All That May Become A (Hu)man

Bryony & Tim

I’ve made a teru teru bōzu – a handmade Japanese doll that keeps the rain away. All I had was a tissue and the ball from a broken coat rail, but I could use some sunshine, and we make do with what we’ve got.

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky in a dream sometime
If it’s sunny I’ll give you a golden bell

It struck me early on in Fake It Til You Make It, when Bryony hangs one on her mic stand to bring the audience good luck, and as she and Tim optimistically festoon their flat with them, and as more and more luck spills out across the floor the darker things get… just how shamanistic our approach to mental health can be.

When you love someone, all you want, generally speaking, is for them to be pretty much happy all the time and for nothing bad ever to happen in their lives. Fairly straightforward, right? Even though they’re human beings and in the world and awful things will lie in wait for them somewhere along the way. And god knows one of them might actually be your doing.

So you give them handmade things and buy trinkets on your travels and send them cards for no reason and suddenly buy into the idea that objects can be ‘lucky’ or ‘good’ or ‘happy’ because… well, you want to place yourself in everything around them so it can look back at them and say “Hey! You are loved. So loved.” … just in case they forget for a moment, and some errant misfortune sees a gap in the armour and carpes that diem. You retreat into superstitions you didn’t even know you had, in the belief that you can ward off any dark thing in their lives through the sheer power of loving them and buying them a dreamcatcher.

This love is the reason I own, in various forms, four prayer cards, three inspirational poems, a glass angel, an icon of Mary and Jesus, a small bottle of holy water and a Chinese knot. All but the last were bought for me by other people. None relate to any particular belief system I have, but they came at a time when life was throwing one curveball or another and those closest to me thought “I can’t be there; I will send this to protect you.”

No one who sent them really believes these objects have any literal power (though I have suspicions about my mum and the holy water), but it’s what we do, isn’t it? When we’re out of concrete solutions and the thing facing us is shadowy-vast and mutable, and refuses to assume form so that we can do battle? We sit in our chalk circle and we hope.

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
If you make my wish come true
We’ll drink lots of sweet sake

When Robin Williams died, I wept. Proper, chest heaving weeping. I was completely taken aback by my own reaction. I didn’t feel I had any right to it. Who on earth was I, to be grieving for this man I had never even met? I was sad and a bit appalled at myself.

My childhood seemed to coincide with the peak of Robin’s career. Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin and Flubber all obediently did the rounds from the local video rental place to my living room and back again. Mrs. Doubtfire I owned, because it made me indescribably happy that someone else could do lots of different voices like I did, and people considered it a talent and not an oddity! Robin Williams was always synonymous to me with fondness, happiness and a good deal of silliness. I was a kid and, just as I couldn’t see the signs lurking in my own family, I didn’t notice anything beneath the surface.

Then he killed himself and the thought of how dark and how lonely things felt for him in that moment and in each moment that led up to that moment was utterly crushing. That for all those years there was nothing that could have entirely, permanently banished that darkness; not the millions of people he brought joy to, not a family who loved him, not a successful career and enough money never to have to worry. None of it. Because depression, like cancer, like diabetes, like a fucking heart attack just… is.

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
but if it’s cloudy and I find you crying
Then I shall snip your head off

Like many people, I’ve followed Bryony’s work for a while. It’s always brave and gentle and impossibly revealing. So I knew that I would find Fake It Til You Make It affecting, if for no other reason than that.

But there comes a scene, maybe a little over halfway through, where Tim is wearing a paper bag on his head. It’s just the latest in a series of comedy head coverings that he uses, Bryony tells us, so that he doesn’t have to look the audience in the eye. She plucks at him; cajoles and kisses and caresses but he is limp, staggering, uncoordinated. He can’t respond to her touch.

And I see me; 12 years old plucking at my mum’s arm and wondering why she can’t get out of bed. Why she isn’t like the other mums. She won’t even talk to the other mums. And thinking maybe if I am very good, and very quiet, and bring her tea and biscuits and carefully tune Radio 4 so that it isn’t fuzzy… maybe she’ll get up tomorrow. Maybe she’ll be able to go to the supermarket by herself. Maybe…

Tim has broken down, and he and Bryony stare at each other, kneeling before a glaringly bright light. The man sitting in front of me raises his hand to shield his eyes and I think. No. This is supposed to hurt.

Clearly, some performances are more difficult than others. At 8 months pregnant it is not least physically tiring; Bryony has joked that her hips are crumbling, and apologises for a tearful finish to the final performance at the Soho, blaming her hormones.  But I can hear gentle sobbing further down the row from me, and I’ve had tears silently running down my face (you learn to do that – to cry quietly) for the past 10 minutes.

I worry about how I’ll look after the two of you.
I might have to live with this for the rest of my life.
I’ve thought about what I’d do if I found you. If you were still alive…

thought about the role of trust in performance early on in the development of this piece, but the level to which Bryony and Tim actually lay their lives bare in Fake It Til You Make It is truly staggering. It’s brave and frightening but, for me, there’s a level of comfort in it. Not because any aspect is particularly comforting, but because it’s taken me years to realise that I do not do this thing alone. That there are lots of us, alone together.

And so I’ve come back to finish this because it’s Christmas Eve, and the hardest time of year for me and many people. Because it’s not a struggle that’s easy to talk about, and though I am not a physical carer, I am an emotional, financial, social one. The less visible kind. It’s difficult  for people to quite understand what it is to care for someone who is overtly healthy and moving about most of the time. It’s even more difficult to accept that you sometimes need some caring for yourself.

There isn’t really a tidy conclusion to this. Bad writing, I know. But this doesn’t come with one. It didn’t end for Bryony and Tim when they stepped off the stage. It’s every day. For better or for worse. Days better and worse.  Duvet day or maybe I can come to the cinema with you but no, no this train and these people are too frightening day. It’s Christmas Day.

I don’t really want to give you some kind of ‘spare a thought’ malarky, but perhaps, please, think about bravery. It’s a slippery thing to quantify, but for someone it may be leaving the house, or taking the tube, or realising that they need an hour, just one, to themselves. Some days, getting out of bed is the equivalent of climbing a mountain.

So be gentle. With those who look like they’ve got it together. And those who don’t. And most of all, with yourself.

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