The Burnout

Journal pages

April 30th / May 1st, 2018

The Burnout

It started a little while ago. About the beginning of 2018. I have had been in England for 3 and a half years and have been acting for about the same amount of time. All was well, as it can be in the life of a human nowadays with the inherent ups and downs, but suddenly it all collapsed. On all levels, everything seemed upside down, especially in some areas of my personal life and the acting career. Now, everyone has issues in their personal life that might lead to an aggravated pressure on the outside things and make them look more complicated or even quite impossible but somehow, because acting is such a sensitive, volatile job it seemed to me as it was just evaporating, and I was nowhere to be seen.

Before leaving all behind and coming here to be an actor, even if troubled by personal life issues, because my job in science was contract written “forever and ever”, clear and logical, it looked like no matter what it will still go on, be there even if I, drained, almost feeling to stagnate, I wouldn’t be. I would still be able to drag myself and sit in the chair, in front of the microscope, counting and identifying algae or plants, or reading chlorophyll content on a spectrophotometer. Because, no matter what, I did not have to be entirely there to do it. I just had to hang on, do it, not needing to be overly inspired or whatever. It was mechanical, simple to me as I knew everything by heart. It could just be an automatic response while personal issues got to heal, move on, disappear. My job was as secure as you can (or can’t?) imagine.

Now in acting, there is no certainty. Not even for the “wealthy and the trained”, the “privileged ones” as many picture “them”. I am not even going to bring up the rest of the actors, the “poor little ones” as they like to portray themselves. You might notice I did not say “us, the poor little ones” as I do not believe privilege gets you there. Yes, might help but the truth is, it’s up to the individual to maintain him or herself up there and make the best of it. And even if we all deserve that “one chance” that privilege might bring for free and fast, what the f**k, life ain’t fair and I am thankful there are no bombs falling from the sky. So, move on and do your best even if you might just bite the dust.

But my collapsed world had nothing to do truly with the outside one. My career started off quite fast and steady, with little things one after another, building little blocks raising my little staircase up somewhere. I was eager, positive, optimist, functioning full steam ahead, happily adding bit after bit to my experience. After a while, I stopped doing the small things. I believe there is a time to stop with music videos, short films, unpaid gigs unless they are too brilliant to pass and would, for real, push my CV (just feature films of course). I did some free small stuff, comic pieces for a friend who took a chance on me when I had nothing to show for, and I loved it, but this is something I only save for one or two people, and not too much of it either. Basically, I started to focus on my main desire: feature films. Now, that is the turning point when all goes to hell because is bloody hard not to go insane while selecting through and following the one prey. No more little wingless butterflies at hand, no more sleeping rabbits or three-legged mice. No, the big prey. Like a cheetah after an Impala antelope. But, there is one thing. I don’t run after the impaired or the old or the baby antelope. No, somehow, I like a big healthy one. It is like running after the one specimen that will make you give it all. No pack, no team, just one solitary creature fast running to almost exhaustion to get the meal. The scope, the whole point of the chase. The glorious moment of sinking your teeth into its neck and feeling the exhilarating taste of the work that is about to come, to chew on, to digest to turn it into your own self, to give you life for the next chase. Your own, personal chase. The possibility of the next glorious day when you’ll be alive and well and ready.

I am picky. Some say I am crazy. Some say an actor should just do everything that comes at hand. When I talk of “selectivity” they don’t get the term, they keep on telling me to get out of the comfort zone, because I might just like it; they don’t understand that I’ve worked in a place before where you like it or not, you must put up with it. No way around – the trap of the “forever contract”. You can’t choose thus, one ends unhappy because a job IS a part of your life, a person does not space out when going to work. And NO, don’t you tell me not to mix the personal with the professional. I don’t feel the need to have a split personality (sarcasm, I know what that is). I chose acting to braid it into my existence, to make me fulfilled, to LOVE a project till my heart bursts! Not to crawl, angry, frustrated, annoyed, trapped. So, I choose before I sign. And I only choose if I LOVE. To me, it doesn’t even matter it’s paid. If I don’t fall for the story and the people … but mainly the story, I just don’t. To be honest, as a biologist I know it is not the best recipe to survive. Just look at the Pandas. Only consume bamboo leaves and if no bamboo forests, or shrinking territory, they’re in trouble. But somehow, I don’t like being the bottom feeder, the one that eats everything. They are many and thriving. Please don’t get offended. Some will, reading this, it is just the way I am and if it works for you, great. I’d rather have a depressive episode.

