Friday, 27 November 2015

THE TRUTH



So, I wanted to tell the truth. And not the truth in a confessional, sit me in a box and say three hail Mary’s kind of way, although a Hail Mary from time to time does help I’ve found, but simply in a let’s talk about this because it’s important kind of way.

 
When I was nineteen I suffered from horrendous OCD, intrusive thoughts inside my head telling me that if I didn’t do or say or think certain things then those that I loved would die and that it would all be my fault. Since that first attack, I have suffered on and off from anxiety, depression, panic attacks and more OCD than you could sink a battle ship with, though I wouldn’t recommend trying unless you were wearing armbands and a helmet. 


It has affected my family, my life and my relationships. I say I “have suffered from” not as a victim but as a strong, confident young woman who never understood mental illness until she had it and suffered.

You wouldn’t know it if you met me as for those of you who do know me (you unfortunate buggers) will know, I have an abrasively perky disposition, a positive outlook on life and a love of all things rude (noises/words/sounds).

I say “have suffered from” because it is suffering, it is crippling and it is exhausting.  I had seen it in family when I was growing up, but I never truly understood it until it felt like my own brain was attacking me.



Because that is what mental illness feels like, it feels like your brain, the thing inside of you which up until now you completely associated with your sense of identity and self, is on fire and on the attack and will not rest until you are flattened. It feels like someone has placed a blanket of lead over your head that no matter how hard you try you cannot (unlike Taylor Swift) shake it off. 

 
What is so hard about mental illness is that, unlike when you have broken your leg and you can clearly see all the “broken” bits, when your brain is broken it is so difficult to distinguish between what is you, your personality and what is the illness. This is one of the many reasons mental health is such a taboo subject and people feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want to be thought of as crazy. What they do need to be thought of as is ill, unwell and poorly, all the same words that you would use for a cold or a gripey tummy.


When your mental health isn’t working properly or at its best, the same as if you broke your leg, it needs fixing and resetting. Many mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances or over-activity in the brain, others from traumatic experiences and some completely out of the blue.

The hardest thing about mental illness is pretending that you’re ok, it’s exhausting putting on a smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes when all your body and mind is screaming for you to do is lie down, cry and not get up. 

 
You can’t pull yourself together because at that moment in time you don’t have the strength or cognitive ability to do so. You try to be ok and to seem fine because you don’t want anyone to worry, you don’t want to be a burden to your family and friends.

The kindest thing my best friend said to me when I was ill was, “You don’t need to pretend in front of me, take it ten seconds at a time”. Because that is all you can do, get through that first ten seconds and then another and then another and cling on. Because you will get through it. It is, although it may not feel like it at the time, temporary. Like all illnesses, it will get worse, better, worse, better, worse but things will change, it will pass and you will heal with time and help. 


And the best thing you can do is to talk about it, which is why I am writing this. Because people are scared to talk about it. We tiptoe around the subject because we don’t know what to say or how to react but the best thing you can do is SAY THAT, say I don’t know, be ignorant and let someone tell you how they feel instead of guessing. Say ‘how are you?’ and actually mean it.

The best thing I did when I was ill was to seek help, taking active steps immediately made my brain shift from a position of destruction to one of creation. I went to my GP, I went to a counsellor and finally I received cognitive behavioural therapy, all three together combined have been a life saver. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely fixed (none of us are) and I know it is something I will always battle with but when you have an army of troops on your side you can win. I’m not sure how my doctor, therapist, family and friends would feel about being called a troop but tough titty I'm afraid that’s what they are.


Mental illness is so so so so common, all of us will experience it at some point in our lives whether for ourselves or through a loved one. Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson have all suffered and spoken out about it, they are the tip of the iceberg. What we need to do is get educated and we need to talk because that is where true happiness and hope comes from*: talking, communication and connection. Don’t hide and don’t let someone else hide.

Life is too short, too precious not to talk, not to tell the truth. So please, do it.

ps. True happiness can also come from a good poo, you know it's true.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

ON FIRE


The eagle has landed. And by eagle I mean me and by landed I mean arrived in Frankfurt. This is my first time in Germany; I’m successfully not mentioning the war, wearing copious lederhosen and have already partaken of more currywursts than you can shake a stick at, though I wouldn’t suggest shaking a stick at a currywurst, waste of a good stick and waste of a good wurst.


The lederhosen are, of course, a lie… for the time being. Currently, it is far too hot to be parading around the streets of Frankfurt, the financial capital of Europe, in any form of leather and the Mexican wave of cardiac arrests it could start amongst the banking world is not worth the effort. Or the recession it may subsequently cause.


The reason for my being in Frankfurt is simple: I am working as, in the words of our beloved director, a biological prop. Doing the acting in other words. Myself and three other biological props have been picked up and transported to the land of cleanliness, order and techno to perform Tennessee William’s masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie. And I am loving every second of it.


