Stress Awareness Month how creating objects from clay really did save me

April 2024

WAY member Laura has recently spoken to Prima magazine about how pottery helped her to heal after her partner took his own life just under three years ago. To mark Stress Awareness Month, Laura shares some tips about coping with stress after bereavement ….


 


Thomas Skovsende/Prima

My journey with pottery started briefly in January 2020 before Covid-19 hit. I joined an adult education evening class for something different to do. Covid meant classes closed so I hired a pottery wheel for a few weeks to keep me going at home but stopped as the pandemic carried on.  

Matthew and I were together for 21 very happy years, and I had no idea that he was suffering so much.  After a few months of a quick decline in his mental health, Matthew took his own life in the summer of 2021.

After Matt’s traumatic death, I was lost. I had no confidence, I was isolated and I felt so vulnerable and unsafe without him, there was a large piece of me missing and I didn’t know how I hadn’t died from the pain of his death.  But deep down I knew that the only way to heal was to push myself and find a focus.  When I saw a second-hand pottery wheel for sale a few months after the funeral, I made an impulse purchase and have never looked back. 

“A focus for my mind”

 

One of the hardest parts of bereavement is the sudden gap and emptiness that is left behind and the sheer overwhelming list of things that need doing but without my life partner to share jobs with or bounce ideas with.  

Pottery gave me something to do for ‘me’ and a focus for my mind, it was something that gave me enjoyment when the (s)admin became overwhelming.  It was an important part of my therapy and recovery – creating objects from clay really did save me. Creating something from mud and being able to gift to loved ones was very satisfying.  

After losing Matthew, I found social situations hard. I was still dealing with shock, raw emotions but in pottery classes it’s just so peaceful with a calm focussed atmosphere without judgement. The pottery community has so many wonderful and supportive people, they just want to support each other in a creative way.  It really helped me re-connect with others at a traumatic time in my life.

Finding the peer support network through WAY Widowed and Young really helped me understand that much of what I was experiencing was ‘normal’ (standing hugging his clothes in the wardrobe while weeping is apparently normal and lots of us do it…). Finding a community of people who ‘get’ the weird and who are are fiercely supportive of fellow ‘wids’ is so very special.

Moving forward

This summer will be my third year without Matt and my life has changed beyond recognition. I miss him so much and I am a different person without him. But there have been some positive changes that I’ve made and most of these are down to my relationship with clay and my determination not to let grief define who I am.  I have a stressful job (I work as an HR director at a consulting firm) and I still embrace pottery as a way to decompress from a hard day. There is something quite special about the excitement of coming home to opening a kiln after a day in the office. The house feels a little less empty.  

I’ve reached the point where people love and appreciate my creations and are willing to pay for what I create. While I have no plans to give up my day job (yet!) it’s been incredibly satisfying turning my pottery hobby into a side hustle to develop and explore. Pottery has led to new friendships after moving home and I’m excited about the future, whereas 18 months ago I still couldn’t see past the loss of Matthew.

Thomas Skovsende/Prima

Laura's tips

Stress comes in many forms. I’ve learnt my early warning signs and have a variety of tools to use. 

I know I’m heading into a wobble if my older dog suddenly becomes like Velcro – he’s not therapy trained but he’s learnt ‘on the job’ and has been beside me throughout my loss. He amazes me daily with his level of compassion.  If he is clingy it’s because he knows I’m not OK. Another sign is my kitchen – if it’s messy and out of control, it’s a clear sign I’m heading for a spiral. 

When these start to happen, I turn to my tools of meditation, re-prioritising tasks, exercise, rest, eating habits, connecting with friends/family and setting aside creative time, as well as journalling.    

  • Meditation apps such as Headspace or Calm I’ve found to be really helpful.  The sleep stories help quieten the mind ready for sleep, Calm have some great emergency meditation / breathing exercises.  Meditation is a work in progress. I have a busy mind and quieting the ‘noise’ is challenging but that’s OK. 

  • I walk the dogs every day and being out in nature really does make a difference – no matter how bad I feel I never regret a walk.  Find a reason to spend some time outdoors daily if you can.  

  • Sometimes just writing a ‘to-do’ list provides some clarity – I will often challenge myself on what is really important and what can I outsource or delegate. I have a nephew I will pay to mow the lawn and my luxury item is a house cleaner, which gives me respite and time for myself.  Some people genuinely find cleaning relaxing – I’m not one of them! 

  • Try and have good sleep habits (limiting social media /news / scrolling before bed). Create a routine. 

  • Build in exercise into your weekly routine. For me, daily walks with the dogs (using a dog walker on busy days so I don’t get overloaded!), yoga 2-3 time a week and visits to the gym really changed my mindset – the punch bag has been a revelation and an amazing stress buster!

  • Living alone and without children can feel isolating – I make sure I connect regularly with my circle of friends whether it’s through WhatsApp / phone calls or a quick meet up – I aim to connect daily with someone outside work. 

  • Be creative, especially if your day job is not.  It can take many forms, drawing, woodwork, painting, knitting – the options are endless and there are lots of online tutorials if you are unable to attend evening classes.  Only last week I was feeling very down and overcome by feelings of grief – I dedicated a whole day to just making pottery and getting my hands dirty – I bounced back and felt better very quickly.   

  • Journalling – this is not something that I do every day but I will make notes of days where I have strong feelings or want to record what is happening in that moment. I really find hope in reading my past entries. Over time you can see the positive changes. Progress can be quiet and often underestimated.

You can read Laura’s story in the May 2024 issue of Prima, which is out on UK newsstands throughout the month of April.