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When you're a theatre student, everything is personal. It's impossible for it not to be because you feel everything you say and you, in turn, say what you feel.
During my time at college studying Acting we had an assignment: write and perform your own monologue. I am good at writing, I've done it all my life but for some reason, I couldn't write something that wasn't true. My (then) best friend was writing about an interrogation, someone else wrote about a man talking to his dead wife and one guy even wrote about making people cry from the perspective of an onion; but not me.
My creativity has always stemmed from the honest truth, but this time all I could write would bare my soul, so that is what I did.
Writing the piece was like I had opened a chest and the feelings kept pouring out onto the page. I don't think I even edited it all that much, it was just there.
Building the confidence to show my tutor my work so he could give feedback and points for improvement was torture but I did it. My heart was racing and my hands were sweating as he read it through slowly. What I wasn't expecting was for him to look at me after and ask if any of it was personal experience. "Some," I responded quietly. He had presumed as much. I got no notes, no points for improvement he said it flowed well and had an honest feel. A while later I had to leave the room as I lost control of my tears.
When it was performed, my fellow students said nothing. I doubt they thought it was the truth and if they did they had nothing to add. The class cried and praised the emotional monologue one girl recited about her little brother, but mental health, now we don't talk about that.
Only now, two or three years later, am I even scratching the surface of asking for help or helping myself. Schools are not equipped to act when a student shows signs of poor mental health and it needs to change. I will bare the soul of my 17-year-old self below and ask yourself: If a student presented this as their assignment, would you have cause for concern?
Yeah I’m fine. No really, I’m fine, I’m… I’m ok. That’s what you want to hear, right? Yeah ‘cause when you say ‘how are you’ to a person, it tends to be just a part of the script, the pleasantries expected of you when you greet a person. Do you really want to know? What if I wasn’t ok? Do you have the time to spare for me and my life or were you just being polite? Because imagine if I told you I wasn’t fine, maybe my Grandma is sick and it’s emotionally hard on me. But nah, that’s easy to deal with as well. A quick ‘oh no I’m sorry I hope she gets better’ and you’re in the clear. God forbid I start to dig a little deeper. What if I told you I hate the way I look? Would you tell me I’m wrong and that I’m beautiful? Well, sorry but I would appreciate the sentiment but I would just not believe you and start thinking about how much prettier you are and end up feeling even worse. Ha… Imagine I came out with how the reason I am always so tired is, yeah, I stay up really late but it’s because I hate the part of going to bed after turning off the light but before falling asleep because I feel so alone and I can’t stand the loneliness. Screw it; I still sleep with a teddy bear because it gives me something to hug in the void.
Too much? I’m weird right? You think I’m weird because you’re hearing what you didn’t expect to come out of my mouth. Good old smiley me! The smile that fades when no one’s around… Bet you wouldn’t expect me to tell you about the part of my childhood when I wanted to run away because I was convinced my mother didn’t love me. That she would say something every day without fail that made me think she hated me. You probably don’t want to hear about the times when I sit in my room and think about hurting myself, don’t see how it would help in the slightest but still have a strange urge to do it anyway.
I never like to talk about how I feel because I am scared I will just be labelled as an attention seeker. None of my problems are as bad as some of the people I know. Alcoholic mother, actual self-harm, diagnosed depression. I haven’t even got the right to call mine problems at all. But at the same time, if they aren’t problems then why do they affect me so much? How can nothing keep me up at night out of breath with my heart hammering and a nervous twitch in my leg that won’t stop no matter how hard I hit it. And no matter how hard my brain begs for it to stop, my fingers grip harder and harder on my skin until the nails leave a mark.
I recently thought maybe I was crazy. If I told you all this you would probably come to the same conclusion. But you would never hear, because I will never tell. I’m fine, remember?