Theresa May, either take a stand or get the hell out of office – Britain doesn’t want a PM who can’t condemn Donald Trump

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will.

First published by The Independent, 16th August 2017

A refusal to denounce evil is an evil in and of itself. In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump has drawn a moral equivalency between the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, one of whom murdered a civil rights activist during the demonstration, and counter-protesters standing against fascism. And Theresa May has failed to condemn him.

The President of the United States laid blame principally at the feet of the “alt-left” and described them as “very, very violent”. This was the side which saw a car plough into protesters, seriously injuring many and killing one innocent woman. Of the other side – with their torches and Nazi salutes and screams of racist, sexist and transphobic abuse – he said: “Not all of those people are neo-Nazis, not all of those people are white supremacists, by any stretch… You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Where indeed?

It’s safe to say that Trump has shown his hand more shamelessly than ever before. Is he afraid of upsetting a key fan base or just incapable of hiding his true colours? Whatever the truth is, we know that white supremacists celebrated after his speech. David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted: “Thankyou President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa”.

Theresa May, in refusing to condemn this joke of a President, is now a limping embarrassment to her country.

When asked about Trump’s comments, May evaded the question. Speaking to reporters today in Portsmouth, she chose instead to say: As I made clear at the weekend following the horrendous scenes that we saw in Charlottesville, I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we have seen portrayed by these groups.”

There was no mention of Trump, of his blatant courting of a fascist minority and his description of those protecting the statue of a Confederate soldier as “fine people” who have been “unfairly treated” by a press reporting “fake news”. No, Theresa kept remarkably quiet about her friend Donald, whose hand she so willingly held on a visit to the White House.

What kind of a leader – indeed, what kind of a person – do you have to be to falter when asked to condemn someone who thinks that a group of torch-bearing fascists in Nazi uniforms and Klansman robes are “very fine people”? May is now no better than the weedy sidekick, holding the coat of the playground bully while he grinds another kid’s face into the dirt. Her weakness and moral deficiency is a stain on the office of Prime Minister.

This is no longer about Brexit trade deals or keeping that “special relationship” intact. It’s about simple ethics. We do not shy away from openly condemning those who are apologists for Nazism and fascist ideologies in Britain. We give ourselves over to fighting them and opposing their vile agenda.

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will. Her refusal to stand up to the orange bully in the White House defiles the memory of every single British citizen who lost their lives fighting in the Second World War. Our grandfathers went to war against Nazis, but in 2017 our Prime Minister cosies up to someone who turns a blind eye to their existence in his own country for votes.

In the words of Theresa May’s own Cabinet minister Sajid Javid on Twitter today: “Neo-Nazis: bad. Anti-Nazis: good. I learned that as a child. It was pretty obvious.”

Enough is enough, Theresa May. It’s time to take a stand or get the hell out of office.

Illumination 10 – Sophie Walker

“Instead of asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ a more appropriate question is ‘what’s happened to me?’ When you understand this difference then healing becomes a possibility.”

‘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 Sophie Walker, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m Sophie Walker and work as an artist and mindful creativity practitioner. I started my business Attentive Art after I experienced post natal depression having relocated from one side of the country to the other five weeks before my second child was born.

In order to understand what was going on, I studied a course in psychology and mental health, followed by a course in mindfulness. I started making art again (I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years) and applied some mindfulness techniques which had great results on and off the canvas. I’m now training to be a certified coach in creative mindfulness.

I have to say I’m okay these days. I have off days and a spot of anxiety now and then but nothing like what I used to. I don’t know where the boundaries between mental health and mental illness lie sometimes. Especially in children. I experienced eating disorders and anxiety before I was old enough to go to school.

Do certain behaviours indicate mental illness if they’re simply coping mechanisms to facilitate feeling mentally better? I had ongoing issues with depression and the behavioural patterns that tend to come with it, but I realised I was asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ a more appropriate question is ‘what’s happened to me?’ When you understand this difference then healing becomes a possibility because we can stop blaming ourselves for things that probably were never our fault in the first place.

I write when I feel like it. I try to operate from a place of ‘how do I feel?’ rather than ‘what should I be doing?’ or ‘I have too much to do’ when really I can choose how much I have to do. So I apply a mindful ‘noticing’ of how I feel and what I’m doing. I make time each week for painting, drawing etc.

054-Sophie-Walker

I also go out for walks and do yoga and swim when I can. I find it hard to slow down and try to notice when I need a break and at least stop and do something different.

