Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jekyll and Hyde and the power of the unconscious mind

I did something today I've never done before: I asked for disabled help to get me on the train.

I've been getting horribly breathless on the least exertion, and it's been frightening me.

Te last time this kind of thing happened was when I was entering heart failure; and it tends to be accompanied by the hugest fear.

Because it brings you up short. You cannot take another step. And you wonder: will I die?

It began last week, when I was working with Chris Goode on developing a theatre piece about being trans. It was especially bad going to and from the rehearsal room: but when we were actually working there were no symptoms at all. And it didn't stop me sleeping at night.

Also my heart was beating emphatically but not madly fast. The main difficulty seemed to me the most intense tightening of the muscles of my chest; as if my chest was being gripped by some profound and powerful terror.

Which, come to think about it, it was. Only the terror did not belong to the present, but to the past: to the time when I first dimly understood, through all my denials, that sooner or later I would have to live as a woman.

To the time when I feared for my sanity: and feared for my life.

This morning I had myself checked out by a kind doctor. And my blood pressure us normal, my heart beat is normal, my oxygen levels are normal, there is no sign of any abnormality or infection in my chest....

So these horrible symptoms are actually a tribute to the destructive power of the mind. Probably, left to myself, I would have put up with them; but my wise friend, Sam Rankin of the Equality Network, insisted I ask for assistance.

And I am so glad I did. Because the polite young man who wheeled me from the taxi rank to the train platform saved me so much suffering and distress.

(I cried after making the phone call. But that is a different story....)

And all the way down, whenever I had a spare moment, I reassured myself that the fear all belonged to the past. That I am safe now, and have no need of it in the present....

All the way down to Middlesbrough. Where I wanted to catch my JEKYLL AND HYDE for what I expect may be the very last time.

Middlesbrough theatre must be one of the very worst placed theatres I have ever encountered. Out in the suburbs, apparently in the middle of nowhere, it's very hard to get to and I cannot think of a single reason why it should be there at all.

The staff were friendly and devoted, the audience small, non-demonstrative, but very thoughtful and attentive.

I watched them going out and wondered what on earth they had made of it all.

And then clambered up onto the stage and said goodbye to the set and goodbye to the actors, who are so gifted, who work so hard, and of whom I am so very fond. Goodbye to Nathan Ives-Moiba, so extraordinary as Jekyll and Hyde. Goodbye to Lyle Barke, so touching and devoted as Utterson. Goodbye to Rowena Lennon, so amazing and multi-faceted as all the women in the story. And to Emma Nairne, the company stag manager, who has worked so hard and so devotedly to hold everything together in an incredibly gruelling tour.

And then I went outside and waited for my taxi and reflected on what I'd seen.

And realised I had every reason to be frightened of this play too. Of what it reveals about our capacity to disassociate, to refuse to accept responsibility for what we've done. Of our cruelty. Of the mad masculinity that continues to so destructively rule our world.

Of what it tells me about myself.

And I thought about Jekyll, with Hyde growling and muttering in his subconscious, in his murderous rage... and understood how in an unexpected way he was an image of myself.

Of Jo, struggling with the terror deep in my subconscious mind, which I am struggling to bring up to the surface and embrace and make a beautiful piece of theatre out of and so set free.

And then the taxi came and the driver told me a long story about someone he knows called Jan, who cannot stop herself stealing to feed her vodka habit. She'll steal anything from anybody and walk round the park for hours and hours talking to everything and everyone. To the trees to the ducks to the people she meets.

And she stole two big bottles of vodka today and because it's her birthday they let her keep them and she's at home now. Drinking them. Neat.

And nothing to do, really, except bless the poor woman and hope she finds the oblivion she is craving.

And go to my room and write this piece and then go to Manchester tomorrow. For the last technical rehearsal and the first dress rehearsal of my beautiful ANNA KARENINA at the Royal Exchange.

And sleep happy, knowing there really is nothing to fear and much beauty is waiting for me there.....

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