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Careers Clinic: How can I stay healthy while working?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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After taking time out over the past three years to deal with some mental health issues, I am now officially a working actor again.

Unlike many of my friends, I got work pretty quickly after drama school. Unfortunately, a lot of this was touring work. I know some actors really like this kind of job, but although I loved the work, being away from friends and family for months on end was very hard for me. I’m a very physical actor and the shows I appeared in were all high energy.

I can now look back and see I was getting physically exhausted as well as despondent and as a result looking after myself less and less. Even though it was a year before I had the actual breakdown the seeds were already sown.

My agent was really understanding and has not only taken me back on her books, but has already got me a job that starts next week. It’s a 10-week run rather than a tour, but I still don’t want to let her or myself down. How can I make sure I don’t?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Welcome back to the industry! I hope one thing you will notice is that, even in the few years you have taken time out, awareness has increased of the mental health challenges that can affect theatrical careers. That’s not to say there isn’t more to be done, but there are certainly practical initiatives and resources you can access right away.

As one example, I would recommend taking time to explore the ArtsMinds website. This is a joint initiative, which The Stage is part of, that brings together a range of useful resources to support the well-being of performers and creative professionals.

I would like to add some general advice on getting back in the game, having had the privilege of working over the years with several actors who have successfully managed to do this, in some cases after even longer health-related absences than your own.

The ‘absence’ factor is an important one to handle with caution. A lot of mythology around our industry relates to the idea that there is one ‘big break’ we may miss if we are not constantly on our A-game. This idea may sound sexy as a motivational quote but it can also lead to us putting ourselves under unrealistic pressure and you already know where that can lead.

I have sometimes seen people return to the business, after an extended period, in a very understandable, but nonetheless unhelpful, rush to catch up on the time they feel they have missed. The result can be that they make impulsive decisions and overstretch, doing more harm than good.

At the start of any enterprise it is important to have an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses and to set goals accordingly. This is even more important when we are relaunching.

One advantage we already have is the lessons of what went wrong the first time. Have a think about what the signs were that things were going off track last time and how you might recognise them earlier this time. Create some strategies and find out what support is available ahead of time, should you need it.

Allow yourself time, plan your steps and forgive yourself for the occasional hiccup along the way. It is great to have a second chance, but if that doesn’t work out, you owe yourself a third one, a fourth one – as many as it takes.

I wish you and everybody else who may be returning to the business this year great success, even if that success is simply enjoying using your talent with no added pressure on top.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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