Does mental health inform my creative process? I think in my case the two are combined. I am of the belief that any creativity is a form of therapy and it is highly necessary for everyone to have a creative outlet. It grounds me and calms me down.

I also have a tendency to think that everything I make or paint or whatever has to somehow be something I can sell. I only realised this quite recently (noticing) and now aim to enjoy the process for what it is.

Listen to yourself and trust yourself. Don’t listen to any thoughts about not being good or experienced enough. Experiment, find what you enjoy and do more of it while keeping on experimenting. Never compare yourself to others. It won’t help you to enjoy your creativity. Stop, look at what you’ve made. Smile.

theattentiveartist.com // facebook.com/groups/AttentiveArt

Illumination 09 – Naomi Joseph

“My mental health doesn’t just impact my creative process, it affects my attitude to the industry as a whole – particularly with performing. There’s so much pressure to look perfect. “

‘Illumination’ is a brand 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 mental health struggles 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 Naomi Joseph, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name is Naomi Joseph and I’m a writer, performer and spoken word artist. I also provide freelance arts admin and digital marketing support. My work primarily explores the relationship between individual identity and cultural belonging. I’m also a fierce advocate for breaking down barriers regarding mental health.

I strive to look after my mental health, mainly because I’ve struggled to during previous personal experiences (bereavement to name one). It’s been a struggle to maintain self-care at times, and I guess it’s not until I had these experiences and sought help that I really realised and valued the importance of looking after my mental and physical health.

I also come from a family who – loving and as supportive as they are – see seeking help as the very last resort. I think that this makes me fight harder to talk about mental health. I think it’s dangerous to wait for a moment of crisis before we pay attention to our mental health and wellbeing.

—-

I’ve been through counselling, and it’s really helped me.

One of the benefits of being freelance means that I can look after my mental health at my own pace, because I am working at my own pace. I realise this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone (it isn’t always the case for me), so I have different measures in place depending on whether I am working from home or located elsewhere e.g. based in an office or in rehearsals.

Everyday Measures:

  • When I get up and when I go to bed I try and think of one thing I am grateful for. It helps me keep things in perspective.
  • If I wake up with particular anxieties or worries, I write them down to get them out. Sometimes I revisit them at the end of the day, so I can see the progress I have made because everything is always worse in your imagination.
  • At the end of my working day I try and write an achievements list – every single step can be an achievement – there’s no hierarchy, no pressure – it might include ‘did a load of washing’ or ‘edited an article’.
  • I ensure I take my full lunch break regardless of whether I’m working from home or I’m located elsewhere.

Measures for when I’m Working from Home:

I try to keep to a routine. For example, I keep office hours – it’s easy to get caught up in working all the time because your workspace and home space are the same space (!) and when you work from home people assume you’re accessible all the time. Keeping working hours helps me maintain a balance and feel less overwhelmed.

I also make sure that I get out – working from home can be isolating and lonely so I either find public spaces with free wifi, go for a walk or run a minor errand. I’m also fortunate that I have other freelance buddies and we sometimes buddy up together and have ‘office’ days – it’s motivating and sociable and makes work less overwhelming.

Measures when I’m location-based:

  • I always take my full lunch break – whether working from home or not
  • Leading up to production week/rehearsals I food prep – it saves any added worry or stress to what is usually a stressful time in the creative process!
  • Being honest and communicating with those I’m working with if I’m struggling – I find that particularly in theatre in rehearsal rooms we seem to be more open about talking about our struggles.
  • I maintain my support system around me and communicate as I go by keeping in touch with family and friends with how I’m feeling, talking to colleagues I trust etc
  • I also just check in with myself throughout the day – I have a little conversation with myself – ‘how am I feeling?’ It stops me from accidentally neglecting my self-care which can be easy to do when you’re working with lots of people creatively.

Sometimes my mental health influences the creative process. Sometimes I write for catharsis, without the intention to share it publicly, especially if it’s something personal that I haven’t yet processed for myself. Sometimes it turns into something more, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t believe in exploiting myself to create authentic art – that’s dangerous and unsafe, not to mention wanky.

If I’m writing from a personal place (but for a creative purpose) I try to address what I am/not comfortable with exploring and why (i.e. I don’t want to close myself off but again, I don’t believe in making myself vulnerable unsafely).

For instance, my solo show Motherland explores cultural identity, it’s a very personal piece but it’s also darkly comical and heartwarming. However, during the very early writing stages I set up boundaries for myself because there were some aspects of my personal life that I wasn’t ready to share or hadn’t fully processed privately. As time has gone on, I’ve been able to push myself creatively with this project and reach a point where I could approach it as writer/actor, but that’s only because I made sure to take care of myself during the early stages.

