‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work.
If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.
Words by Sarah Milton, as told to Harriet Williamson.
I’m a professional actor and playwright. I write spoken word, poetry, plays and perform mine and other’s work.
I’m performing Tumble Tuck, my one woman play about the definition of success, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival at The Underbelly (Iron Belly) 3-27th August at 1.30pm, every day. Another play of mine, called Lucy Light, is opening at the Theatre N16, London on September 19th for three weeks.
I’ve always found theatre to be the most fascinating way of expressing ideas and truly connecting with a group of people. There is something so beautiful and raw about a room of people listening and engaging with the live drama unfolding in front of them and experiencing active empathy and various emotional reactions. I believe theatre has the potential to better human beings and this idea is the driving force behind the majority of my work.
I have a panic disorder. This was diagnosed in 2009, and I’ve been on and off medication for it since. I’m currently using medication and I haven’t had a panic attack for over a month which is fantastic!
I practise yoga, which has contributed massively to improving both my mental and physical health. Yoga is phenomenal, and I’m going to do my teacher training in September. However, whenever I do feel anxious, I list colours and describe things I’m walking past or can see. Sometimes I’ll ring someone close to me, usually my mum, and let her know I’m having a panic attack and she’ll ask me questions to distract and bring my head back to earth. Also, sleeping properly, napping and drinking water helps.
Sometimes it stops me writing, and sometimes it informs my writing on a deeper level. I’m a binge writer, so I write many things in a compact space of time and then spend weeks thinking about the next piece I could write. I have to be in a healthy frame of mind to find the confidence to write.
Since opening up about my panic disorder, I’ve found that I’m no longer ashamed of the way I am. I’ve learned more about how many people do suffer with varying degrees of poor mental health, which has inspired my writing. Tumble Tuck focusses on self-worth and Daisy, the lead character, is very honest about needing counselling and support. This touches on my personal experience of counselling and discussing my issues in a professional, non-judgemental environment.
I think without my experience of anxiety, feeling low, and my journey to opening up about it, a lot of my work wouldn’t exist. So that has to be a positive way of looking at it.
Don’t get stuck at your screen all day, every day, writing ‘the masterpiece’. Walk. Do an exercise class. Choose water, not coffee. Have a day where you do anything but creative stuff; don’t write, don’t watch, don’t read up on or anything about work. Don’t forget to take time to breathe. Restrict social media usage.
Call your family and friends often and get confident in maintaining that dialogue with your GP. You are not wasting anyone’s time. Your wellbeing and mental health are valid and it’s important to communicate anything associated to it, to a health professional. Remind yourself every day that you’re worthy, because you are.
Sarah Milton’s play Tumble Tuck tells the story of a young woman struggling to accept herself and realise her strength and seeks to examine the pressure we put on young people.