Friday, 17 February 2017

Full circle

You might remember a blog I wrote back in June last year about a lovely homeless lady called Denise who I met outside Marylebone station. Well, I bumped into her there again last night (again, somewhat bizarrely, only because my train was cancelled. I'm starting to think that Chiltern Rail are deliberately engineering our encounters).

Anyway, I just wanted you all to know that she's still going strong and is looking SO much better than when I met her last year. Her speech has improved a lot too - I wonder if that's because she got her false teeth back or if she's just generally in better health than she was. But that twinkle in her eye is still very much there - still chirpy and full of good-humoured sparkle and namedropping like there's no tomorrow. She's selling the Big Issue now and living in a women's refuge just down the road from the station. Utterly lovely lady.

We caught up and she excitedly rummaged through her bag to show me a photo of when she met Ellie Goulding and the Mayor of London (in that order of importance, of course!) over Christmas. She couldn't find it in the end and wanted to take my address so she could post me a copy but neither of us had a pen. Luckily I've managed to track down an article written about the encounter. She was SO proud of it, and even more proud when I mentioned the blog that I'd written about her and how it'd affected how people I know all over the world have been viewing homelessness. She really liked the idea of homeless folk in America being treated more kindly just because we happened to meet in London. I love how keen she is to use her skills to help change people's opinions and make life better for people sleeping rough. Judging by how well she looked yesterday it seems that these things really do come full circle.

I got a few funny looks as we nattered away, and particularly when I squeezed her arm as we said goodbye. Apparently actually touching someone who's in a different social situation to yourself is unusual and worthy of a raised eyebrow (which only goes to show how deeply this stigma is entrenched). Hopefully just seeing this happen may have at least given a few people pause for thought.

So here's the article. Denise is the one wearing the Santa hat. If you ever see her in London then say hi, buy a Big Issue and ask her about herself - she'll natter your ear right off. :)

And here's the original blog I wrote when I first met her:

...and the follow-up:

Friday, 24 June 2016


Last night I went to Birmingham with three of my friends to do one of those live escape room things. On my way to meet them I saw a homeless man asking a passer-by for change. I gave him some without him even asking me. This made him very happy.

Once we'd met up, on our walk to the venue we were asked for change by two more people, one of whom had a pretty badly cut eye and was trying to get to the hospital. We gave them change.
"That's two for me today", I said.
"Six for me", said one of my friends. He'd been in London. I couldn't not hug him.

Over the course of the night we passed countless other homeless people, apparently making their way back from a soup kitchen, traipsing through the darkening streets with backpacks and that blank, straight-ahead gaze that said that tonight wasn't going to be easy. It'd just started to rain. None of them asked us for change - apparently there's something of a stigma attached to begging, even among the homeless. To sacrifice your dignity by asking strangers for change you have to be REALLY desperate. After the event we sat in a bar and discussed how we were all noticing more homeless people since I met Denise on Tuesday, and how that wasn't because there WERE more... we were just finally seeing them.

We also chatted about what they spend their money on. One friend said that he always tried to give food rather than money if he could to ensure that they weren't spending it on booze or drugs. I've changed my opinion on that since watching the Filthy, Rich and Homeless series. I mean, if you were sleeping in doorways and being hated by 90% of the population every day of your life, wouldn't you want a beer or two? Wouldn't you want something to numb the pain? To brighten the day somehow, even if it's in a self-destructive way? I honestly don't think it's my place to judge anyone's life choices when it comes to that sort of thing. I have the odd drink or two and my life's pretty bloody sweet.

And we chatted about how far our collective new attitude has spread in just two days. My original post has now been viewed by people all over the world and I've had countless messages from folk saying that it's changed their opinion on homelessness and how they'll make a point of not ignoring it any more. Of trying to help in some small way. That blows my mind a bit, considering that I almost didn't meet Denise at all. When I got off the tube on Tuesday there was a train back to the Midlands leaving just five minutes later but my feet hurt from walking and I didn't fancy racing down a platform to catch it so I decided to go outside.

Two tiny casual decisions - mine to go outside and Denise's to make a point of talking to me - have had a ripple effect that's spread across the globe. Only tiny ripples, obviously, but ripples have a tendency of spreading. I hope that they do. I hope that people don't forget. That Denise's story will lead to a genuine change in psychology and unconscious habits, not just a week or two of giving out a bit of spare change, then lapsing back into old ways.

