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Friday, 4 October 2013

From the heart... (translation of Y Cymro, October 4th)

This week’s contribution was conceived after listening to an anonymous mother’s heartfelt story, on BBC Radio Cymru’s phone in debate,‘Taro’r Post’.  In light of the recent shocking statistics about the poverty experienced in Wales, she wanted to share her story of survival, and financial fight, after being unemployed for two years, in this current cruel climate. Her honesty and bravery stayed with me, and I was so happy to hear that things were easier these days.

One of her main hurdles was pride; not being able to ask for help, or in her case receive extra financial assistance, because her husband was in work, and the family car and mortgage. The painful proudness that points the finger of fault towards ourselves, for the ‘mess’ we’re in. Such a cruel mess that I too, found myself in, two years ago, and one I quickly learned was far beyond my human control.

Back in March 2012, things got so uncontrollably bad for me, without knowing why or when, I tried to commit suicide. The main thing that’s frightened me was my determination to leave this world, without pain or problems. Not to escape, like a coward, but to depart with dignity, as I no longer wanted to be a pain on the world. I now know why, and I’m not ashamed at all to admit that the rest of my life will be a long, constant battle with the black dog of darkness, the unfair illness known as depression.

With the recent weekend hype, about S4C’s programme ‘Lleisiau Ysbyty Dimbach’ (Denbigh Mental’s Voices) I was so happy to see these issues being given attention on primetime TV, but also saddened when the presenter constantly referred to the building in Denbigh as an ‘Asylum’ – a term that all the other contributors avoided, preferring to call this important institution by its correct facility, a hospital. A hospital for people who were constantly fighting their mental illnesses.

I, along with thousands of other outraged sufferers, was shocked by the foolish decision of both Tesco and Asda to advertise a ‘mental health patient’ Halloween costume, consisting of a bloodied strait-jacket and accompanying bloody meat cleaver! It didn’t take long for Twitter’s World Wide Web and the pages of Facebook to be drowned by images of fellow patients, in our daily clothes with the corresponding comment – ‘This is my mental patient costume today, and this Halloween’. Shame on the two, not-so-Supermarkets, and I hope the compensation of guilt paid to MIND, will help educate and support their crucial work.

During my six weeks on Laurel Mental Ward, at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, I can 100% assure you that I never saw one strait jacket or meat cleaver. Only people like you and me, fighting this vicious cruel condition, drowning in despair, which now hides in one of each four of us. Like any other hospital, guidance, information, care and medication are given to control and come to terms with the illness. The first step is to seek help, and then, trust me, with hope, control and opportunities, the sun will shine again, from under the clouds.

‘Do you think its wise to tell the world and his wife about your mental illness?’, asked one recent ‘friend’. Yes, I can now proudly answer. On my first day at the Recovery College, a unique support college of mental health workers and volunteer peers, in South West London, I was handed a list of 300 well known names – from Mozart to J.K Rowling, from Einstein to Stephen Fry, with a simple message. ALL OF THEM have fought with some degree of mental illness, so let no one dare to ever question your ‘sanity’ or put you down. 

Eighteen years have passed since I won the drama Medal at the Urdd National Eisteddfod in 1995. As I look back over the plays, that won me the three successive Medals in the following festivals, their uncomfortable themes of loneliness, sadness and loss are now a weekly part of my therapy sessions, in an attempt to find the roots, and hopefully, resolution.  A theatre critic was once described as ‘somebody who knows how to read the map, but can’t drive the car!’ So, its time I moved over to the driving seat, and take hold of the wheel once more.

‘Dan y Don’ (Under the Wave) will be my first play for BBC Radio Cymru, to be recorded over the next few weeks, and then broadcast at the beginning of November. Within the play, I’ll try and convey the dark, womb-like comfort of the haven we seek, as we run away from the ‘black dog’, as Churchill famously called depression. Reminiscing Captain Cat’s drowned sailors from Dylan Thomas’ poetic  radio poem, ‘Under Milk Wood’, its been a well needed cathartic process for me, as I recall the horrors of drowning, before the strength of survival.

As for the future? Well, at the beginning of the year, I resurrected another play that I started in 2007, after seeing Christopher Hampton’s ‘Total Eclipse’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. The play indulged in the passionate yet powerful abusive relationship between two French poets.  I began to think about Wales, and our Welsh literary figures. Did we have such powerful stories to tell? Tales that could not be told at the time, due to the nature of their relationships?

I also recalled seeing a short Welsh film called ‘Atgof’ (Memory) loosely based on the award winning poem by the 1924 Crowned Bard, Prosser Rhys. The poem was about the sexual awakening of a young man, turned into a soft porn orgy by director Ceri Sherlock. Using the historical context of the well documented ‘gay’ relationship between Prosser and his friend, Morris T Williams, husband of the famous Welsh author Kate Roberts, I always felt the film to be misleading, and never touched upon Morris’s alcoholism, and the mental illness that always lies beneath the bottle.

This idea gave birth to six long years of research, consisting of reading and buying books from e-bay to the National Library in Aberystwyth, and I soon realized that this was always going to be a much longer project than I’d expected. One that I had no wish to rush, as I enjoyed getting to know both characters through their work and the times they lived in. This year, having given up work to concentrate on my health, I felt it time to approach the Theatr Genedlaethol, the Welsh language National Theatre of Wales, formed in 2003, to seek financial support as I endeavored to finalize the research, and spend time in Wales, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s!

As I was using a great deal of research previously published by double chair and crown winning poet Alan Llwyd, who had just completed a posthumous biography of  Kate Roberts, I felt the need to contact him, out of respect. I was so sad to learn that television producer Branwen Cennard (and member of the Board of Trustees at the Theatr Genedlaethol!) had approached him to write a film script for S4C, about the relationship between Kate, Morris and Prosser. I was truly gutted, but comforted that Alan did not object to my stage play, as we were both working in different genres.  Because of this recent forced coverage about S4C’s un-commissioned film, I felt the need to promote my stage play, much earlier than anticipated, and as a thank you to Arwel Gruffydd, Artistic Director of the Theatr Genedlaethol, for supporting me.

And to finish, please NEVER be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a weakness, but a clear sign of strength. Share your problems; talk to your families, there is ALWAYS an answer, as experienced by the young mother I mentioned at the start.  We have an old Welsh saying, that shares its name with the BBC radio programme mentioned above. ‘Taro’r post i’r pared glywed’ (Strike the post, so the whole partition listens!’) So, here’s me striking my post, hoping that my message goes much further than any partition, straight to the heart of the whole community. Thank you.

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