Today is World Mental Health Day, so after spending three months on the road this year with Declaration, Sarah has written this blog about what it was like touring a production which speaks so honestly about your own.
I can’t quite believe 3 months have passed since the end of the tour. I feel really sad it’s over. My brain and body definitely needed a rest by the end of the tour, but I felt like I wanted to keep going, which I didn’t expect. Carrying such a physical and emotional solo piece tires and wires you in a whole new way. I actually thought I’d be calling out for a rest after talking about my own, very personal, mental health experiences for months to thousands of people, but I actually finished the tour feeling like I wanted to do more!
Don’t get me wrong, it was a rollercoaster. On some days I went from excited to panic to excited about it all just in a morning! I have been keeping a diary on tour and throughout the process and found I wrote in it, and needed it less than I thought I would, but I think that it works in the same way to the Wellbeing Contract we wrote; we had a clause that allowed me to pull cancel or stop the performance early if my mental health wasn’t up to it. I never used the clause, but having it and knowing that I had the safety net of it made it easier to do it. My diary came into every dressing room and sat ready if I needed it.
“I woke up at 4am in a panic. It took me ages to feel ok. Today feels tough. I feel really emotional and nervous. It feels like so much has been building up to this and now, if I’m honest, I’m a bit shit scared.”
I used it a lot to be honest about feeling scared and to take a step back and be able to look at things pragmatically. It definitely helped. The more I told my diary and the team if I was finding it tough, the easier it became to come through the other side and be ready for a performance. I learnt that really on in the tour.
Before any performance I always get really nervous, and so telling your own personal story adds a whole new layer to that. I did have a little panic of sorts – a nervous wobble before every performance, but knowing that I always had that cancellation clause allowed me to differentiate between my performance nerves and negative thoughts.
There was only one performance on tour which came close to cancellation; I wasn’t able to calm myself on my own and didn’t know if I would be able to in time. Having a core team who I knew would come together to support and reassure me helped me put my mind at ease, see the nerves for what they were and use them productively. It took a little while longer to get my head ready to start the performance and we started 5 minutes late (which I’m certain the audience didn’t even notice but for me, I kept beating myself up over those 5 minutes for weeks!) and that performance ended up being on of my favourites of the whole tour! Knowing that I could go forward with the support of the team rather than just ‘getting on with it’ enabled me to make sure that I was fully comfortable and able to put both feet first and really be present in each performance.
A tour routine also helped. Anyone who tours will have their own routine – home comforts they pack, a series or set of books they binge watch, but what is also common on tour is long days, late nights, irregular eating times, disturbed sleep patterns and travel fatigue. That makes touring sound awful but I love it! I get a bit of a thrill from being in a different place and meeting new audiences and finding that every theatre is very very different! On tour I needed to make sure that I was well both mentally and physically and so I tried to take care of myself and get into a healthy routine. My diary was part of that. I made sure I ate at least one hot meal per day and ate fruit daily. Like clockwork I left the space and team and went to my dressing room at the same time every evening, turned off my phone and got my head together and my body warm. I decorated every dressing room (they varied from a 50 people dressing room to a make shift one in an office!) with all the good luck cards I had been sent. Every time I had a wobble I read them and it helped remind me why I was doing the tour, why I wanted to tell my story.
I know from experience that I was moved and inspired by your performance so I can guarantee that you will reach out and touch someone in your audience right at the time in their life that they need it the most. Be brave, be strong, breathe and don’t forget to smash it!
And remember you’re not alone, we’re all in your corner holding the sheet to catch you.
After each performance I came out and met some of the audiences. The wellbeing space called SPACE enabled people to think and reflect on their own situations and needs and so most of the conversation with audiences didn’t feel exposing, they felt like wonderful, supportive, understanding conversations. Most people started by thanking me for being so honest about myself and what ADHD is like for me. Parents, teachers, siblings, grandparents told me about how hearing my story has helped them understand the people in their life with ADHD that they had previously struggled to understand and connect with. ADHD is a complex condition and we’re all different but there are always fibres and experiences that connect us all, and so it was great to meet others and share coping mechanisms and words of hope with each other.