A panto tale of self-esteem versus depression

This blog is about self-esteem. It’s about friendship. And it’s about a pantomime. Oh yes it is!

I have just finished a week-long run as Athos in our village panto production of The Three Musketeers. You might say it’s now BEHIND ME! Ho ho.

We’d been rehearsing twice a week since early September and it paid off – the show was a roaring success. Our audiences loved it and so did we. It was successful for me in a very personal way too.

Shortly after rehearsals began, my depression reared its ugly head and decided to make life difficult. It was nothing to do with the panto and I managed to keep going with the sword fighting, singing, dancing and acting, but I must have been on autopilot for a while. There was too much on my mind, and my confidence had slipped below zero. But this panto is a story with a happy ending. As I made my way home from our after-show party, I felt content. And, in the last couple of years, feeling truly content has been such a rare experience that I tend to write it down when it happens. “An after-show party,” I hear you say. “So you were drunk then.” Well no, not a drop of alcohol had passed my lips. Citalopram, the antidepressant I’m taking, doesn’t mix well with booze, and the last thing my jubilant panto chums would want is one of their musketeers passing out in the pub, or moping tragically in a corner.

So why the contentment?

It was a heady mix of positive things, but most notably I had enjoyed being me – the real me, the person who actually knows how to have fun and enjoy being in the moment, doing spontaneous things for no good reason other than it was funny at the time, and not worrying about everything.

During my depression, I’ve found this person rather elusive. I’ve found nights out overwhelming at times. Joining in with other people who are having fun has often been too daunting. I’ve had to give my apologies for various events, even the most minor and unthreatening of outings, because I just haven’t had the self-confidence to take part in them. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this party either. I knew it would be busy in the pub; full of excited, happy people, having a great time. I thought I’d probably drop in for a while, hang around the edges of the main throng, then say my goodbyes and mooch off.

But I underestimated the power of the party. I underestimated the special atmosphere that my friends – some of whom I’ve known for years and others for a very short time – could create. And I underestimated myself.

That’s not to say I went diving headfirst into the core of the revelry and danced riotously on the bar. In fact, the dancefloor remained as intimidating as always until well into the night. But I was enjoying chatting to everyone, and somehow relaxed (another unusual feeling) and got into the spirit of it all. The last half hour I was at that party was among the happiest I can remember for a long time. I sang at the top of my voice – not that there was much of a voice coming out by then – in the middle of the miniature dancefloor with my energetic panto buddies. Brilliant. And there were lovely warm hugs all round, and lots of kind words. I was part of the family. People liked me (hmm, at least I think they did – there are some good actors in our group…). Heck, I even liked myself!

It was the third time that week I’d proved myself wrong, and learned a valuable lesson in the process. Well, when I say I learned a valuable lesson, what I mean is that a valuable lesson I had already learned in my counselling actually sank in and meant something: don’t worry about the future; just concentrate on the present. On top of that, you don’t have to excel at everything. Just do the best you can at that time.

On Monday, prior to the opening night of the show, I felt completely flat. Everyone else seemed excited and couldn’t wait to get on stage. I was just worried and stressed out. The thing that made me worry most was the prospect of getting ill during the week. It had happened before – only once, but enough to give me something to worry about. Fact 1: I might not have got ill, so there was no point worrying about it. Fact 2: If I were to get ill, I’d just have to deal with it. But facts often vanish behind the black cloak of my evil alter-ego, Paul Brookes, who enjoys my worrying and fuels it with misgivings.

And I did get ill. From Wednesday to Friday, I woke up with no voice at all, and spent each day downing hot honey and lemon drinks, vitamin C tablets, fruit smoothies and various throat lozenges to give my voice a chance of doing the required shouting and singing each night. But fighting this throaty lurgy had a strange, unexpectedly positive effect. It made me forget about my nerves and worries and focus on each day, one at a time. Each time I got through a show, it felt like a great victory.

The next time I felt flat was in the hour before our final show. We’d done the matinee performance and that had gone well. I’d dashed home for some tea and a top-up of my various throat-soothing concoctions, and returned to the dressing room to get ready for The Big One – the Saturday night show. It’s done differently to our other shows. There’s a bar and cabaret-style seating around tables. Demand for tickets is so high that people start queuing before 7.30am on the day they go on sale – at 11am. The audience is especially lively, and on that particular day, at that particular moment, I was not feeling up to stepping out on stage in front of them. Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the dressing room was one of giddy excitement and hilarity. But not for me. I felt withdrawn, tired and lacking in va-va-voom.

Somehow, though, the mood passed, and the show was fantastic. I’d defeated the dark powers of Brookes for the second time that week. And then came the party. Paul Brook 3, Paul Brookes 0.

So thank you, Ebor Players, not just for being brilliantly talented, lovely people; not just for being great friends; but for doing more than you could have realised to give me back some of my self-esteem and confidence. All for one – and ONE FOR ALL!


4 Comments on “A panto tale of self-esteem versus depression”

  1. serena says:

    What a fantastic blog! I think you had better print this one out for bad days! I am a singer and this chimes very strongly with my own experience. One gift perhaps that can come from this crappy disease is the small victories – like managing to get through a performance, or managing to not only go to a party but even enjoy it – can be so precious. Congratulations!

  2. Ruth Kirk says:

    Hi, Paul, thanks for this blog, which arrived very handily this morning. Tonight I’ve got the major concert of the year with my recorder and singing consort, plus I’ve got the inevitable cold. The concert is followed by a Mediaeval weekend, with lots more singing and playing lined up, and I just don’t know how I’m going to cope. Putting out energy I don’t have, whilst also ill with an infection, is a big risk with chronic fatigue as well, so I’m definitely anxious about it all. The plan is to rest all day, do the best I can at the concert, then re-evaluate everything tomorrow. Anyway, sorry to bang on about myself. How are YOU doing at present? Love from Ruth XXX

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Ruth. I think your plan sounds just right, particularly the resting. Look after yourself – and you can only do your best. I have a minor cold, so am just hoping to keep it off my throat ready for a week of panto performances, kicking off with dress rehearsal on Sunday…
      Hope your weekend works out really well.
      All the best

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