70 Stories

#7 Hysteria!

‘Those rose tinted glasses are cracked now, aren’t they?’

Hysteria!, a cabaret theatre show by Julia Taudevin exploring how sexism impacts on women’s mental health, premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival in October 2017. A few days later, news broke of a series of allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, kickstarting the #MeToo movement. Two years on, the play – based on research conducted in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation – seems more prescient than ever, as illustrated by this exclusive extract.

Mazz – Someone.

George – Somewhere.

Annie – Near. Very near.

George – Sits in a room full of women and listens as someone says

Annie – The day I left school my mum took me to her women’s group. It was just a group of women who met in the village where I grew up, a bit like we’re doing here now, and talked about being women. And everyone was so excited for me. “Don’t let anything hold you back.” “Don’t let anyone get in your way.” It’s hard not to just feel like a complete failure when I see those women now all these years on.

George – Someone sits in a room a lot like this one and says

Mazz – Sometimes I imagine there’s a phone number I can call with an answering machine. An emergency number. Just for me. A place where I can record all the things that nobody believes. Or maybe all the things that nobody believes are important. Because nobody – or it feels like nobody – does believe that any of this is important. And I know for a fact there are things that have happened to me that people just plain don’t believe ever happened. To the point where sometimes I wonder if they even did. But they did. I won’t be gaslit. So yeah. I’d just like to be able to ring up this number and leave my truth on the answering machine. And my truth, or truths, would stay there until. I don’t know. Until we’ve got through all of this. Whatever it is we need to get through to get to something else. Somewhere else. Somewhere better. Somewhere kinder. Somewhere that feels more like. I don’t know. Like a home. Somewhere. Quieter. Than here. Where we are now. And maybe then. In that new, kinder, quieter, somewhere. We’d be able to listen. To my messages. To my truth. And yours too if you ever wanted to call the number yourself. And everyone in this new somewhere would just be like. Yeah. That happened to you back then. Back when it was the way it was. Well done. For surviving. I’m sorry not everyone did.

George – Someone sits in a room a lot like this one, a room full of people and listens as someone else says.

Annie – It’s the drip drip drip.

Mazz – Someone says in a room so like this one it could actually be this one, and listens as someone says

George – Where’s the sisterhood? That’s what I want to know?

Mazz – Someone else in that room so like this one it could actually be this one says

Annie – Have you seen the videos of the flash choirs singing Quiet? You know the song that singer song writer gifted to the Women’s March movement? Her name’s Milck. With a ck at the end. Google it. Hundreds of women, girls, men too in some of the videos. You get I Can’t Keep Quiet Choirs. There’ll be one near here I guarantee you. Just ordinary people coming together in public to sing this song about not being quiet anymore. It’s global. There’s this one video of thirteen hundred women singing it. Thirteen hundred! Just singing let it out let it out let it out now. Thirteen thousand. And when they stop singing. They say nothing. For almost a minute. It’s completely quiet. Like what it must feel like to finally be heard. And understood. Or believed. It’s amazing.

Mazz – Someone listens and wonders if these are the actual words of actual people as someone else says.

George – It’s inescapable isn’t it? If it’s in our laws, and it is, and has been right back to the time of, I don’t know, Hypocrites or whoever, then it’s. It’s everywhere, isn’t it? It’s oxygen. It’s the internet. It’s your mum and your dad. It’s you. It’s me. It’s definitely me. I don’t know how to escape me. And believe me I’ve tried.

Annie – Someone sits in this room and listens as someone says.

Mazz – Happy happy happy. That’s the business we’re all in now. You see them everywhere these happy happy happy people and their minds are. Gone. It’s the only way to be at home in this world that isn’t a home to me. People like me. Us. To self lobotomise. And then bam! Happy happy happy.

George – Someone in this room full of people listens as someone else says.

Annie – According to my country I am now too expensive to insure. Being a woman is a pre-existing condition. So my best option for getting health insurance is getting married to a guy who can cover me under his family insurance. That’s what the medical world thinks of me. The insurance world. My country. The world. It actively dis-cares, is that a word? It is now. And this dis-care. This. Yeah. Violence. Call it what it is. This violence. That we experience every day. Every single day claws away at you. Your mind. Your soul. No. Not claws. It’s more cowardly than that. More dishonest. It pecks. It, all of it, all of this, this noise, pecks away at you. Peck peck peck. Until there’s nothing of you left.

George – Someone in another room full of people says

Mazz – It isn’t about Trump grabbing pussy or pussy gate or whatever the hell you want to call it. Look around you! You just need to listen to the lyrics in the music that’s blaring out of everyone’s phones all the time or go online or watch tv or whatever to know what the world thinks of us. Just open your eyes. In bars. And busses. And clubs. And twitter. And facebook. And newspapers. And governments. And I don’t know. Law enshrining places. It is no secret! The world as it is right now, run by the idiots the run it, doesn’t give a single shit about us women. So it’s not about pussy gate. I mean it is. But. Pussy gate. Pussy gate is a friggin distraction, man! You want to change this shit? Then stop giving the assholes the airtime! Change the friggin channel. Or better still, just turn the whole damn thing off. Jeez!

