I'll start how every other blog, comment, critique, Facebook post, Tweet and news page have started since about February: 2016 has been a bad year.
It's been an incredibly tough year on our emotions. We've been sad and scared, we've been told to be angry and disgusted. Happiness has seemed an odd occurrence in a sea of negative emotion and news. We're all fatigued and frazzled.
So it seems only appropriate that it was a year that I got pretty depressed.
2015 and 2016 have been some of the hardest years I've faced with my mental health; it’s been a test of my ability to challenge my thoughts (and I lost a good few times), I have felt terribly alone, sick and scared. I lost almost two stone in weight from not being able to eat properly through constant nausea which, for the most past, was "all in my head".
It's been a year that I started to withdraw into myself, I’ve kept things close to my chest in fear of them being rejected, I actively isolated myself from my friends and from social media because I wondered who would care. Even now, as I'm starting to feel better and walk out of the brain fog, I'm still wondering whether anyone will read this, whether it will make much of an impact, but I'm still going to try and finish this.
Most of all I haven't been proud of what I managed achieved this year.
Despite everything I had been feeling physically, mentally and emotionally I managed to do some pretty cool things this year but for some reason, I didn't bother to tell anyone. I felt this weird concoction of shame, embarrassment and self-denial instead of being happy, excited and fulfilled. Nothing felt good enough, which meant I wasn't good enough and no-one would even care really.
This is a crude simplification of my thoughts but that was the essence of them. Only now do I realise that all of that was not a weakness of character but depression, which alternated between whispering lies and screaming them at me. And I listened. Despite being very in touch with my own mental health I fell into the trap.
I haven't been proud of things I have done, I haven't owned my successes. I even considered abandoning my career as a performer.
But I am feeling better now and chuffing hell it feels great. I've been working hard with my psychiatrist to get there and just in time as a new year is beginning.
I won't get into it now. Maybe I'll do a show about it.
SO Since I wasn't proud of my achievements while they were happening, here are the highlights of my 2016.
1. I wrote a piece on animation, animating puppets and my 2015 show WATERLOOBRIDGE which was published in the Puppet Notebook. I only realised recently that meant I was a published author and that was pretty cool. The Puppet Notebook website hasn't been updated in a couple of years, but copies were sent to British UNIMA subscribers. I'm going to investigate where people can read it more easily. It's revitalised my love of writing about theatre curiously, intricately and academically.
2. I was asked to perform not one but two of the shows I love at the Brighton Fringe and I saw so many brilliant shows. I also had my Overhead Projector stolen but managed to finish a show without it. Also, I saw the puppet community rally behind me. It was heartwarming.
3. Probably one of the best memories I have of 2016 is working with performer and collaborating mastermind Charlie Ryder and graphic novel artist Wallis Eates to bring to life the book "If You Sit Very Still" by Marian Partington. Her book is a memoir of compassion and forgiveness as she dissects her sister's disappearance and eventual discovery of her body in the basement of Fred and Rosemary West. I was asked to make a puppet of Marian before we even met and the moment of them first meeting will stay with me forever. Basically, I nailed it.
The time we all spent together, filming and devising at Marian's home was the most peaceful and creative weekend I had had in a while.
I will endeavour to write about it one day.
4. I started a podcast about living with Anxiety with Natalie Walmsley and Celia Linnet called Another Anxiety Attack.
5. We took the podcast to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and had a wonderfully steep learning curve about live podcast recording.
6. I continued to perform Do You Mind? (even though I was convinced every performance was the last one) I performed it at the Swindon Fringe Festival and had amazing feedback. Everywhere we go we get to talk to someone amazing who is struggling the same.
7. We continued work on Guide Dogs For the Death; we made delightful mistakes, we tried, we experimented, we had fun and we’ll continue to grow it next year.
8. I sent off my first ACE Grants For the Arts application. IT GOT REJECTED AND MADE ME FEEL LIKE AN IMPOSTER... but I did it. I tried and I completed it in a manic two weeks while in Edinburgh but at least I attempted it. I had enough faith in my work that it was worth it. We ALMOST got there.
9. I started making more. I made dog puppets, human puppets, shadow puppets. I started experimenting with technology. I starting making things that weren't just puppets. I'm making portraits of dogs out of card and it brings me a lot of joy and calm to make them. You can find them here - (There's still a lot of work to do)
10. I stayed creative. Even though I wasn't always able to do something proactive with the ideas, I still had them.
Other than that I
1. I travelled more even though I was in a pit of fear. I went to Swindon, Cork, Wales and Scotland.
2. On my worst days, I managed to keep a home. I nurtured my fiancee Calum. I tried to stay a good friend.
3. I stayed for the whole Ed Fringe for the first time and saw some inspiring work.
4. I‘ve planned the most badass awesome wedding and didn't compromise on what we wanted.
5. I moved flat with Calum and we found the perfect place for ourselves.
6. I didn't push myself harder than I needed. I was kind to myself and let myself recover even though it took a good year to get there and it is still a work in progress.
It's been a hard year but it would be a mistake to write it off. Good has happened even if the bad has overshadowed it. We can't stop what will happen to any of us in the next year, we can;t even choose our emotions but we can choose how we can respond to it. We can respond with hope, love, creativity and defiance instead of rage, hate and shame.
My psychiatrist told me that 2017 will be a good year because "I say so." Those are great words to live by and will be my mantra. I'm going to put it on a mug.