And that's what's made me write this today. We've woken up this morning to a Britain in disarray. Regardless of how you voted, everyone is a bit scared and looking at an uncertain future with wary, weary eyes. In times of economic unrest it's the poor who suffer the most. If you've got food in your tummy and a roof over your head then appreciate that and don't let your fear turn you into a selfish person. You're better than that. We all are.

I've decided to write Denise a letter and keep it in my bag, just in case I ever meet her again. I want to thank her for talking to me the other day and to let her know about the effect that her story's had on so many people. I want her to have something tangible, not just another story but something she can re-read and keep. I want her to know that because of her there are homeless people in the Midlands and L.A. and countless other places right now getting a little extra change to make their days just that tiny bit better.

More than anything, though, I want her to know that I tell her story as proudly as the ones she tells about the Gallagher brothers. That she's famous and because of her, in many tiny ways, the world is a better place. She's in MY collection of Interesting People.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

I met a homeless lady today...

I met a homeless lady today. I was outside Marylebone station, on my way back from an exciting video game recording session and a visit to my agents, pausing for a few minutes to enjoy an uncharacteristic bit of London sun while I waited for my train. She came over to pick up a half-smoked cigarette from the pavement nearby, smiled up at me, then just started chatting away like we were old friends. People tend to do that with me quite frequently for some reason, I've no clue why, but this was different somehow. She was rather grubby, wrinkled and probably far younger than she looked. The kind of person most commuters avoid. She was also utterly fascinating.

I'm pretty wary of strangers coming up to talk to me - they usually want something (or, my awful ingrained middle class thinking tells me, they're trying to pinch your wallet) but this woman just wanted to natter. That wasn't easy for either of us, though. Her speech was badly slurred, like her tongue was too big for her mouth, and she had to hold her chin in place in order to speak with anything resembling clarity. Also, apparently her coat had been stolen recently, along with her false teeth, which made matters all the more tricky. I had to focus intently on her face to make out what she was saying and when I did I instantly noticed her eyes - they sparkled like nothing I've ever seen. This was not an unintelligent woman. I asked her what her name was and she tried to tell me, but her speech was so slurred that I couldn't make it out. I've since found out that it was Denise.

She made it very clear from the start that she wasn't after money. She even turned down my offer of food ("I'm alright", she grinned, showing me her plastic wallet with an Oyster card and a £20 note in it). She just wanted to talk. Apparently she 'collects people'. Interesting people. I'd imagine that this collection is made of up anyone who'll help her pass the time until the shelters start serving and listen for long enough to realise that she's far more interesting than they are.

Denise plopped herself down in front of me, sat cross-legged on the pavement and told me stories about her life. About her estranged husband and three kids, how she'd been involved in the filming of a TV series for BBC 3 called 'Filthy, Rich and Homeless' and how she used to play the piano. Apparently the one that they installed inside Marylebone station a while back "wasn't very good. Some of the keys were sticky and it sounded awful". I've heard the very same thing from a couple of professional performer friends of mine.

She also told me all about the countless famous people she's met over the years, from the Gallagher brothers to Anthea Turner. She'd met the Gallagher brothers separately, she said, Liam first, then Noel months later (who said "I think you know my brother", so stories about the ballsy, chatty homeless lady must have been told). I called her a massive name dropper and she just giggled at me and carried on. She once saw a sad-looking man and gave him a bunch of flowers to cheer him up - it turns out that he was famous (I forget the name) and his dad had just died. Nobody had ever given him flowers before and he was so grateful that he took her to the pub round the corner. I've no idea if any of this is true but given how readily she jumped into conversation and how eloquently and happily she spoke, despite her speech issues, I don't find it hard to believe that others, no matter how rich or famous they were, would find her as enthralling as I did.

Throughout all this I must have looked engaged - I couldn't help but be - and we were laughing and joking together throughout... but for the half an hour or so that we spoke for I got countless glances from passers by and their eyes spoke volumes. The disapproving raised eyebrow. The sneer of disgust. The subtle 'is this woman bothering you?' look. All because I was a relatively smartly dressed, well-spoken woman talking to another woman who happened to be homeless and clearly had difficulty speaking. It made me feel nauseous.

And god, that made me think. I come from a pretty posh area - if my late mother knew that I'd been chatting to a homeless woman with no teeth outside a train station she'd have a fit - but everywhere I've been in the world there's the same attitude: homeless = invisible. That casual dehumanisation of people just because they don't have a house. I've been as guilty of it as anyone. So many "Spare any change, luv?" "No, sorry." lies.

