Life metaphors have always struck me as invariably silly.
Life isn’t in the least like a box of chocolates. If it was, who the f*&% is eating all the caramel swirls – answer me that? Greedy bastard. And if life gives you lemons, you can’t really make lemonade unless it also happens to have conveniently gifted you sugar and carbonated water/baking soda.
Neither is life that much like a roller coaster. In my experience there isn’t that much hanging upside down in the company of screaming teenagers on a school trip – but maybe I’ve been doing it wrong. I’m not even convinced by Shakespeare’s all the world’s a stage. If it was a play there’d be way more intervals – I really need more intervals.
Nope. What life is really like is one of those paint-a-pot shops.
Bear with me, as I extend a metaphor beyond all tensility, sensibility, or indeed probability.
You often don’t get that much choice in what kind of pot you get, or time to plan your approach. It might be sturdy earthenware, or delicate China. An intricate teapot or a comedy cat. And it’s your responsibility to make something of it in the very short time allotted to you before the next group booking.
Sure, you get to decorate it as you wish, but only using the colours and tools immediately available to you. The colours don’t always come out as you planned. It’s hard to get the detail right. You make mistakes. You can use a wet sponge to try and rub them out, but you’ll still be able to see them once it’s been through the kiln – so you’re probably better off just adapting the design as you go along. Sometimes there’s someone to offer you advice, but mostly you’ve got to do it all yourself. There’s invariably someone next to you doing something better. And in the end, you may or may not be pleased with the results.
So each and every one of is a pot, lined up on the shelves of life, stretching as far as the eye can see. Some of us will be displayed pride of place up front and centre. Some of us will be half hidden behind a spider plant. Perhaps we get to choose the pots we want to be arranged next to – possibly those with similar patterns. Some folks are happy to be on the highest shelves, others lurk in safety near the bottom rungs.
Sometimes, just sometimes, pots get broken. Maybe they were already fragile. But when the pieces shatter, they will never be put back in quite the same way.
There are two natural enemies of pottery, the first (obviously) is bulls, the second is small children. And it’s having children that broke my pot wide, wide open.
I think most of the mothers I know would admit to a few cracks postpartum. Some may have been relatively minor – hairline fractures. Others weren’t. Some had ugly, raw gouges. A few completely smashed. I don’t know many that came through the process completely intact, as before, without tarnish or at least a little fading round the edges. And mostly, we don’t talk about it. We fall apart in private, and show our best side to the world.
There is a very bad habit, in our modern world, of just chucking out and replacing broken stuff without even trying to fix it. Simple consumerism – the pursuit of perfection, maybe. And if we don’t write it off as irreparable, we still don’t ever think of it or use it in quite the same way again. Slap it back together with a bit of superglue or gaffa tape, stick it in the little loo where no one will really see it. Hide it. Move on.
When my pot broke, I did pick the pieces up, eventually. With a bit of help. But it wasn’t water tight anymore. (Hell, I spring leaks from various orifices every time I sneeze unexpectedly or watch a bloody John Lewis advert). But it’s still standing. I’m still standing.
We have never bottomed out the veritable melting pot (see what I did there?) of mental health in the UK – something that affects an estimated 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives. It is not just a women’s issue; mental health is very much an equal opportunities affliction. Oh we pretend to understand it, to sympathise, to be PC. But in reality we mostly just avoid it, medicate it, wait for it to go away. Stigmatise. Blame. Roll our eyes.
Pull yourself together.
Everyone’s got problems.
Try looking on the bright side.
Change the record.
I don’t need that kind of negativity.
Other people do this all the time.
He’s no fun anymore.
She enjoys wallowing.
Why can’t she just get over it?
Why can’t he just be grateful for what he’s got?
You’ve probably thought one or more of these things about one or more of your acquaintances over the years.
Then it happens to you.
And you can’t make the effort. You can’t face the day. Even getting out of bed feels so HUGE a mountain to climb you can hardly make your limbs obey you. That heaviness pervades your body, your mind. You can’t bear to see people, nor to be alone in your own echoing, fickle, foggy head. You obsess over details, become overwhelmed by minutiae, anxious about every little thing. You can’t make decisions. You can’t think, plan, engage.
Life is reduced to a series of motions you go through but can’t feel, and emotions you feel but can’t sort through. There is an unrelenting ebb and flow of panic and lethargy, hyper-reality and detachment. All you can do is grit your teeth, put your head down, focus, try, fail, repeat. Over, and over and over again.
The battle to maintain structural integrity, to keep up a flimsy shell of functionality, to hold all your pieces together – it takes all the energy and concentration you can muster.
For many women, postnatal depression is their ‘intro’ to mental health issues. Crazy 101. And it’s pretty fucking scary. And the only thing even scarier than all that is the aftermath – what happens when the fog lifts and you finally put your head up again.
She’s a flapper.
He’s lost his edge.
She can’t cope.
She’s a dramatist.
You’re put in a box that people won’t let you out of again. It’s like they can’t see your pot anymore – they can only see the cracks. Like that’s what you’ve become. That’s all you’re worth.
This is not always so. Elsewhere in the world, survival and experience are embraced. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold. It treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. It even highlights the cracks and celebrates them as something actually adding to its value.
And that, folks, is why life is REALLY like pottery. Kintsugi.
Because you are not damaged or ruined. Whether you are a sufferer or a survivor, you are uniquely beautiful – not despite your scars but because of them.
If I know anything from watching two whole episodes of Time Team on the History Channel, it’s that broken pieces of pottery are what archaeologists will find thousands of years from now. It’s how we all end up – at the very end – dashed on the ol’ rocks of life. Dug out of a trench by a future Tony Robinson. What story will your pot tell, I wonder?
The golden veins that hold my pieces together are a map of love – the only thing that can really heal or seal the cracks. And as I sit here on my shelf, gradually collecting dust, they glint in the afternoon sun. Blinding flashes of hope.
PANDAS – The pre and postnatal depression support service
MIND – The mental health charity
Sheffield Light – a small Charity run by volunteers providing support across Sheffield to families affected by perinatal mental heath illnesses, including postnatal depression and anxiety.
Fired Arts – the craft cafe at 957 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8TN
Planet Pot – ceramic cafe at 102 Hangingwater Road, Sheffield S11 7ER