This story is from a participant in our Atlantis project in 2021.
It Put A Glow In Me
One thing I would like to go down on paper is a massive ‘Thank you’ to Rowan. I was withdrawing and withdrawing, my usual behaviour. I was in a café, having a cup of tea, and Rowan was there with a few other people, talking about Atlantis. I couldn’t help but look over, and Rowan caught my eye. She stopped what she was doing and sort of bee-lined for me and said, ‘Right, we’re doing this, Atlantis, I want you to be in the chorus, it’s nothing massive, it’ll be a lot of fun.’ Rowan did dupe me slightly! I had no idea it was gonna be a show, and people would be coming to it and there’d be audiences. But she had a way of just drawing me in and making me feel comfortable and safe. I knew my illness would not want me to go, but I said ‘Yes.’
As soon as I walked in that studio, it just felt really nice. The people there were so friendly. Straight away, I could just feel a certain energy in that room – it didn’t matter what I did, I could’ve tripped over and fell flat on my face, and everyone probably would have laughed, and I just would have laughed with them. At no point did I feel like I was being judged for my failings in any way, which was quite foreign to me. My awkwardness walking into a room is overwhelming, but that room managed to drag me in. My brain’s a bully, and they started beating that bully away. That warm, happy feeling, it was an emotion that I’d forgotten about. I’ve been so down for two or three years. It was very overwhelming, but a wonderful, beautiful feeling.
We sat down in a circle and did something that I didn’t believe I was capable of, even when I was at my best as a human being: we did a reading of the script. I put my hand up and said, ‘I’ll take a character, I’ll read.’ Now, I suffer from dyslexia quite badly, so the thought of reading out in front of people should have petrified me, but it didn’t, it excited me, another emotion that I had not felt for a very long time. I just felt like it doesn’t matter if I mess up, no one in here is going to judge me. I read maybe a paragraph or two, which might not seem a lot but to me that’s an immense amount. And not only did I read it, I managed to inject a character into it. We were sitting in a room, people reading these different characters and then me chiming in, and suddenly it becomes something, the story started coming to life. It was just such an amazing thing; it was so much fun. And the laughter which started happening, I hadn’t experienced being in a room with people chuckling for so long. It put a glow in me to be part of something like that. That first day, I really sort of got this bug.
There was so much going on, so much sound, so many visuals, which would usually bombard my senses and I can’t handle it. But everything was taken care of – there was food, there were safe spaces for me to go. That doesn’t happen out in the world, if things get too much out there, I have to run home as quick as I can, get back to my safe space. Whereas there, if I had these feelings, it was built in, ready for you. If you’re going to slip, if you’re feeling vulnerable, if everything’s getting too much, there’s someone and there’s somewhere which can cope with that for you. That was massive. And to have that explained to everybody as well, so it wasn’t just for you, you know, there’s other people there who’ll need that – that made me feel not alone, not the odd one sticking out.
I still had those moments when I had to get away from people, but I was made to feel that I was still safe. The unfortunate thing is that every day I’d come home at the end of it all and assassinate myself. Analysing how I conduct myself, how I speak with people, what I said, have I upset anybody, should I have done this? Should I have done that? Done this wrong, done that wrong. I’d spend all night, the entire night, just assassinating myself. But as soon as I walked back into those rooms, there was just this feeling of a cuddle, like the room was a big cuddle. So it’s alright.
I came in for a chorus but then I got all these other roles helping. I could push boats, I could push coffins! I pushed a lot of things on and off stage. I love that responsibility. I thrived on it. For me, it was otherworldly. We all got to where we had to be on time, we all knew what we needed to do, and then we went and performed. We had that professionalism, but also that wonderful air of camaraderie and fun. A perfect recipe. I had no time to think about my problems or things that have happened in my life. All of the horrible stuff which spends most of the day in my head, it was out. For the first time in a long time, I was actually just sort of living in the moment, and the moment was glorious, it was beautiful.
There’s a point in the play when four of us have to run all the way around the outside of the building – out of the back, round by the bus stop, through the fire exit, back into the wings of the stage. People are performing, so you have to be quiet, there can’t be a trip or stumble. We’re all in this very tight, dark space, black curtains all around, and there’s a coffin in there. Every night we had to really hold our laughter down because it was just so funny trying to manoeuvre in that space with four people, get Jenny in the coffin, Martin has gotta have the mop, then where’s the bouquet of rubber gloves gone. It’s just thirty seconds of madness going on, which nobody could see or hear, and we were giggling like schoolkids. Then the curtain would come back, and we were in a funeral scene, so we would have to deadpan suddenly. There was a little curve ball like that every night, which we had to get through, but we did. And then the curtain would come down. And all of us turn around and go, ‘The wheels stopped… I couldn’t see the thing… I know!’ All of that pressure, making everything work, just sort of deflated, and it was just energy, talking and communication, which I usually struggle with massively, but it was so natural. It was all-absorbing and everything else just dissolved away.
Every one of those people just filled me with hope. Those actors were absolutely amazing. I could understand people in that profession being sort of snobby about it, or not necessarily snobby, but protective. You know, they could have easily said, ‘It’s my profession, I’ve worked hard at it, you want me to act along somebody here who can’t even go to Sainsbury’s without having a panic attack?’ But they just seemed to take it in their stride, and helped me to grow and gave me confidence. There was never a ‘them’ and ‘us’, it just seemed like such a family group, so early on. Those actors sort of opened up another world.
Theatre is kind of a fit, it feels like, for me, because I’m quite multi-skilled, doing building work, carpentry, cabinetmaking and all of this kind of stuff. So those different facets of what I used to be capable of – what I believed I was no longer capable of – they’re good in the theatre, there are so many different aspects. And they made me see that I am definitely capable of certain things. It really stirred something in me. Even the acting side of things, directing, you know, the lighting, the making of sets and all of that, just grabs me, I want to do it all!
If I could eventually get myself back into the world, to do something like that would be sort of dream territory. Atlantis has already been that building block, it’s given me the foundation to hope. I find it just absolutely baffling and bewildering how you can walk into a room and be nurtured in such a way. I never would have thought that was going to happen to me, actually. I thought I would feel like, ‘No, you’re not worthy to fit in with these sorts of people,’ you know, but this just broke that wall down. It’s the best medicine.