Article, Guest Post, Mental Health and Disabilities, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s not manly to be gravely ill – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ review


Depression cuts across the genders, let’s get that straight first of all. But our society has shut off for men many of the methods and opportunities to seek help that are more readily available to women. It is not manly, apparently, to be gravely ill. Sharing with others your personal struggles and anxieties is not something that men can do easily, at least not without feeling that they are compromising themselves in the eyes of their peers.

Fake it Till you Make It (Soho Theatre, 23 September – 17 October) explored this problem. Written and staged by the performance artist Bryony Kimmings alongside her partner Tim Grayburn, a marketing consultant. The play is a biographical performance piece about Bryony and Tim, or perhaps about their relationship. Instead of viewing depression through the individual fighting an illness, the depression is seen in the shape through the destructive effect it can have on a relationship with family, friends, and in this case, partners. Bryony does not ‘take care’ of Tim as a pseudo-nurse, neither does she try to push him to get better one way or another. Instead, the play shows her struggling to keep on living as a mentally healthy individual in a relationship buckling under her partner’s illness, and for them to function normally as a couple without hurting Tim more than the depression already is.

Bryony offers the opposite experience. Raised with the cultural encouragement to open up and talk, combined with her career as performance artist, Bryony made a performance piece aimed to translate Tim’s feelings and for her, as well as an audience, to understand his illness better.

For those who feel like this might be, again, a story about a man and his various problems, perhaps it is important to consider that the narrative is a lesson in the harmful aspects of the stereotypical behaviour that men are pushed into. The main criticism on our culture’s treatment of depressed men comes in the lyrics of a song, “tell him never to talk about his feelings”.

Luckily, there were no stereotypical gender roles in this play. Both Bryony and Tim have full time careers, both carry on, for worse or for better, in those careers as the illness takes its toll.

Even so, I have to agree that it is a pity there is no counterpart to this play where a woman can narrate the effects of her depression. Although I do  agree with the observation made in the play that women have an easier time getting help. But then again, maybe getting help itself has a different impact on the life of women than on men: A woman taking time of work to take her mental health seriously could be at risk of losing a lot more momentum in her career, and damage to her reputation, than a man might. Taking time off from work is in general more harmful for a woman’s career. Also, women are taken less seriously in their ambitions.

The flip-side to the idea of people caring less if a woman gets ill and needs help, is how it shows that people care less if a woman gets ill and needs help. It illustrates how society underestimates the opportunities that are missed for any woman’s life and career to the time and energy spent on getting well again. A play looking at how a someone deals with this situation, maybe with the help of a caring and supportive partner of her own, would be interesting.

Mental health is increasingly becoming more of a point on the public agenda, and hopefully we will see more artistic attention to this issue from both male and female creatives.

This review was written by Saskia Rombach, an ex-King’s student in politics & an avid iFemSoc contributer. Fake It Until You Make It was shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well Soho theatre, and has plans to return to the stage again this year. 

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Reflections on Philip Seymour Hoffman By a Fan in Recovery. (TW: drugs, self harm, addiction)

submitted by An Anonymous Student of KCL

(Posted in the spirit of intersectionality covering those suffering from mental illnesses and the stigmatisation of said illnesses)

I still remember days when I marched around and around my bedroom, just to speed up my heart after shooting too much dope and then, once I finally felt back to normal, shooting up all over again. I remember the times I gave up on carefully searching for a vein and just started randomly stabbing myself in the arms and legs.. I remember the time my paranoid hypochondria convinced me that my heroin was anthrax-infected and I figured that, since I already had it, I might as well keep right on using it ‘til the next day when I’d see the doctor (I never saw the doctor but thankfully I hadn’t contracted anthrax either). I remember one time where I didn’t have any works so I just cut myself and rubbed the dope into the wound.

