This article for the Mental Health Awareness week (9th-15th of May 2022) is an opportunity for me to share my experience with mental health and how I found ways to support myself. I hope my journey will inspire you.
Back in 2015, at fifty years old, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I did not envisage that the journey to recovery would take me three long years, my marriage would break down, I would experience severe depression, and consequently would find a passion for making ceramics.
We all face big or smaller challenges in life, a health issue, the loss of loved ones, or setbacks. Most people grieve or feel sad and recover, but for some of us these events trigger more profound alterations in our brain.
I always considered myself as being a strong, adaptable, and resilient person. I lived in six different countries, supported my family, and embraced some of the most complex work challenges my previous long-term employer offered me.
Being diagnosed with prostate cancer was another challenge live was throwing at me and I embraced it as a new challenge as I did with most of things in my life: surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, scans, blood tests and appointments with the oncologist rhythmed my last six years.
At the end of 2017, I was not feeling well. I had difficulties to sleep, spent my days seating on the armchair in the living room, scrolling through social media, unable to work and avoiding people. I knew there was something wrong but could not understand exactly what was happening. I consulted my GP. She asked safeguarding questions and prescribed me an antidepressant. The drug did not work for me, making my sleep worst, and I stop it. I looked for alternative ways to recover.
I signed up for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but after few sessions I did not see much improvement. So, I decided to go out of my comfort zone and my living room: I travelled on my own for twenty days to Peru and Chile. Having to talk and socialise with people and seeing beautiful landscapes and cities helped me. I felt good again, but few weeks after returning home, the depression was showing signs of coming back.
I consulted a psychotherapist and saw a psychiatrist. They diagnosed me with severe depression, partially caused by the hormone therapy I was on. I enrolled into a psychotherapy treatment which lasted four months. It was difficult emotionally but helped me acknowledge what I endured in my life. Not only my experience with cancer, or my marriage breakdown, but also the trauma I faced as a child and young adult (I did not identify it as such). The therapy worked and, I was back on my two legs, embracing life again!
At the same time, I signed up for a weekly evening pottery class in my neighbourhood to make pots and meet other people. I was so interested in ceramics that I joined a large and brighter studio and practiced making vessels up to 15 hours a week. It gave me an opportunity to develop new skills, see other people and talk to potters about our mutual interest. Pottery is all about making things with someone’s hands; helping focus the brain and practice mindfulness.
Today, making ceramics is an important part of my life. It is a passion that I developed during the successive lockdowns, setting a small studio at the back of our garden. In 2021, I exhibited my pieces in four galleries and sold most of them, fundraising for the charity Prostate Cancer UK. Ceramics helped me balance my life. Throwing vessels from blocks of clay is such a satisfying experience!
Loneliness, difficulty to sleep, stress and irritability could be red flags of depression. I ignored them initially. During my recovery from depression, I learned few simple but important things: talking to friends and family about difficulties someone experiences, being open about feelings, not keeping things for someone’s own help massively. Balancing someone’s life and work, giving plenty of space for being with loved ones, enjoying nature and simple activities are particularly important. Finally, I would recommend taking on the challenge of crafting! It is great for relaxing and refocusing our brains.