"From the age of 7 I was struggling with self harm. At 16 years old, around when I was undertaking my O Levels, I found myself caught in an endless downward spiral where I felt stressed and suicidal. I lost all my self confidence and locked myself away. Despite starting my A-level studies I wasn’t able to continue them as my mental health deteriorated and I stopped looking after myself. For 2 months I couldn’t leave the house due to the panic; I was struggling deeply and basically wanted to rub myself out.
During that time a youth leader from our church kept coming round to try to get me out. Eventually I went to a cafe with him but was so scared by being out of the house that I couldn't even lift the cup of tea to my lips as I was shaking so much. But the more I challenged myself and went out the more my confidence grew and before long things were looking up as I was able to catch buses and walk down the street by myself.
At the age of 17 I got my first job but from then on my life became ensnared in a cycle of immense highs and profound lows making working very difficult. My doctor eventually put me on antidepressant and mood stabilizing medication but this made things worse as my body changed in response to the tablets and my body image was crushed. My parents were really struggling to look after me in my constantly changing emotional states and I ended up going into hospital for a few months after things got so bad that I believed I was the queen of Ireland and was about to leave to save all the people. I wasn't fully aware of what was going on, and whilst being in hospital was by no means a pleasant experience, it did present something new and, little did I realise at the time, life changing.
During my time at the hospital we were able to take part in different workshops, one of which was pottery. As soon as I tried it I knew I loved it - it made me feel like I could do something and that my life wasn't over. Once out of hospital as I tried to get on with my life, pottery always sat in the back of my mind as something I needed to do. So in 2010 I bought some clay and a kiln and started to make things. I was naturally drawn to using natural objects I had collected from my walks and explorations - I pressed them into the clay and painting glaze over impressions. It worked perfectly and now all of my work is nature inspired, whether using flowers and leaves, or shells and fossils from the beach.
A few years later and I set up Damson Tree Pottery to sell my work to a worldwide audience. I do this full time and have great visions for the future."
What goals do have you in the future or are you currently working towards?
"Since setting up the business I have dreamed of having a studio where I can offer work for those struggling to get employment due to difficult circumstances. This goal is slowly being released on the farm where I live - over the last year we have been building a spacious indoor and outdoor workspace around a renovated barn and hope to be offering courses in the next year or so.
The design is a real breathing space that looks out over the fields around the farm. I have been producing moulds and casts that make producing designs rewarding and accessible for everyone, and would love to establish a sponsorship program for anyone looking to access the therapeutic nature of pottery but might be facing financial hardship.
I also hope to be able to connect more with my local community and will continue to display at events and workshops around the South West."
What advice would you give someone facing a similar situation?
"For anyone who might be struggling with their mental health I would encourage you to ask for help - to reach out and talk to someone you trust. It is important to bring the dark things that lie within us into the light, to express things in healthy ways and to build trusting relationships that allow us to feel seen and safe.
Being someone who loves to spend time in nature, I would also encourage you to get outside and be in the natural world as much as you can, even if that means just sitting in the garden listening to the birds. Throughout the winter months it really helps me to surround myself with like minded individuals - we all swim together in the sea, which gives me something to look forward to and the opportunity to move my body whilst being connected to nature. It’s the best place to be!
Also, even if you don't feel like it, getting creative can be a great way to express emotion or distract your mind. Perhaps that might mean learning an instrument, drawing, writing, singing, working with wood - anything that gets your hands moving and mind stimulated. Having a project on the go can give you a great sense of purpose.
And lastly, for anyone living with or looking after someone who is struggling with their mental health, I want to encourage you to not give up on them! Taking the time to listen and give them space whilst showing compassion and kindness can make all the difference, and even save their life."