My mental health doesn’t just impact my creative process, it affects my attitude to the industry as a whole – particularly with performing. There’s so much pressure to look perfect. On the whole, this is just really dangerous. At the times in my life where I’ve struggled, I didn’t really taking care of myself and I didn’t look after my physical health as much as I should have. Even though I can now say I am in a much better space and have moved on, I still feel guilt or see the effects for myself, even if no one else can.

My mental health affects my attitude to the performing aspect because I just can’t afford to take on board those superficial, external pressures of looking perfect – it would be detrimental to my self-care. I treat myself as a human first of all, rather than some sort of superstar creative – and that’s my attitude to the creative process. When I know I’m continuing self-development work and looking after myself, I feel good in myself and that’s all that matters – and what’s more, that shows.

I seek out opportunities to discuss mental health creatively. I’ve always been interested in the power of creativity (be it performance or writing) to communicate and reach out to people so I have purposely sought opportunities to explore and utilise this. I most recently collaborated with We Co Produce and performed for West London Mental Health Trust. I feel really humbled to have had the opportunity to share my experiences and my work directly with organisations and service users. I would love to continue to work creatively in this aspect.

Mental wellbeing comes first. Always. Self-care and personal development should be viewed as a continuous process. I know people who have bought into the romanticised artsy lifestyle – forsaking food for travel money for auditions or constantly dieting to stay thin etc. – nothing is worth sacrificing your health.

Find your allies – both inside and outside of your industry. Family, friends, professional help. The stronger your support system, the easier it will be to manage on days when you do have a wobble. Also, if you do create personal work, it’s important to share how you’re feeling with your collaborators.

With regards to the work you create, don’t feel pressured to share more than you are comfortable with. It doesn’t make you more or less of an artist depending on how much you are willing to reveal about yourself. (Although it might be worth exploring why you are setting up boundaries – e.g. is it because you would rather some things stay private or have you personally not yet dealt with these issues?)

Redefine success for yourself. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to others in your industry, you will always come out feeling like a failure. It’s not healthy and it’s also not true! You are cultivating a career for yourself, not other people.

Work at a speed that lets you to look after your mental health – sometimes the creative industries doesn’t always allow you this, but it’s vital. The sacrifices you’re willing to make might not be as some others. If that means turning down a commission because you know you don’t have the time or you don’t want to participate in a workshop about a particular topic because it might be triggering – that’s totally ok.

Have a life outside of your creative work. It helps put things into perspective and give you balance.

Interrupted (A Work in Progress) // @i_am_naomij

Illumination 08 – Dane Cobain

Writer Dane Cobain talks to me about anxiety and depression, and how self-employment helps him stay well.

‘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 Dane Cobain, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name’s Dane Cobain and I’m a published author and freelance writer. I spend every waking moment either writing or thinking about writing, and it’s awesome to be able to make a living from it as my own boss.

I write a little bit of everything, and I have fiction, non-fiction and poetry out – as well as a horror screenplay. I don’t think I work in a particular genre, although I’ve been labelled as a horror writer before, and I quite often write about technology and the effect it has on us as a society. I’ve been writing since I was about sixteen – so at least ten years and maybe a little longer.

I suffer from anxiety and depression. The depression kicked in during my teens and the anxiety started in my early twenties. I tend to be quite open about it and try to provide comments like this where possible in the hope that they might help other people.

I take Citalopram at the moment and took it for quite a while in the past. I tried Amitriptyline once but it didn’t work so well for me.

Anxiety/depression have less of an effect now than they used to, but part of the reason for that is that I’m now self-employed. I found that full-time employment tended to exacerbate them both, and it was often difficult to talk to bosses etc. about what I was feeling. For some reason, it’s not as accepted to take days off for mental health issues as it is to for physical health.

I think that anxiety and depression still have an impact on my life, particularly in how I go about my day to day business. I don’t like leaving the house much, for example. And I tend to feel safer/better when I’m able to follow my productivity routine and to get some writing done.

To stay well, I tend to use a whole range of little tricks. For example, if I start to feel stressed then I play guitar and sing to vent some steam. If I feel a panic attack coming on, I do some colouring in as it takes my mind off things. I usually tend to feel better if I keep myself as busy as possible.

I think my mental health does inspire creativity, in a way. The two are definitely closely linked. If I’m feeling down about my writing skills then it can lead me to feel depressed, and a big deadline can make me anxious. But it also gives me fuel that I can write about – for example, I’ve written poems about anxiety and given characters a little bit of anxiety here and there.

