In actor and singer Pauline Carville’s autobiography, she looks at her life as a performer while battling severe depression
How did you find adapting Am I Mad Or What? into a book?
I wrote the book as I felt like I had a story to tell that I believe could help others. I had talked about telling my story for many years and I did write it originally as a short fifty minute one woman show that I performed in The Belfast Fringe Festival back in 2011. So you could say that was the beginning of the process. Unfortunately performing it, knocked me back into a depression for a few years and so I nee I knew that I had to get that book out of me and when I began putting pen to paper organically I knew that I was ready.
At first Robin my husband interviewed me and that felt like I was just telling the story of different parts of my life which did work really well. I then transposed that onto the laptop.
Did writing about personal stories come easily? What were the areas that proved difficult to write about?
I must admit when it was time to talk depression and anxiety I did avoid that for a few months so those chapters were definitely the most difficult to write. I got really emotional talking about my mummy and daddy and I think the emotion that I let out during this process was part of the therapeutic process. When I was reading back through the first draft I couldn’t believe how I actually managed to perform whilst going through my mental health issues and what I realised is that I had tenacity, passion and determination all attributes that a performer needs to work in the industry and I believe those same qualities got me through performing and battling with depression.
I hope that readers would realise that keeping something as serious as depression hidden had actually made things much worse. The longer I hid my feelings the longer it takes to recover.
However, I did manage to train as an actor at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, train as singer at The Royal Academy of Music and then have a successful performing career. I did all this battling with severe anxiety and depression and if I can achieve that anyone can. I would also hope that anyone who may empathise with anything in the book or are currently hiding their struggles that they would not make the same mistake that I did and go and get the help they need.
Were you emotional during the writing process?
The hardest part of the book to write was definitely the depression. As I had digressed into a depression before I was concerned that I could be risking another relapse. So honestly I avoided these parts that are peppered throughout my story for as long as I could. So I set myself a deadline and that really helped.
I did go into a lot of detail in the book and I felt for me that was important. I am an actor and I wanted to paint a picture or a movie that you could see in your head as you read. I also wanted the reader to really feel like they were getting to know me as a person so that they could feel with me.
Juggling performing with health worries cannot have been easy — what got you through it?
Although there are many happy memories and funny stories in the book I do chart throughout my battle with mental health.
I could say that I was always a deep thinker even as a young child and I felt deeply also. I had a strong empathy for others and could nearly sense what they were feeling by how they behaved and by their energy when I was with them.
I first felt what I called “The Clouds” when I was aged fifteen. My daddy had died the year before and everything in our family life had changed. It was a terrible shock as my daddy had been found dead in strange circumstances and so he went out to visit friends and didn’t come back.
I went to three different GPs in our doctor’s surgery and all of them would blame it on trauma from my daddy’s death or maybe a break-up from a boyfriend. I would do all that was advised go to the gym; go for walks and at first I was able to lift myself out of the darkness. However, I hadn’t heard of this word ‘depression,’ I just thought I was mad!
This went on for years, GP after GP in Glasgow and then in London and still they all came up with the same reasons. I knew that my daddy’s death had affected me; however, I knew there was more and I really had blocked it out so much I was hiding it even from myself.
I finally had a breakdown in 2001 when my career was flying high. I thought when I got what I wanted I would be happy. I wasn’t! It was when I wanted to take sleeping pills to sleep to stop my racing mind that I knew I really needed to get the help I needed.
I was admitted into hospital for a rest from life and to get me on the right medication and that was only the beginning. It took probably ten years to really get over the breakdown and yet I still have to really look after myself now to prevent myself ever going back there again.
What do you think readers will be most surprised to read?
I think that readers of the book and others who know me may be surprised to learn that I took extreme risks both emotionally and physically and may even be shocked to discover that when I was researching the part of a lap dancer in The Villains’ Opera, a modern take on the well-known Beggar’s Opera that I actually became a lap dancer to discover the character types, the language used, the type of customer and of course what it felt like to be that dancer.
What does writing bring you?
Writing gives me solace. I feel at peace when I write and of course I use it as a therapeutic outlet.
Am I Mad or What? by Pauline Carville, Excalibur Press, £9.99, is available now