The work is marked with an onslaught of intrusive thoughts, tracked by the clicking of a hamster wheel. Ant Lightfoot has reworked their original piece Am I A Terrible Person into a longer and more detailed analysis from someone suffering with a compulsive disorder. I write as someone who shares Lightfoot’s symptoms and frustrations in a world where our value as a mentally ill person is predisposed by sanitised standards. There are fragments of a conceptual aesthetic such as a cardboard box mask and grainy TV footage of a hamster spinning in a wheel. I feel these heavy ideas, married with stylistic flair, could easily be elevated to a place of high art. The piece is creepy enough but if Lightfoot pushed it over the edge it could quickly become uncanny or even grotesque.
Much of Lightfoot’s writing centres on the damage caused by mental health care when it is contextualised in a consumerist society, “What is self-care when you don’t buy anything?” I recall there being nothing more demoralising than being told to just have a bubble bath when you’re at rock bottom. It’s taunting being force fed product suggestions for your mental illness by companies with a limited understanding of the complexities of such disorders. Coconut and Lychee shower gel won’t undo my trauma when there are days where showers feel like burning against my skin.
Lightfoot has extended each of the sequences into longer segments, creating exercises of endurance. The work now resonates more as pieces of performance art depicting inner turmoil rather than simpler videography. As Lightfoot carries out actions for these extended periods of time, the detail of their actions glow. Much like these compulsions, the spectator is forced to scrutinise the actions taking place before them. Something previously simple such as washing hands or skin care become an exercise in memory and feeling. The new footage is long enough to arouse the viewer, but what if Lightfoot extended this to a ten minute hand washing sequence? Perhaps then we may catch even a glimpse into a mind trying to attain perfection against unattainable standards. Someone suffering with compulsions cannot decide when something is finally ‘Safe,’ so why should we keep the viewer comfortable?
Lightfoot untangles a dilemma in a society where everyone is told to “Just Talk” about mental illness. How does one discuss intrusive thoughts where we are made to imagine slaughtering our entire family? One of the reasons mental illness becomes so isolating is because we pretend there is no stigmatisation while focusing on a sanitised version of mental disorders. OCD is reduced to cleanliness and depression is reduced to sadness. We are disgusted with any illness which deviates from our expectations and we shame people who cannot practice basic hygiene, let alone self-care candlelit bubble baths.
The monologue is the greatest deviation from the original script. Lightfoot has reworked a choked up attempt at stand-up into an impassioned rant about the anger of depression. This sentiment of anger is carried throughout the monologue and Lightfoot’s cry against the system resonates deeply with me. I imagine there are thousands of ways to write a monologue about depression, and this one certainly strikes more vividly than before. In the magnitude of depressive thoughts, Lightfoot is tiny and helpless, and thus we are reduced to nothing in its presence.
Lightfoot has pushed the rawness of the original version into a deeper rework. It excites me to imagine what work they’ll produce next.
Am I A Terrible Person? played online in February. For more information and tickets, see The Living Record website.