I think you have to remember that your mental health doesn’t define you. You should never be ashamed of it. Ultimately, you have to put your mental wellbeing first, and it’s more important than your career. But that’s not always easy to remember.

I actually find that my mental health conditions often either inspire my writing or at the very least writing can take my mind off things. I usually find that if I keep as busy as I can, the anxiety doesn’t settle in as much because my mind is too busy.

When that doesn’t work, I’ve found that colouring in works pretty well – and so does sticking a comedy on, especially when it’s something that you’ve seen plenty of times before. The depression is a little harder to deal with – you just have to sort of do your best to overcome it, and I often go to sleep if it’s particularly bad.

The good thing about writing and being creative is that it’s often not something that you turn on and off – you can usually force yourself to keep writing. It just might not be particularly good.

@danecobain // amazon // goodreads // danecobain.com

Illumination 07 – Billy Lunn

“I would encourage other creatives to fight against the cliche that we’re meant to be destructive and chaotic.”

‘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 Billy Lunn, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name is Billy Lunn, and I’m the singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer for the rock band The Subways. I’m currently writing, recording and mixing our fifth album whilst studying an Undergraduate degree in English at Cambridge – and therefore losing my mind a teeny little bit.

I love to keep busy. I’ve always considered being a songwriter and a performer as a very primal thing, so I decided to test myself academically, and worked for about four years to obtain the necessary knowledge and grades to get into Cambridge. I’m still actually quite shocked it even worked!

I’m bipolar, and only really discovered this after I met my wife. After years of heavy drinking, drug-taking, and severe and extended bouts of depression, my doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder accompanied by alcoholism and borderline autism. I’m now three and a half years sober and in the most stable and creative period of my entire life.

Looking back, I wish I was diagnosed earlier, but I don’t think there were the opportunities or the time – I kept most problems at bay by staying busy, active and always on the move, which touring with the band helped perpetuate. However, when, after finally burning out and being forced to stand still for a second, I crumbled. I’m incredibly lucky I had my wife there to pick me up and put me back together.


I make lists, as well as short-term and long-term goals. I find my biggest problem is being overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks merely because I haven’t processed them properly and formally organised them in my mind, or visually on a piece of paper. Once I know what I need to do, the world suddenly becomes a place I can understand even just a little bit better.

I understand my limitations, and I openly express them – by verbalising them to myself or others so that I remind myself and others that I’m not completely crazy. I just need a bit of extra time to process and deal with what needs doing, and then I’m usually okay.

Anxiety, I’ve come to accept. It’s just a daily thing for me now. But rather than having that imposing itself as a negative, I try and use it to drive me through the day so that I can achieve what I need or want to. Sometimes this fails, and I just make things worse for myself and everyone around me.

Before, when I was in the wilderness from being undiagnosed and in the whirlwind of addiction and touring, my creative process was somehow managed by my vigorous youthhood! Once that had passed, I needed to find a way to channel my creative energies without stifling or suffocating them.

Saying that, I’m one of the lucky cases in the music biz. Clarity is benefitting my creative abilities rather than cutting away from them. I have my own recording studio, which is kind of a safe zone for me, and there I’m able to play all the various instruments I have stashed away there, to read, watch TV, record, and just generally sit in silence and reflect.

I would encourage other creatives to fight against the cliche that we’re meant to be destructive and chaotic. Order and a clarity of vision, as I have found, are just as valuable – if not more so. Embrace this. Know your limitations and be okay with them. Heck, be proud of them! Nobody’s perfect, and nobody knows everything – and even if that were possible, why would anyone want that anyway. And we don’t always move forward.

Society tells us we must always be aspiring and moving forward through our lives. Sometimes staying still or backtracking is beneficial too. Life doesn’t have to be an act of forward progression. Enjoy the scenery, regress, progress, whatever. And reach out to others. Talk and support others. As well as being kind and compassionate, it’s also a very helpful lesson to yourself.

@billysubway // thesubways.net // facebook.com/thesubways

Illumination 06 – Milly Thomas

“The myth that mental illness makes for more creativity and the notion of ‘the tortured artist’ utterly boils my piss. It’s grossly unhelpful and dangerous.”

‘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 Milly Thomas, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a full-time actor and writer. I originally became a writer because I couldn’t stomach the thought of waiting for my face to be the right fit for a role. I wanted to take matters into my own hands. In the beginning it never occurred to me whether or not I was any good at writing, I just wanted to work and to play roles that I hadn’t seen.

