Still The Same

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Something has been gnawing away at me the past week and I’ve been having a hard time articulating what exactly it is. The Toronto Fringe is on and my feeds have been flooded with emotional posts about the ups and downs of mounting a show, of the love people have felt when it’s received well, of the anger and abuse they feel when there’s an unfavourable review – the consistent thing is that everyone seems to rally around and declare their support;

“All Fringe shows deserve a 5 star review”

” This review was unfair, we need to all get out and support the show”

“I’m overwhelmed by the love and support I have received from everyone, thank you”

Looking at this you’d think we all exist in a very supportive, inclusive community.

We don’t.

I’ve written before about my shitty experiences with Theatre 20 and in particular, Brian Goldenberg, and doubtless some will read this and think I should let it go. The problem is, nothing has changed. At least, not for the perpetrators.

This year Brian has 3 shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival – a good friend of mine is acting in one of them, something this friend avoided telling me so as not to make things “awkward”. He knows the whole story. He was one of the first people I told, years ago, when this started. He doesn’t mind working with someone who knowingly discriminated against someone because of a mental illness and who thought that someone deserves to be fired if they try to assert their human rights.

This topic has come up several times in the past few days, while hanging around the tent, and I’ve been told by multiple friends that they know the story, believe me, but will not be saying anything or changing the way they interact with him because they’ve known him for a while and again, don’t want to make things “awkward”. Don’t want to cause any “trouble”. They support me, they’re just not willing to show that, or say that to anyone but me.

The same thing happened when I first wrote about this. I kept quiet for over a year, waiting until I had proof, posting the results of a legal hearing rather than sharing my own thoughts and feelings. I was right. That was proven, non-subjective. A lot of people read that blog. Quite a few sent me private messages and shared similar stories about the men in question. But no one from the community said anything out in the open. Nothing changed.

Around that time a reporter (someone who knows well and writes about the theatre) reached out to do an interview about it. I had hopes that, with this being published in something major, more would see it and maybe something would change. Delays caused it to eventually be dropped. I don’t blame him, he’s reached out a couple times to apologize, once quite recently. He said there may be something happening soon that could lead to him reviving the story – I hope so. But for now, nothing has happened. Nothing changed.

I saw Brian in the audience at a performance the other night, ironically for a show about a woman who struggles with anxiety and depression and eventually leaves her job because of it. Shows like this are celebrated because it’s “important to eliminate the stigma” around mental health, to recognize it as a serious, legitimate illness, to support those who are suffering – but here is a documented, proven case of discrimination having taken place in our own tiny community, and nothing has changed. He didn’t even bother to come to the hearing. It didn’t cost him his job, clearly hasn’t damaged his reputation. He did read the post, because he contacted the HRTO (with me cc’d) to accuse me (wrongly) of slander, so clearly he knows that this behaviour should be damaging, but his lack of recognition let alone an apology tells me he really doesn’t care.

None of this changed him, but it did change me.

I missed weeks of work leading up to the hearing, costing me money I couldn’t afford to lose, piling on to the already nearly unbearable stress I deal with from my anxiety, daily, I’m sure it damaged my reputation because whether it was justified or not, no one wants an employee who misses 3 weeks of work, and here we are, another year later, and I’m still feeling the residual effects. I question my importance to my friends, and whether there’s any point in confiding in them. I question the support of my community, and whether there’s any sincerity behind the daily posts about acceptance and inclusion. I question myself, and whether saying this will give me any peace of mind or just further isolate me. I question whether I want to be a part of a community that seems to be more interested in appearing inclusive and supportive than actually doing anything to achieve that.

It’s time for something to change.

When The Clowns Stop Laughing

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It’s a sad day when the comedians in the world stop laughing, stop telling jokes, and bend to the darker thoughts in their head. I was out with the No Visible Scars crew when we heard that actor/comedian Robin Williams had been found dead in his home, likely from suicide.

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As a kid who grew up in the 1990s, I naturally adored Robin Williams. He was the Genie in the first film I ever saw in theatres; Disney’s Aladdin. I grew up watching Patch Adams,  Mrs. Doubtfire, and when I was a teenager discovered his early classics like Mork and Mindy. He was clever and funny and played the sort of fun-loving dad every kid could look up to.

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This has been a month of a lot of personal loss; two friends have died (one from suicide) and two more are very sick. As I work on a play that centres on depression and suicide I can’t help but feel more affected than I’d like to. That’s probably why William’s death hit me so hard; he had a family, a great career, he was a comedian, one of the ones who is meant to make light out of dark and to inspire all of us to laugh it off and move on. And even he couldn’t manage it.

I’ve been saying it a lot as I work on No Visible Scars; depression effects so many more people than you’d think. It’s not just “emo” kids and poor people. It isn’t exclusive to any age, race, sex, religion – it can take a hold of anyone. His death certainly goes to show that.

“Each and every one of his in this room is one day going to stop breathing, grow cold, and die”

His famous line from Dead Poet’s Society is certainly true, but it’s not a process we need to be rushing along. His death was a waste of talent. A waste of a life. A selfish act that has affected his family, friends, and all who adored him. Don’t let that happen to someone you love. Don’t let that happen to you. Reach out before you lose someone. Reach out before we lose you.

