Apologies for no blog post last week - I was doing a show and had very little time for much else.
However, that links me very nicely into the topic of my next blog post...
Let's be honest, having a mental illness is not easy.
Unfortunately however, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
Mental illness is invisible.
There is no miracle "cure" .
In fact, most of us won't ever be completely "cured" - it is more often than not, an ongoing, life-long problem, so we need to unite together and share our coping strategies.
Coping strategies are different for everyone - however, every single person I have discussed mental health with has shared one strategy; having, what I call, a 'safe haven'. A specific place or activity to go to that keeps us going, that reminds us why we're still going, to let us escape from our illness and remember what we're here to do.
My Safe Haven
I'm an actor. I want to be a professional actor. In fact, I don't want to be an actor, I need to be an actor. It's all I can imagine myself doing and in my head there's no option to fail at that. I will work and work and battle my mental illness until I get where I want to be.
Why do I want to be an actor? Because it's the one, sole thing that has dragged me through my darkest days. Through my almost 10 year long battle with anxiety and depression, knowing that I am able to go out and act, be it in front of hundreds of people or just alone in my bedroom to the camera on my phone (sad I know but it all helps!!) , is the one and only thing that reminds me what I'm fighting for. I'm fighting to reach my goal and I refuse to let the beast that calls itself "mental illness" get in my way.
A few weeks ago, I became very poorly, and only now do I feel in the right state of mind to discuss it on this blog. My mental health problems, usually of which are very under control, bubbled to the surface with a vengeance.
I have one very specific bunch of people that pulled me through that...
...Back in September, I joined the 'Artists Theatre School', Amanda Redman's theatre school, and I have just finished almost a year there, having just finished a run of my favorite show I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with, directed by Amanda.
Having mental health problems, for me personally, makes it very difficult to be myself.
I hold back a lot of the time and question my own personality. I worry that letting my eccentric, bubbly self out will make people judge me, or dislike me.
From the moment I became a part of ATS, I felt like I could be myself and not be afraid of being judged...a sure sign that this place was incredibly special.
I've always been very open about my anxiety difficulties, and it wasn't long before I was discussing this openly with my ATS friends, all of which have been incredibly supportive right from the beginning to the present, but never once treated me any differently because of my mental health.
So back to a few weeks ago, after rehearsals one evening, I had a big panic attack. One like I had never experienced before, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. The next morning, I ended up in A&E and was given sedatives which wiped me practically unconscious for three days.
In the days that followed, I became terrified of getting out of bed. Not only was I virtually housebound, I thought if I got out of bed and did anything remotely normal that something awful would happen. I'm ashamed to say I also had a brief spell of reverting back to minor self harm...something I haven't done since about 4 years ago and didn't think I would ever go back to (and just want to reiterate this is NOT a coping mechanism in the slightest...it's something I am ashamed to say I have reverted to when I get into a dark place... PLEASE don't even consider trying this as its a stupid habit doesn't help in the slightest. PLEASE seek help if this is a problem for you).
I managed to get myself to the doctor who upped my medication, and was signed off work for 3 weeks.
I can honestly say, being a part of ATS and having a show to work on is what pulled me through this sticky patch.
We were in play rehearsals and I always had notes to work on, scenes that were weaker than others, characters to strengthen, things that took me massively out my comfort zone that I constantly had to work on...and this is what got me through. Not having a chance to sit at home and wallow in self pity, but having something to get myself out of bed for; to work, work, work.
If I didn't have the support from everyone at ATS and the show to focus on, I honestly think I might still be in that dark, depressed place.
Every single person at ATS cared, didn't judge me for what I was going through and at the same time, didn't make a fuss, which is exactly what I needed. Nobody treated me any differently and actually, THAT is who you need to surround yourself with. People who don't treat you differently, and people who don't LET you sit around and wallow in self pity because they know what's best for you. And it's amazing to have found that having only known these people for less than a year.
Of course all my other friends were also very supportive, but obviously everyone at ATS was who I was working with very intimately at the time.
So my advice to any of you struggling with mental health is this. Find your safe haven. Don't stop until you've found it. And when you do, cling to it. Use it in your road to recovery - it's potentially the most important step. Have something to work towards.
Your safe haven could be anything; drawing, writing, walking, swimming, just hanging out with friends.
It may be a group of people or it may be an activity you enjoy - I count my lucky stars that I have been able to combine the two.
Thank you for having a read of my blog!
Anyone interested in writing there own piece and share there experience with mental health please get in touch. I'm ALWAYS looking for guest bloggers. No matter what your experience, I'd love to hear from anyone.
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