It came out of a love of telling stories. In the pub, to my family, on stage, on television. It was only once I started that it no longer became about acting – it morphed into something bigger than me. It became my way of engaging with the world and having conversations I was too scared to have face-to-face.

I write about what I don’t know. Anything I know too well instantly becomes preachy. I drop myself in the deep end so I’ve got to frantically doggy paddle my way out. When I don’t do this I sometimes find my writing stagnates. I’m still figuring out how to make work in a calm way, or if that’s necessary.

My mental health and I are only just starting to become friends and it’s very much a work in progress. In the past my anxiety and depression battled each other for precedence while I felt like an immobilised third party. I don’t remember a turning point at all – it just felt like something that got progressively worse as I grew up. Suddenly I found myself at fifteen and utterly unable to cope. Afraid of the stigma, I said nothing.

Fast forward six years, and every day felt like an acting job that I sucked at. I’d thrown myself headlong into work as a means of distraction which was working – a bit. There are symptoms that sneak up on you. Back pain. Stomach upsets. Headaches. Irritability. Insomnia.

Dust (courtesy Chloe Wicks)

I’m a high-functioning depressive so it’s never affected my ability to work. A blessing and a curse. It’s only in the past few years I realised that enough was enough. Suicide Ideation was plaguing my every day and it was hard to think of anything else until I shared how I was feeling with friends. Now I approach my life in a very different way. I’m keen to talk about mental health because I feel like you have to be ‘well’ in order to discuss it.

Right now, it feels like society says it’s okay, and even encouraged, to be open about having needed or sought – note the past tense – but it doesn’t yet feel okay to say you need help. It’s okay to say you needed help. Then. But you’re fine now. I’ve had the idea for this show in my head for a few years now and in late 2016 I suddenly thought ‘if you wait ‘til you feel ‘okay’ you’ll never make it.’ I felt I had to do it now and question later.

Moving in any way, shape or form helps me manage my mental health. I find the only way to quiet my mind is to move. I’m at my most content when I’m between places, knowing I’m on my way somewhere else. I listen to a lot of mindless pop music. I’m often to be found walking long distances with my headphones in.

It won’t be the first time anyone’s heard this but exercise, exercise, exercise. If you figure out where the motivation to exercise on a bad day comes from then please let me know.

Make sure to see friends. I have found my mood changes dramatically when in the presence of my nearest and dearest. Or if you can’t face going out, have them come over. But a brisk walk in fresh air every single day is something that has kept me from self-destruct.

My struggles with mental illness have made me value truth in my work. I still want to entertain first and foremost, but I’m very aware of the power of truth and place of truth within that work. By truth I don’t necessarily mean ‘autobiographical’, but I mean the truth that makes an audience lean in. It’s made me want to experiment more with form.

Sometimes the form of your work ends up shifting to accommodate what your mental health will allow you to do that day. With Dust it’s definitely made me strip the text further and further back so that it’s as stark as the subject matter. But the myth that mental illness makes for more creativity and the notion of ‘the tortured artist’ utterly boils my piss. It’s grossly unhelpful and dangerous. But truth. Truth is important.

When looking at Dust, I know what happens when someone survives an attempt and the road to recovery but I’ve also seen other families who’ve lost people suddenly U-turn and paint their loved one as someone they simply weren’t. Telling that story is hugely important to me. If people leave the show having seen something they haven’t seen before, and understanding something new that little bit better, that really excites me.

I’d want to remind everyone that poor mental health is not binary. We’re all on a spectrum. The empathy and support that can come from your colleagues can and will make an enormous difference. Finding empathy in different groups of friends is hugely important. Your colleagues and peers will be able to empathise with the struggle of making the work, friends and family (outside the industry) give your life meaning and context.

You are not your work, but if you’re a workaholic or high-functioning it can sometimes feel that way. I’ve found it dangerous to siphon yourself off into work that’s only transitory. What we’re doing is hard and has the capacity to feel quite meaningless sometimes. It isn’t, but it can feel that way. Perseverance and being kind – to yourself and others – is what’s going to make this a joy, not a career slog.

@missmillythomas // @BrutalCessation // @dust_theplay

Dust, Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly)

Brutal Cessation, Assembly George Square (The Box)

 

Illumination 05 – Sarah Milton

Actor and playwright Sarah Milton speaks about being diagnosed with panic disorder and her new play, Tumble Tuck.

‘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.

@backheretheatre // @FollowTheCow // @TumbleTuckPlay // #TumbleTuck