Stuttering was what my childhood was all about. My brain zoomed about like a pinball and my mouth struggled with all its might to keep up. Conversating became an impossibility. I often didn’t speak at all. This hushed lifestyle landed me in special education for a year or two. They couldn’t figure out what was causing my quiet demeanor. I forced myself to speak in order to earn my place in regular classes, but the stutter remained.
In the third grade, I was selected to read aloud from a story. One of the characters was an elderly woman. I put on a weathered voice and changed my body shape to match. There was no hint of a stutter. Intrigued by this phenomenon, the teacher suggested to the director of the school’s Christmas pageant that I be the leading lady. The stutter faded away while I was performing.
I caught the acting bug and started taking classes at Waukesha Civic Theatre. That led to other classes in the community. I had the time of my life and the effects were visible at school. I became a social butterfly. I dressed in elaborate outfits and stopped caring about what people thought. If I could speak in front of people, what was keeping me from bantering with people in real life?
Then middle school arrived. I challenge you to find one person who considers middle school their glory years. I personally was bullied, which led to my first bout of undiagnosed depression. I halted my acting. I didn’t want anybody to make fun of me for something I loved so deeply.
When I got to high school, I came back out of my shell. I put on the character of the clown. That’s what propelled me through the first three years of high school. The year that changed the trajectory of my life was that third year. I didn’t know I had Bipolar Disorder yet, but the signs were surfacing more than ever. I spent the first few months of that school year manic. I didn’t eat regularly and sometimes didn’t eat altogether. I spent my school days putting forth obscene amounts of energy trying to please and entertain everybody. There was this overwhelming mission to never let anybody feel the pain like the kind I was pushing down inside myself.
I soon ran myself down to the point of falling ill with pneumonia. This sent me into another deep depression. I laid in bed everyday playing solitaire on the computer, lonely and miserable. When I got back to school, I threw myself into the arts, and felt better. It was the only element of my life keeping me afloat. In addition to painting, I acted through the school’s Forensics team and Waukesha Civic Theatre’s A.C.T. Live!
Although the arts helped me during that year, I couldn’t keep the mania at bay. I was sent to a psychiatric hospital on May 25, 2011. This was the beginning of the most arduous summer of my life. As they experimented with the meds, I crashed into a deep and dark depression. It takes forever to get patients on the right medications. The brain chemistry of people with my condition is unique to each patient, so it takes time to find the right medicine regimen. The highlight of the summer of 2011 was working with Dynamite Comedy, which was comprised of kids that had met in A.C.T. Live! I wrote a skit for the sketch comedy show. Unfortunately, my anxiety kept me from performing with them. I still went to the show and they pulled me onstage. I felt welcomed. I also took an improv class at the end of that hellish summer. It felt rewarding to actually complete something.
Shortly after the showcase, I was put on Prozac and nothing else. My new doctor was considering changing my diagnosis to a mood disorder, which is less extreme than Bipolar Disorder. This medicine change sent me into psychosis. I spent the last week of summer break in the hospital. The school counselor suggested I refrain from coming back to school. She said that maybe I should take online classes. I refused. I didn’t want to be afraid of facing everybody.
Thank God I went back. Yes, the first few weeks were difficult. Then the school’s resident drama king came into my life – Ryan Albrechtson, who now runs Outskirts Theatre Co. One day after school, he pulled me into his car and told me to try out for the school play – The Hobbit. He was student directing and thought it would be beneficial for me. I was cast as Gollum. It wasn’t the limelight that made my senior year the best of my high school experience. It was being part of a group of kids who didn’t see me as being any crazier than them.
When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what to do with myself. After I realized I wasn’t ready for college, I dropped out and wrote my first novel – Hey, Joey Journal. It’s a story about a senior in high school simultaneously dealing with mental illness and high school theatre. The book was released in September 2015. I wrote the first few chapters in Waukesha Civic Theatre’s dressing room while performing Our Town.
Without my experience with mental illness and theatre, my book wouldn’t have happened.
Bipolar Disorder is a lifelong disease. There is no cure for it. As I write this, I am fresh out of another hospital stay, this time for depression. One of the things I had to look forward to when I was in the hospital was my weekly Adult Improv class taught by Doug Jarecki at Waukesha Civic Theatre. I was scared to go the day I was released for obvious reasons, but I’m so glad I went. Being given the chance to act and play with other silly adults was the brightest part of an otherwise taxing week.
My voice has come back because of acting multiple times in my life, and I feel incredibly grateful.
This is why we need to keep the arts alive. There is so much stigma surrounding mental health. Being involved in theatre has taught me that everybody has a little bit of crazy in them, but that’s what makes us so damn entertaining.
Colleen June Glatzel