Sunday, 15 May 2016


The current tabloid hounding of actress Sheridan Smith has made me very uncomfortable. This year the British documentary 'Amy' won an Oscar and brutally showed how a talented young woman was celebrated and then eviscerated by the press, media and public. Graham Norton in that film is seen mocking Amy Winehouse on TV calling her "a mad person" - admittedly in a sequence of chat show hosts and comedians that the director, Asif Kapadia has said could have lasted 30 minutes. I'm sure Graham is aware of the sequence in the film, I wonder if he has seen it and what he thinks now. Of course hindsight is 20\20 but its not as if Amy Winehouse was a person coping well with fame , her relationships and her career who could just 'take it'. Her end when it came was tragic but hardly unexpected.

So I do wonder if he thought for a moment before he (and his scriptwriters) made a quip about Sheridan's recent well publicised problems whilst starring in 'Funny Girl' in the West End. Particularly as she was in the room at the time, which of course brings out the old cliché "well if you're in the public eye like that you have to expect these things" but do we? Would you say that to a normal member of the public, would you be so cruel to their face poking fun at their inability to cope in their workplace?

I would recommend listening to the Parish Counsel podcast hosted by Terrance Dackombe and Juliet Harris  in which they echo some of the same thoughts that I have on mental illness, the press etc. but put it far more eloquently than I ever could

Juliet discusses her own struggles with similar pressures in her life to succeed and plough on despite it damaging her well being and health. "(Wo)man up, knuckle down, pull yourself together etc". In the celebrity culture there are so many examples of people who just didn't know how to stop or thought that they couldn't.

Juliet also mentioned the actions she made to cope or deal with the pressure she as under and its this that I would like to throw around here.

Unless you have had to deal with anxiety conditions and depression you have no idea how tiring it all is, how many barriers you put up and different coping mechanisms you put in place to just get through a day.

While at University I often found it hard to walk the 500 yards from our student house to the local pub on my own. I used to take the back way so people couldn't see me taking forever to get there, turning around to walk back, hyperventilating then turning round again to get a bit further down the road. Looking back I am amazed that I didn't have a full mental breakdown at University. I did it all without the support and medication that keep me fairly level these days.

These are just a few of the coping mechanisms I have used over the years

- carrying plastic bags in case I was violently sick
- sitting on ends of aisles in cinemas, gigs for ease of escape
- sitting near the door in rooms/ meetings / lectures for the same reason.
- looking up location of local hospitals on satnav near to where I am working / staying or the event I am attending
- making excuses to avoid eating out and going without food all day before a stressful situation

But most of all lying, lying, lying - to my family, my friends, my employers and of course myself. Not maliciously or in way that they would notice or even care about but just in order to cope with life.
It becomes routine and "normal" after a while and once it's in place that habit is hard to break. It works, it feels safe, the endorphins are released when you run from a situation and the adrenaline tides you over. However your life becomes smaller and smaller until it is a single room with the TV as your window to life.

For me it came to a point where I couldn't use those well worn techniques anymore, they didn't work in the real world of work, responsibility and relationships like they had in the more lax and carefree student days. So therapy and residential care beckoned. I managed to stop before it got too far - I'm lucky I had both the money and support to do that.

You have to wonder sometimes what would have happened if people like Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis felt that they could just stop for a while, take a break and decide how to make things better for themselves. Yet the press and public appear to see those in apparently privileged careers as stronger and more able to cope with pressure and personal tragedies that bring the rest of us to our knees. Sheridan is apparently taking a break and I hope she gains strength from it and perhaps a way of living that is better for her and perhaps let the bizness not dictate to her anymore.

Sometimes just coping isn't enough as the fork in the road leads to bad or good outcomes and it's hard to know which is best to take.

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