-E.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story, IV

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When this team was put together, we had no idea how connected we all were to the subject matter of the play. I don’t know if we were all subconsciously drawn to it, or if it really is just a testament to how many people go through these sorts of things, but it’s only been through our late-night chats that we’ve come to realize that all of us connect with No Visible Scars on a very personal level. Here’s the fourth installment of our Real Life stories.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. Since the age of 10 there had been a steady decline, and it was around age 14 that I really started to feel I had nothing to live for, and made a few meager attempts at ending my life. There were, of course, ups and downs. And it’s difficult to explain to someone how, literally, one day you can be out with friends, fully functional and full of energy, and the next night be sobbing in your closet with a razor in your hand. It’s easy to get labelled a “drama queen” or “emo”, and so those of us with actual problems, not looking for attention, tend to keep things hidden. We push the pain down.

While I had struggled for a long time, it was about a year ago that I felt I had finally reached my limit. I felt abandoned by everyone who was supposed to love me. Once a straight-A-student, I was now barely passing my classes because I could not get over my anxiety about leaving the house; I spent most days lying in bed, trying to sleep because whenever I was awake I so desperately wanted to go out, but couldn’t. I felt immense guilt about skipping classes, skipping work, and there were the practical fears as well; how was I going to pay rent? Why was I throwing away thousands on classes I couldn’t attend? After a violently emotional breakup, I thought things had finally hit rock bottom.

I don’t remember very clearly what exactly happened. I do recall shoving a handful of various pills into my mouth, and, according to my roommate, I did this again sometime later in the day. The entire thing is a blur and I remember most glimpses of hallucinations, the sound of my roommate’s voice (but being totally unaware of what he was saying), and lying on my back (I later learned, in an ambulance), staring up at a bright light and shivering. When I woke up hours later in the hospital, I was greeted by an IV in my arm and a callous ER doctor who asked, “Are you going to kill yourself?” while shoving a piece of paper in my hand and sending me home. I slept through the next day.

Once I had my senses back, I still felt awful, but the pressure had subsided a bit. It was like a valve, letting off a bit of steam; I knew things would build again quickly. The piece of paper was a referral to a psychiatrist at the hospital. I don’t like psychiatrists. I always thought I’d like to be one but I never had any interest in seeing one, and my few past experiences with them had never yielded any positive results. But my roommate insisted. He saved me again. And so I made an appointment and a week later met with a very young, very understanding doctor who was the first to talk to me like a person, and not a mental patient.

She was ok with the fact that I rejected some forms of therapy (“too wishy washy”). And she was ok with me requesting medication because I knew I needed to get on track, fast. Basically, she was ok with all the (reasonable) things I said, and so I felt like I could talk to her and started actually looking forward to sessions. I left feeling better, which had never happened before. While this was considered a “crisis clinic” and so had a limited number of sessions available, it still helped. Depression can’t be cured in a matter of weeks or months, but with the right person that’s all the time you need to realize that things can get better. I got over some of my major anxiety issues and started putting myself out there again, finding new friends, new jobs and starting a new life. Now I’m writing from New York, where I’m working on a play. I have a fiancé I love, a house, and two baby birds. I am far from ok – I still get depressed, I still have anxiety, and I will likely need my medication for years to come. But I’m here. And things have gotten better. And they will continue to get better for me; they can for you too.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story III

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Tonight was the opening of No Visible Scars  at the Connelly Theatre. It went great and we were thrilled to have a few strangers in the audience! However, we always want more. So here’s our third true story that we hope will help connect the show to some of you. Again, stigmas hurt, and mental illness is closer than you think. Here’s another story from a part of our team:

Hi, I am part of this wonderful team putting on No Visible Scars. This show has a personal connection for me. I was Myranda Otter many years ago; I was a very unhappy 12 year old girl living life day by day. I was consumed by depression and the only option I saw was death. I had no hope, no plan, no friends and I thought, no family.
Growing up was not a particularly happy time for me. I’m not sure what caused it, perhaps it was all of my health problems, which prevented me from being outside and bonding with the other students during the winter months, but since the age of 6, I was ridiculed and bullied. I went through this right up until my graduation day from my elementary school; seven years of torture at the hands of all my classmates. Seven years of feeling worthless and less than a speck on this earth. Seven years of feeling unwanted, completely alone and always unhappy. Not even my sister would play with me. Those four walls were all I knew and they were closing in on me.

I remember one day in grade seven like it was yesterday. The confrontation began in the school yard and ended in the hallways of the school; me being surrounded by a bunch of girls pushing, punching, spitting, kicking and screaming at me. The teachers did nothing, my parents couldn’t do anything, so much was going on in my head and I just shut down. I came home, found the first bottle of pills, ran to my room and just shoved them all into my mouth. There was no future, there was just pain, just so much indescribable pain. I felt broken, not just physically, but mentally as well. There was a dark gloomy cloud over my head and I just wanted it all to end. Tears streaming down my face, I passed out. I woke up the next morning so unhappy. I was pissed that I had to face another day. That all my efforts were in vain and all I had to show for it was a very bad stomach ache. I felt betrayed, but something different happened that day.