I work from home. To be more exact, I do not have a job besides acting. I stay at home and every day I do my bit: search the sites, apply if anything comes along, do my self-tapes, go training, learn or read scripts, decide if I like projects/scrips and if I want to apply and hope for an audition. And it is hard. It is. I do my stuff around the house, the garden, cook, wash, clean… you know the normal things. I create, I paint, I write, I translate, I read, I do a bit of gardening, I try to fill my time as well as I can. But it is hard. Because I am ambitious. I do not desire to just stay at home and do all these amazing things, to be honest. Who would not just love not to have kids and just do whatever the f**k goes through their heads? But I am not rich, and many things come with the lack of money. My husband says it’s okay and he will handle it. And he does. But he works too much, too hard and I do not feel at ease. Much of my drive to further my career is motivated by this. And this is where it got out of control for me. You know how humans are. They need a motivation and sometimes they can’t find all of it inside themselves, so they find extra on the outside. In their children, spouses or pets (you can’t let them become strays, abandoned and hungry, right?). It is good up to a point. But when it becomes too much from the exterior it turns poisonous. If there is little to no progress, guilt appears, and guilt is a silent killer. It creeps on you. If the motivation lies too much on your outside you may get to the point when you can’t look at yourself and be kind to you, for it is not your inner motivation anymore. You lost the point. You lost you in the process. Where did that desire come from? Inside you, yes? It was your dream, your passion. And you, no matter how critical, how ambitious, you on your own terms can see clearly the project, the progress and what is happening. But when lost outside of you, focused on others you risk on starting to feel a pressure that should not be on your shoulders for in the end, everyone must do their bid (except children, when you have them you can’t follow dreams which do not provide for their proper raising). But as no children are involved, I can happily dare to follow my dreams and express my talents.

The problem is in the last past 4 months I felt inadequate in many ways, not doing enough, not contributing. I always had a salary, I never really had to be on my husband’s money. Until I came here. In the beginning, my only money were the ones I was making from the jobs as an extra. And not much of it either. Then a few paid projects, but nothing spectacular. If they were minimum wage plus expenses I was good!! Now, I don’t really do much extra work (unless FAA pacts that make it worth your time); agents don’t like it in general for it reduces an actor’s ability to be available at the last moment’s call but let’s say I would love to stop doing it. The trouble started last December we rented the house from our landlord (after more than a month of scandals among the people living in the house) and now we are sharing it 50/50 with some relatives of mine. Besides the fact that finally all the chaos is gone (we lived in one room and there were at least other 4 to 5 other people in the house; one kitchen; one bathroom…); and now we can finally feel at home with no worries, no locking the room, no noise while I try to learn and self-tape or anything else; the money pressure increased. And even if my husband did recently get a raise, the first few months were deadly. I hate borrowing money, I hate feeling in debt even if just a little and to someone who simply is my best friend and knows exactly what is going on and would help me without a second thought! This altogether with a lot of spending to renovate (you do not want to know the state of the house after everyone left!! and the amount of physical work put in it in a very short time as we tried to be ready by Christmas) and new stuff bought for the house (my relatives both work and sometimes have an issue remembering we only live on one salary!!) made me feel that I was falling behind.

My acting pretty much came to a halt, I only got one double role in a feature film in the 4 months since this year started and this one was from a site I could not afford to pay for; but luckily the director accepted my direct email to him – thank God for there are still humans out there who understand!!!! And it’s paid. And he just liked me, we met, I didn’t even audition; he met my husband; we met his partner and the team! It was brilliant! Can you imagine if he wouldn’t have bothered?

