Finding passion, human connection, and confidence are just some ways this hobby has powerfully improved my mental health.
Have you ever heard of the tortured artist trope? Famous artistic figures like Frida Kahlo, Sylvia Plath, and Vincent van Gogh are known for both their mental health struggles and their incredible creative talents.
But research actually suggests creativity and happiness are closely linked. If you’re happy, you’re more likely to be creative, and if you engage in creativity, it can boost your mood.
Last November, I wasn’t doing anything artistic. I was barely able to get out of bed in the mornings. I recently went through a breakup, moved to a new city, made a shift in my career, and my depression took a turn for the worse.
I spent most of my time watching TV in an attempt to distract myself from my never-ending rumination. But when I started watching “The Great Pottery Throw Down” (the pottery version of “The Great British Baking Show”), I felt a tiny light spark within me.
Watching a group of kind and passionate people create fantastic vases, bowls, sculptures, and even toilets out of clay gave me something I hadn’t felt in a while: the desire to try something new. So, I searched for pottery classes, found a community craft center in my city, and signed up for a beginner’s wheel-throwing course.
I had to wait until February for the class to begin, but the moment I set foot in the ceramics studio, I knew I made the right choice. Since then, I’ve taken three 6-week pottery courses, and I’m signed up for another this fall.
Braving the endeavor to learn a new craft was one of the best things I’ve done to help manage my depression in the last year. From helping me gain confidence and passion to connecting and socializing with people in my community, making pottery has overwhelmingly changed my life for the better.
One of my least favorite things about being depressed is that I find it difficult to feel motivated to do much of anything.
Working, spending time with friends, or doing anything more than lying in bed, scrolling on social media, or watching movie after movie feels both overwhelming and pointless when I’m depressed. Even doing the things I used to love, like creative writing or drawing, makes me want to give up and cry.
For me, trying something new that I’ve always been interested in helped me find more motivation. I’m always itching to get back into the studio as soon as I leave the building.
While at work, I have something to motivate me to complete a task. I remind myself that if I write one more article, I can glaze some pots. It gives me a reason to get my work done.
Distraction is one of my most valuable coping skills when I’m incredibly depressed and can’t snap out of it. While I often rely on TV to engage my mind and keep my running thoughts preoccupied, it has its limits.
When I sit down at the wheel, all thoughts about my life’s stressors go out the window. With most tasks, I often find myself zoning out and ruminating about the banality of my existence. But when I’m throwing a cup or planning out the glazing design for a set of bowls, I enter the flow state and simply live in the glorious moment.
Nothing feels better than that.
Ever since I was little, I struggled to stick to challenging tasks like playing the piano or softball. I always tried an activity for a year or so before getting tired of it and quitting. I quit because I didn’t enjoy those things, and I didn’t enjoy them mainly because I didn’t think I was good at them.
But with ceramics, everything is different.
Playing with clay is fun, whether or not I create something beautiful. During my first 6-week course, I didn’t make anything taller than a tube of chapstick, and I applied glazes much too thin that they burned off in the kiln, leaving behind a splotchy mess. But I didn’t care.
I loved it so much that I signed up for another course and slowly started improving. Now, I’m in the middle of my third 6-week course, and I’ve made vast improvements.
My tallest pot is almost a foot tall, and I’m having more success with glazing. Learning a new skill helps me feel more capable and confident: two things my depression tries to tell me that I’m not. But now I have the evidence to remind myself that I am.
It feels like I’ve been chasing passion for my whole life. I’ve never engaged in an activity that makes me feel as purposeful, driven, and excited as ceramics. I was starting to think I’d never find something that makes me feel passionate, and I’m so glad I didn’t let that depressive thought get the best of me.
I can confidently say that I’m pottery-obsessed in the best way possible. Whenever it comes time to clean up and head home from the studio, I’m disappointed that I have to leave rather than excited to go home and watch TV.
Instead of scrolling on TikTok for hours, I go on YouTube to watch ceramics tutorials and take notes. I spend less time thinking about the triviality of my day-to-day life and instead find myself daydreaming about pots I want to make or cool ceramics decoration ideas.
It feels so unbelievably amazing to experience genuine passion.
Taking a pottery class means sitting in a room of 13 other students who share similar goals and interests as I do. I have social anxiety, which makes it difficult for me to engage with people no matter how hard I want to.
During my first pottery course, I mainly kept to myself and focused on the clay and the creative process. However, as I gained more confidence in my craft and in the studio space, I began challenging myself by talking to my fellow pottery students.
At first, my conversation was limited to complimenting someone’s creation and saying thank you when they’d hold the door open for me. Today, I crack jokes about lifting weights to improve my arm strength so I can center my clay on the wheel head and have in-depth conversations with my teacher about the world of ceramics.
I went from being the quiet beginner to a chatty, friendly helper with answers to my classmates’ questions.
I feel much less isolated and more connected to a fantastic, supportive community than ever.
I’m a big crier, especially when I experience big emotions. Usually, when I cry, it’s because I feel unbearably depressed, overwhelmed, or hopeless.
I also cry when I experience emotions on the other end of the spectrum and feel hopeful, joyful, and grateful. But happy tears for me are few and far between. The last time I cried tears of joy was in January of 2020 when I was lucky enough to eat a fresh seafood feast on a boat in Vietnam’s Hạ Long Bay just before COVID-19 hit.
It didn’t happen again until my first pottery class in the winter of 2023 when the teacher explained what we’d get to do during the course.
Depression sucks pleasant emotions out of my life and leaves me with hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and dread. But now that I get to create on the wheel, I experience more positive emotions in my day-to-day life.
I feel hopeful, grateful, and at peace whenever I enter the studio. I feel focused, mindful, and steady. Don’t get me wrong — my struggles with depression are far from behind me. But on days when I know I get to play with clay, life feels worth living.
Signing up for a pottery class was the best choice I made this year. Not only do I feel more motivated and passionate than ever before, but I’ve also found a fantastic way to ease my depression.
Creating pots, vases, mugs, and bowls on the potter’s wheel makes my life more vibrant, peaceful, and rewarding.
Medically reviewed on October 11, 2023
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