Above all, I remember all the times I swore I’d never let myself end up back in that position and then, I ended back up in that position. Every time I was certain I wasn’t as stupid this time, I knew the warning signs, I was more responsible, I had a live worth not fucking up now, I was just going to do a bit every now and again, just to take the edge off. I still ended up using again and again every single day, tripping over the lies, watching my money dissipate, along with my self-worth and confidence and relationships and future. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I never meant to hurt anyone. I didn’t even mean to hurt myself; I just wanted not to feel so sad. I work a program of recovery that could best be described as daily. An iPhone app informs me that I am currently 521 days clean. This is only partially true. Correctly put, I am 1 day clean, 521 times.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had 23 years of sobriety before he relapsed. When I was born, he got clean. Not long after I got clean at the same age he originally did, it seems he relapsed. It seems he started back on prescription pills and then moved onto heroin. I don’t know if those pills had been prescribed to him by a doctor or not, but I know that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, least of all himself or his three children who now no longer have a father.

Generally speaking, my relapses tended always to have honeymoon periods. Sometimes it’d be a week, sometimes a month, sometimes just a day, but there’d always be a period of time where I was getting high on a drug to which I wasn’t physically addicted and it felt awesome. It was an intense spring in my step. I think, when I first started doing heroin, it may have taken me 6 months of doing it every single day “without being addicted to it” before I realised that doing heroin every single day tends to mean you are addicted to it. In my darkest and most wiped out moments even now, I desire relapse, just to get that extra boost of energy. Call it addictive emotional quantitative easing. I don’t know how long he’d been using again before his death, but he’d been to and left detox less than a year before. The first year is often really tough. And, sometimes at some point in early recovery, there’s a moment. It’s the moment where the fear kicks in, you aren’t sure what you’re going to do with yourself and, even with 23 years of sobriety in your still recent past, your using feels more recent still and you opt for what feels most familiar. Trouble is, our tolerance thinks our using wasn’t all that recent and so, when we use an amount that once seemed modest, our face turns blue. That’s how we junkies usually die.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was quite possibly the greatest actor of his generation. Certainly in the West. I adored his films. Every one I’ve seen. From Synecdoche, New York to Mission: Impossible 3Happiness to Boogie Nights. As a committed cinephile, I considered not only the world, but my world richer for his presence and, beyond the poignancy I feel as a fellow sufferer of his disease, I feel a huge gap, knowing the incredible work he, at only 46 years old, still had yet to do. Not that they’re worth all that much, but he certainly had at least a couple more Oscars in him. More than that, though: he had his children to watch grow up. He had books to read. He had jokes to laugh at. He had tears to shed and songs to sing along to, badly, and arguments to have and friendships to renew and toes to stub and curtains to hang and remote controls to lose and ice creams to taste. Apparently his kids’ favourite was peanut butter swirl. People talk constantly about the “chaos of addiction.” That’s nothing! The chaos is in sobriety. Life is SO complex, you wouldn’t believe. And, my gods, it really is worth it. It means everything and nothing and it’s all we have. I became a Feminist in recovery because, for the first time, I valued life. I wanted to see it improve for others as well as myself. I saw the word through unfiltered eyes for the first time in a decade and I wanted to change what I could about what I saw.

Addiction is not about wealthy people with too much money to burn. It’s not about epic, operatic tragedies, built around tormented geniuses. It’s not about lacking willpower. It is not about idiocy. It’s about an illness that permeates all levels of society and kills many of us but can be fought and overcome.

The fact that I have thus far made it and he didn’t means very little, much in the same way that some people survive cancer whilst others don’t means very little. It doesn’t mean one didn’t fight hard enough or had a worse illness or lived a better life; to apply such judgements would be ridiculous and despicable. It just means that one died and the other hasn’t. Each time I hear about someone dying with a needle in their arm, all I can think is “they’re that thing I was a hair’s breadth away from being.” I wouldn’t dare assume I have 23 years of sobriety ahead of me, followed by 23 more; that sounds utterly daunting and alien to a junkie like me. All I can do is work to be clean today. Tomorrow, I’ll hopefully do the same.

For at least 10 years, I knew that I was never going to stop using drugs for longer than a matter of days. I knew that I was going to die by suicide, murder, drug overdose, or some combination. I knew that I wouldn’t make it to 21. Look at what I know today. Imagine what I’ll know tomorrow.

To anyone suffering from addiction or any mental illness that is destroying their life: you do not know your own value right now, but believe me when I tell you that you are worth getting help. You are worth being sober to find out who you are. You deserve to give yourself that chance. If you think you have a problem, there are people who can help and places you can go. You need not be alone.

My love to anyone who is reading this and my sincerest condolences to Philip’s friends and family right now.