Before pottery - I was burning out. Let me take you on my journey.
It was February 2019. I was studying statistics at Lancaster University and struggling to keep my stress levels at bay. I've always struggled with anxiety and stress. To be completely honest depression had taken over for a lot of my 20s and returning to University at 30 was my last ditch attempt at reclaiming my life.
I decided to get away from the computer, stretch my creative legs and go to an "Introduction to hand building" pottery night class.
When I arrived, I felt intimidated. The other class members all looked so... creative. My self talk was destructive: "I'm a 'mathematician'. I have no place being here. I don't have an inspired bone in my body." *
*If you ever feel like I did, try to remember that
Imposter's syndrome is a real thing, and your self talk can be nasty.
I'm telling you that everyone brings something beautiful to the table,
but when we are at our lowest, we can't see that in ourselves.
Despite my fears, there was something about my first pottery class that kept me going back.
That something was that nobody else cared about what I made. If it was good or bad, if it showed any technical skill, it didn't matter.
The focus, instead, was on turning up, on who wanted milk in their coffee. The focus was on humans. Humans just muddling along, taking time for themselves to make the same things our ancestors have been making for tens of thousands of years: cups, bowls, and art.
As I got more and more obsessed with pottery, I joined the community studio. Pottery didn't save me from the next stress induced sick leave, but it did give me a purpose while I was off work. I would cycle to Halton Mill (my nearest studio), clean the floors, learn to throw on a pottery wheel and reclaim clay. I was strong, part of a community, healthy and getting ready to return to my studies.
And then.. disaster struck. At the end of November I had a cardiac arrest. I was 31 years old. I was in intensive care on life support for days - and woke up not knowing what had happened. My boyfriend and one of his best friends saved my life by ringing 999 and performing CPR. The doctors still don't know what caused it.
I would have died in 2019 if there hadn't been people around me confident enough to do CPR. If you don't confidently know how to do CPR. Please sign up for your next local first aid course.
I ended up in hospital for 3 weeks. At the beginning the nurses had to help me wash my hair, and my short term memory had gone entirely, so I kept asking friends and family what had happened. Over and over again. I was lost. Friends and family were amazing, and my boyfriend only left my side to sleep, but, I still cried myself to sleep every night. My friends brought me a book, "The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse" by Charlie Mackesy, some watercolours and paintbrushes. I started to paint directly in the book. Art and love got me through this difficult time.
After I got out of hospital, I had a couple of months to recover before Covid. I had got to the point where I could cycle to the pottery studio, but as soon as lockdown rolled round I quickly discovered that my fear of going to hospital again prevented me from going far from home. I had no access to a kiln - I had to learn how to continue creating without it. (I've worked through the fear now - you can find me dropping off work I sell in town every week!)
This brought me to pit firing. It's an incredibly comforting and healing way to create pots. You form them (hand built or thrown) and then fire them in an actual bonfire. The smoke from the fire decorates the pots.
It's like us - we come out stronger after adversity. Pit firing also asks you to let go of perfectionism - something I've always really struggled with. Imperfection is what makes these pots, and ourselves, beautiful and unique. When the first lockdown eased, I managed to get an old kiln refurbished, but I continue to make pit fired work. Both for myself, and for people like me. People who need a reminder that they are beautiful because of their imperfection.
After my fear of hospital eased, I spent a lot of time walking in our local woods. People of all ages had been leaving painted stones and bark for others to find. This emotional connection to others was so vital for me throughout 2020. In return I have been offering clay for those who want to try making something at home. The response to this project has been incredible, and shown a clear demand for craft/art as a form of therapy during these difficult times.
Over the past year I have been selling online, and have sold work through 3 local galleries/shops. It's been an incredible start. I've paid off that refurbished kiln, and raised money for charities that mean a lot to me - Papyrus UK, Refuge UK, and EggCup Lancaster. I'm learning product photography, SEO and glaze development. I've worked with individuals on commission pieces and I've even teamed up with local groups and artists to create work together.
I don't want to jinx it, but I've even returned to my studies, part time.
Thank you for the support, every sale helps me to spread a message of community and self acceptance, and to grow as an artist. I can't wait for lockdown to be OVER and for workshops to begin.
And you, the one with self doubt, remember:
Being good enough is enough,
Your worth as a human is not determined by your productivity,
The scars of adversity add to your beauty,
The fire makes you stronger.