Kintsugi: Thoughts on Mental Health Awareness week 2014.


This week is Mental Health Awareness week, the morning news informed today via a smug bald doctor who was so slick I could almost hear the rattle of the antidepressant bottle in his pockets.

At the same time, the Guardian ran an article about mental health issues ( in academia which made my blood run cold. I initially felt dreadful for the people bravely interviewed. If I’d known anyone in my uni was in such a state, I’d have made sure they knew I was there to whine at, cry with or just lean on til they gained some second wind, enough to say ‘ I can and I will’.

I thought of a lovely friend who recently shocked me with their admission they’d went into academic meltdown. Again, I’d no idea, and that made me feel utterly awful. I’ve lost people through the years to despair, and am terrified, as I get older, of losing any more.

I’m a pretty unflappable kinda gal, and when I think of these things, I feel some trepidation at my own encroaching time as a PhD. I like company and fun, although often like solitude and silence too. But I’m not a machine, any more than you are, gentle reader. We all have days of just wanting to curl up with a blanket and tea and watch Star Trek repeats. We get days of terrible sadness, and probably equal amounts of joy.  We’re all made of flaws and fear, with a few dollops of swag and bravado chucked in. The workplaces I spent the longest in, and learnt the most emotional intelligence from, acknowledged these things and knew they made for productive, creative and vibrant souls. Valuable. Sometimes, just knowing the value of frailty, humanity and having equally fragile and human folks to laugh and cry with, who would think no worse of you for doing so is just enough to buy someone a tomorrow.

I remembered on the bus today about a Japanese art I’d read about once, the art of the broken and mended: Kintsugi. Possibly dating to the 15th century ( but very possibly earlier), kintsugi takes the broken and repairs it with gold-dust, or equally valuable sparkly material. Before it was broken, it was just lacquer ware – a pot, or vase. Pretty, maybe but mundane. The scars of the breaks are not made invisible, as people seek to restore in the West. They are made conspicuous, and valuable, part of the history of the object. No deliberate destruction and dumping in boggy waters here — the life of the object continues after it is damaged or smashed. It becomes more valuable by the flaws that threatened to make it useless.

It is not hidden, not hushed up. Not feared or rejected because somehow it‘s not perfect. The object transcends its damage, and becomes something as precious as jewels or gold. It survived, and the scars are part of the story of survival.

The simple aesthetic is that it through damage and repair the vessel becomes a unique and beautiful thing, complete in itself and more valuable because of its transformation and continuance in its new form.

I think the news should have told that story, and left the smug doctor out of it.



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