Friday, 6 June 2014

Meet Me In The Sandpit


I think we all stop growing up in nursery school. Somewhere between the sandpit and the finger paints. 

I stopped at the dressing up box. I continued straight into a career in theatre and I have been escaping reality as best I can ever since. I have a good few friends who make a living out of the plasticine and crayons corner ( they get to call themselves artists) and I have come across many content people who sustain their adult lives tipping and tapping away with the toys in the mechanical activity cupboard. Architects , designers and programmers.

I do worry about the slightly unsure, runny nosed kids hanging around the edges of everyone else's activity. They don't really get into anything and drip about getting tangled in the aprons at the messy play table. There's always one suffering an enforced vegetarian lifestyle from its well meaning alternative parents, who looks permanently pale and isn't allowed squash. Sometimes, they don't have televisions at home, and cannot casually contribute to topical playground banter - like discussing the benefits of Upsy Daisy's inflatable skirt. I'm not sure what they grow up to be.

Our lives with “what I want to be when I grow up”. We are all heartily encouraged to become astronauts, prima ballerinas, fairies, wizards , lion-tamers and, currently Elsa and / or Anna from Frozen. When we're older and a dose of reality finally drops in, we probably get a more practical idea of what we might like to do. We gradually create a projected future for ourselves. It may be something general or specific – a career in fashion, or a mad urge to be a model. But how far does our actual path diverge from the perceived adulthood we dreamed of so passionately before we started shaving ? Our hearts may be set on medicine and the riches consultant surgeons rake in, but we may end up as the hospital janitor instead.

Now many people end up living a far better lives than they ever hoped for. Others are genuinely content with where they are. But there are simply oodles of disillusioned, jaded, resentful, complacent, cynical, frustrated, trapped, fearful people who mourn with bitterness a road they didn't take. They stick in a rut of necessity, stacking shelves or pushing pens around their accountancy desks wishing that they were in the merchant navy or teaching English to children in an Amazonian tribe. Their mental state is not one of illness. That may or may not be a separate issue. Their mental state is one of disconnection. A disengagement from what gives life meaning. Living with a void in one's soul makes for a hollow life.

When I had my first nervous breakdown 16 years ago, I was living a life very far removed from one which fed my soul. I had started my career playing in the dressing up box as I had faithfully promised my 5 year old self I would. I did become an actress. But after a car accident, I decided a reliable office job in the acting industry would pay the bills and be more sensible. So I became an agent instead. I was caught up in a manipulative, cold, calculating business world and what I really wanted was fluffy hugs, applause for being creative and possibly fairies everywhere.

So off I went in search of the meaning of life. I got into New Age books and courses, healing and crystals, auras and chakras, reiki and flower essences, the third eye and the fourth dimension, earth ascension, star beings, angels and goddesses in Glastonbury. I discovered that apparently I was Guinevere in one past life and a happy Russian peasant in another. I don't think there have been many happy Russian peasants, so I am quite proud of that. Basically, I immersed myself into anything and everything I could in search of a sense of meaning and purpose because the parasitic, deeply unfulfilling nature of my job demanded that I be a person completely removed from the dictates of my heart and soul.

These two worlds pulled me in opposite directions until I snapped. This was my trigger. Over the edge I went and landed in hospital. Within a couple of days there, it was decided that I was bipolar. From fine and functioning ( supposedly! ) to mentally ill in a matter of about 48 hours. I have had 10 episodes over the years when my bipolar has gone cosmic and catapulted me back into hospital. My daily life is a breathtaking circus of moods, energy swings interspersed with doses of crippling depression. This trigger was the start of a life which revolves around managing my mental illness.

I still love the dressing up box but I don't need to be doing exactly what 5 year old me said I ought to do. However, I do need to be doing what 5 year old me meant. 5 year old children know what feels good and what makes them glad to be alive. It might be jelly, swimming with dolphins or making ice palaces with your thoughts. The point is when you ask a 5 year old what they want to be when they grow up, they are actually just telling you that they want to be happy. So all you have to do when you grow up , is try and figure out what the hell that is. Make it easy for yourself and don't listen to anyone else. You can spend money on life coaches and gurus until you're blue in the face. You will make them very happy. Try taking yourself off autopilot and revisit the playground. I did and realised that I just want to be creative and feel appreciated for it. Bingo. It wasn't rocket science.

I'll meet you by the sandpit and you can tell me what you're up to.


Thank you once more to the exceptionally talented Diana Muller for kind permission to use her illustrations. She very cleverly makes her living in the art corner.