‘Acting and… Mental Health’ – Tuesday 1st May, 2018
I contemplated not making this my first post, but mental health within the industry is something of a hot topic right now and indeed it is the single most important challenge that I have faced in my life and career.
Some might say that being a sufferer of anxiety which inevitably leads to dark periods of depression would signal to a person that perhaps catapulting yourself into an industry full of instability with zero control, along with leaving yourself open to constant judgement and rejection would be at the bottom of the list as a career choice. However, I have never managed to find a feeling that replicates that feeling of performing. When I perform I am finally whole – which is a shame, as I don’t get to be ‘whole’ as often enough as I would like. Most of time I just feel empty, alone and unfulfilled with the mundane existence of every day life.
I have suffered from anxiety and depression since the age of around 12. The anxiety manifesting itself in over-eating or binge eating plus elements of OCD. I spent years being afraid of who I was, of the immediate world around me and the people in it. I was lonely, had very few friends, no social life and a real sense of having no place in this world. Acting is what saved me! Auditioning for a school play in year 9 at senior school changed my life. I could finally pretend not to be me – the short, fat, brace-wearing boffin, with sexuality issues and a bad curtain hair-cut (which was not actually a centre parting – epic fail!) – and this was liberating for me. And I was good it seemed. I got a principal role – unheard of for someone so young! I was catapulted into some kind of reality show where I suddenly was recognised and dare I say ‘attractive’ to people because of my talent and status. To be honest, I just didn’t know how to handle it. It usually culminated in me buying the contents of the vending machine and using it as leverage to ‘buy’ friends – as they couldn’t possibly like me, for who I was, could they? Performing enabled me to express myself and feel proud of who I was or in fact escape who I was. Nothing else did that for me.
Fast forward almost 22 years, a weight loss of 6 stone, countless sessions of expensive CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) under my belt, plus Drama School, my ‘coming-out’ parade in my third year (everyone already knew btw) some acting jobs, a lot of non-acting jobs, relationships (very few significant ones I might add) along with 13 years of ups and downs, some major personal losses, some major debt gain, plus some periods of stability and dare I say actual happiness and I find myself at nearly 36, living with my parents again, a few stone heavier, self-medicating more regularly than I should and still in submission to my mental health issues.
Despite this, I must admit that when I do actually get the job, despite the anxiety, panic and insecurities I experience in rehearsals (which I think every actor faces tbh) I find that when I’m actually performing, I’m free of it all. It all disappears. I’m finally worthy of myself. I am complete. I’m who I’m meant to be. I can still do it! I’m proving that I can still do it – that I have talent. I’m meant to be pursuing this career path. I have not wasted all of this time, energy and money (oh the money!) thus far on this career choice. The problem is, I’m often so low and without confidence that on the rare occasion I do get in the casting room I get in my own way as I’m so hyper-aware of everything and in fear of being scrutinised because of my weight, appearance and/or sexuality. (Note to self: no-one can actually see those things. Well, apart from my stomach!) I’m never really concerned though about the acting side of it. Its everything else – and all those other elements actually prevent me from being me and the best that I can be in that audition room.
The bottom line here is that I’m unable to sustain the feeling I have when performing – and its that feeling that drives me. I’m addicted to it. Once a job is finished and I’m not regularly flexing the acting muscle, I simply don’t believe that I’m any good or can do it anymore. I need evidence. I need another job. I need an acting hit to validate me again. The jobs inevitably do not come and rapidly I lose myself – and the fog of anxiety and depression hits again.
“Let go, Andrew!” was all I was ever told at Drama school. How do you let go?! I felt, and to this day feel, that for me to achieve this ‘letting go’ I would need to decapitate myself or scoop my brains out and replace them with a new brain that was not full of pointless programming!
In reality, my mental health issues existing alongside my pursuit of an acting career and the general demands of day-to-day life have culminated in a gradual progression over the last decade of slowly removing myself from my performance career in many aspects, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of failure and regret. I’ve worked yes, but nowhere near as often as I would have liked and at the level that I would have hoped to have achieved – or more importantly, what I feel I deserve and am talented enough to have achieved. Perhaps its been the issues with my mental health that have sabotaged my potential for success and fulfilment? Who knows. All I know is that having created this website this week, I still love to act – and I think that I’m actually quite good at it. I just wish that there was more support and understanding about mental health amongst the profession to make me feel less alienated, abnormal and helpless and to essentially support me during the highs and lows that inevitably come when pursuing a career as an actor.
Thank you for reading and do feel free to comment. Happiness to all of you.