This week has been cathartic for me. The productions I have seen have in some respects encouraged me to open up a bit publicly, not with the intention of totally exposing myself but just enough to further the message that suffering from mental illness in whatever form is not something to hide away from and that talking about it can make things better or at least, open new doors.
'Silent' currently at the Soho Theatre explores the life of a homeless man whose brother eventually committed suicide after a few unsuccessful attempts. The repercussions of this on his brother and his life informs the momentum of this highly successful one man show. The play served to remind me that events happen of which we have little or no control and at times, you can't help another person even someone you deeply care about. Sometimes, you are just too close.
On the other hand, this evening I saw 'Fake It 'Til You Make It' at the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This is Bryony Kimmings' and Tim Grayburn's new production, which explores Tim Grayburn's clinical depression and Bryony Kimmings' responses to his mental illness as their relationship blossomed. Through song, recordings of Tim and Bryony discussing Tim's illness and through movement, Tim's life is fully and gently exposed. The creative decision for Tim to initially wear various forms of head wear including bags to conceal his face forcefully hammers home the point that men can be notoriously reticent to reveal their feelings.
I was oddly awakened when Tim revealed how he gradually became aware he was clinically depressed when he found himself feeling down quite a lot and also crying. As a man within most Western societies, tears are seen as a weakness. Well, that's the patriarchal cliche anyway. I can honestly say that in the past I have most frequently cried when things have been going very badly. Tears have been my indication to seek help of a therapeutic nature. I mention this only to flag up the fact that as human beings, it is vitally important to acknowledge the signs and emotional outbursts of our bodies and minds. They can be an early warning system.
It's probably pretty obvious by now that I have had mental health problems in the past. I have experienced 'obsessive compulsive disorders' (now renamed 'obsessive compulsive disorder'. I am sure there is some relevance to the need to change the condition from the plural to the singular. As the so-called 'habits' or 'rituals' are multiple, the singularity seems to miss the point. Definitions can be somewhat limiting within the field of psychoanalysis) and periods of depression.
Depression is an odd bedfellow, it can be triggered by external stressors such as relationships etc. Ultimately how it is treated varies from person to person. Some people favour the talking cure, lasting pretty much any period of time, depending upon the severity of the depression. This can be accompanied by anti-depressants, those less than magical elixirs that can help to make life more tolerable. In the show tonight, Bryony recalls a message she left on Tim's phone upon discovering he was on anti-depressants, expressing her misgivings about one drug she found in his backpack that she knew could make 'zombies' out of the users.
I have been on anti-depressants at various points in my life and I will firmly back their use when I have felt very depressed but only when used in conjunction with some form of therapy. Drug therapy without the therapist is probably not the most effective way to help someone to cope with their condition. The only way I can describe the effect of anti-depressants on me is to state that in the past they have taken the edge off of life but conversely, that doesn't mean that bad things don't still germinate and creep up on you. Learning to cope with life without the need for medication long term is my preferred option but I appreciate that this is not an option for everyone as mental illness takes on so many forms.
As such, it goes without saying that not all forms of therapy will be effective for everyone. I have experienced different forms of therapy over the years. I guess most G.P. provided therapies tend to offer humanistic approaches, predicated on the belief that the patient can ultimately find the solutions to his/her problems given the right environment and indeed, therapist.
The many other approaches to therapy have historically ranged from the horrific to the more clinical approaches. At different periods in your life, a more or less detached therapist may prove more fruitful to the healing process. I strongly believe that for me therapy works more effectively over short time periods if things get bad.
The brilliant thing about tonight's show was the reference to good luck dolls that Bryony used throughout the performance. Little effigies of positivity. They reminded me of the one inalienable fact that has always kept me going no matter how bad things have become, a sense of hope. This comes from within, although can be helped to flourish through the positivity of others.
I think of my mental health as an ill fitting suit, sometimes I can accept its over sized sleeves and collars, but on other occasions, it smothers me. Depression tends to lead to periods where I can't feel anything meaningful and I become more emotionally detached.
I wish to thank Bryony Kimmings, Tim Grayburn and Pat Kinevane for creating such exceptional performances. It is only through the act of creation and revelation that mental illness can be truly accepted and the sufferer no longer stigmatised.
If this lengthy ramble accomplishes nothing else, I just want to reinforce how important it is to talk about the things that are worrying or affecting you. If you see someone suffering, be prepared to listen if you can or at least, be there with a hug. Life can be hard, but as human beings, we don't have to be.
Barry Watt - 10th July 2015.
'Silent' is currently being performed at the Soho Theatre and stars Pat Kinevane. It finishes on 25th July 2015. I want to express to the playwright and performer that when he asked the audience to put up their hands if they had been on anti-depressants, I didn't put my hand up through fear but that on reflection, this blog entry was motivated by my apprehension. Thanks for being there for the audience.
'Fake It 'Til You Make It' is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall from 16th July to 18th July 2015. It will subsequently be performed at the Edinburgh Festival at various dates between 7th to 30th August. All of my recollections of the performance are simply from memory and they are included for illustrative purposes only Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn are brave performers and I respect their work and hope that the show gains the acclaim of Bryony Kimmings' previous works.