‘I would’ve loved it if somebody had said: “Hey it’s you today, not the baby. Let’s look at how you’re doing.” That would’ve been amazing.’
Because Skye Loneragan and I both have children at home, we meet on Skype, in the time (as she calls it) between bedtime for the child and putting all the toys away. We are both tired, but I become re-energised just by chatting with her. We spend 45 minutes putting the world to rights, admitting to the answers we don’t have yet, and talking about her one woman show, Though This Be Madness.
Though This Be Madness is a fictional piece derived from Loneragan’s experience of seeing loved ones wrestle with psychosis and schizophrenia. But it also concerns itself with how we all approach staying sane in the wider world. ‘There’s a lot in the show about the whole “consume, consume” thing,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing sane about it! And in terms of my experience as a sleep deprived mother, the real question should be: how does anybody not get depressed when you can’t sleep for more than two hours in a row?’ Loneragan’s own daughter couldn’t sleep lying down for the first six months: she was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux.
Loneragan approached SMHAF with an embryonic idea last year. She explains that it was and is about how Shakespearean characters would be diagnosed today. Through workshopping as part of scratch night Five Ways to Begin during the festival last year, Loneragan decided to use her experience of being a new mum as a vehicle for telling what she describes as ‘a fractured tale, partly told on a Pilates bounce ball.’ The Shakespeare remains. ‘It sort of crept into the show,’ she says, ‘because I recorded myself when I was literally bouncing on this ball – I had to talk to someone, just to feel like I was talking to someone.’
And it’s got a sister character in it, I say – as someone with four sisters that always interests me. Did you look into the complexities of that relationship? ‘Yes,’ she tells me, ‘but I say there’s many sisters in this story, because I want to widen out from “my sister does this, my sister did that.” As women, I feel we could all nurture each other more. If we see people struggling mentally in public and thought of them as our sister or our brother or father, our reactions would be different, I think.’ For Loneragan, distance is twofold. Her sisters live back in Australia, but she talks about ‘trying to reach someone who is nowhere near you in their reality.’ ‘I always thought we’d be together,’ she says, ‘the line that kept coming back to me was “she is a part of me.”’ This resonates, so I make a throwaway joke about how annoying my sisters can be, and we move on.
As part of the tour, Loneragan is holding two performances specifically for parents to attend with their babies. We agree that this is the kind of thing we would have both loved to go to when our kids were little – she calls it ‘a big fat experiment’ but also seems to have a really good idea of how to facilitate the space. It is an attempt, she says, ‘to combine what I’ve scripted, with how I can work in community settings as an artist and respond directly to what happens in the room.’ She is keeping these events deliberately intimate, no more than six or seven parents on bounce balls. I immediately start wondering if anyone has a baby I could borrow.
I ask Loneragan what she feels are the main challenges for creative parents, and one she has identified is time. ‘Once upon a time … I don’t have time!’ she jokes.
Childcare is also an issue close to home for both of us, especially without local family support. Does she struggle with balancing being present for her daughter and making time for herself? ‘I can be present and be “making” but not really making time for myself,’ she says, going on to explain that in the early stages of development she literally rehearsed the piece in her living room with her baby. Fortunately, she benefitted from Creative Scotland funding, which provided five full days of childcare so she could write and make time for rehearsal too – but she is clear this would not have happened if she hadn’t been given that financial assistance.
How will she speak to her own daughter about mental health as she grows up? ‘Perception and language are key,’ she says. ‘I might use words like “different people see things differently and some people aren’t well.” I would definitely speak to her about mindfulness and staying present. When I was eight I had already internalised the silence around my dad’s condition, I knew I wasn’t able to talk to people at school about it. It wouldn’t have been like that if he had had cancer. I guess some people find it too terrible to think about, or incomprehensible to talk about, and just shut it down.’
We’re already over my allotted time so I quickly ask how she thinks we can help primary carers with children to maintain a creative life. ‘Just stay connected,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how to juggle the sleep deprived conundrum, or the financial impossibilities, but communicating honestly – it’s about how we nurture our sanity isn’t it?’
And with that, I leave Loneragan to pick up the toys. She’s given me plenty to think about while I feed the cat and check on my own kids.
by Stella Hervey Birrell
Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.
Though this be Madness will premiere at The Stove, Dumfries on Sat 12 May at 7:30pm, with content from the show performed at 1.30pm for parents with babes in arms. It is also showing at Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh on Sat 19 May at 7:30pm, and Tue 19 May at 10:30am for parents with babes in arms. Booking details can be found here.