Annie – Someone says

George – You use words like sexism and racism and depression and suicide and everyone’s like. Uh-oh. Here we go. You think I’m the problem because I’m describing the problem? Well okay then. I’ll be the problem for as long as it takes to get through your thick skulls that it is the problem.

Annie – Someone wipes their mouth with a napkin and listens as someone says.

Mazz – I look into white women’s eyes and their eyes look different than I don’t know, when I was younger. I look into these white women’s eyes and I think, those rose tinted glasses are cracked now aren’t hey? Oh, honey. Better late than never I guess.

Annie – Someone says.

George – I always voted with my gut. I think. I don’t know. I just never really thought about it much. You voted for who you vote for. And you exercise your right to vote because it’s been won for you. And then we went through Brexit. And over the pond all my friends were saying “It’s not possible. He can’t get elected. It’s a joke. He’s a joke.” And I was thinking the whole time. It can happen. And it will. And it did. And. I don’t know. I became kind of hooked. Addicted. To news. To twitter. To information. I had a list of podcasts I needed to listen to constantly like three or four scrolls down my phone. Going to sleep was hard. I mean so hard. Sometimes I didn’t. I couldn’t. Go to sleep. Because I didn’t want to miss anything. Or maybe I didn’t want to wake up to whatever I was going to wake up to the next day. And then. I don’t know. I just had to. Shut off. Completely. It’s like I pressed the off switch. It’s like to survive in this world as me, just me, what I have to do is switch off. Not be connected. And sometimes I think about my mother’s generation. I wonder if it was the same for them. That it was easier to. Just. You know. Not know. Because if you know. Or if you try to find out. To really find out. Then you really. You really do start going crazy.

Annie – Someone sitting behind someone else shifts in their seat as someone says.

Mazz – I would like to register a complaint. About Western Civilisation. Can you please stop making me worry about being assaulted. If you physically assaulted us on a daily basis we would die, or maybe we would galvanise into a fucking army and take this shit down. But no, you threaten it, in a multitude of ways. And so we do what you want us to, mostly. And it really, really is time to change the fucking channel.

Mazz – Someone shifts in their seat again as someone else says.

George – I think about it happening to me every time I go out in public. So that’s nearly every single day. At least once a day. At least.

Annie – Someone says

Mazz – I went to my GP after it happened to me and they said that it happened to lots of people and I would get over it a quicker if I just tried to not think of it as that word.

George – Someone says

Annie It’s never happened to me either but, yes, you’re right. I think about it. I think we’d be lying if any of us say that we haven’t. And I think about my two children. And if it happened to me now. And I fell pregnant. And if I wanted to keep it. I would have to convince all these people who don’t know. Don’t know what it must be like. I don’t know what it must be like. But I can imagine. I can imagine. To have to go through that and then because of this rape clause have to convince people it had happened? And them then decide for me? If it happened or not?! It. It makes me feel. Scared. I spend so much of my life feeling scared. Maybe all of it.

Mazz – Someone says.

Mazz – I’m not expecting you all to say you’ve been raped but statistics say that I’m not the only one. Has anyone else seen that face when you remember or try not to remember it? Because for me, when it happened, the actual persons face was hard enough to erase, but now it’s got confused with the face we know has done the same thing to other women. You the know the face I’m talking about. That big orange face. We all know who I’m talking about. We don’t need to give his name any more airtime than it already gets. And his face. His face is everywhere. Everywhere. And so now? Now when I think about when it happened to me. It’s his face that I see in my mind.

George – Someone uncrosses and recrosses their legs as someone else says.

Mazz – It’s that I am 100 % powerless. You see my country is me. I am my country. And my country is also my president. I don’t know how to be anything else. And nothing, nothing I do can do can make a difference. It’s been nearly a year now. Since he was elected anyway. One whole year. I had self hate before, you know, my thighs or whatever, and I knew how whip myself back into shape with that. You know. Come on! Get over yourself G-friend! You’re a winner. You know. All that stuff. But this. This. I can’t beat this. America is big. America really, really big. No one will ever beat America. And America is who I am. And now. Now I hate America. I hate what we. I. Have become. And I know I can’t win.

George Someone keeps listening as someone says.

Annie – I’d like to be able to live somewhere I could just be who I am not what has happened to me. But we always fantasise about other worlds don’t we. When this is the only one we’ve got.

70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health in 2019.

Keep an eye on mhfestival.com/70stories for new entries in the series. If you are connected in some way to SMHAF or the Mental Health Foundation and would like to contribute a piece of writing to this project, please contact aeaton-lewis@mentalhealth.org.uk.