I woke up this morning to a message with a link to a Facebook post. The Facebook post was by Patti Murin, the Broadway actress currently starring as Anna in Broadway’s ‘Frozen’. So she’s immediately my role model, obviously…
Patti Murin is a Broadway regular and is extremely talented, so you would think that she would never feel nervous or anxious. Wrong.
Yesterday, Patti announced on Facebook that she had called out of a performance of ‘Frozen’ due to a panic attack.
While there is still so much of a stigma around admitting mental health issues, it is wonderful to see everyone’s reactions. The support is abundant and, I think for a lot of performers, it is a breath of fresh air for somebody so prolific to admit that they have issues with anxiety. Especially in an industry where mental health is deemed as a form of weakness.
After all, the performing industry is tough; ‘if you can’t handle your emotions on a day to day basis, how are you going to cope with 8 shows a week and perform in front of thousands of people?’ For anyone with high functioning anxiety, they will know how ridiculous this myth is, and yet we still try to hide it.
When we call out of work sick it is often due to a stomach bug or something similar, but we rarely call out due to our mental health. (And if we do, we don’t admit that’s what it is.) But sometimes when you’re having a particularly hard day, riddled with anxiety, it can be hard to cope and function. You punish yourself for being ‘weak’ and you walk around like a zombie, wishing that you were someone else. If you have a stomach ache that makes you feel so unwell that you need to curl up in a ball in bed, then when your head is making you feel exactly the same way, why do we not take that seriously?
Because we’re ashamed, that’s why. And we don’t want to burden anyone.
I’m sure that Patti feels terrible for pulling out of a Broadway performance and I’m confident that she will have spent the last 24 hours terrified of how this may affect her career. ‘If she’s pulling out of shows due to her mental health then is she reliable?’ Yes, she’s reliable; she just needs a second!
Because of the brutality that is the performing industry, and the fact that you are always replaceable, it forces everybody to grow a shell. A shell to protect themselves from revealing their struggles and weaknesses to avoid destroying their career. But in a career that is so full on anxiety-inducing situations, shouldn’t we be more understanding and supportive of that?
When I worked on Disney Cruise Line (playing Anna, just like Patti, I might add) I struggled with my anxiety. Being in an isolated environment, I struggled with my mental health fairly often. But I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody about it, or take a show off to get my head straight when I’d been crying all afternoon, because I feared for my job. On a ship environment, if they deem you medically unsafe in any way then you are a risk and they can have you out the door at the next port of call. So I suffered in silence and just got one with it.
But was that fair? Was it fair that I felt like I had nowhere to go for support? I was perfectly capable of doing my job – hell, I did it every single night and never called out sick, but there were times when behind my wigs and make up I was trying to put on a brave face.
Which is why I had to take a step back from performing. My anxiety became too hard to handle every day when I was trying to tackle an industry that doesn’t give two-shits about who you are as a person. You are a cog in a machine and if you can’t cope one day, then that’s not ‘their’ problem.
So bravo Patti for being so honest and open! Mental health in the performing industry is such a touchy area and you may have just helped to open up the door to conversation.
‘Tell the guards to open up the gates’, you might say…