I was lucky enough to have a truly eye opening chat with Erica Jane Dupuy; an actor, improviser and drama teacher (a truly brilliant one at that). I wanted to speak with Erica about her agoraphobia and how it also links with her anxiety and depression.
For anyone that isn't familiar with the phobia, as it isn't perhaps something as regularly discussed as anxiety or depression, Anxiety UK explains:
'Agoraphobia is a very complex phobia usually manifesting itself as a collection of inter-linked conditions. For example many agoraphobics also fear being left alone (monophobia), dislike being in any situation where they feel trapped (exhibiting claustrophobia type tendencies) and fear travelling away from their ‘safe’ place, usually the home. It is not a fear of open spaces as many people think.'
I have learnt an incredible amount by speaking with Erica and am so very grateful for her bravery discussing this difficult topic so openly. Thank you, Erica.
Have you found triggers with your agoraphobia, anxiety and depression and do they link with each other or not?
"They all link together really and they have developed over time. I don't have triggers as such as it's pretty random but there are things I know I have to stay away from. I have to stay away from crowds so these days I can never go to a gig or a festival and I find public transport quite daunting.
I was on a train to Manchester around Christmas time and because the train before had been cancelled, I found myself on a packed train and I started to panic. There was someone who saw what I was going through and just kept asking me questions knowing it would distract me. I don't know who this person is, but I would love to be able to thank them. If you see someone having an issue, please reach out through words. It makes one feel connected and not alone and it's the best thing."
Have you found your agoraphobia has ever affected you when performing?
"No, haha! I've never played venues that big! And you're separated when you perform, you're looking out rather than in. Anxiety in performance is still a huge effort but over the years I've found a way to breathe and cope with that stress."
I know you do a lot of improvisation (which is awesome!)- Is this something you have come to as a way to combat your mental health? Does improvisation help or can it induce your anxiety and agoraphobia?
"Yeah, it's the maddest thing to do for someone with anxiety on the surface. I wouldn't say it combats my mental health but it challenges it a lot. With any performance, there are places where I won't go in terms of anxiety but improvisation enables me to explore my own truth through different characters. It was great in one of our shows that we got to address the issue of anxiety and OCD sensitively and that's one of the great things about improvisation, it gets you to explore the 'what if' in a safe space."
Have you ever found sustaining your mental health provides difficulties being a teacher? And if so, has there been any ways that you have been able to combat this?
"It's weird as a teacher as you can't be 'off' and I have little routines to keep me positive. I am also aware that being in that position of responsibility means that I have to be the support for ALL of my students and I can't be 'off'. But I always think truth is important. I talk openly about my mental health, not for any kind of therapy for myself but to say to my students: it's ok, I know what you're going through, I really understand.
It's so important, I think in teaching, to be seen as a real person and go 'I've learned to cope with this. I've not cured it, but I've learned to cope and you can too'. I never give advice but I give tips on what's worked for me and I always share bits of advice in my Friday Final Thought about self-care and identify among other things."
Erica also added -
"I would also like to add that my team at Con EAST are equally supportive and I have a boss who I can go to and tell her how I feel. I know she will understand and not judge me. The team are also so atuned to my mental health even if it’s just buying me a coffee if I say I’m feeling down. That really helps in the teaching environment as I never feel alone!
If I could give any advice at all, it's surround yourself with good people who you trust and can be your true self with."
For more information on agoraphobia, please visit:
- Paris Hoxton
Illustrations by @red_cheeky_drawings