My Healing Journey Into Pottery

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The story about how I became a potter is really a story about healing.  And it’s a story about arthritis.

I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis, as well as Osteoporosis, Scoliosis, Degenerative Disc Disease and a severe case of spinal stenosis.

Arthritis, in any form, is an auto-immune disease.  Rheumatoid Arthritis, or R.A., is systemic, which means that it effects the entire body.  Fibromyalgia and Osteoporosis also effect the entire body, but not in the same way, or to the same degree.  RA effects the joints as well as internal organs, including the lungs, muscles (including the heart) and even one’s eyes.  It’s understood to be the most severe of all forms of arthritis.  It, as well as these other diseases and conditions, cause acute pain, inflammation, weakness and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments in the body.  It also causes lesions, nodules, low grade fevers and lethargy.

It can be debilitating.  So, too, can the various medications used to treat this disease.  And the medications can lead to further, and very serious, medical conditions and complications.

And with all of this, I am doing pottery.
In fact, it is because of all of this that I am doing pottery.

There are many drugs and therapies used to treat R.A., but long ago I realized that there isn’t much that can be done, in terms of physical therapy, for the upper body joints.  Feeling my shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers swell, stiffen and generally weaken was becoming alarming and I couldn’t find a therapy that helped.

Then I discovered pottery.

I was correct in my assumption that pottery would help my arthritis.  I quickly discovered that I cannot work at the wheel.  It requires a lot of physical ability that someone with severe and accute R.A. just cannot manage.  Instead I work at a bench, moulding the clay with my hands.  Every piece I make, each vessel, is made by hand, or as I like to say, is handbuilt.

As it happens, my inability to use the wheel is a blessing for my R.A.  It forces me to use my hands, my wrists and my arms.  As I sit at the bench working with the clay I am relying on my upper body for strength and mobility, constantly using my hands and fingers as I work the clay, shaping and smoothing it.

Working with clay is an excellent exercise and I decided to stick with it.  I felt I finally found a useful therapy.

Then something surprising happened.  I discovered that I love it.  I love the clay.  I love the feeling of working with it.  I feel calm and open.  I feel connected to Source and healing energy when my hands are in the clay.

When I’m in the studio and fully immersed in the process of creation I don’t notice my pain.
Clay brings me joy and peace.

There are many days when I experience a sharp, hot, throbbing and knife-like stabbing pain that runs from deep inside my wrists to across the back of my hands and down into most of my fingers.  My arms no longer straighten because my elbows are so swollen.  My shoulders ache and throb when I try to lift my arms.  As I sit at home, experiencing this, I begin to calculate the effort it will take to load my supplies into my car, drive myself to the studio, unload everything and then set up my work station.

I’ve had three spinal operations.  My neck and lower back are fused.  There are days when I feel the heaviness of this, the stiffness, and I struggle to move.  I can no longer bend, lift or carry anything the way I once did.

My thoughts then turn to what it will take for me to do something simple, like roll out a slab of clay, or attempt to mold something into a round or square shape. I realize the struggle I have ahead of me and once in a while I quietly wonder to myself if it’s worth it.  The voice in my head quietly asks me why I’m about to put myself through this.  And then, yes, the voice inside my head answers.  Because I love it, I hear myself say.  I love that it forces me to move, even when I’m in my most pain.  I love the joy it brings me.  I love how my heart is open, my mind is calm and my worries melt away when I am emmersed in the creation of a vessel.

Pottery has become so much more than a physical therapy.  It is an emotional and even spiritual experience.

Working with the clay has the remarkable effect of both elevating me and grounding me.  I feel elevated, connected to Spirit and God.  My sould feels lightened and my heart is opened.  And simultaneously I feel grounded, connected to the earth, to the elements, solid and stable.  I literally feel a universal energy run through me, from my head to my toes, when I work with clay.

So if I were to stay home, give in to my pain, and miss my studio time, well, I realize how sad that would make me.  Truth is, each week I look forward, with excitement, to my pottery class and my studio time.

So I go, regardless of how I’m feeling or struggling, and I’m always glad that I do.
I make every piece with love and joy, and each one holds my healing energy.

Regarding the pottery itself, please note that all glazes are 100% food safe.  Please do not put your pottery in the oven.  The sudden increase in temperature may cause the piece to crack.  It is safe to put the pottery in the microwave and dishwasher although I recommend hand washing.