When I was first learning how to knit (well, ok, when I was first RE-learning how to knit, at about 19), I couldn't stand patterns. They were just kind of suggestions that I felt free to ignore. I had a tiny little Russian learn-to-knit book, which taught be combination knitting, and how to make mittens and socks. Of course, the book never mentioned that stitches will twist if you make mittens and socks this way, but whatever.
So I made mittens and socks. I made myself a scarf. Of course, through all this, I had complete disregard for gauge and used US4 needles for everything. Go me! I figured our Fair Isle by looking at store-bought knit items and replicating it in a sock. I figured out increasing and decreasing, and the easy things like striping, and knitting in the round never fazed me.
I was also unafraid to make things up. My brother asked for a pair of gloves, so I followed the basic mitten pattern and split the top for the fingers. It worked.
My parents came back from a trip to Greece with a bunch of lovely merino wool (and a bunch of other yarns, too!). So I decide I'll make a sweater for my brother. Bravely I cast on with my US4 needles and Aran weight wool. Bravely I ran out of yarn. I also made the sweater striped, and bravely cut the yarn at each colorchange, thereby effectively ruining my entire yarn supply!
My mom finally clued me in to the whole needles come in different sizes thing, and I frogged the parts of the sweater I had done and decided to remake it as a vest.
The thing is, I could've done it, too. I decreased for the armholes and the neck by following shaping on a store-bought sweater, and it would've been decent, except I ran out of yarn and couldn't find a reasonable substitute. So the vest never actually got finished, but it could have almost worked. With mistakes, of course, but not terrible.
I dropped knitting in favor of beading for a few years, and when I came back to it, before I discovered all the wonderful patterns out there, I continued to make things up.
And then I discovered patterns. And then I became afraid to change the patterns. It's not that I doubt myself so much as the fact that someone else is telling me what to do is sacred. Like, I ought to do it THEIR way, out of respect. Which is a bit silly, because patterns are meant to be altered.
Anyway, now I am over-reliant on patterns. Part of it is there are so many awesome ones out there that I rarely feel the need to make my own. But some day, I'd like to. For now I'm enjoying the process of just knitting whenever, however, and whatever I feel like, and learning whatever I can. It's just funny that I was better about making things up when I wasn't as good at knitting! Don't get me wrong, I'm still adventurous -- difficulty ratings on patterns mean absolutely nothing to me, because if it's written out, I can follow it, and if it isn't, I'll make it up -- but it's different.