I had a little bit of wrath last week – or a flash of wrath as I like to call it. I’m not a particularly angry person, sure some things will piss me off but it’s only very certain subjects that give me that belly fire and I had a belly fire moment recently.
If I haven’t mentioned it before I am a trained professional actor (actress? I forget what’s meant to be PC these days) and I have been working as an actor since 2004 – although over the past 2/3 years I have gradually stepped back from the acting industry and focused my working life elsewhere.
This all seems very easy to summarise in a sentence but trust me, it was a long, confusing and sometimes a deeply upsetting period to get my head around and adjust to my new way of life deciding that my acting career would no longer be my main, sole focus.
You see, acting was everything to me for a long time. It was my passion, my identity, my motivation, my goal, the thing that made me feel alive, it made me feel worthwhile. Whenever I received the call that I got the job, I was elated; the happiest person in the world and coming off stage immediately after a performance I knew had gone well….I can’t even justify that feeling with words. It’s an incredible, euphoric experience. I often say that acting is like a drug and I still stand by those words. There are intense highs and afterwards, when you come back down to earth, you want more, you want to repeat it – but here’s the twist – it’s not readily available and you never know when (if it does at all) it will happen again.
Acting may have given me some of the most amazing experiences and feelings of my life so far (I also met my future husband through the industry so it’s not all bad!), but it also made me the most miserable.
Choosing to pursue an acting career is not a decision to made lightly and it is tough. It can be extremely tough and you would need the mentality the strength of a bullet proof vest not to be affected by it when times are rough. Of course, everyone is different and everyone copes in their own way and some people are stronger than others, but I know I am sensitive in nature, I can be a rather anxious person plus I have a tendency to focus my energy on worrying what other people are thinking – and 9 times out of ten they’re thinking something critical of me. And in the acting world where you are being constantly judged on your abilities, your appearance, your experience as well as facing rejection on a frequent basis – it is a dangerous combination. My head space became a feeding ground for self-doubt, criticism and a place for my self-worth to be questioned, obsessed about and ultimately reduced until my next job would turn up and I would feel validated again. And certainly, having eating disorders throughout my career did not do me any favours either.
When I first starting getting professional work I was anorexic. I believed that one of the majority reasons for people hiring me was down to my size which was between a UK size 6/8. Since I had convinced myself that this was the reason and less to do with my talents as an actor I felt pressure from myself not to change. Even if I was hungry, even if I wanted to eat I couldn’t, I wouldn’t let myself because I had to stay exactly the way I was.
Lets skip a few years later to when I was binge eating, gradually gaining weight and being terrified knowing that I was ruining my career, losing my thin identity and pissing off all casting and theatre directors I would meet when instead of the head shot and show reel of a skinny, attractive girl they were expecting, in reality they were faced with the paranoid, fatter, ashamed and embarrassed version of myself in the room.
Now I know I suppose to be talking about my flash of wrath and I’m getting to my point now. There was a blog that I happened to come across titled The Life of an Actor which was an interesting read and I related to the majority of it. To keep things brief it was someone describing why they are an actor and why they pursue their career and explaining the sacrifices they make in order to achieve their goals. My wrath didn’t come from this article though, my anger came from one particular comment that got under my skin. (Please note I do not know the person or have any idea who they are. Neither was it directly at me personally – it was just comment written in response to the blog I read)
In basic terms the person was saying that true actors never give up and if you did then you never really wanted it in the first place. This infuriated me because it insinuated that people like myself who have decided to step away from something that they love are weak. This is so wrong. Coming to terms with the reality that my future was no longer how I imagined it; that I was breaking up with acting broke my heart. I love it, I still do love it and if there was any way it could’ve worked out differently or if someone asked me to perform in something today that I was truly interested in I would do it because being an actor is still part of me and I will never let go of it completely. However the reality is that my mental health suffered, I was becoming more unhappy as each year went passed and my self-worth went tumbling with it. I could not cope with any more sacrifice and my mind couldn’t tolerate any more strain. I honestly don’t think it’s any surprise that over the last 2 years not actively pursuing my acting career, I have become the most positive and happy I have been in a very, very long time – not to mention the most comfortable I have felt in my own skin and body.
Stepping back from acting was a necessary but difficult step I took to preserve what mental health I had and finally decided to put my own needs first – not my CV’s. It was absolutely nothing to do with ‘not wanting it enough’. In my opinion that’s an incredibly foolish and hurtful thing to say to anyone. People make these hard decisions in the hope of improving their life and well being. They should be commended and encouraged, not stigmatised.
I guess my point is today is that no matter how hard you’ve worked for something, no matter how much energy and time you’ve invested, or even how much love and affection you’ve given another person, sometimes you have to distance yourself. There’s no shame in walking away if it comes to the point you need to preserve your own mind, body and soul. It’s not about wanting it enough or questioning how hard you tried, it’s about you as a unique individual, knowing what is right for you and making your own needs a priority.