*This blog post isn’t my most well written post, or my most funny, it is my story, it is a reminder that those programmed to keep going, often can’t and shouldn’t feel that have to due to judgment or scrutiny. That we need to break the stigmas and take each other for what we are. That mental illness and suicde are no longer words I will whisper or mumble but speak with confidence and strength. *
As I scrolled through my Timehop this morning I came across this picture. It was from a year ago, at the end of The Edinburgh Fringe Festival where my first professional writing gig finished its first, full run. My show. My words and my music making its way into the world. I was playing a dream role in our other show and all of this at one of the top ten performing schools in the world. As I lay in bed staring at this picture with its 16 comments and 111 likes I had this nagging urge to post about the reality behind this photo.
At face value it says everything I should have been feeling. Excitement and joy with a pinch of nostalgia, folded into some pride and joy. My name was up there and it looks like it felt great. But this is where this nagging urge came in to talk about the stigma, to talk about what was really happening behind this picture. This photo was taken at, what seemed to be, the top of my game thus far. Excitement, joy, elation, all things you feel when you begin to succeed.
I remember the day I found out Willy’s Bitches was going to Fringe. When I learned I was the first current student at the Conservatoire to ever have their show picked up and taken to Edinburgh with the MA class. I remember that day specifically, not because my over powering joy, but because after talking shop I left, got on the bus, got to my flat, crawled into my bed and slept for four hours. I had felt nothing. There was no spark of any kind of solid emotion for what was, to date, the best news of my life. It’s not that I didn’t care…I simply didn’t anything. I remember thinking as I curled up in bed what I wouldn’t give to feel even the slightest bit of anything. I would have taken blinding rage over this static, purgatorial float.
On top of struggling with severe physical illness, my mental illness only got worse. What I thought was getting better was really treading water, keeping my mouth just above the water to slowly gulp the precious air. My anxiety grew to heights I didn’t know existed and my depression plummeted to shadows only spoken about in theory. As I tried to push through, friends became enemies. I became an enemy. I had been treading water so long I could keep up with the people who were lucky enough to to score life vests. There was a clear annoyance that I couldn’t stay a float. There was an epic divide between the class forced by passive aggressive attitudes and lack of empathy for one another. My inability to feel any thing other than a dull body throb made me the worst person to be around. People would ask if I was excited about Fringe and I’d give a shrug, smile, say yes and walk away. My inability to function became a personality trait associate with being ungrateful. If I had been capable of gratuity at the time, believe me, I would have beamed with it.
This picture was taken a year ago today. The time hop picture that isn’t shown was two weeks before that, when I had called out of a performance, which I had never done, to sit in my flat, alone, knowing most of my cast mates were having a right piss fit. I called out after two panic attacks onstage and three passive, toxic remarks from cast mates, adult cast mates, who I’m pretty sure we’re just as sick as me but had armied up instead of falling back, like myslef. I called out when feeling nothing turned into white, hot hate for people who could do nothing but be cruel. I called out because I remember thinking this’ll show them what their cruelty does to people. This’ll open their eyes. I called out to sit on the edge of my bed with a bottle of pills and the knowledge my roommate kept vodka in the fridge. I simply couldn’t continue. I didn’t want to feel only feel hate. I remember thinking I didn’t have a choice. I had reached out to every single possible outlet. The school counselor, the head of my program, my GP, medication, meditation, my friends. I had done all the things they tell people like me to do and still I knew at that moment I had stopped treading and was simply sinking, just waiting to take that final breathe in. I knew my mental illness, any mention of it, would constitute an eye roll instead of a hug or a kind word, an I simple could’t live like that.
Luckily I thought to Skype my mum and sister, put the pills down the toilet and cry all day. I don’t remember what caused me to walk to the bathroom and choose life. All I remember thinking is people need to know how much of a choice this wasn’t. How, like any disease of an organ, the organ is going to decide when it’s time for you to go. The heartbreak behind mental illness is that the brain puts the gun to your head for you, telling you it’s the right thing. And we, the lucky ones, the ones who live to tell the tale, found some shred of something the pull us through.
So, though this picture tells a tale of triumph in more ways than one, it is a clear and constant reminder that there was a time, just about a year ago, I almost died of suicide. I almost walked away to become an empty bedroom, a half-finished notebook, and hole in my family’s heart. The performing world is cruel and easily over looks mental illness because it’s easier than dealing with it. Be kind to each other. Don’t compare and raise each other on pedestals. Walk and feel the ground together knowing that one day you might trip and fall and I hope, with all of my everything, there is a hand to help you.