I have lived with mental health issues for most of my life.
Just writing that sentence brings a mixture of emotions, I immediately feel a familiar sadness, but also a comfort that I can now make such a public statement and not feel any embarrassment or shame. It has taken me a long time to get to this point.
I had a good childhood, I was brought up in a small village in rural Yorkshire, with a loving family. I enjoyed school and remember being very happy, there was no hidden trauma or family history that would lead anyone to suspect that I would struggle with my mental health as much as I have.
There is no clear moment that I can look back on and point to as to when I first became depressed, no line in the sand where one day I was fine, the next not so, it crept up on me slowly, gradually, until it eventually took hold of me for many years.
At the time, like many others, I didn’t know what depression was, I had no idea what the symptoms were, and for many years, it went undiagnosed, I simply lived with the feelings and effects of depression.
I began a career in acting through a desire to be someone else, to escape who I was, but hiding my depression became a performance in itself, an act that I grew to perfect, motivated by the fear of anyone ever finding what was really happening beneath the surface. I would lie to cover up what I was going through, the lies became so big and the depression so severe, that it began to feel insurmountable.
Anxiety would often go hand in hand with my depression, and I lost count of the number of auditions I would go to, put my hand on the door handle and not be able to find the courage to go into the room, good opportunities wasted.
But why did I try so hard to hide what I was feeling? I now know that depression is not something to be ashamed of, it is an illness that can take hold of anyone, yet at the time, I saw things very differently, depression did that to me, black was white, up was down, it inverted my view of the world.
I spent a lot of time by myself feeling increasingly lost, unhappy and isolated, it was equitable to physical pain, and the silence was deafening. Sleeping became my most comfortable state, yet no matter how long I slept for, I always felt tired. I was ill and trying to hide it was exhausting. I had no idea how I could get out of the position I was in, a fog had engulfed me, growing ever thicker with every passing day.
Yet, being on the stage was the only place I could find any solace, a break from what I was feeling in every other hour of my life. The live performance, the curtain call, meeting people at stage door, it all helped erase – albeit temporarily – the despair of my ‘real’ life. In those moments, I felt a sense of happiness, a version of myself that I felt comfortable with, more powerful than any drug, but as the buzz dissipated, the come down was horrendous, and the usual feelings would soon return.
I lived for those moments on the stage, merely passing time until I was back there, but all the while, sinking further and further into depression, even contemplating suicide, until I reached what I believe to be my rock bottom.
I lay on my bed watching the sun come up through a gap in the curtains, when I heard something snap inside of me. I can offer no scientific explanation as to what that sound was, but as unlikely as it may seem, there is no doubt in my mind that I heard it.
And from that moment, the darkest edge of my depression started to lighten, and I began to feel able to talk about what I was going through and let those around me know when I was struggling.
It would be a neat and tidy ending to my story to say that I was absolutely fine after that, but it would not be the truth, and I know that my depression and anxiety will never go away fully, they have become part of my permanent make-up. I can always feel their hand on my shoulder.
There are times when I struggle to get out of bed, when even the most medial tasks seem insurmountable, and I can feel my body fill with dread as I contemplate the day ahead. The recent sudden passing of my mother brought on another serious bout of depression, but thankfully, I’m now aware of what it is and more conscious of what I need to do to manage it. Counselling has helped me a lot and I try to afford myself plenty of self-care.
It was through Counselling that I was alerted to the possibility that I may have ADHD, which has since been formally diagnosed. Although surprising, it does make a lot of sense, as I have always struggled with focus and concentration, mood swings, impulsiveness and low frustration tolerance.
To some extent, I’m glad I went through what I did. It has strengthened my resolve, taught me the importance of being open about my feelings, and I’ve learnt to read the signs when my mental health starts to deteriorate.
Without the experiences I have had, I would not have been in a place to set up Wellbeing in the Arts. I no longer cover up my mental health, it is not weakness or incapability, it’s part of the human experience, and there is no shame or stigma in asking for help, I wish I had done so much earlier….