So in my ramblings (now in part 4) about Taking Care of Yourself – there are still a couple more things I feel that I need to talk about. If this is your first time to this blog, you can click over here to go back to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
This is segueing into another topic I want to get into, and I have a draft I have already been working on for several months — but we need to cover a couple of other things, first.
Sometimes performing (and, frankly, living your life) is something that needs to be done through the pain. Not just they physical pain of injury – or just growing older – but the pain of the mind sometimes, too. We have all kinds of stuff to work through to hit the stage. The key is: do not work it through ON the stage!
The key is: do not work it through ON the stage!
You have your issues, just like we all do. As one of my acting teacher’s used to say, “The stage is not the place to work out your personal shit. You work it out before you get to work. That is what class is for.”
I feel this post has been going on for so long is because every time I suffer a major injury or something – it is a set-back to the work I have done so far. So I get stuck in my head about it and then I (continue to) ramble on.
It is not even always the major injuries, sometimes it is the little things that just add up over time. Bouts of physical therapy, chronic illnesses, stuck on bedrest (and Netflix watching)… unless I figure out something better.
I have been reluctant to talk about my injuries or issues performing. Inevitably, when cutting jackpots about such things, it just ends up in a “you think that was bad? take a look at this!” kind of one-upmanship. That is not my intention!
Mostly, I just want you to know that you are not alone when these things happen. It is common. I want you to know you can work through it, just like so many other people have! You know who else has been badly injured, yet still carries on? Actors like Jackie Chan, Linda Hamilton, and plenty of other well-known folks. In film and television, you have to give it your all every take. On stage, you can sometimes ease up a bit, or focus the audiences attention on something else in the performance because you have that live reaction to go off of. And, sometimes, the show must go on.
The show must go on.
In my previous posts, I have talked about a variety of injuries and accidents I have sustained and been involved in over the years. There are a few things I have NOT talked about… like, the reason I had a back injury and was walking with a cane when I went to the Hilot Master because I was in a car that was rear-ended just before my 21st birthday. I have down-played my dance work, but I was actually pretty good – with a future in dance – before that accident. After it, I was done… the pain was excruciating at the time and, even now, I do not have the physical capability I did before that accident.
It still affects me – as do other things! I mentioned having to get my gall bladder removed in an earlier post, but did not mention that after the surgery I had a significant weight gain. Like, 30 pounds, that I have not been able to shake, since. They never talked to me about changing my diet in any way… Also, the surgery also has made me lactose intolerant… and having never had any problem with that kind of thing before – it took a little while to figure out what was wrong with me and take steps to fix it. Between that and the weight gain, it has taken a real toll on my self esteem.
BUT one thing that has not changed is even when injured or ill, I kept working. Even in pain, broken bones, cuts, or more – I nearly always finished the show. Even the first injury I had doing sideshow: the wind changed direction during an outside fire-breathing routine and the fireball got me pretty good, I walked offstage, tended my wounds, then went back to finish the night!
Of course, I did have to finally stop that night when I discovered that burn ointment is flammable…
But, of all the injuries, illness, and risk – let us have a serious talk: Depression is, by far, one of the worst things to suffer from. And, one of the more dangerous. Let me give you an example:
Remember this horrible image of my near MRSA-like infection I got a number of years ago?
After posting about it in part 1, I was having an online conversation with a performer who I have hired in the past. Talking about the blog, he said he was glad to see I had gotten a bad infection because he felt I deserved it – getting it by doing an act this performer felt I stole from him. I reminded said performer that the act was taught to me by another veteran performer – that I did not “steal” it from him. But, the performer then said I then got the infection because I was taught wrong how to do it… not true, either… but, I segued the conversation elsewhere to avoid discussing the truth of why.
I have to tell you – getting “taught wrong” is not why I got infected. I have debated whether to say anything about the truth – but I think it is important to speak directly to this issue in case anyone else even has the same issue.
