In Honour of ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’, we thought we would reflect on our Artistic Director’s personal experience with dealing with poor mental health and anxiety. Zöe’s blog was the basis for the commission that would, almost two years later, become HEDGEHOG. We open at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in a month (11th – 22nd June)
October 19, 2017
I been worryin’ that my time is a little unclear
I been worryin’ that I’m losing the one’s I hold dear
I been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear
Mama, cold hearted child, tell me how you feel
Just a grain in the morning air, dark shadow on the hill
Mama, cold hearted child, tell me where it all goes Is that what you feel will make a fool of our soul?
-Ben Howard, singer (song:The Fear)
This is my second draft of this ‘stream of consciousness’ blog thing I do. Both are incredibly different in context and personal feelings towards this thing called ‘LIFE’.
My first draft (written on the 16th July) started as such: “I’m currently, what you’d call, ‘avoiding life’. The past couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, to work out what I seem to be avoiding and why I am doing it, doing the bare minimum..
I am avoiding interacting with people on a regular basis. avoiding getting a sustainable job. going to gym classes. (London doesn’t help. Lonely anxious tube rides and isolated faces.) social events are a massssssive no no. birthdays. parties and going to the pub with friends hasn’t been on the table for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, I still manage to do stuff, and function as a regular 23 year old woman should but at times it really does seem harder for my brain to stop focusing on the things I haven’t managed to do and fixate on that. The Fear. Even after nine months of therapy, following a slog of daily panic attacks , sessions focused on mind management (something might I add is more likened to going to the gym for your mind, rather than lying on a chaise longue and crying for an hour), it seems that most days I get faced with challenges that others seem to tackle easily. This fear I have in my head that something terrible will happen.
So I named my anxiety “Squelch”.
This is him…..(yes I drew him. and yes he’s wearing red boots!)
For those lucky enough not to know how Anxiety/depression/panic feels like I can simply describe it as such (for me):
Anxiety: Can make you feel everything all at once and nothing at all. You feel empty yet full to the brim. Exhausted with a head full of racing thoughts.
Panic attacks: take all the above and shorten the time down to a few minutes and take away the ability of breathing normally
Think a spike on a graph.
Depression: All the above things but with the feeling of being underwater and the depths of nothingness.
Now all these feelings above were right of those, some day in July. and I guess what I’m trying to get to here is that feelings don’t last and you never stay stuck in that emotion for long. It comes in waves of emotion and its learning to stay afloat, thats the hard part.
Now don’t get me wrong some days all I wanna do is avoid all human contact and hide in my pit of a bed. But since writing down these thoughts, and mostly because of writing it, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and Holding my own more. Facing the fear and doing it anyway.
1) I have been to a festival (large groups of sweaty people mostly covered in glitter right?) I have been to many before but not since my anxiety started but I loved it and didn’t feel anxious once.
2) Went to a house party, which for most people doesn’t seem like a big deal but for me this was one of the big ones, being able to hold down conversations in small groups and feel like I have something to add and let loose a bit. (again, I had a great time and there was nothing scary about it!)
3) Got myself a new job! hooray! Now, this was something I would say I was avoiding and had to throw myself into. Being an actor, you need a job thats flexible, brings the money in but won’t get funny if you have to nip off for one morning to meet Nina Gold for a one line part in Game of Thrones (pah, I wish!). I was waiting out for the perfect job to exist (it doesn’t) and was putting it off. Luckily, someone hired me (hey, I’m personable yeah!) and I’ve really been enjoying it.
There’s a theme happening here right?!
So to make point to this waffling, I would like to share with you things I have learnt (still learning) when trying to overcome ‘the blues’…
In order to get in control of your thoughts: you need to control them. Another reason, I guess I named my anxiety/depression: I found personifying him made it seem less a part of me and more a thing in my brain I could take control of. I make him take vacations and work a 9-5 job just like everyone else, even if it seems like he’s always working overtime!!
Find what works for you. Writing your thoughts down helps get it out of your brain and you can start to rationalise them.
You have to be pro-active, fight the instinct to have a duvet day if you feel you can’t face the world, as one day can easily turn into 5… (and trust it coming from someone who’s boyfriend has many a time had to pull them from bed and dress.) Go to the gym, a walk, work, it’ll help you in the long run, avoiding life will not.
Don’t be ashamed that your brain works differently to others. everyone has their own ‘little brain thing’. and it is probably completely different to yours. Be kind always, to yourself and others.
Talk to someone. Friends/family/a therapist. We are all in this life game together and need to support each other more. Notice why you feel this way and make an active decision to talk to others.
Try and notice your achievements (however small.) and pat yourself on the back.
I guess there isn’t really a real reason for writing this, other than that I know a couple of people who could do with being reminded of this. (myself included) Its important to talk about it, whatever is going on in your head and try and make sense of it. Be in control of it, not the other way around.
We as humans, don’t like asking for help and therefore let it build up inside our little brains and it becomes cluttered, like really cluttered and we hold onto things, tiny moments and it can feel like your brain is full to burst. That’s okay, mine feels pretty full too. And hey, if you’re not ready to face that gym class yet, don’t beat yourself up about it!
Face the fear, the unknown and do it anyway.
Look after each other.
Some Helpful Links if you need them.