By Martina Kontos
I was born of a dry clay, a clay that crumbles too easily. My family tried to mould me as a child but each time they tried I disintegrated under their fingers, stubborn and unforgiving. It wasn’t until I was eight that my father decided to use a little water, a little common sense, and mould me into a person. He had heard of the miraculous properties of water and so every day he sculpted me, forming me into someone with the strength to stand on their own two feet.
“Papa!” I said one day, giggling as he moulded me. “The water’s too cold!”
“The water is only cold because you think it is.”
“But I feel that it’s cold. That means it is, right?”
“Close your eyes and imagine you’re in a desert.”
I did as he said, and within seconds the water was too hot to bear.
“Papa! It’s too hot now!”
He smiled. “The world is what you make of it. Remember that, my love.”
I lived in bliss for four years, four short years in which I blended in with everyone around me, people also moulded and shaped by the hands of those that came before them. I didn’t know it was possible to crack, or even to crumble after you’ve been moulded and baked. But that’s what happened to me.
I had my first panic attack when I was twelve. This left me with a giant crack running down my spine, and when I was diagnosed a few years later with three anxiety disorders, parts of my back crumbled under the pressure of having to stand upright. My father decided it would be good for me to try psychotherapy, to see if some of the pieces might stick back together again.
“How are you feeling today?” the therapist said as she inspected my crumbled back.
“I don’t know,” I said, and it was the truth. I didn’t know how I felt because I didn’t know how to feel. How are you supposed to feel when you realise you’re not as strong as everyone else, when everyone else has had no trouble being moulded and here you are, crumbled and dejected?
“Do you consent to being here?”
“Yes, but I don’t like needing help.”
She nodded and sat. “Describe your anxiety to me.”
“It’s always there.”
“Any troubling thoughts?”
“Yes, they keep me from sleeping.”
She hesitated and then looked into my eyes. “I think I know what the issue is.”
“Is it that I’m broken?”
“It’s not that you’re broken, or that you crumbled in the first place. It’s that you don’t want to get better. You need to find a way to accept yourself. It won’t be easy, but I believe there’s a part of you that hears me.”
I nodded and left with an aching heart, and tried to do as she said. I hid my broken pieces from sight and travelled the world, exploring different treatments and trying to love myself for who I was, but nothing helped. That is, until I discovered the Japanese art of Kintsugi, of piecing broken pottery back together with gold.
When I went to Japan, a kind old man with a shy smile showed me into his studio where, piece by piece, he had meticulously put back together countless vases with gold. The vases were more beautiful than they were before being broken.
“Could you do the same for me?” I asked him.
He looked into my eyes. “It’s not going to be easy. You have to make sure that you have all the pieces for it to work. Where have you left those broken parts of yourself, the ones you don’t want people to see?”
I told him I would return with all of the pieces, but as soon as I left the studio I broke down in tears. I knew where the pieces were–I carried them in my heart–and I was too afraid to admit that they existed.
The old man came out, and seeing me crying said, “I too am Kintsugi.” He lifted up his shirt, showing me the gold veining his chest.
He led me back inside and piece by piece, put me back together again.
I couldn’t control that I was born of a dry clay, that I crumble too easily, but now, reinforced by the gold of self-acceptance, I have found my way out of the darkness.
And there’s no going back.
This piece was shortlisted in the 2021 mindshare Awards, presented by mindshare, Writers SA, Access2Arts, and the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia. More info here.