Writing, devising, and acting in a piece of theatre that actively explores the underlying struggle of anxiety and depression in young people is no easy feat.
For the past six months I have been working on a show that delves into what it means to feel loss and panic on a deep, soul-suffocating level, but with no easy escape.
So often the kind of “entertainment” that tackles the topics of mental illness and even the mental health of people reveals storylines to be cheap and characters are left with a surface-level understanding of what it means to be in the struggle where your mind takes over your body in alarming, yet normal ways.
The normalization of the conversations surrounding mental health is something I know the folks here at Wear Your Label are striving toward, something that drew me to them immediately as likeminded people - a tribe of sorts.
The wonderful thing about the tribe here at Wear Your Label is that we’re always welcoming people to join us in removing the stigma, embracing our humanity in whatever small or large way you choose. By owning your health – physical, mental, emotional, all-encompassing – you are joining us in our efforts to band together for the better of everyone’s health.
The latest effort I’ve made has been a short play titled “Things We Lost” that had a run at the theatre at my acting school here in London. After finding myself performing for Canadian audiences, moving across the ocean to work alongside artists from all backgrounds has taught me much more than I anticipated about how different we all are in approaching the conversation about mental health. Writing with a British audience in mind, they aren’t as direct or straightforward when talking about emotions or mental struggles, but I made a conscious effort not to let that hold me back from sharing my personal connection to taking care of my own mental health along with my observations from witnessing the journey others have taken - not to mention I do not mean to blanket coat all British people with this statement.
A simple yet telling struggle so many of us face but often feel awkward talking about is not being able to breathe “normally” due to our brains getting the better of us, taking over our bodies in troubling ways. This became a through-line for the entire play – how often converting oxygen into carbon dioxide in a way that doesn’t interfere with our minds and bodies is an accomplishment for the day. This led into writing a scene where a young woman has a panic attack onstage, an acting feat of which I will forever remember as one of the most rewarding moments of theatre for me, with her friend talking her through it over the phone through a visualization exercise. The scene wasn’t heightened to make the attack more or less than what it was, there was no dramatization or shaming of the attack, just sharing it for what it is: something so many of us experience or have experienced.
This then led into two more scenes of therapy sessions with a young man articulating his feelings of loss, grief, and rage, indignant over the loss of his best friend. The audience became the therapist, the one he confides in, grapples with, and in turn has the opportunity to connect his words to their own experiences.
As storytellers, no matter the field you are in, we have the power to change industries
As storytellers, no matter the field you are in, we have the power to change industries bit by bit to share how young men can be articulate about their feelings instead of being painted as angry and shut down. We have the power to show how young women aren’t always chatty and know exactly how they feel all the time. We have the power to pump stories into the world that show people for exactly what they are: beautifully complicated, complex, blood-pumping human beings who don’t always have the answers.
To fellow artists – never let your fear of doing it “wrong” keep you from starting
To fellow artists – never let your fear of doing it “wrong” keep you from starting, especially when there’s always a chance someone will connect to your work and feel a little less alone. I promise it’s worth every anguished moment slaving away to compose what you feel is right to share with people. The power we hold in our own experiences, our own stories, to help each other is more potent that what we realize. There will be people who do not understand your struggle, I know I had people who did not understand my experience or show any interest in understanding it who were heavily involved with my project, but you must not let this discourage you. See it as an opportunity so that we do not lose more voices that can be used to support and care for each other. You are important. Your story is important. Your voice is unlike any other on the planet – let it out. Your voice could be the one that really saves someone.
Written by Campus Rep, Allie Ingalls