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11 April 2017

After developing PTSD, Anna Follows lost her spark for theatre. Here she describes her experience, and how she got her drive back

So back when I was 15-16, I thought by now I would have my career in theatre, travelling, meeting new people, etc. We all should know that this is not really how the world works. I want to tell you the story of how things have worked out and how NSDF has finally put the pieces of the puzzle back together.

My story starts way back in year nine. I signed up to help with a production of Grease and that was it. I was hooked. After that I knew where I wanted my life to go. After that point, I got involved in as many different theatre roles as I could, from costume assistant to stage manager.

After studying an art and design national diploma and art and design foundation, I made the decision to go to university and study costume and performance design. I was there for a few weeks and changed to historical and performance costume for stage and screen. That is where I stayed for two years and learnt several different things, from how to make full 19th-century underwear to an armadillo puppet.

I’m not going to go into great detail here, but early into second year I had something happen to me that caused me to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This turned my whole life upside down. As of three weeks ago, after three and a half years, I have now recuperated from PTSD.  

During the time that I experienced PTSD, a lot of different things changed. I changed university courses again to technical theatre and production, and after two years and I moved to Hull.

I joined in second year, and as the time and my learning went on I lost my confidence and spark for theatre. My end of year show within the degree was Made in Dagenham; I was the stage manager and set designer. This was one of the most distressing moments. I was in a team of four people and now realise I took on far too much. I carried on until the tech week.

On the Tuesday evening of the tech week, I skipped out and went to my counselling session. My counsellor asked me to write a letter to “2013 Anna”. The next day I realised that something was not right. After propping, watching rehearsals and helping to organise the show from the beginning, I realised to my horror that all knowledge of the show had been obliterated from my mind. I pushed through until the Monday morning, after trying and failing to explain to my tutor. I spoke to the director on the Saturday and they understood that something was wrong.

After resting on the Monday, and with the first show starting in five hours, I knew I could not perform as the stage manager. I could not comprehend simple instruction. I was a 23-year-old with a three-year-old’s focus.

I ended up having to take a fortnight off with my tutor crew taking over.

From this I learnt so much about pacing myself and efficiency. But I also realised that I needed to take time to sort out what caused this problem in the first place.

About 10 days ago, I finished trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this I have gotten a lot of my confidence back.

Watching the Opening Ceremony and the drive of everyone around me to make theatre has changed something within me, as corny as that sounds. During the first few days of being on the Technical Team, I have seen and experienced why I wanted to do theatre in the first place. The teamwork involved, the commitment of others around myself and the desire to make it the best it could be is why I wanted to work in theatre in the first place. NSDF has reignited my passion and it has only been a few days. I cannot wait to get more involved.

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