Tuesday 12th July 2016
Thank you depression, you big bastard!
My name is Jess. I am one-quarter of The Roaring Girls, 25 years old, Hull born and bred, I eat too much chocolate, drink a lot of prosecco, bloody love dogs, and I suffer with depression and anxiety.
I want to start by saying I am not a writer, much to my frustration! So this is going to be far from a beautifully articulated blog, and there will probably be a lot of waffling and going off on tangents, so apologies in advance for that! But I’ll do me best.
Our show, Broken Little Robots opens this Wednesday at Hull Truck Theatre which is ace! And also a little scary. Before we open I want to do a sort of follow on from Lizi’s blog after our first day of research and development back in March. Re-reading Lizi’s blog prompted me to reflect on the whole process of making this show, from the moment in Larkin’s when Rachael and Lizi asked me over a beer if I was interested in making a show with them, right up to today – the day before we open. I also want to talk about depression and anxiety a bit (without giving the show away) and finally, I want to reiterate what Lizi said about the importance of talking, because if doing this show has taught me one thing, it is that talking about mental health is bloody important.
Suffering in silence
Last year Rachael and Lizi asked me if I would be interested in making a show with them about mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety. My gut instinct screamed “yes!” (and I think I actually did scream “yes!” at them.) I hadn’t at that point seen a show about depression, and theatre seemed to be a great way to have a conversation about mental health. But as we got started, I began to feel very anxious about it. Until then, very few people knew about my history with depression and anxiety. It was something I was ashamed of for many reasons. I worried that if I told people I had depression, they would ask me why, “what do you have to be sad about?”, or I feared they’d think I was attention seeking, being dramatic, making excuses, or that I was crazy. Seriously. And I know how ridiculous that sounds now but at the time it felt very real. If anyone caught me crying and asked why, all I could say was “I don’t know why.” And that was massively frustrating, for everyone. So I kept my mouth shut and put on a mask of pretence. And it was exhausting. And it only made things worse.
For a long time I expected people to be mind readers. I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on with me, I was scared to and I didn’t understand it or know how to begin to explain. As much as I didn’t want anyone to see me that way, the truth was that I needed someone to see that I wasn’t okay and help me. Thankfully my mum did. I worried that people wouldn’t want to be around me in case I had a “melt down” and scared them off. I worried that I was unable to work, socialise, or leave the house at all because of how I was feeling. The anxiety at one point was crippling. I honestly believed I had a serious health problem because of all the physical side effects – the tight chest, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, the light headedness, not being able to sleep, feeling sick and unsettled, fidgety and restless, nauseous and on edge…panic, like you’ve drank four double espressos in 10 minutes and your chest is beating so hard you’re absolutely sure your heart is going to give out any minute and you’ll drop dead. This feeling can take over anywhere at any time. I didn’t understand it (I still don’t to be honest) so how the hell could I talk to someone about it without sounding like a massive hypochondriac?
At first I didn’t talk about any of it out of fear. Then I didn’t talk because I wanted to do it by myself. I wanted to fix myself, I didn’t want to rely on others or be a burden to anyone. I didn’t talk because I didn’t think anyone would want to hear it…then I started talking. To my mum, to the doctor, to a close friend. A few years later I talked to Rachael and Lizi, we were going to make a completely honest, autobiographical show about our experiences so I had to start talking! And I haven’t really shut up since! When depression and anxiety strike again (because they will, unfortunately they never go away completely), the first thing I will do is talk to someone about it. Talk about how I am feeling and what is going on with my body and inside my head.
The first few Broken Little Robots sessions were just me and Rachael. I would go round to her house, we would drink tea and eat cake and biscuits, and just chat. Rachael was so open about her experiences, I listened with admiration. She spoke so matter of fact about it, it was such a relief and so inspiring to hear someone talk so openly about their lowest points without fear of judgement or shame. Rachael gave me the confidence to open up about my deepest darkest thoughts and feelings. The more I talked, the better I felt. It was difficult at times, but making this show has helped me understand my brain better.
This week we will be on stage baring our souls in front of strangers and people we know (which is actually more terrifying!) but we’re doing this in the hope that by talking about our experiences we will shed some light on depression and anxiety, start a conversation, encourage others to talk, and show that mental illness isn’t a scary thing. It’s totally normal and it affects a lot of people. If it’s affecting so many of us, it makes absolutely no sense to keep schtum and suffer in silence! So let’s talk.
I am grateful for my depression (and this show)
My depression turns me into someone I don’t like. I am irritable, angry, miserable, desperate, jealous, lazy, exhausted, unmotivated, paranoid and self-pitying. I am hard work, I am frustrating, I don’t trust anyone, I doubt everything and the world is just grey. The negative voice in my head gets louder and louder until it takes over.
However, making this show has allowed me to look back on my journey with depression and anxiety and be thankful for it. I am grateful that depression has shown me how strong I can be. It has shown me what an amazing and understanding support system I have in my friends and family. It has given me a level of understanding and sympathy that I would never have had without it. And finally, I’m grateful to my depression because it has meant that I could be involved in making this show! A year and a half ago, two friends asked me if I wanted to join them in making a show about depression and anxiety. I was scared to talk about what was going on in my head but now I can talk openly about my depression and anxiety without fear or shame, thanks to those two wonderful girls and the process of making this show. Talking is so important, I honestly can’t stress that enough. Connecting with other people is an incredibly powerful thing, and can make you feel human again.
Making this show, finally opening up and talking about my weird and wonderful brain, what I thought were my strange, unique little quirks has made me realise that I am not alone, or weird, or “crazy”. It is so liberating to have someone listen to the deepest, darkest, weirdest bits of you and go “oh yeah, I get that all the time” or “I totally understand”. Also, being able to tell someone else who is struggling that you understand is a wonderful thing. Talking about my mental health and listening to others talk about theirs has made me realise that it is okay to be depressed! It is okay to suffer with anxiety! It is okay to not have brilliant mental health all of the time, because after all we’re only bloody human!
So thank you depression, you big bastard!
Broken Little Robots is at Hull Truck Theatre 13-15th July 2016.
For tickets and more information click here.
“Words – spoken or written- are what connect us to the world, and so speaking about it to people, and writing about this stuff, helps connect us to each other, and to our true selves.” – Matt Haig, Reasons To Stay Alive