My mind maybe blocked me from giving it all in my self-tapes, or maybe it was just a mixture of events – not many advertised projects – and this definitely is not my doing; my agent practically nonexistent (why do I even keep them it’s a mystery to me), the price of some sites where I might have had the chance to find something to apply to; the fact that I have 2 projects that are dreading for 2 years since I got the roles; 2 films that are crawling to be finished (well, one was finished this March and just now it’s starting the festivals tour); the fact that I met some producer obsessed with “beautiful women” and the bloody nudity in his film and I ended right before the audition hearing the phrase “we will see you in the bikini in the end” (to the fact that I refused to audition in underwear) or something similar that made me just want to get the hell out of there and was so happy not to have gotten the part! (Have you ever felt a weight lifting off your shoulder when not given a role?) I would have said no anyhow. But you know what? That made me feel inadequate again. I knew I shouldn’t have! I saw myself fat. I knew I am not skinny or slim enough to shoot a fight scene in underwear. And it doesn’t even matter that it was a scene to be done probably because it is the way some people sell their films and I would have most likely said no if after reading the script if I wouldn’t have felt it made sense in the story. But, this is not about my principles or preferences (by the way the role I got, and I talked about above involves a lot of nudity; but the director does not give the same feel as that producer I met and, in the script makes perfect sense) it has to do with me feeling guilty I looked horrible (in my mind). I forgot to remember the reason I got a few pounds the last autumn (medical by the may); I forgot about the stress and the pain that everyone is allowed from time to time; I forgot I really did not have money for gym and that just working at home doesn’t have the same effect especially when someone gets depressed they can barely get off the bed. I hated myself because of some guy with a fixation on women and probably a bad script which needs nudity to take the eyes away from the quality; and even if the script might have been good (maybe I am frustrated), I still shouldn’t have in the back of my head consider the part as long as I felt the guy was not someone I wanted around. But I thought we needed the money. And I fell in the middle of a war between what I knew I wanted in my mind and what I thought I should do. Between my principles and dreams and the guilt. The guilt of not being able to be abso-f**king-lutely gorgeous, skinny and all f**king 6 pack abs trained making the bloody money that would make my husband not work so much until his back would give out and be in need on an MRI; about not making the f**king money to keep up with all the spending going around and having a bloody nervous breakdown every time something new is about to be bought – which by the way it is a great addition to the house. But in my mind… is another day of chaos which I cannot put in order. So, I end up shoving sweets up my throat, hating myself for being weak and incapable, and maybe not even talented. I think at a point I felt like a blob of meat rolling around, amorph and disgusting. Should I mention I am 54 kg? Yes, 5’1 but healthy. True, for this business should be rocking about 50 kg (do not want to become skinny, I like my physical health; my mental health is another story) but with clothes on I am quite great looking (says me today after eating and drinking some disgusting plants-based shakes and teas).

I started painting in late January. I felt cracking and I was desperately looking for something to do. I wrote some poems; beautiful but depressing as hell. Didn’t really help as it was just pain staring in my face. I painted a tree. Looked terrible, since I hadn’t painted since 6th grade. But it had a lot of leaves. Which meant a lot of dots? Dots, dots, dots, hundreds of dots. I felt a bit psychotic. It felt a bit…crazier… but all the dot-focused work worked. I started to feel my mind a bit at ease. For the obsessive dotting made sense. They were leaves in a tree after all. And there are many leaves in a tree. Since then I painted a lot. And got better. Recently I tackled a bit abstract painting after some symbolist poetry I love. Depressing but beautiful. I was still cracking and falling apart but at least I was creating. As I used once to write now I was painting. It is phenomenal to see what can come out of a broken mind if we truly want to help ourselves. I still have my pain, and some more deep, personal aches I will not talk about; they are too, quite crippling but I kind off know it can be sorted. They make me write. But this other pain makes me paint. And I like that I discovered this ability while on a mental breakdown.

