Have you ever curled up on the cold floor of a coffee shop toilet in Camden Town?
Hyperventilating and wanting to jump out of your own skin? Sobbing and clutching your heart because you are pretty sure you are dying and the 1st person to find you will be the ridiculously hot Portuguese Barista… Who is now banging on the door, to see if you are ok, and to kindly let you know that there is a young child about to wee all over the newly mopped floor and, he would rather not have to do it again, as it is closing time soon and he has a lot to do. So you smear the mascara streaks across your face and grab on to the handrail as you unlock the door and put on your best ‘I’m OK’ face and politely sit back down at your seat, pretending that death is not imminent and your head is not about to explode, whilst smoothing down your hair to still look cute to Barista Boy, who clearly thinks you are a f***ing nut job! Awesome.
No? Well, this is awkward then.
And it is awkward. It is dizzyingly mortifying and something that you don’t want anyone to know about you, for fear of seeming weak or incapable at work, at home, as a parent or just as a functioning human being.
I suffer from Anxiety and Panic attacks. And it is exhausting! But it is also Beautiful!
The coffee shop meltdown occurred a couple of weeks ago. I was on my way to the Improv class I had booked as a part of the #FaceYourFearsChallenge from an earlier post “What’s the worst that can happen?” – Falling down to Succeed – But things had taken a turn before I even got there.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A HUG!
I have been struggling recently. With an overwhelming amount of work, single parent juggling, co-parenting issues, family drama and some physical health issues which have made all of the above, a lot harder to manage. In short, my brain got too full and I forgot to let it breathe!
A couple of weeks ago I was catching up with a beautiful friend of mine, who asked me how I was doing. I could have just said I was fine and moved on to other things, but there are some people who just make you feel safe. Do you have friends like that? I don’t have many, so they are rare and to be treasured. So, It was a big catch up and a lot of shiz had gone down. When I finally finished telling her everything that was going on, she gave me that look. The look of someone watching the sinking ship, while I am happily waving from the upper deck, playing with a spinning top. And she said, “I can’t believe you are holding it all together.”
AND THEN SHE HUGGED ME!
Now, this was a hug! Not just your run of the mill quick squeeze, or sympathetic rub on the back, but one of those hugs… you know, the real f***ing deal hugs that mean something. I don’t get an awful lot of physical contact with other humans apart from the spawn, who is a bony mass of elbows and monkey feet and makes cuddling a wrestling match within seconds, or decides to use me a climbing frame and ends up with his feet in my face or worse… you get the picture, so hugs are pretty much like finding a tenner in your coat pocket!
It is amazing how physically our body’s chemical reactions are so intrinsically linked to our emotional state. This is something that fascinates me and I speak a lot about for my job, so will leave it for another post. But, it is true!
That hug was the first moment in 8 months that I had opened the jam-packed storage closet and everything came flying out. I hadn’t acknowledged that I actually wasn’t that Ok and that I hadn’t really thought about myself or how I was coping with any of it at all.
MASSIVE FAIL! And I should know better.
Sometimes all we need is a hug. In fact, it is essential for our health – I now declare hugs be mandatory for every human at least twice a day! Wouldn’t that be awesome!
The #CoffeeShopMeltDown happened 5 days later. I happened to have seen this very same friend again and having been processing 8 months of crap all week, had given myself migraines, had about 4 hours sleep in as many days, not eaten all week and survived on Anxiety’s worst best friend – coffee!
So all in all, not a great combination or very clever. (My Blurt Buddy Box arrived the very next day, as if by magic!)
So, anyway, seeing this friend, in an environment, where I was having all sorts of nostalgic and emotional thoughts about, was pretty much the last compartment to fill, before the stern rose in the air and the whole ship snapped in half, crashing into the icy waters of doom.
By the time I got to my Improv class, I was so exhausted, drained and smelling a little bit like bathroom disinfectant, that I wasn’t even thinking about being nervous or fearful about it. In fact, it was the only thing that week that felt truly grounding and made me feel like myself again. I was at peace finally and could breathe and just be. The great thing about improv is you just have to say yes, so, the act of letting go of having to try or think for 2 hours, was the most euphoric experience I could have had. We played for 2 hours, made some stupid shit up, created some worlds and told some seriously weird stories. It was perfect. I was with my people, my tribe, rolling around on the floor together, making a giant boat! It was my lifeboat.
Here is the real take away from the tale. The very thing I feared, was, in fact, the cure! It always has been actually and it is the most powerful medicine!
Another person who found it was actress, poet, singer and extraordinary human, Brigitte Aphrodite.
Brigitte Aphrodite, (and yes, that is her real name), is one of those rare creatures, who manages to instantly fill the room with an infectious and addictive energy – just with her smile. I don’t usually girl-crush, but she is for sure my new BAE!
Brigitte and her other half, the insanely talented, humble and equally beautiful human, Quiet Boy, have created a show about Depression called ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ – and it is CRESHENDORIOUS!
This is one of the songs in the glitter-filled, manic and heart-wrenchingly honest piece of Theatre, a rare unicorn. A magical storytelling adventure, directed beautifully by Laura Keefe, of one woman’s journey through depression and her relationship with the man who watched it all happen is a #nofilters moment in the world of talking about Mental Health.
Brigitte herself described the creative process as therapy and you can see why. The very acknowledgement of the beast and how it manifested itself, is picked through with a sharp, scratchy nit comb. And it is beautiful.
I was so moved by her willingness to give herself to her audience, so freshly raw and physically open, that I dare anyone not to be moved and touched by them and their story.
You left, glittered up, shimmied out and a little bit of a better human being.
For me though, it came a week after #CoffeeShopToiletGate and the Improv class and suddenly everything started to seem OK again. I had a rough few weeks, mainly because I stopped listening to my body and didn’t treat myself very kindly. It happens.
My Beautiful Black Dog doesn’t sugarcoat the ending, in fact, it ended with Brigitte saying that, it wasn’t the kind of story where ‘She could see clearly now the rain had gone’, but more like, she had a f*cking good raincoat now!
Storms come and they go, but it is always important to be prepared and to have a plan, or even someone to hold the umbrella or to throw you a whistle. Brigitte, Quiet Boy and all the other Theatre makers, musicians and artists, including me, need to keep telling the stories that we all need to hear, with honesty, bravery and love that collectively gives us that deep, releasing and safe hug, that tells us, we can all sail the weathers and it is all going to be OK!
1 in 6 people in the UK will experience a common mental health issue in their lifetime.
With global campaigns like #HeadsTogether coming out with massive coverage, Brigitte with Theatre like #MBBD and local community organisations raising the game, if you need to talk about something or are affected by any of these issues, please do. I am not a mental health expert, but am always here, with a good ear and a cuppa tea!
Welcome to my fort kids – It’s got glitter, hugs and life-rafts in it!
My Beautiful Black Dog was a part of Paint the Town Festival @PTT-Festival and Looping the Loop Festival @LoopingThanet, in conjunction with @Battersea_Arts.
Find Brigitte @bbbrigitte and Quiet Boy @Quietbuoy
and thanks to @LyriciArts @IMHPMedway @Rethink_ for the Q&A Panel on Mental Health in the Arts.
Featured Image courtesy of #Bananagrams from Megan Garrett Jones at #ArtBop
And huge thanks to the person who knows who she is – she came back with more boats!