The Glass Menagerie is a play about family dynamics, oppression and shattered hope… A comedy I hear you cry! I play Laura Wingfield, the physically and emotionally crippled sister of Tom. The play is semi-autobiographical, Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose suffered from what we would now diagnose as panic attacks, anxiety and schizophrenia, in the end she had to be sectioned and given a lobotomy. She haunted him throughout his writing and you can see elements of her in many of his female characters.



In the thirties there was a swathe of lobotomies in America, mental health services were more than primitive as it was a subject yet to be properly explored without fear, misconceptions and taboo. They even had what was known as “the lobotomobile”… A van that would travel around and you’d pop in the back and swiftly get the front part of your brain removed. Not too dissimilar from our ice-cream vans, just with less ice-cream and more invasive surgery. We, as yet, do not know if they shared the same catchy arrival jingle. I’m hoping they did.


Needless to say, I have approached this part with delicacy and sensitivity, doing my best to build up a fully rounded picture of her and hoping to emotionally move the audience, potentially producing sniffles, sighs and or full blown tears (as every actor secretly or not so secretly wishes to do). 

Well, last night, I produced more than that. An audible gasp echoed around the English Theatre, Frankfurt, in the final soliloquy. “An Oscar for her!” my inner ego was shouting, “Surely at least a Tony or a Bafta?!”
 
No, no. None of those things. What had happened was this: I was on fire. And not in a good way. In the final speech, my challenge is to singularly blow out five candles on a candelabrum, without dribbling and or having an infuriating “magic relighting candle” moment. Until last night it had, worryingly, gone without a hiccup and with only a tiny droplet of dribble in sight. 

However, last night my natural bird’s nest of hair decided to make a bid for freedom, dangling precariously over the flame, flirting with flammability until finally it caught and went up like a rocket. 



The gasp was not produced from a place of awe and wonder at the sensitivity of my performance but more from a place of shock and horror at the flammability of my follicles. 

Luckily, having grown up with three siblings fighting for the last parsnip on a Sunday roast, my reactions are cat-like and agile; I swiftly patted the offending section down, gave a cheeky smile to the terrified audience and finished blowing out the candles. All the while trying to ignore the unmistakable smell of burning that was snaking through the auditorium and my stage managers twitching with fire extinguishers in the wings. 

(Wishful thinking)

In conclusion, I would like to add to the age old actors’ saying: Never work with animals, children or FIRE. Unless you want to get burnt. But maybe that’s just me. 


Monday, 25 May 2015

Head Space

Hi World. I don’t know if you have ever had those times when you are constantly questioning… Who the bleep am I? What am I doing with my life? Why have I matched black knick-knacks with a grey training bra circa 1997?


No? Just me? Well to that I say bollocks. We all have moments in our life when it feels a bit like we are being washed away in a tide of uncertainty and that the only constant in our life is that Escape to the Country will be on at 7pm with a seemingly contented couple who just DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO with their half a million pound budget that *GULP* they could increase if necessary if it had JUST that couple more acres of land for the horses. *SIGH*


Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about money or property or marriage or horses; it is about the fact that constantly in our society we are being asked to compare ourselves to other people. Whether it be through social media and the dreaded selfie, job promotions, or, as my last post highlighted some poor girl in a yellow bikini in search of a bucket and spade. Which, let’s all be honest for a second, is not a healthy thing to be doing and we are all guilty of it. BIG TIME. 


The self-comparison, not the bucket and spade search. We all need a bucket and spade once in a while.


Our bodies and minds are fragile, wonderful things that we need to take care of. I am only just learning this lesson aged 28, but better late than never.  As the daughter of a father who has manic depression and a mother who suffered badly from anxiety attacks, I come with a dollop of all of the above and awareness of more. 

If we sprain our foot (whilst doing a Baywatch impression and running into a lake) or burn our hand (by leaving the paper on the minced beef whilst frying it) then we don’t think twice about going to the doctors or ladling two inches worth of Sudacrem on top of the offending wound. But if we have a wobble in our mind or an unexplainable sensation of feeling low or out of kilter, it does not seem as easy to ask for help. And yet it should be. 

 
As a society we are slowly but surely getting better at tackling mental health issues and eradicating the fear and taboo that surrounds talking about them but boy have we got a long, long way to go. 

One incredible thing to come out of my current wobble is the discovery of the app Head Space. It’s a meditation app that gently trains you to have ten minutes of meditation a day, just a little breather from all the thoughts that are currently enjoying a hearty barn dance in your brain. If you think about it, after a long day of work you put your feet up to give them a rest, why not do the same for your brain?

Have a gander, I dare you: https://www.headspace.com/


A wise man once told me in hushed tones, “Nobody is sorted, not all of the time.” And this is what I’m telling myself whilst watching Bob and June browse their six bedroom property. “Nobody is sorted, not all of the time.” 

And that is ok. In fact, it’s human.