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  • Kristen Kieffer

Pottery Saved My Life

For over three years (1988-91) in high school and the start of college, I was anorexic. I was hospitalised and nearly died. Twice. At almost 5’8”, I got down to what I considered to be the dream weight of 78 lbs. Anorexia nervosa seems a privileged illness (my fellow hospitalised inmates were actually a variety of different races and classes), but is really about perfectionism, depression, self-loathing, and learned body image distortion.

I couldn’t go away to college because of the illness. Too much risk. I enrolled at a local community college, which was only for ‘losers’ according to my public high school classmates. Fortunately, after my first year I took a summer hand-building course and found something that preoccupied my brain more than the addiction of perceived perfection. I’m well on the other side of too thin, but even after 28 years, think about my weight, food, and appearance multiple times a day, every day. If I hadn’t found clay (even after years of medication, therapy, and hospitalisation), I’m not sure I would have gotten out of that black hole.

www.kiefferceramics.com


Pottery, as well as its tactility and physicality, consumed my mind and body, and do so to this day. I speak out frequently about back health and body ergonomics, on which I’m sure for me being anorexic took a toll, but I’ve never spoken out about my anorexia (in part because of my current weight) and the resulting ebb, flow, & desire for self-love, body acceptance, and psychological stability. I’m finally sharing this now in the hopes of helping others stuck in the nightmare of self-hate, whatever form that may take, and because we don’t know everyone’s story.

When I feel low, my mind still goes back to a rhetorical question I posed in my journal around age 18: Isn’t it better to be imperfectly happy than perfectly miserable?

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