My Next Project After Warwick.
To explain: I assumed that either before or shortly after finishing my time at university, I'd commit suicide. Fortunately, thanks to therapy and drugs and those closest to me, that's no longer something I want to do. I'm still depressed, but I'm not suicidal.
Having assumed that I wouldn't be around, I never gave any thought to a career. When I did, I decided that I wanted to focus on raising awareness about mental health issues, at least for the foreseeable future. But having experienced how badly campaigning can go, I've decided to use what little (if any) skills I have at writing to talk about mental health issues instead. So, I contacted the mental health charity Mind about something I wanted to do to support them. I came up with this:
In the throws of my depression, I wrote a play called "Phantom Pain". The unceremonious truth is that “Phantom Pain” was a creative response to wanting to die.
As well as blogging and appearing in an article talking about mental health, I've been writing about how depression creatively. I've written bad poems and awful short stories, but these didn't distract me enough from wanting to self-harm. So I started to write "Phantom Pain", which I thought would be a long gestating project that I could keep coming back to in order to distract myself from my dark desires.
The play’s taken on many different forms during the time I've spent writing it. Originally, it was very explicitly about me: “John” was the main character and John wrestled with suicide. But I began to write myself as a villain – my self-loathing flooded the page. Suddenly I was all my worst attributes, as well as many I convinced myself I was capable of. And nobody wants to hear a diatribe about why you should hate “John” as much as John hates himself.
It was then I began to ask myself what effect my death would have on others. John became “James”, and James developed in to a man with two lives – one seen by all and one seen be next to no one. On the one hand he was everything I wanted to be - profound, eloquent, a man seeking out beauty in the little details of the world, a man who wanted nothing more than to make others see that beauty too. But beneath this veneer was a lurking insanity. A second life. An insanity that made James dangerous not just to himself, but to the people he loved. It is something I fear: what if I snap and inflict the pain I sometimes want to exact upon myself on the people I love instead?
It’s an ugly truth that people suffering with mental illness can be abusive to those who try to help them. I've perpetrated this. I've also been a victim of it. And for a very long time I wouldn't let myself be in any romantic relationships because of my fears and self-hatred. So I wrote a second character: Jenny. Jenny embodies my worst fears about my mental health: the fear that my mental health issues could infect someone else; the fear that in destroying myself, I could destroy someone else. In the past, I’ve been exposed to people physically self-harming and it taught me two things: 1) that self harm is an illogical, powerful and uncontrollable compulsion which can strike at the most unlikely times and 2) that being exposed to self harm, whether you witness it or inflict it upon yourself, leaves you changed. Jenny and her relationship with James is my exploration of mental health issues, people's attitudes towards them, and their destructive nature.
I'm not a writer. I'm a blogger at best. And I've been very inconsistent at that. But I think, perhaps wrongly, that I have a duty to talk about my experiences and to try and help others. I hope to achieve two main things by producing "Phantom Pain":
- I hope that we manage to raise a lot of money for Mind, as we'll be collecting for them at our previews, as well as after each show in Edinburgh.
- I hope to challenge people's perceptions about mental health – by showing an audience just how complex and destructive mental illness can be, I hope to prevent them from ever having attitudes I've come across, such as "mental illness isn't a real problem" or "people who feel depressed just need to get laid more."
- John (Charlie)