At school we started our unit on the “art of speech making”. I poured my heart out in my speech about Martin Luther King Jr. His dream inspired my dream of a new life. From that speech, my teacher took me aside and said ” you should audition for the school musical, Robin Hood”. That was what saved me. God saved me. I was falling and he grabbed my hand and said, ” go on girl, sing!”  I found happiness on stage. Perhaps it’s the idea that I get to be someone else and leave this crappy life I was given for a moment. Or perhaps it’s the fact that once I got the lead in the musical, the bullying decreased. I believe that everything happens for a reason, that God never gives you more then you can handle.

When you feel like you have no hope, when you feel that you have no future, remember there is a new day ahead. You don’t know when it’s coming, but change will happen. You will leave those four walls, and I promise you it will get better. It did for me, and it will for you. Find your Robin Hood the musical. Be your Maid Marion and tomorrow will be a brighter day. Hang in there and remember someone loves you. If you think not, know that I do. God Bless and may the sun come up for you tomorrow.

Another story of hope. To see more, check out No Visible Scars. Remember, you’re not alone.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story.

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As I’ve mentioned before,  No Visible Scars is a play about mental health, depression,  suicide and hope. 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime,  and yet it is still highly stigmatized and rarely talked about.

In an effort to break down some of these barriers and minimize the stigma surrounding depression, the Promise Productions team has decided to share some of their real-life stories of depression,  suicide and hope.

To start things off, here is our technical director Craig A. Nelson’s own story.

     Hope is a wonderful thing. Yet certain events and circumstances in life can cause hope to diminish, even disappear completely. I’d like to tell you my story of how hope changed my life. During the years between 1998 and 2009 I abused my body with malnutrition, alcoholism and drug addiction. The human body can take a massive amount of punishment, but it can only take so much. I found myself at the limit of what my body could take and on January 6th, 2009, my body finally gave up.

During the years between 1998 and 2009 I abused my body with malnutrition, alcoholism and drug addiction… I found myself at the limit of what my body could take.

     I was diagnosed with Acute Necrotizing Pancreatitis and the Owen Sound Hospital I was in was doing everything in their power to keep me alive, with little success. Finally, I was transferred to St. Michaels Hospital in downtown Toronto where I was treated with the care that saved my life. I underwent a series of major abdominal surgeries, including a colostomy and other various drainage bags. Although my life was spared, I was still in really bad shape and the hospital was preparing a room in their long-term care facility where I was expected to remain for the rest of my days. This fate was not appealing to me at all, so I decided then to start digging for hope.
I made up my mind that I was not going to stay in the hospital until I died, rather I would start pushing myself to get stronger. It started with little walks from my hospital bed down the hall, then up a stair or two. It got to the point where the hospital was rethinking their plan to have me stay forever and now decided that I was ready to be discharged.

     I went to stay with my parents on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula. I would take daily walks down an old back road to a nice wooded area and then back again. On my way to the woods, I would pass an old farm gate. During one of my walks, I stopped at the gate and thought to myself, “I wonder if I could do a push up on that gate?”. It would be easier than doing a regular push up, but still, a virtual impossibility. I stepped toward the gate and placed my hands upon it. I awkwardly let myself down to rest my chest on the gate, clenched my teeth, closed my eyes and pushed with all my might. I could feel myself lifting off of the gate!!! I had done it!! I had actually done a push up. No matter how “girlie” it was, I did it!
The next day, I came back to the gate and dared myself to do two push ups this time. On the third day, I did three and so on until I was doing dozens of push ups on this old farmer’s gate. Today, I have made a full recovery and live every day to the fullest because you never know when your time will be up.

     There is hope in all of us. Sometimes that hope can disappear. It doesn’t ever leave the body, but becomes so far away that it seems absent. It’s in there though, waiting for us to start digging for it. If you dig and work hard enough, it can be found again, and that is the most hopeful notion there is.

Sometimes that hope can disappear… It’s in there though, waiting for us to start digging for it…it can be found again.

     Today, I am in the best shape of my life. I suffer no residual effects from my illness and require zero medication. I owe
it all to hope. Thanks for reading my story!!

Check out Craig’s technical designs onstage at the Connelly Theatre. No Visible Scars opens this Saturday;  check out the event page for details.

New York, New York!

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A little over a week ago I received an unexpected email from the head of Promise Productions, saying she had gotten my information off of the production resources contact list, and was looking for someone to stage manager her show that was headed to the New York Fringe. Initially I assumed she had contacted dozens of people, and that I wouldn’t stand much of a chance; how often in this business do we get a call asking us to take on a job, let alone one that will give us the chance to travel to the Big Apple? Yet, here we are! On August 2nd I will be traveling to New York to work on “No Visible Scars”, so expect lots of theatre updates as well as a lot of excited posts about all the stuff we’re seeing and doing in NYC!

Before we head out, we are doing a free preview performance of the show, July 30th, 7:00pm; all the details can be found on our facebook event page. Donations will be accepted should you want to help fund our NY production.

All for now!

-E.