During this run of shows, I fell into a deep depression – something I have been prone to for a very long time. Put a pin in that – we will get back to it.* When the Black Dog (as I affectionally refer to my down times) decided to come along of this run, I did not have anyone with me who was aware of the signs it was there. So, I fell in headfirst, deep and long with no one noticing and – following my usual routine – stopped bathing regularly. In fact, I pretty much stopped bathing at all. Or cleaning my show implements and tools thoroughly. You see where this is going?
So here I am, doing shows using various penetrative implements, and not cleaning up afterward… or before, for that matter. Just finishing up the shows, having a few drinks, and then going to bed. Day after day… And even after I realized something might be wrong, I still did nothing to take care of it. But, eventually, it got to a point that I could not cover it up from the audiences anymore…
Previously, I have joked about this particular incident, and how I thought myself invincible – after years of getting injured and keeping going, or whatever nonsense I was telling myself back then – that I was believing my own hype of being a pain-proof man with iron skin or whatever…
The truth was, I had hit a point where I did not care if I lived or died.
While I was still able to do my day to day job during – and I even take a little pride in the fact that I was able to keep what was going on secret from my cast – things were really, really bad. Finally, the infection got so bad I went to a doctor. That doctor freaked out a bit on me. I was given directions that I was not to be left alone, in case things were to get any worse (and there was a real possibility it would). Instead, I tried to stay alone as much as possible…
But I could not hide how bad the infection was getting from my significant other – even over the phone – and she, being someone who could recognize the Black Dog, made me do things to get back to taking care of myself. And I did…
Of course, it was not over — though I did survive the infection (wow – do I have a bunch of scar tissue, though…). I even “got back on the horse,” doing that act successfully a few more times before quietly retiring from my repertoire for a variety of issues. Put a pin in that.**
SO – you need to take care of yourself: body and mind! A problem with one can easily slide into a problem with the other. You need to stay up on where you are as an artist, a performer, and as a person. Life/work balance is hard for everyone. An injury or illness can set you back – but it does not need to stop you.
Remember this is not advice coming from some out-of-touch asshole in an ivory tower (or mansion) somewhere who does not know what he is talking about – who is looking down on you for feeling what you are feeling.. This is coming from someone who is in the trenches even now, struggling to keep his head up and above the black water. Someone who has been right where you are – and is still telling you, “you can do it.”
So get up from behind the glowing screen. Get a shower. Put on some clean clothes. Get some exercise, even just walking outside a bit. Read a book you enjoy – not just one for work. Find a non-job-related hobby. Get some friends who are not in the industry. Spend some quality time with your family. Turn your phone, messenger, and social media to quite (or off). Live your life.
Listen to your body and your mind – and take care of yourself. You are the only you you have.
*Pin #1: So the issue of the Black Dog, however, was not over. While I got things “back to normal” for a time – my dark times got deeper every time until, finally, my amazing family stepped in and made me get some help. That help included medication and therapy (much to the annoyance of Scientologists everywhere, I am sure) – and a close watch on me for quite a while.
During a lot interviews and therapy, with frank, no bullshit conversation between me and a series of professionals, we were able to determine the truth: I had been suffering severe depression since I was a child. Tracking back various incidents and whatever, a significant diagnosis was made. Why was it not before that? Well – when I was a kid, the general treatment for problems was to blame the kid for “trying to get attention.” While I had undergone some treatments during college and grad school – it was insufficient, at best.
But, now, I am working on it.
**Pin #2: There are a variety of reasons to stop doing an act. A big part is the balance between the danger and the audience reaction. If you are not getting a decent enough reaction in comparison to the danger you are undergoing – there is really no viable reason to continue that risk. Then, sometimes, the act does not really fit with the character – or what the show is trying to accomplish.
And, sometimes, you should really have more consideration for your long-term goals. This is something I hope to address in the scheduled post for next week, 2/19/2018: Fame Is Fleeting