With acting it was the same. In 2011 I hit rock bottom after terrible problems at the workplace. Will not talk about them now but, while away on a scientific session by the Black Sea, when my mind got a fraction of a second of relaxation, I had remembered something I forgot. Long, long time ago when I was in 4th or 5th grade, my father heard me reading out loud, on voices, having the time of my life. He burst into my room and screamed t me out of nowhere to stop reading like I thought I was at the theatre. Then he left. Of course, I went on until I was done. I would have never given in. But after that day, something happened, I was never ever until one day in 2014, able to read similar to that again. I guess my child mind blocked that memory, that short burst of brutality, for it seemed so strange when I remembered… how was it possible to have forgotten such a thing? And I remember exactly what I was reading. I also remember a specific story my teacher would ask me to read for the class when I was in 4th grade. It was a sad story about a dear and its baby. And I would read it as I heard it be read on the vinyl discs I had at home. I understood why they read it the way they did, and everyone was listening to me in perfect silence. And then, it all stopped. And I hated reading out-loud in front of the class ever again. As a scientist, I did a lot of presentations, defended my Ph.D. thesis but has nothing to do with reading. One day in 2012 I believe, I made a presentation for the new director of the Research Institute I was working at. It was the first time after about 2 decades when someone said to me I read like I am telling a story, and if lights would have been off he might just have gone to sleep to the sound of my voice. I was still not thinking of really leaving my university job to become an actor. The first time I truly read a poem out loud was April 2014. Two months before coming to England. At first, I could not really speak up, barely could hear my voice. I was all alone and still could not do it. Two years before I sensed something coming back but under the hidden scientific coat, I did not feel threatened. Slowly, my voice came into hearing. And I could finally speak. I admit that I cannot yet, after all this time as an actress, commit to reading as a professional. I feel as my innocence has been taken away that day. That no matter how hard I would try, it would never be the same as it was before that day. So, in a way, I am afraid I will never be complete. I sometimes listen to one of my favorite actors reading and he is all there. To me, it sounds like his innocence was not stolen. There is something in the vibration of his voice that to me reads “complete”. Nothing is missing. When I read, I feel it deep, deep down, that is gone. So, I can’t really do that 100%. Those terrible times, even if they did not make me whole again, reminded me of what I desired once. And opened the gate to today. I may not yet be able to trust my reading, but my acting has all my attention and I love the camera. So, I am not sad for my pain. I wouldn’t be here without it for my mind would have still be sealed.

There are beautiful things to be discovered in a burnout. In the falling and hitting the ground, there is something beautiful in the splatter of blood and brains. From afar, might look like a painting, if not knowing what it is. I believe that the beautiful work we see created by others is their own splattered bodies on the hard concrete. Just magically turned into an expressed talent. My pain is vivid, organic, I do not know how to be another way. But no matter how hard it was these last few months, how hard my brain got caught in this mess, I feel quite at the end of it.

In a way, as for many years I used to be unhappy, incomplete, I believe that my brain started feeling it is not possible this to be real, all the acting, the awards, practicing and developing my hobbies; the wonderful free time every day, basically living my dreams. Tired by all the suffering, caught in between feeling to fall behind, feeling inadequate, fat and broke, stressed that might be the time to start making some money, even get a job; I am afraid my brain thought that too many good free days happily building towards my extraordinary dream are supposed to get to an end. I can’t be that happy and free forever and ever. So, in a way, it started to recreate the unhappiness it was used to? On top of the already existing trauma. Can you imagine dealing with this stuff? I think you can because no matter how different, we all are the same. We are raised like this. To be miserable. To believe that a wheel will turn, that happiness can’t last forever. So, on top of everything, would you like a slice of more self-sabotaging next to one of society mentality and a bucket of traditional superstition and bad ideas? I think an indigestion is around the corner.

I truly hope I get to have some more days like today and yesterday. I hope I recovered and what is left that hurts at least I know how to deal with. My diet is going well, and I am not starving myself (never could anyway); I am shooting one of my stand-by projects this weekend and I definitely fit in the trousers I bought for it; I feel new and evolved. Free. Lighter than the past few months. I feel at ease with my choices in life. Motivated mainly by my inside dream and only partially by my devoted husband. He hates seeing me like I was. I am afraid it makes him feel inadequate. So, I owe it to myself first to get back on my feet and to him to make sure he knows he’s just great. That was hard, I am quite sure times like this will reappear, I might have a disposition towards it, but as long as I fight for myself, I guess I will be just fine. Although I wish not to put this kind of memories on paper again too soon.

Have a lovely spring everyone!

© 2018 Carmen Silva

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