Pottery Saved My Life

I posted this short yet poignant missive to Instagram & Facebook on June 14, 2019. Because it received so many comments (many of shared understanding and camaraderie, which you can click to read in the links above), and because social media posts basically disappear after a few days, it just recently occurred to me to post it here for easier reference and shareability.

“I thought today and finally, I’d explain how I came to clay. Two years ago Roberto Lugo emblazoned a t-shirt with this phrase, giving me the opportunity to share for the first time privately on FB then and publicly here now that this is literally true for me: Pottery Saved My Life.

For over three years (1988-91) in high school and the start of college, I was anorexic. I was hospitalized and nearly died. Twice. At almost 5’8”, I got down to what I considered to be the dream weight of 78 lbs. Anorexia nervosa seems a privileged illness (my fellow hospitalized inmates were actually a variety of different races and classes), but is really about perfectionism, depression, self-loathing, and learned body image distortion.

I couldn’t go away to college because of the illness. Too much risk. I enrolled at a local community college, which was only for ‘losers’ according to my public high school classmates. Fortunately, after my first year I took a summer hand-building course and found something that preoccupied my brain more than the addiction of perceived perfection. I’m well on the other side of too thin, but even after 28 years, think about my weight, food, and appearance multiple times a day, every day. If I hadn’t found clay (even after years of medication, therapy, and hospitalization), I’m not sure I would have gotten out of that black hole.

Pottery, as well as its tactility and physicality, consumed my mind and body, and do so to this day. I speak out frequently about back health and body ergonomics, on which I’m sure for me being anorexic took a toll, but I’ve never spoken out about my anorexia (in part because of my current weight) and the resulting ebb, flow, & desire for self-love, body acceptance, and psychological stability. I’m finally sharing this now in the hopes of helping others stuck in the nightmare of self-hate, whatever form that may take, and because we don’t know everyone’s story.

When I feel low, my mind still goes back to a rhetorical question I posed in my journal around age 18: Isn’t it better to be imperfectly happy than perfectly miserable?”

6 thoughts on “Pottery Saved My Life

  1. I wasn’t in your situation but in my late 30s I was downed with a chronic health issue, which remains with me to this day … first I realised the best option was self-management, but my head still said “get off your butt and do xyz” – I would try but it would take me all day to do one thing – that used to be a 100 things…I got to a point where I knew I couldn’t even continue/attempt to make a living from fibre-crafts.

    My way out was to sell/gift that equipment away and focus on something less difficult to achieve. Then there was a slight change in my health for the better – and one of the first things was to lose a massive amount of weight, and get fit

    I then in my mid 50s went to University and over 5 years got a degree…but somehow that made very little different other than a student loan – so I then went to art school…

    Now finally in my late 60s still with a hefty student loan which is drip feed from my pension – I’ve accepted that I’m best suited to be a mixed media artist …and although my sales are minimal, I’m much happier…

    and even though there are periods of issues, I find if I back off for a while – loaf around, read books, do nothing…I bounce back and start doing again!

  2. Along the same lines, just before Thanksgiving in 2019 as I was pushing to get end-of-the-year items to outlets, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. Surgery loomed ominously on December’s horizon and recovery meant slamming the studio brakes. Sitting still has never been in my genes, and not having my hands in clay sounded like a prison sentence. With a bit of reflection, I recalled earlier days where my studio was little more than a lap tray and a cozy campfire was often the scene. In the 4+ weeks at home, holding down a recliner, I was able to lose myself in ‘clay therapy’, making whimsical little “Office Gargoyles”…pain seemed to subside, I could temporarily forget the after-effects of surgery, the little faces kept my hands busy, and it sure beat binge-watching TV (although there was enough of that). I can attest that doing even a little something productive helped my healing and kept my mind from venturing off into darker places.
    P.S. Path reports show ‘cancer free’…see how well those gargoyles work?!? :)

      • Paul, amazing how we can battle through and feel better for it – by stepping back to a “kind of miniature life” … even if at the time, we can’t see the point. Glad to see that the “gargoyles” worked with the Path-people…

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