I’ve been facing off with writer’s block for the last week or so I’ve taken some pause to work behind the scenes. I had a really wonderful, productive conversation with Next Stage Counselling’s Jessi Cohen about future collaborations, and the importance of mental health, connection, and sustainable care so I’m going to gush about that for a moment.
So – off the bat – Next Stage Counselling: a new mental health service with honed arts industry support. Jessi’s practice combines her spanning arts career with professional counselling and psychotherapy, for intuitive and understanding support. It’s so reassuring to meet a professional psychotherapist who has been on tour, who understands how gruelling it can be for artists and crew, and how to stay ‘healthy and focused on the road’. You may have seen Jessi’s counselling service pop up at Adelaide Fringe’s festival-within-a-festival Gluttony Hub last year with the Wellbeing Van. Jessi also understands chronic pain, which I think is invaluable to have in a therapy space - she's also a published poet with Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain, winner of the 2018 Mascara Literature Review Avante-Garde Award. I’m excited to continue working with her on new projects and resources around mental health and community support.
Chronic pain and illness are highly individualised experiences, and often tied into feelings of isolation or trauma. A project like Get Well Soon that explores these experiences could be difficult to revisit, and working in this space we feel a responsibility to learn and engage with trauma-informed practices (Evie our dramaturg is exploring some cool shit here for performance); if engaging with content about chronic pain, illness or injury has you feeling unsettled or upset, that is a valid response. Wherever you are in your journey, we wholly encourage you to reach out for professional support. When people talk about chronic health "journeys", caring for mental and emotional wellbeing is inherently part of that healing. Next Stage Counselling is a great service and we’re excited to be able to promote Jessi’s work.
When I think about mental health in this space, it’s often about Imposter Syndrome.
Artwork by my friend and creative legend Jess Grace.
Image description: A black and white rubber hose style comic in four panels, featuring an echidna as the main character. In the first panel, the echidna stands in front of a gecko, whose speech bubble reads ‘Man, it’s so cool what you’re doing. That’s so impressive’. In the second panel, the echidna stands in front of a platypus, whose speech bubble reads ‘you’ve really got it together. I wish I had it together’. In the third panel, the echidna sits in front of a bird therapist holding a clipboard, whose speech bubble reads ‘you’re doing really well. Are you sure you want to keep coming?’. In the final panel, the echidna is alone, curled up into a ball as if in grief. The echidna is surrounded by cups, tissues, a cigarette packet. Music notes and the words ‘I’m ok Im ok Im ok’ fly through the air around them.
What is Imposter Syndrome, pray tell? In a sweetly-spoken Youtube video by Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, Imposter Syndrome (which she explains is experienced by 70% of people living in Western societies) is defined as:
“Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which one doubt one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.”
She explains Imposter Syndrome is thought to be contributed to by early family frameworks, gender stereotypes, culture, and the hot new thing – social media. People in marginalised groups -whether by gender, race, sexuality- who experience ‘othering’, are also more likely to feel like an Imposter.
I feel like countless of my talented, ambitious, intelligent friends experience Imposter Syndrome in their careers and relationships. You know that insidious feeling like, "I don’t deserve to be here, how did I even get this job?" or "I'm not good enough to be in this cast, they must think I'm a fraud" or "How did I score so well in this essay, when will they realise I’ve fluked this? "
It’s also possible to feel this way about your pain or illness. I’m no specialist, but I can relate to gaslighting your own pain. A lot of us are socially conditioned to want to build up coping mechanisms and move on, not wanting to identify with a condition or an injury. Maybe you don’t feel what you experience is bad enough to claim space, that you're not sick enough, because you see people that experience worse than you or people appear more stoic about having the same condition (note: comparison is a joy thief). I’ve read that this is particularly insidious for people with invisible disabilities. To placate the Imposter you might tell yourself that it’s not-that-bad, but this can be a dangerous practice: not feeling valid in your condition can create barriers and resistance to accessing proper care or asking for help.
Behind every person who’s struggled to get their diagnosis, to be vindicated, there’s a history of being discredited, or being told it’s in their head. It’s natural to question yourself and your symptoms when you’ve experienced gatekeepers (whether that be doctors or social stigma, being told by friends that you’re too dramatic). The punchline is: if you feel like this, you’re not alone. The Imposter phenomenon is a beast that most of us will wrestle with at some point. It's important that we all try to practice self-belief. It’s also a gentle reflection on the importance of checking in on our mental and emotional health to our overall wellbeing.
Go check out our friend at Next Stage Counselling and if you feel like you might need help, please reach out for support.