How Therapy and Woodworking Carried Me Through Depression
Struggling with depression, Peter Booth benefitted greatly from a course of CBT
Discovering a love of woodworking was another important part of his recovery, and he now carves beautiful anxiety soothers
If you are struggling with depression, contact a therapist here
I was in my early/mid twenties when I first started getting extreme feelings of sadness and depression. I was losing very good friends, and going through a long list of other personal issues. I was working at a job that I had previously loved, but was no longer excited about. I would get up and put on a front at work and as soon as I left I would drop my fake smile and isolate myself.
I was using up all of my energy at work to hide how I was feeling. I thought I was hiding it very well, but it turns out keeping to yourself during lunch breaks doesn’t go unnoticed. Looking back on it now I'm grateful people noticed the change in me and mentioned something because I was in a place where I found it hard to admit I was feeling bad.
I found myself going to a workshop that was part of the photography studio I was working at. Thankfully the guys who worked there were happy for me to use the space at lunch. I will always be grateful to them for that.
I would go in and make something small and simple just to keep my hands and mind occupied. The first thing I made was a small bear shape out of plywood which I stained and ended up keeping it with me for months. Holding it when things felt a bit too much. Little did I know then, but this was me trying to self-soothe.
After a colleague went to my manager, worried about me, I was offered eight weeks of complementary therapy sessions which, honestly, I was very reluctant to take. I felt completely ashamed and emasculated for thinking I needed help with my mental health. But after more conversations with my manager, she convinced me to give it a go.
This was my first ever step into the world of therapy and learning about myself, and it changed my life. I know how hard that initial first step is, of actually talking to someone, but I’m so thankful I did. Having someone actually diagnose my depression too almost felt like a weight had been lifted.
Before that I would feel incredibly low – like I'm sure many people reading this might have felt – and then the next day felt silly about it, saying to myself “oh, I was just sad, it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I was overreacting.” But having someone tell you that it’s depression/anxiety whatever it may be, was reassuring in a way.
Over those eight weeks I would do cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which would teach me how my thoughts, behaviours, and emotions all work together, and how to identify what may trigger certain emotions. It helped me so much and going forward I was much more aware of my depression and what could trigger it, or how to cope with it.
My therapist at the time also recommended I pursue woodworking more, seeing as I had naturally started doing that as a form of self-help. I visited the workshop more, built up my knowledge and refined my bear shapes. They ended up being a big hit with the people in the office who would keep them by their desks and fiddle with them during the day.
At this point I had stopped therapy, and was feeling a whole lot better, but a bit unfulfilled. Feeling unfulfilled apparently is very common for people with depression, having the feeling of not being useful. Because of this I decided to leave my job and spend my savings pursuing something that I had always wanted to do and felt would be helping the world in some way, which was to do a wildlife conservation internship.
Unfortunately this was just as the pandemic started. This left me with no way of doing the internship, no job, and no savings. Not ideal… This triggered another period where I needed help, and, in honesty, when I needed therapy the most I couldn’t get it. If I wanted to get therapy through the NHS I would be waiting months and I wasn’t financially secure enough to go private.
This isn’t saying you shouldn’t go through the NHS, they have amazing therapists and tools for you, but waiting times are still very long which I think can be to the detriment of someone with depressive episodes. Fortunately I had learned enough from my earlier experience of therapy to realise what was triggering for me and knew some ways to change my habits. But it was still hard.
I made it out the other end realising that having a job that was practical and would help people in some way was very important to me. This is why I'm now a woodworker and I specialise in making anxiety relief bears and other relief sculptures for people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or stress. It helps me keep my brain and body stimulated while also being able to give back and help people, which fundamentally is all I really want to do.
Therapy is great, it really is. I’ve gone through multiple periods of using it when I feel I need some help, or I need someone to talk to. Once you take that first uncomfortable and scary step admitting you might need a bit of help, then it’s a great tool to have, even if you don’t feel particularly sad. It’s like the gym for your brain! But even if you’re not ready to have that conversation, having something to do such as a hobby that keeps your brain and hands busy, or having something physical to hold that will help you self soothe and calm your mind is an amazing first step.
I make the bears as a nod to the start of my mental health journey. It was the first thing I made and it's what helped me before I had the courage to ask for help. Over the years I've defined the shape so that they are comfortable in the hand with plenty of different smooth areas. Perfect for holding and squeezing when needed.
They are made from lovely woods with a minimalist design, meaning it won’t look out of place on your desk or as a piece of decoration in your home. It also means when you need to self-soothe and hold them for a while they won’t draw lots of attention to you, unlike modern brightly coloured fidget toys. I also try extremely hard to source wood that would otherwise go to waste as being environmentally conscious is important to me.
The bears and other anxiety relievers are currently available on my Etsy shop, or in-person when I’m at fairs. And if you have a special request for something more specific then I will always be available on my Instagram to help with any enquiries.