Before the play had even started, the howling vocalization practices coming from the actors as they prepared to go on stage reminded me of my first disrupted night on a psychiatric ward.
Little did I know I was soon to be thrust back into my vivid memories of psychosis and relive the nightmare that happened to me…and just as I did before, I brought my parents along with me for the journey.
This production depicts a couple, one suffering with bipolar, before and during a manic episode. The scenes switch chaotically between their home to A&E to inside a hospital where Eve, the protagonist, has been sectioned. Her distorted thoughts include an intense paranoia that “they”, she says pointing to the audience “are watching her” immersing our very selves into the theatre of her hallucinations.
“In Search of Myself”– the title explains how lost one can get in their own thoughts throughout an episode of mania, but another person is also included in her anxieties. Eve and Jim discuss their unborn child, touching on themes of perinatal mental illness, which Eve has a great insight into and one of her concerns is passing her condition onto her child. I myself have been warned of the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth that come with bipolar disorder and to be honest, it scares the hell out of me.
We never see the face of the psychiatric worker asking questions to Eve and Jim in a monotonous tone; they stand in the corner with their back to us holding a clipboard and script. This illustration of the system could be how Eve sees it- colourless and uninteresting in comparison to her grandiose ideas. Or it could be representative of our own NHS and public sector mental health organisation, where social norms are medicalised and clinical procedure frequently overrides holistic approaches.
“It was the look in Ali’s eye that scared me”- my Dad believes that no role-playing could ever replicate the fear that had consumed my head that day. Mum, on the other hand, sobbed uncontrollably into my shoulder once the play had finished as for her it had obviously brought back distinct recollections of my illness. This is a huge compliment for the actors, but mainly for Benedetta Basile, the writer and director, who based the script on a friend who has bipolar.
To capture the suffering caused by this disease of the mind and portray it on stage so precisely, one must have closely and painfully supported a loved one. In Search of Myself encourages me to understand the frustrations and anguish of the carers as well as the person with the condition, not least because it brought tears to my mothers eyes as well as my own. Mental illness affects so many more people than the person with the diagnosis and Basile’s aim of the play is to provide a conversation around it to help everyone involved. Well done, you achieved just that.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2018. I will be posting daily blogs and videos. Please “like” and “follow” my blog and subscribe to my YouTube channel for vlogs. Help end the stigma by wearing a green ribbon and start up the conversation around stress and mental illness. Happy MHAW2018! @ali_blatcher