Every week Growing Happy will feature someone from our community with a story to tell; a story that's important and will hopefully inspire action. Mental and physical health issues affect everyone differently and by shining a light on certain people we want to encourage everyone to tell their story, creating a new and inspiring community that can grow together.
Our first first person of the week is Harriet Popham, an artist from Somerset in the UK. Harriet has flourished, while learning to balance her mental and physical health struggles. We are delighted that Harriet was willing to share her story with us and she has also created a number of pieces for our first 'Growth Box'. Harriet's enthusiasm and passion for art, alongside her honesty and positive approach to discussing mental health have inspired us; I hope she inspires you too.
Picture by Jack Wiseall
Could you tell us a little bit about your struggles with mental health?
I guess I was fairly young when I started to experience significant highs and lows. At the time, I was lucky enough to have found, in embroidery, art and design, something that I truly loved. I also had (and still do) the most incredible friends and family. I had so much to be happy about and I was a lot of the time. I highlight this to show that there aren’t always triggers that set us off on a path of anxiety or depression. Sometimes it just happens and makes everything else appear overwhelmingly difficult.
I started to experience mood cycles; around 4 months of delirious highs followed by crushing lows. This went on throughout and after my degree making life incredibly tough. I avoided my friends because I felt like a shell of myself when I was low and I dropped out of university twice. I was delighted after retaking my final year and graduating with a first, but even then the anxiety and depression came back to me in a huge way. It had began to feel like no matter what I tried these cycles would keep happening, and the more I believed this, the bleaker life became!
Over time I found a combination of medication that helps me, BUT this is not the only way and also shouldn't be relied upon as the sole answer. I think over the years I have become fairly in tune with myself and what I need to stay balanced. Where possible it is important to learn about ourselves; listen to what makes us feel good, what helps with stress, when we sleep best, what relaxes us and all of the many small things that affect our mood daily. Being in tune with ourselves and responding appropriately is key to looking after our mental and physical health. I say with a huge amount of relief that I haven’t experienced anything on this scale.. or even anywhere near it...for 3 years.
The key TIPS that have helped you:
- Make time for all aspects of your life. I used to think I should give absolutely everything I had to my work, surely if I didn’t it meant I didn’t want it badly enough? But for me at least, this isn’t sustainable. I have to see friends and family, get outside, take in all the other elements of life that are there to be enjoyed. It helps to dilute work pressures and see the bigger picture.
- Attainable to do lists (and not giving yourself a hard time)! As fantastic as it is to get loads done in a day, I’m slowly learning (still get this wrong sometimes) not to overestimate what you can actually get done. If you don’t manage it all, don't let it take away from the satisfaction of what you've achieved. You can get into bad habits of always feeling frustrated with yourself by being behind when sometimes it's just a matter of accepting that things take longer.
- Respect your rest. Don’t underestimate how important sleep is, give yourself every chance of getting at least 7 hours sleep a night., I often read, even just a few pages, to help me sleep.. if you’re struggling to drift off and your mind is racing, pick up a book.
- Gratitude. I know this is something that Growing Happy focuses on, but I couldn’t not mention it amongst my tips as I really believe being grateful is one of the simplest ways to feel happy. Doesn't matter whether it’s being grateful for a friendship, a new opportunity, or simply being able to go for a walk and take in your surroundings.
- Exercise. I began this year by taking part in Run Every Day in January to raise money for Mind and raise awareness of mental health issues. It was a fantastic journey and a wonderful thing to be a part of. I was exposed to loads of inspiring stories and It showed how easy it actually can be to make a little time every day to be active. The scientific benefits are well documented but exercise always feels good afterwards.
Your Book Recommendation:
Years of fluctuating moods have also meant years of fluctuating weight and never being able to sustain a healthy diet. With the help of this book and the habits it taught me, I managed to lose 3 stone and find a new balanced way to view food.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve currently got lots in the pipeline... I’ve had a lot of fun recently playing with new materials and techniques and having a big portfolio update. Every week is different, from embroidery to ceramics, intricate detailed drawings to giant abstract paint patterns, I love the freedom of working for myself.
This week I’ve been in the studio with Bridget Hemmings working on our ceramic collaboration. Bridget left her role as a head teacher 3 years ago and discovered a love of pottery. She now works in her Studio in Cheddar creating beautiful porcelain pieces. Bridget has made a range of plant pots, jugs, platters and bowls that I have been hand painting with bold vibrant fruit patterns. We are having a lot of fun with it.
Next month I am doing a collage workshop with some A level students. I will be talking to them about job opportunities and being self employed. Doing workshops is something I’d like to do more of, with a range of ages, especially collage as I think it is a really joyful way of working. I will also be taking part in Somerset Arts Week at Huntstile Organic Farm in September. I will be on site working, while meeting and chatting to a whole range of attendees.
The Power of Gratitude
I’m so looking forward to the next few months and all that I’m going to be working on. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be doing this as my full time work. It's definitely not without challenges and times of worry, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. It actually motivates me even more to maintain a good life / work / health balance, so that it can remain sustainable. Looking after all these aspects means I’m in a place where I can use gratitude to deal with and step back from stressful situations - something that just this week helped me to overcome an obstacle that a few years ago would have absolutely filled me with panic!
Looking at mental and physical health together better equips us in so many ways to look after our all-round wellbeing, so I’m really glad to be a part of Growing Happy with its focus on this reconnecting the mind and the body.
Thanks for reading,
If you would like to see more of my work you can do so here and if you are interested in commissioning something or have an idea for a collaboration please get in touch below:
Collaboration with Muck N Brass