Rina Varley produced one-person play.

Rina Varley produced one-person play.

Laughing about mental illness

'Anxiety is basically like a smoke detector.'

Rina Varley has had anxiety her whole life.

When she was a child, she was told by her parents and teachers that she was just sensitive.

But in 2012, Varley was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. She learned that she has a chemical imbalance.

Symptoms Varley felt included a tightness in her chest, trouble breathing, she would feel hot and even cry for no reason.

“Anxiety is basically like a smoke detector. If there is trouble, our anxiety kicks in. We need it, we can’t get rid of it. But the difference between a regular person and someone with GAD is the anxiety is felt much more intensely,” explained Varley.

She worked full-time in sales until June 2011, when she went into real estate.

“So, I went from working full-time with a company to working full-time with just one person as my boss. That didn’t work out. Then I went into business for myself, but there was not enough routine in that,” explained Varley.

That’s when she decided that she was going to figure out her life.

“I decided that my gift has always been writing. I’m going to use it to explore what the hell happened to me,” said Varley.

But soon after, she became deeply depressed.

“There was a long period of time where I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t function, I couldn’t do very simple things, like shower. Everything seemed impossible,” she said, adding that for six months, she had to cope with feelings of worthlessness and she had an inability to cope with life.

“It’s embarrassing to say I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t grocery shop, I couldn’t do anything. I’m unemployable at this point,” Varley said.

“To work your way out of that, knowing that you have a community of people that is going though what you are going through is so empowering,” she added.

Her diagnosis led her to therapy, she got the necessary medication and she began learning about ways of managing her disorder.

That is where the idea for MiND FuLL came from.

Varley reached out to Victoria Maxwell, an award-winning actress and playwright and the creative director of Crazy for Life, a one-woman show based on her own true-life story of living with bipolar disorder, anxiety and psychosis, to be her mentor.

MiND FuLL follows Varley’s story from when she was five years- old and experienced her first panic attack to being bullied in Grade 3 to eventually becoming a writer.

It is a comedy.

“There’s lots of humour in it because it’s almost an hour, and nobody wants to sit through a show on mental illness for an hour without humour,” laughed Varley.

Laughing about mental illness is also “an icebreaker” for Varley.

She wants people to know that it is okay to laugh about it and agrees that some things about her condition are ridiculous.

“When you are laughing, you are taken out of your head and into your body. And when we are all in our bodies together, laughing, it’s huge. Everybody feels comfortable,” she said.

Varley has reached out to the Canadian Mental Health Association in Vancouver. She has performed her one-woman show for the Women and Wellness show in Vernon and The Bottom Line conference that looks at mental health in the workplace.

Her goal is to reach out to schools and address anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – conditions that children might be going through.

Varley also hopes her show might be able to help others if they are experiencing something similar with a family member, a parent, a colleague or teacher.

She wants people to know there is no shame in having a mental disorder and hopes that her show will help people to heal and to thrive.