Enjoyment returns to centre stage

One little thought really encapsulates the progress I have made in the past year in my fight with depression. I was getting ready for the matinee performance of my pantomime and I thought “This is the show I’m really looking forward to”.

That little thought stopped me in my tracks. Rewinding to any point in the previous two or three years, ‘looking forward’ to anything was an alien concept to me.

I worried about things. I got nervous about things. I dreaded things. But I never looked forward to them. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be excited about something.

The reason I was looking forward to my matinee show was that my wife and children were coming to see it. Last year, with my depression hat on, it was the show I was most anxious about. I put enormous pressure on myself to be the best I could possibly be. For the past few years, I’ve worked myself into an almost frenzied state of fear in panto week and placed far too much importance and significance on my performance.

Now I realise the best way to do that is to remember to enjoy myself. I thought that unless I worried intensely about my performance, it wouldn’t be good enough. It turns out that being more relaxed has made my acting and singing better rather than worse. Who’d have guessed? Not me.

Enjoying and looking forward to things are such difficult notions for me to grasp that I decided to write down before the week of the show what I love about doing it, to focus my mind on those things rather than everything I could worry about.

After a long and stressful dress rehearsal, I took another step back to look at what I would do during the daytime before each show. The answer was LESS. I scrapped any plans that were too ambitious, planned time to try and relax, and, most importantly, caught up on some sleep.

Just to illustrate how my mind was starting to behave in the build-up to the panto, here’s the beginning of a blog post I started a week or two before but never posted:

Right, Paul Brook, we need to have a chat. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Something that you should be looking forward to has turned into something you’re anxious about.

Hang on a minute. ‘Should’? You know that’s a bad word, other Paul Brook. ‘Should’, ‘ought to’ – these are words that immediately make you feel bad about yourself. They make you feel guilty and you beat yourself up over whatever it is you should have done or felt but didn’t.

And you’re talking to yourself, in a blog. That’s not good either, so let’s stop it right now. What exactly are you chuntering on about?

It’s my pantomime next week. I love doing the panto – I get to be a great big idiot for a week, telling bad jokes, doing a spot of singing, being part of the panto family. But here’s the thing. I fret so much in the two weeks beforehand that I nearly ruin it for myself.

Perhaps even more dangerously, I’d come to rely on the panto as my one annual boost to my desperately low self-esteem.

Thankfully I have learned a few ways of protecting myself from these thoughts during the last year. As a result, I was mentally and physically prepared for the panto this time.

It was an epic week of energetically throwing everything I had at every performance, late nights, difficulty getting to sleep and making sure my voice worked, but it was fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, had a great time at the after-show party, relished the positive reviews and – best of all from my perspective – didn’t experience a post-panto mood crash of the kind that kicked off my depression in December 2009.

By keeping a diary of positive comments and feelings over the last few months, I’ve realised there are other things to enjoy, to feel good about and to look forward to.

The show may be BEHIND ME but I’m not just soldiering on afterwards. I am marching forth – sometimes even bounding along.

Have a great Christmas everyone and thanks for all your support this year – particularly to my wife, Jane, who is truly the wind beneath my wings.


P.S. Here are a couple of photos from the panto.

Me as Simple Simon in Jack and the Beanstalk, 2012

Me as Simple Simon in Jack and the Beanstalk, 2012

Joining my 'brother' Jack (Bobbie Parrish) to milk our cow, Pat.

Joining my ‘brother’ Jack (Bobbie Parrish) to milk our cow, Pat.


8 Comments on “Enjoyment returns to centre stage”

  1. shell lawson says:

    Hi Paul, fantastic news to read how far you have come! Love the panto photos, have just done lighting for a panto with my OH (first time foe me!) But I loved it and hope to do it next year all being well. I wish you, your family and of course #Lawnwatch a great Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year……Shelx 🙂

  2. Paul Winkler says:

    Good on you, Paul!

    One theme in this blog seemed to be that you were living “in the moment”, enjoying your performances (and the whole experience.) I have learned that living in the present is the only way I can cope, unlike my previous incarnation, when I looked forward worriedly to everything. I believed that if I didn’t anticipate every potential detail of life in advance, that the worst would inevitably happen every time. But now it works better for me to get what enjoyment I can out of each moment, not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future either. Seems to work better than my old system!

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