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Features Artist-in-Residence Published 19 June 2013

Brilliant Things?

Laura Jane Dean reflects on the last six months.

Laura Jane Dean

Photo: Jason Rojas

I have two scrappy bits of paper stuck to the wall next to my bed entitled, “Brilliant Things”. It’s a cheat sheet really, a personal top twenty of things to remember. Things may be hard, today might be a shit day but… there are these “Brilliant Things”. Sometimes I look at it every morning, sometimes I can go days and weeks without even giving it a cursory glance, sometimes it does the trick, other times it pisses me off, but it remains there, clinging to my wall with the strength of half a post-it, as a small, but often necessary reminder.

I made the list about eighteen months ago, around the same time I started writing here and when I was just beginning to poke my head out of the mental illness closet. Writing, performing and therapy all made it on to the list next to my bed. I wasn’t sure at the time if they were brilliant things to be doing, they all terrified me, but the therapy was necessary and the writing and performing were a trial in truth-telling and saying everything out loud.

When I last wrote here I was in the middle of making my solo show and at the end of cognitive behavioural therapy. The last six months have been spent planning, writing funding applications and holding on to everything I learnt in therapy. I have now just finished making my solo show, and have been managing (not always very successfully) to control my obsessions and compulsions.

The prospect of going into rehearsals to finish making the show (working with Daisy Orton and Chris Goode) was filled with the nervous excitement akin to going on a holiday you’ve been looking forward to for ages but you’re not quite sure what to expect when you finally get there. Daisy, one of my closest friends and Chris, a relative stranger coming in to the process as a crucial outside eye. This ‘opening up’ of the process, although scary, felt reassuring and absolutely necessary. We talked about what it might all be about, for me, and for the audience. What does it all mean? Why is it important? Why does it matter? This process was taking the material out of my head and starting to make something bigger, and other, with it.

Halfway through the rehearsal period I was suddenly consumed by uncertainty. Lost, caught up in, and overwhelmed by the process – not in a particularly dramatic way, more a quiet consideration of what making and doing this performance is asking of me, and whether I’ve got it in me to do it, and to do it well. Is it too much? Is this still a “Brilliant Thing”? Before I started the rehearsal process my therapist asked me if it was difficult to connect with some of the material, knowing that some of the obsessions and behaviours are no longer present and also did I think that by doing the show it would somehow keep my relationship with the intrusive thoughts and actions alive? The answer to both of these was, I don’t know. And I still don’t know. I don’t want to get too caught up in it, I want to be able to see outside of it, I want to be able to separate it out, and step away from it. It is an experiment though, of doing and seeing and by the end of the rehearsal process I was still nervous, but calmer and with more than a glimmer of excitement about what we had made.

Over the past month I’ve shared the performance with the general public, service users and clinicians. Each experience of doing it has been different, and audience responses have varied greatly. It continually shifts depending on my state of mind and the audience’s. As I continue to do the show, in different spaces, for different audiences, in different contexts, how will my relationship to the material change and shift? Will the show continue to grow and transform? What meanings will it have? How will my relationship with the varying audiences alter? How does the act of doing the show affect my anxiety and worry? What is the relationship between my internal anxiety, my onstage persona and talking about the OCD and anxiety so openly?

Doing the show is scary. I was scared to start writing it and I was scared to start performing it. I’m scared every time I do it. But, I love it. It helps, to fight against the OCD and the anxiety, to do the things I’m scared of. So for the time being the writing and performing (and therapy) can stay on the list of “Brilliant Things”.

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Laura Jane Dean is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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