Louise writes about how mental ill-health affected her family, and how she's spreading the love by sharing self-crafted crochet hearts.
We all need a little bit of love sometimes, and can all have periods where we feel like we’re on our own. Along with two lovely friends, I set up ‘Take Heart’, a project making and sharing crochet hearts. A simple project at its core, we post hearts out (for free) to anyone who asks for one - no questions, no commitment, just a little bit of love in the post. We also leave them out and about for anyone to find. I’m so happy to be sharing my heart story with you and to let you know how you too could request a heart or join our ‘Crochet Army of Love’.
In my experience, mental ill health can have a ripple effect, impacting deeply and widely on those around a person. At the centre - even when surrounded by family and friends who are trying so hard to understand what is happening - the person can still feel alone. Having a family member with mental ill health left me feeling powerless – unable to help or affect any change to the situation, my only option was to support their main carer and try to keep all other aspects of our lives as balanced as possible. With so many spinning plates in our daily lives already, adding the ripple effect of mental ill health into the mix made me appreciate the importance of looking after my own mental health as well.
As a Big Birthday approached, I realised I needed to actually DO some exercise to fight back against the numbers! I started running with a friend; we built up gradually, starting with a local 5k, then a Wolf Run, culminating (so far...) in the Royal Parks Half Marathon.
It was a great way to give back to a charity that has been a great source of information for my family.
While training for the half marathon, I also started fundraising for Mind. It was a great way to give back to a charity that has been a great source of information for my family, and a step in the right direction for me to ensure I looked after my own physical and mental health along the way.
I also signed up for RED January with my running buddy, seeing it as another challenge on our fitness journey. I joined the Mind running Facebook group to find out more, and was blown away by the posts I read from people living with mental ill health on a daily basis. However, having already fundraised for the half marathon, I didn’t feel I could ask for any more donations from family and friends, so I decided to give back to the group in a different way.
Being a creative crafter, I initially made little crochet animals (wearing RED trainers!) and sent them out to some group members. I also started making a little red crochet heart for every kilometre I ran in January and, by the middle of the month, decided to start sharing my crochet hearts with the message “you are not alone”. I posted a picture of the pile of hearts to the group and said “If you need reminding you are loved, let me know and I’ll post you one of my hearts”.
Turns out I hadn’t run enough kilometres to cover the requests! That first year, I ended up sending out 150 hearts.
The response was phenomenal and I ended up recruiting my whole family to help make the hearts.
In January 2019, I decided to make and send out the hearts again! I asked group members to help me make even more hearts than before, joining my “Crochet Army of Love”. I offered these again to the group, with the option of having a pack of five for people to leave out and about for others to find whilst exercising. The response was phenomenal and I ended up recruiting my whole family to help make the hearts, write labels, fill envelopes, pack up and post. Upon reaching 1500 hearts (much to the amusement of my local Post Office) some friends stepped in and suggested we turn this into a bigger project, with crowdfunding and a more efficient request system - I was getting to the point where I was missing requests, my inbox was so full!
We now have an Instagram feed, Twitter feed, and a crowdfunding page. We have gorgeous heart makers and label makers all over the country who send supplies, and we’re building our project so that we can continue to spread a little bit of love.
Crochet (and eventually knitting when we’ve worked out a good pattern) is a very mindful activity; keeping your hands and mind busy with a productive task that is ultimately going to bring a smile to someone else’s day is in itself really rewarding. The whole process, from making through to receiving a heart, even getting up early some mornings to leave hearts for people to find, has a positive impact. Perhaps a positive ripple can fight back against a negative one?
Whenever a heart is given or found I have an enormous sense of happiness. It’s such a small token but it’s a physical reminder that you are not alone, that someone somewhere is thinking about you. The hearts (over 7,000 now) have gone as far as Australia, San Francisco, France, Iceland, Spain, as well as all over the UK. We go to different groups to talk about our hearts and share our story, and hopefully we’ll recruit more heart makers along the way too.
So with Big Birthdays comes Big Wisdom (well, maybe Some Wisdom...) and I realised that we all need our own formula to feel good and balanced. Mine includes being active and feeling connected - but everyone’s variables, well, vary! My newfound (emerging) wisdom definitely keeps my mental health balanced - something I now realise none of us should take for granted.
If you would like to join our Crochet Army of Love, you could make hearts, make labels or donate (or all of the above!). You could even help us share the love by requesting a pack of five to leave out for others, or show your support by sharing our story and message on social media so that more people know that they can request a heart too. Thanks to crowdfunding, we’re able to continue to do this all for free, ensuring we can keep the love going all around the world.
Most importantly, if you or anyone you know needs some love, we don’t need to know why. Just ask and we will send you a heart.
You are not alone. We are all here, right with you. You just need to find the right support for you and in my opinion, Mind is the perfect place to start.