I'd like to start this blog with a little story of mine... I promise you that it's relevant to being in the creative industries!
Once upon a time there was a rabbit who lived in a small hole on a hill in a wood. He lived in this particular area not out of choice, but because he could not afford the extortionate rents that greedy landmoles were charging in the lusher, more affluent part of the wood which had better schools and was closer to the local train station. But the rabbit did not complain, he had all the necessities including a small upright piano with midi technology and a small Macbook for making recordings (Did I mention that the rabbit was a composer?).
Well, one day the rabbit was working on a new composition of which he was particularly proud. He was so proud of it that he fired up the wifi (newly installed in that part of the wood) and set out to email an MP3 to his girlfriend who he thought would enjoy it.
Happily, he logged on to his email when he noticed a newsletter from another rabbit composer who he had heard of. Absent mindedly, he clicked with his rabbit paw and opened the email. He read through the various things that were happening for this other rabbit. As he did so, an outside observer would have started to notice the following things (though the rabbit himself did not).
1. The rabbit's left eye began to twitch.
2. The rabbit's smile gradually turned into a frown.
3. The rabbit's foot started pounding the ground beneath him so heavily, that before he knew what was happening, he had pounded 15 feet down through the floor of his rabbit hutch.
A friend of the rabbit, a spritely otter who was especially good at paintball had been due to visit that afternoon. When the otter arrived with his paintball guns and a spare pair of safety goggles, he was surprised to find his friend at the bottom of a fifteen foot hole surfing the internet.
The spritely otter shouted down to his friend. "Hey, dude! What are you doing down there? You ready for some serious paintball action?" No reply came from the depths of the hole, just the sound of sporadic mouse clicking and snippets of music as the rabbit played clips on soundcloud and youtube over and over again. "Seriously!" shouted the otter. "What's up?"
"I'm useless." came the reply from the rabbit. The otter recognised that tone of voice in his friend. It was the voice of self pity, the voice of defeat. "Have you been googling other composers again?"shouted the otter down.
"Maybe." replied the rabbit from deep in the hole.
"Don't worry. I know the cure for this." said the otter, who had known the rabbit to be in this sort of situation before. The otter attached a special triple fire rapid clip to his paintball gun, pointed it at the rabbit and shot him repeatedly until he climbed out of the hole.
"Thanks." said the rabbit. "I needed that."
A couple of years ago I went to a counsellor to help me to recognise certain problems I had begun to see in my life and work. In particular I had noticed that I was regularly entering periods of depression where the only answer to my problems would be to go to sleep and not think about them anymore. The problem being that of course, as soon as I woke in the morning it happened again. It was becoming debilitating. I couldn't work effectively and it was damaging my relationships with those closest to me.
The first step of course was noticing that this was happening on a regular basis, what I didn't know was why. So, as hard as it was I began to try and analyse the root cause of these bouts of depression. Upon looking at them for a while (and experiencing them several times more) it became clear prior to one of these bouts I would engage in accidental internet browsing of fellow composers/lyricists and theatre makers. By accidental, I mean one click leading to another that leads to another until eventually I'd be lost in a rabbit warren of worry and despair that I was not achieving (nor would ever achieve) as much as my peers in the industry.
Once I recognised this my friends and I dubbed them "Rabbit Holes" and we all started to look out for the signs. I started to try and do things that meant I would fall down them less often, or at least not fall as far. Things such as limiting my time on social media and the internet in general. I also learnt that this professional envy seemed to occur less if I actually knew the people personally, because inevitably I would discover that they were struggling just as much as I was. So I started to make an active effort to get to know my colleagues in the industry. This had an unexpected although not entirely foreseeable bonus...
I started making friends who were facing the same difficulties as I was, people who could talk about how it related to their professional work.
Mental health is an often overlooked part of anyone in the creative industries. And yet it is vitally important to talk about it. The pressure on creatives to do well at their job can often be overwhelming and the competition within the industry is often seen as intense. As much as competition can sometimes be a healthy thing, driving us to excel and get better at what we do, a healthy community of theatre makers that shares their difficulties as well as their triumphs can be equally if not more inspiring than the sense of competition that the industry engenders.
We named them rabbit holes because that's what they are... pits of despair of our own making and the more people there are out there who know rabbit holes are about, then the more people there'll be to help us out of one if we get stuck.
I'm sure I'll get into this more at a later date but for now... if anyone is stuck down a rabbit hole... feel free to share it with the rest of us. We might be able to help you out (and not by shooting you with paintballs!!)
By the way, just in case you do see someone in a rabbit hole, don't shout at them from the top, climb down in there with them and sit with them a while til you understand how they feel and then you can both climb out together.