bonding over an art form that started in the Middle East thousands of years ago. With every row finished, my spirits lifted slightly and my pre-election self grew a tad stronger.

There was something in the soft symmetry of knitting that could combat the election vulgarity. No one is "against" knitting (though some question whether the hats are in good taste, whether we should be taunt-knitting rather than elevating the civil discourse). But the biggest knitting debate I’ve ever had is whether American or Continental style is preferable.

Knit, knit, purl, purl, needle in front, needle in back. One stitch after the next reminding me that I was not alone, that for every person who marches in January, there are many more back home who will be with me in spirit, represented by hats in all imaginable shades of pink.

Every time I saw another tweet about America’s shifting nuclear policy, I picked up my knitting and breathed easier. Connecting one stitch to the next, I found my headache was eased by the connection to knitters around the country I'll certainly never meet — activists at colleges and elderly residents of retirement homes.

When a dear friend texted me a picture of the perfect imperfect hat her 8-year-old daughter, Clara, made to wear to the march, a sense of optimism took root.

By the time I sewed up the sides, my depression was replaced with connection to this larger, grass-roots pattern taking shape. I count. My hat counts. Wearing it empowers me when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and most importantly, when we all come together, it will help form an even larger and more powerful pattern, one that can stand up to Muslim registries, deportations and wall-building.

It gives me hope. Every pink hat I see is a small step toward slowly knitting our country back together.

Djamila Salem Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and social media producer, formerly with the Los Angeles Times and Boston-WHDH. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two boys, and tweets at @djamila617.


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