How we plan to stay mentally and physically well at the Fringe | The festival is gruelling - but the Sugarcoated Sisters have a plan...

How we plan to stay mentally and physically well at the Fringe

The festival is gruelling - but the Sugarcoated Sisters have a plan...

I (Chloe) have bipolar type 2, and my sister (Tabby) has type 1 diabetes. So as a double act preparing for our Edinburgh Fringe debut – Sugarcoated Sisters: Bittersweet  - managing our mental and physical health will be paramount.

 For me, the worst-case scenario is a manic or depressive episode so severe that I become suicidal. For my sister, it is that her blood sugar would stay too high for too long, leading to ketoacidosis. Both instances could be fatal. Thankfully, we have been stable for a long time, so these two circumstances are improbable but not impossible.

So to decrease the risk of any serious health-related incidents, we have spoken to many people connected to the Fringe, including promoters, technicians, venue managers, writers, directors, and fellow performers (veterans and newbies alike).

The responses are mixed. Half of them relate to our concerns, agreeing that staying ‘well’ at the Fringe is challenging amidst the stress, hustle, bustle, and pressure of putting on a fantastic performance each night, even without underlying health conditions. The other half brushes the concept off, concluding that you just have to buckle up and get on with it. Almost all of them agree that the Fringe is a phenomenal opportunity to perform shows you love while having the time of your life and that it is well worth doing if you are mentally and physically able.

But my sister and I live in absolutes. We go hard or go home. We are either in our pyjamas or in ball gowns. There's no in between. So how can we give our all to the Fringe while avoiding a mental (or physical) breakdown? A lot of the advice people have given us is sweet eg: go on nice walks, do some yoga, do some meditation. And while we love and appreciate those things, sometimes that's not enough. So our solution is to protect our health fiercely.

Based on the discussions we've had, the wise words of the people we admire, and our lived experience, this is how we're planning on staying well, mentally and physically at the Fringe.

Know your limits

We both struggle with people-pleasing, co-dependency, and setting boundaries, personally and professionally. When this happens, it is tempting to blame others for putting us in this situation.

While other people's demands and behaviours can certainly be problematic, we've realised after many years that it is up to us to take responsibility for how we respond. There are so many times when Tabby and I reluctantly agree to do something and then profoundly resent having to do it when we are already at maximum capacity.

So, if someone asks us to take on a task during the Fringe, we will think carefully about whether we have the time and energy. If we don't, we'll kindly let them know we cannot. This is hard when the moment comes, especially if you really like the person or the task is enjoyable.

We'll prioritise any exciting opportunities that may or may not arise for sure. But we will also remain steadfast in placing our well-being above any particularly unreasonable demands, eg a friend wanting to stay on our floor for two weeks. We can't control other people and what they ask of us, but we can choose how to deal with it.

Be fiercely kind to yourself.

I did a life-changing course in Mindful Self Compassion a few years ago. One of the course’s best teachings is an exercise where you write down a situation that is troubling you and why. You note what you tell yourself about it, for example ‘no one will ever love me cos I'm such a nightmare to be around!’ ‘I'm a complete and utter failure’ etc.

Then, you imagine someone that you love in an uncomplicated way, such as a dear friend. You imagine that this person has come to you with this exact problem. You write down what you would say to them, such as ‘you have the kindest soul’, ‘you are a delight to be around’

. The difference in how everyone in the class spoke to themselves versus how they spoke to their imagined friend was extreme. So, at Fringe, we'll try to treat ourselves like we would treat our dearest friends, especially when challenging situations arise. If I forget a line, I won't say, ‘I am the absolute worst. I will never recover from this terrible tragedy’. I'll say, "Ah, it's OK

. It's only one line! No need to be so hard on myself!’

If Tabby's insulin pump goes BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP, and she has to glug some Lucozade on stage, that's fine. She wouldn't shout ‘Turn that damn thing off’, to her best friend. She'd say, ‘do what you need to do. No apology needed!’

It is what it is(!)

We'll also borrow from concepts outlined in Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, which centres around healing fear and shame and trusting our innate goodness.

She talks of accepting things that happen, identifying our feelings about them without judgment, and not getting caught up in our emotional reaction to the extent that it turns into lingering feelings of sadness, despair and suffering.

Bizarrely, the Love Island catchphrase, 'It is what it is', sums up the approach pretty well. So, if there ever happen to be only two audience members at one of our shows, we would identify that we are feeling disappointment, humiliation and fear. Then we'd say, ‘Michael McIntyre performed to only two people once, and one of them was there by mistake! So hey ho. It is what it is!’

The bare minimum

Of course, we need to be fit enough not to get out of breath despite singing, dancing and playing our instruments with serious gusto. Our show also has a tricky lift (Tabby is insanely strong and can lift me up in several strange ways). However, regarding the physical side of things, we will prioritise chilling out and resting.

We might try to do a couple of minutes of yoga here and there. We might go on some walks around the block. We might even make it to the edge of Arthur's Seat. But we probably won't climb it.

We've climbed it many times in the past, and it was brilliant, but during our run, we're going to cut ourselves some serious slack and listen to our bodies. If we're tired, we'll have a nap. If we get hungry at literally any time of the day or night, we'll eat whatever we find lying around (yes, Tabby CAN eat whatever she wants despite common misconceptions about diabetes and sugar saying otherwise). We'll try to get some nutrients in, but if that's a multi-vitamin every three days when we remember, that's fine.

Health professionals often stress the importance of routine for managing both bipolar and diabetes. But it all goes back to being kind to ourselves and not overthinking it. Besides, if we want to get back into our yoga and meditation practices after the Fringe, we can! We don't have to worry about doing our absolute best in every aspect of life all at once. We can allow our priorities to ebb and flow a bit, no problem.

We feel immense gratitude that we are able to put on a show in the first place. And we’re lucky that there are two of us to support each other when things get tough. I’m sure many performers are struggling with more intense challenges than we are, and I hope they overcome any obstacles that come their way.

Putting our resolutions into practice is much easier said than done. Will we stick to our mental and physical health plan perfectly? Definitely not. But we'll do our best to chill out, go with the flow, look after ourselves, be kind, put on a great show and most importantly, enjoy this creative and powerful experience!

• The Sugarcoated Sisters debut show Bittersweet is on at the Just The Tonic Caves at 8.50pm during the Fringe.

Published: 26 Jul 2022

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