Four Lives stars Stephen Merchant and Sheridan Smith
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The newest Channel 5 drama, which will air for four weeks, sees Sheridan as school teacher Jenna Garvey who’s life is turned upside down after she is accused of sleeping with a 15-year-old student. Away from fictional drama series, in her documentary Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum, the actress emotionally told of how her own life was thrown into turmoil after she came off of her anti-anxiety medication, but was soon rushed to A&E after seizuring five times, and being found by a close friend who managed to “get [her] breathing again”.
Locked in a mental health battle back in 2016, the star marks her nomination at the BAFTAs in the same year and being the punchline of a brutal joke that sent her “off the deep end”.
Talking honestly about the time in her documentary she explained how things went from bad to worse: “Graham made a joke basically at my expense about me being a drunk.
“I was so humiliated. What people didn’t know was that I had become addicted to anti-anxiety tablets.
“That night I took myself off to a hotel, in my crazy mind I thought I don’t want to be in rehab I will do it myself. So I went there and just stopped my tablets.
“Weirdly, my friend had rang me and she came to the hotel. It’s a miracle that she did now, like someone was looking out for me, because what I didn’t realise is if you stop that medication, stop these tablets abruptly, you seizure.”
The cruelty at the award ceremony and the sudden withdrawal from her medication also came at a time when her father Colin was diagnosed with cancer. After he died only months later, the star also withdrew from the musical Funny Girl, due to mental health issues.
Motivated to make the documentary about her pregnancy journey, the star confessed that she had hidden fears of developing postnatal depression or anxiety during pregnancy, due to her past with mental health issues.
Tracing back to the start of her anxiety battle in an interview with The Guardian Sheridan explained that it was when she was appearing in Legally Blonde the musical. Nearing the end of her run within the show, Sheridan said that “suddenly” she felt as if she was “going slightly mad”.
“I’m on autopilot. And then, suddenly – I felt like I was going slightly mad – I just forgot a line. It had gone, I couldn’t find it,” she explained.
“This had never happened to me before. And all the girls on stage are giggling. The orchestra’s vamping to cover it: ‘Dah! Dah! Dah!’ I remember I stayed in an American accent and said: ‘Oh my God, I forgot my line.’ And the place erupted.
“There was a round of applause. It should have been funny. Some actors would have brushed it off, but it really freaked me out. My head started playing these tricks.
“Every other line, I was stuttering, fluffing it. At the interval I had a panic attack. Couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hear. They were trying to calm me down, meanwhile getting the understudy ready.
“Someone said, ‘Listen. If you don’t go back out there now, you might not again.’ And I’ve been told that by older actors, that they once got stage fright and couldn’t go back on stage for years and years.”
Despite her creeping anxiety issues, Sheridan refused to say no to work, and agreed to film what became the hugely successful Mrs Biggs back in 2012. Despite the role winning her a BAFTA, behind the scenes the star was still struggling to cope.
The star continued to say: “I felt like a duck. Floating along fine but kicking like mad underneath. I know that sounds dramatic now. But the anxiety absolutely spiralled out of control.
“I went to visit various different people. I got one diagnosis, from the first doctor I went to, that it was bipolar. I was put on medication for a year. And then I got a second opinion. This doctor said no, it’s not bipolar, you’ve got generalised anxiety. And he put me on anti-anxiety tablets. Which became a nightmare, because I needed more and more and more.
“Some medications made me worse, some made me better. But the thing is, see, when you go on these medications, you’ve then got to wean yourself off them for ages. It’s a really time-consuming process of finding the right diagnosis, finding the right medication. It’s a weird one, diagnosing mental illness. Because you can’t see it.”
In order to try and cope with pressures of family ill health, her career and her mental health, Sheridan turned to alcohol, the very thing that would become the punchline of that infamous joke a few years later.
Towards the end of her documentary Sheridan admitted that there is still a “long way to go” with mental health, but she has learnt that the “worst thing” you can do is “close off”.
The NHS explains that anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. The specific conditions generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition that can make you feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues rather than a specific one.
GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms and these vary from person to person. But typical symptoms include:
- Feeling restless or worried
- Having trouble concentrating or sleeping
- Dizziness or heart palpitations.
GAD can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can ease your symptoms.These include:
- Psychological therapies – you can get psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Medicine – such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
For mental health support call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours. In addition, text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you’re under 19.
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