Depression is like a fairytale villain. When you start talking about it, it shrinks.
Depression is clearly difficult to talk about. It’s a massive grey bastard of an elephant in the room. My remedy? I tricked myself. I wrote a stage show about it and booked it into a festival to make it impossible for me not to talk about it.
The show, Black Dog Gold Fish, created with my theatre company Parrot in the Tank, is an absurd trip through the mind of someone withdrawing from life as they leave the aquarium they have been secretly releasing fish from.
It’s based on the last few years of my life in which I was diagnosed with clinical depression and embarked on a mind-bending adventure into medication and cognitive therapy.
I have had my suspicions that something wasn’t quite right with me since I turned twenty. Fixated on the idea that my teenage years were shitty because of the hazy malaise of puberty, I optimistically expected everything would all change overnight on my twentieth birthday. Sadly nothing changed and for the ensuing seven years I marched on thinking that this was just what life was like.
My home was nothing but supportive and my parents only ever wished for me to be confident and happy. So when it all went south again at twenty-seven there was an enormous guilt that I had no right or reason to feel this way. What did I have to be sad about?
I had recently been signed to a reputable production company as a director and been put up for some great jobs, I was playing music in a band of close friends, and was living with 10 of the most interesting people I will ever meet. Life was great.
So why would I climb into bed every night hoping that I wouldn’t wake up? I didn’t want to die; I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.
This next bit has happened several times in my life. The ol’ cut and run. I moved out and went homeless for six months finding sofas and spare rooms. I left the production company and withdrew from a lot of relationships, avoiding contact where I could with people. This time though I hit the bottom and didn’t bounce. I avoided calling home, knowing that if I heard my parents’ voices I would crack and tell them everything. I sat on the floor staring at the phone hoping it would ring. I thank my hand to this day for picking it up and dialling without giving my head a chance to stop it. Thank you hand.
I was diagnosed in March 2013 with clinical depression, put straight onto a course of antidepressants and referred to the counsellors.
Naming the beast was a big step, but the massive leap was recognising it for what it was. A physical illness. The fantastic book which allowed me to build this little fence around depression was ‘The Curse Of The Strong’ by Dr Tim Cantopher. More recently ‘Sane New World’ by Ruby Wax has furthered this understanding.
The realisation that these episodes were a result of the limbic system in my brain – the mood regulator – cracking under anxiety, gave me instant relief. Likening it to any other part of your body, which would be prone to damage if overworked, also helped mates understand that it was pretty much like a manly sports injury. ‘Mental’ illness conjures up such archaic and misinformed images.
Not wanting to shovel another year into the snarling mouth of this bastard illness I gave myself some things to achieve in 2015 whilst being mindful about how I operate – plenty of rest in between. This show is the first on the list. Much like my hand picking up the phone it just went ahead and found the show a home before I had written it, hoping my mind wouldn’t step in and hold me back again.
The crowdfunding campaign for the show effectively announced via social-media to my friends, their friends, and friends of those friends, that I was ill. The response was overwhelmingly positive. However I still couldn’t let the positives into my head – I could only feel the utter fear of failure as the donations began popping up in my inbox. That should have been a proud moment, but instead I felt sick. I had to make it and it now has to be really good. Could I still run?
The need to market the show meant even more talking. More putting myself forward. Our producer Eva Liparova was instrumental in building a discussion around the show to get more support for it. I secretly hated her for this, but what it did do was make me face up to the fact that it was happening and that I had a responsibility to be open now, so I owe her a lot for that.
It turns out though that most people I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences or know people who have been affected. Like a fairytale villain, the moment you begin speaking about depression, it begins shrinking. I owe a lot to the ears that have let me chew them about this.
I won’t lie there are still moments that I am angry at my hand for booking this showing and just going for it. But ultimately, the best thing you can do is force yourself to talk. After that, friends and family will swoop in to help – they’re good like that.
And now, I’m in a rehearsal room, playing with my theatre company of friends who are all brave enough to jump into the odd little space between my ears to make this show.
So no running this time.
Black Dog Gold Fish (work in progress) by Parrot in the Tank is at The Vault Festival 18th – 22nd February at 7.45pm with an added matinee on the Saturday and Sunday at 3.15pm.
You can pledge your support HERE
Book tickets HERE
Check out the Parrot in the Tank website HERE
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