Think about the effect grief had on your mental health in a pre-COVID world, and the further dimension a pandemic added. Jane George, Performance Consultant in our Retail division and her husband Anthony suffered the sudden, tragic loss of their son when he passed away as a result of mental health issues.
Determined to do something positive in her son's memory, Jane and Anthony set up Knitformentalhealth to raise awareness and money for mental health charities - and encourage others to make positive choices that support their mental health rather than threaten it.
Now she's using her rediscovered hobby to help others improve their mental health. Leveraging a devastating experience to raise awareness and drive positive change.
Jane talked to us about her experience.
A new day
‘In July 2020, our beautiful, wonderful Llyr took his own life. As a parent it's your absolute worst nightmare and I don't think we'll ever come to terms with it.’
As Jane struggled to cope in the days immediately following Llyr's death she visited her GP, who told her how native American folklore tackles the subject of mental health, a story that resonated strongly,
‘The story says that within each of us there are two wolves. There's a white wolf that lives on the plains with the sun on its back and the wind in its face. And there's a black wolf that lives in the forest in the shadows with the darkness and the doubts.
‘Every day within each of us these two wolves meet at the edge of the forest and they fight. And who wins that battle depends on the one you feed. So if you doubt yourself, thinking things like “I'm not good at this; I'm not pretty enough; I don’t have enough likes on social media; I can't do this” then you're feeding the black wolf and damaging your mental health.
‘To feed the white wolf you live in the moment and spend time doing things that bring you joy. Exercising, practising mindfulness - all these feed the white wolf.
‘I can honestly tell you that every day when I open my eyes the black wolf is right there sitting on my chest looking at me. I know I have a choice. I can either go with him or I can try and do something positive.’
Create and connect
Soon after, with the natural consequences of such a loss creating a loop of questioning things she hadn’t said to Llyr, and things she felt she hadn’t done, Jane needed to try and distract her mind. A conversation with a friend sparked the idea that Jane should dig out her knitting needles again after almost 20 years.
‘It really helped. There was just me, the needles, the wool and the thing that I was creating.’
Jane started making headbands, wrist warmers and boot cuffs, and found that a particularly complicated cable pattern really helped as it required complete concentration to perfect it, which in turn afforded Jane a moment of peace. From there, the idea behind Knitformentalhealth took root when a friend of Llyr's set up a fundraising event in his memory. Jane began selling wrist warmers to support him, unaware of how quickly the idea would take off.
‘I included a thank you card and the story of the two wolves with every pair of wrist warmers we sold. People were buying eight pairs at a time in the run up to Christmas and I just couldn't make enough of them.’ Jane reached out to her friends locally for support, whilst her other two sons helped spread the word on social media.
One of Jane and Anthony’s sons, Alex is a doctor and appeared on the tv show, Love Island. Now a Youth Mental Health Ambassador, Alex’s social media presence created a phenomenal response when he posted they were looking for knitters.
‘Overnight our Instagram account went up to 22k followers. However, the extra awareness wasn't without its challenges. I suddenly had all these people wanting to buy wrist warmers, which was wonderful except I couldn't fill the 100 orders I already had, let along thousands more.’
Fortunately, Jane also received offers of help from volunteer knitters up and down the country. And with their support, Jane and her family have now set up the online shop which opened in February. Every order includes a card featuring the story of the two wolves and all the money raised goes to support mental health charities.
Open the conversation
Jane and Anthony hope that every order will help start a conversation about mental health,
‘Suicide is the biggest killer of young men, but young men can find it hard to talk about their feelings. The story of the two wolves helps make it easier to have those conversations. To initiate a conversation and discuss the black wolf and what that means, rather than direct questions that sometimes lead to a yes or no answer. It helps to build resilience.’
Once lockdown is over, Jane is hoping Knitformentalhealth will be able to do even more to help build resilience in young people. She's already working with one school and hopes to involve more in this important conversation.
‘I've learnt so much about mental health since Llyr passed away. It's too late for us, but if we can stop someone else from going through this then we'll have done something positive.’