Monday, 29 October 2012

Art Is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Part 2

Perhaps it is people who don't indulge in the creative arts who don't see the restorative qualities they have. Over the last few weeks, after an initial period when I pretty much spoke to no-one besides my mother and just did what she told me to do because I felt swamped by any kind of decision-making, I have indulged my passion of theatre making as a kind of refuge. As a way of reminding myself who I am and waking my soul up. Back at work today I felt guilt because I imagine this looks to the outside world like I've been having a jolly. They might be right they are also wrong. Nothing I have done recently has come easily. Not even the 'fun stuff'.

If I could have afforded to go and do nothing lie by a pool for a week and read a book, perhaps that would be deemed a more appropriate form of healing? And it would have been healing to create a quiet head space and get lots of vitamin D but like I said I couldn't afford it.

Returning to work today has also been hard, though I doubt anyone could tell. Well, that's the problem with poor mental heath isn't it? Unless you are running around with underpants on your head saying, "Wibble", who would know?

And so yes when colleagues ask if I am feeling better I say, "Yes", because I am feeling better, than I was. I don't feel BETTER. I am not well, not quite me yet. I am still healing and imagine I will be for a while.

It's hard to understand, unless you have experienced it, that while your illness is not physical it is not without physical symptoms. Last night I had hideous anxiety dreams and broken sleep. Today I am tired, my shoulders, neck and back ache. This morning I had a dodgy tummy and all day I have had intermittent chest pains. I also know that that is probably as bad as it will get, and hopefully tomorrow will be better. It certainly can't get any better if I hide away. Returning to work is part of facing my demons and finding healthier ways to overcome them. I have to own my own sanity and take some responsibility for my own health. But if it does get bad again, and I have to realistically assume that it could, I can deal with it. And I know that my love of the arts will be a massive help in getting better again, once I am over the worst of it.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Art Is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Since it is Love Arts Festival at the moment, a festival looking at arts, mental health and wellbeing, it seems appropriate to come clean about what has been/is going on with me.

I think as an artist no-one will mind if I say I have been in a dark place recently. A place, like a cross between a hamster wheel and a dark tunnel, a relentless place filled with anger, despair and self-loathing. But as an artist I think many of you will understand when I say that it is mainly due to my art (and the support of friends and my incredible Mother) that I am beginning to pull myself out and feel like myself again, which just makes me even more grateful that I have made it a big part of my life.

Going to Devoted and Disgruntled, at the beginning of the month, felt like being in a war zone. It was too much all at once. Too many people, too much noise, too much choice. I wanted to be there but I wasn't, really. I spent all morning resisting the urge to run away. The pains in my chest were near constant and I felt sick. I stayed because I wanted to support the event itself. I had been looking forward to it for so long. But I was removed and I little numb and got very little out of it as a result.

Since then I've been making plans and rehearsing for One - getting my funding from Arts Council England was a massive boost, although even that felt like more pressure than I could handle, initially - I went back to High Spirits, a local choir, and I took part in an open call for community singers to be on the Hope and Social album. These were all good things (singing really is one of the most joyful things you can do) that were incredibly emotionally draining, just to find the strength to get there in the first place, but each one made me feel more like someone I actually recognised and liked. Me. 

I've been doing The Reservation again this week (more dates to come) and that has been tough. Don't get me wrong I am immensly proud of The Reservation and I want to do it but... I suppose I knew it would be tough. A 14 hour day is tough at the best of times but when you have been off work for the best part of a month it's a really BIG investment of time and energy. As soon as I was finished on day one I was overwhelmed by relief and a flood of emotions. Not because it was too much but BECAUSE IT MATTERS. I had been so afraid that I couldn't get through it and I hadn't even realised how scared I was. But I did get through it, I enjoyed it, and day two was even better. Today I have the post-performance blues, but I always get those so I'm not too worried.

I have never looked in to art therapy, I suppose I have always just naturally had that in my life without thinking about it as such, but having recently felt the specific benefits of the sanctuary of the creative brain space I can see why so many people think it is so important. According to Love Arts “One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime”. That seems like a lot to me.

This is only one of many things I am doing to improve my own mental health, including reducing my caffeine (for the anxiety attacks), looking in to meditation and natural remedies (for the sleep issues) and most importantly talking to someone who can help. The next stage will be returning to work, which terrifies me but thanks to all this I am building up stronger defences to make it manageable at least. I have to keep reminding myself, this is just a difficult patch. I am lucky that I am not someone who suffers ongoing clinical depression. And I will, of course, be continuing with my art and doing all I can to make that the highlight of each week. To say it has kept me alive is a slight exaggeration, but only slight, and I am grateful to have had the access to it and the ability to use it. I'm sure there are many who don't.