“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

Madeleine L’Engle

On attending a show at Whitley Bay Playhouse, I just happened to spot the poster for Alice in Wonderland: The Musical and I think that I literally jumped for joy with pure, childish excitement! I’ve loved Alice in Wonderland for well over ten years now with my obsession starting when I read the book whilst a sectioned (detained under Section 2 of the 1983 Mental Health Act) inpatient of a psychiatric hospital. I almost immediately discovered just how beneficial the level of imagination used in the plot was for my ability to use reading the book as the opportunity for some emotional and psychological escapism. It provided me with the chance to really block out my environment and, actually, my entire situation. It afforded me this amazing skill to just fully immerse myself in Wonderland, become engrossed in Alice’s adventure, and really become invested in each of the hysterical, but seriously wise, characters. So –with my love for Musicals also in mind – seeing this poster was incredibly exciting and I genuinely pulled my Mum along to the Box Office and bought tickets. Then, I came home and contacted Immersion Theatre to pitch the idea of this piece being a collaboration and I’m so honoured to have received a ‘yes!’ and to have been given the opportunity to actually have a chat with two of their cast.

So, I’ve put together this post full of snippets from my chat with Chris Laishley who plays the Mad Hatter and Meg Matthews who plays both the parts of the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts, as well as a few bits about how I relate to three of my favourite quotes from the Alice in Wonderland story…

QUOTE #1: “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”

Recently, I was talking to a friend about her starting therapy, and something came up that I said it might be worth telling her therapist that this was something I noticed she tended to do – that, because of her past, she could take a relatively insignificant instance and blow it into something a lot larger. And I more than willingly admitted that I genuinely think that the only reason I can pick out and spot or observe that type of action or behaviour, is because it’s something I think that I’m actually guilty of doing myself! Like, a lot!

I feel like being great at giving advice but terrible at taking it yourself – is actually a really common difficulty that many people struggle with, and I think that this is largely because it’s so incredibly easy to show a better understanding and (ironically) insight(!) of a situation when you’re not the one who is actually in it! I mean, there have been so many instances when I’ve spoken to someone – like my Mum – who has been outside of a situation and asked what I should do about something, only to be given advice that is so simple, easy, and straight-forward that it leaves me questioning how I didn’t just think of that myself! It reminds me a bit of when I first started undergoing Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and we were taught all these safe and healthy coping skills to use in replacement of using self-harm or other negative and risky methods for dealing with difficult things. The two which help me the most are self-soothe and distract. Now, how on earth had I never thought to do something nice for myself or to engage in a hobby or some sort of activity rather than ending up doing something I very obviously didn’t enjoy nor greatly benefit from, and which I tended to even regret doing afterwards?! Like surely if you hate what you’re doing then you desperately search for an alternative?

So, I think that the answer to this is firstly, that for the self-soothing side of it; I was so convinced that I didn’t deserve anything even remotely positive in life. I mean, I honestly didn’t think I was worthy of anything but pain and – ultimately – death. That was a mindset I had to really work hard on through DBT and the most effective way I came through this was by considering what I would say if a friend came to me with this experience and these thoughts and feelings. What would I advise them to do? What would I say to them and how would I support them? And so, eventually, I developed (and have managed to maintain) the recognition that I didn’t deserve what happened to me, I wasn’t to blame or in any way responsible for it, and I don’t deserve to keep punishing myself the ways I am and suffering in the ways in which I am.

QUOTE #2: “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

When my mental health first became poorly, it was very much about the trauma/abuse and rape, and so, whilst my head felt like such a scary place to be; my thoughts and feelings around being suicidal and engaging in self-harming made sense to me. Like, I understood that I felt this way and had these thoughts because of what had happened to me and because of all my thoughts and feelings around that. I felt I could pinpoint the cause… But, for my new symptoms and this whole ‘psychosis’ kind of experience and difficulties, I feel at a complete loss if I’m asked the think of the catalyst on it. Or even, just to determine what has triggered or worsened an episode or an hallucination.

Being a Blogger, I’m often complimented on my writing abilities and have very often been referred to as ‘articulate’ and so I think it is understandable for me to say that I really enjoy and benefit from the feeling of being able to understanding something. I like to be able to have a name or definition for something – it’s one reason why getting a diagnosis is useful to me and my mental health because I find it comforting. For me, to be given a diagnosis symbolises that other people have gone through something similar to my own experiences and this makes me feel less alone and more reassured that there’s help and support available and therefore a possibility you can come out the other side.   

Since these psychosis symptoms first begun last year though, things have stopped making sense though, and – in all honesty – I haven’t felt very much hopeful since that change. It’s the weirdest thing though because when I’m having these psychotic beliefs and intruding thoughts, they actually seem to make all the sense in the world because I’m 110% convinced that whatever they are/say is incredibly true. Even when it sounds sort of distant and farfetched. Even when it doesn’t believable. I believe in it. And I guess that’s the bit that doesn’t make sense; that you can experience something or hear something, know it isn’t true, but believe it wholeheartedly anyway. As though the scariest and hardest thing in the world would be to question it and to try to cast doubt on things. But still, that – finding the absolute truth and reliability in everything – is something that you so desperately want.

QUOTE #3: “If you don’t think, you shouldn’t talk!”

This quote felt pretty perfect in regard to the three recent complaints I’ve had to put in against my local NHS mental health Trust: one against their psychiatric hospitals and two against two separate members of their Crisis Team staff. I mean, especially the two with the Crisis Team because it was literally exactly what happened – both staff spoke without thinking (or, at least, according to both staff they had said what they said without thinking!).

I actually my second (and final) complaint response back just the other day and was told the staff hadn’t even been due to log onto her shift until a while after my call so she hadn’t really been ‘prepared.’ My thoughts? Maybe don’t answer a bloody phone call about a mental health crisis until you’re ready to!! Like, how the hell was it worth the risk? Like, how could she possibly think ‘I’m not ready to talk to someone yet, but I’ll answer the call anyway because surely what I say won’t matter that much?!’ Surely, working for such a team, you have a really natural understanding and knowledge that even in the role of a ‘Call Handler’ you’ll do important work. I mean, you don’t take on a job like that without having an appreciation for the role the Crisis Team play in so many people’s lives; and doing that, should mean you therefore recognise the importance of being prepared to answer calls when you start answering them.

Then, with the response for the other complaint against the Crisis Team, it was written that they felt staff would benefit from ‘education intervention’ to help callers feel validated and not dismissed and that the team are empathetic. Now, surely you hire people for a mental health crisis team based on them naturally having those qualities (empathy, validating, a good listener)? Like, surely you don’t take people on who you think ‘they could do with some training to be better for the job, but we’ll hire them anyway?’ The whole thing stinks of irony that I learnt to take responsibility years and years ago from constant and consistent lectures from the Crisis Team, and yet they’re the ones failing to do so now!

And, finally, here's the video from the entire day:

*Photography: DW*

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