I came straight home, lay on the sofa and watched all four episodes of 'Filthy, Rich and Homeless'. It's a real eye-opener and you should definitely check it out. Denise wasn't in it much (I'm sensing a story behind that) but the woman on that show was almost unrecognisable compared to the woman I met today. The sparkly eyes were the same... the gift of the gab was the same but her face... The show was only filmed 12 years ago and Denise now looks like she could be her own mother. When she initially told me about the show she did warn me "I didn't always look like this" but I'm not sure that I really understood until I saw both sides of the transformation. I instantly felt incredibly uncomfortable because there I was in my comfy house, sprawled on my expensive sofa wearing snuggly pyjamas, casually watching the lady I'd been nattering away to just a couple of hours previously before god knows what happened to her jaw. She's still out there. I'm in here. It doesn't feel right. Our bullshit attitudes have to change.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with all this. Denise and many of the people on the show seem pretty happy to continue with the life they already know - they're generally just looking for the odd ciggie and the chance to make their day a bit more interesting (and maybe add another name or amusing anecdote to the collection). But I want to do something - something concrete, not just throw a bit of cash at the problem and consider myself morally absolved of responsibility. Maybe volunteer for a homeless charity? If anyone has any ideas or contacts then feel free to get in touch. I've got a degree in psychology and a very silly job that occasionally gives me a bit of time to kill.

Denise isn't somebody that I'm ever going to forget, not because she's homeless but because she's such an interesting person. As I dashed off to catch my train (she wanted to play the piano for me but there wasn't time) I said a hurried goodbye, said that I hoped to one day use her as inspiration for a computer game character (she liked that) and told her that she was fascinating. She grinned a proud, toothless grin, her eyes twinkling with mirth. "I know!", she chuckled.

As I glanced back over my shoulder I saw her approach another female bystander with the same chirpy, chatty enthusiasm. I hope that person had noticed that I'd sat there talking with her and that maybe my obvious enjoyment of the conversation would help convince her to do the same. And I hope that I see Denise again one day, if only so that I can ask her all the questions I now wish I'd asked, and prove to her that I was truly listening to her stories by finally calling her by her real name.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Challenge Milly

It's surprisingly easy to get stuck in a rut. One minute you're graduating from uni, practically exploding with excitement at the sheer number of overwhelming options that lie before you, then you blink and suddenly you're 33, ludicrously unfit and all you've really done for the past few years is work, worry about things and spend most of your remaining waking hours sprawled on a sofa watching (admittedly awesome) TV. Well, that was what happened to me anyway.

I hadn't really had the usual female reaction to turning 30, possibly because my child-free, self-employed lifestyle has always been so blissfully immature that the passage of years doesn't really bother me much, but by late January something was nagging at me. I'd just been discharged by my therapist, which was a milestone in itself, when something dawned on me: I'd made it. I was alive. But I wasn't really LIVING. I knew that I didn't used to be like this, but somehow I'd got myself to a place where I'd been content to just exist... and I couldn't remember how long I'd been like that.

This wouldn't do at all. It was time for a new Milly. A less scared, less self-judging Milly. ADVENTURE MILLY.

So, very, very slowly, I started to make changes to my life that'd help me become the person that I wanted to be. As most of my therapy had revolved around issues of self-esteem and fear, the tweaks had to be gradual in order to give my brain a chance to process everything, but I knew it'd take something big to push me over the edge into fearlessness and real, no-holds-barred Living. 

Then that 'no makeup selfies' thing happened. I'll admit, it annoyed me (mainly because at the start most people weren't actually donating or even posting instructions on how to donate), but it also made me want to do something myself. Something bigger. I'm not the kind of person who asks for favours from others very often, if at all, but I figured that I needed to do something really scary if I was going to ask my friends for money during a recession so I went with the thing that scared me the most: heights. I did my first ever skydive on the 7th of May this year (raising over £3,000 in the process!) and how much I enjoyed it completely took me by surprise. It wasn't that I wasn't scared, I was ruddy terrified, but I suddenly remembered that I LIKE being scared. I like challenging myself and pushing my own boundaries and I hadn't done that in far, far too long.

I've decided that this year is going to be the year that I start trying new things again. The skydive gave me the balls I needed to finally book in for the flying lesson that my Mum had bought me for my birthday way back in February, I completed it this morning and it was badass beyond words. But what next? I refuse to go back to being the old Milly.

So... it's time to Challenge Milly. Think of it like 'Challenge Anneka', only without the studio audience, the researchy bookpeople or the running around in highly flammable shellsuits. I need ideas for new, weird and wonderful stuff to try. It could be something small (like trying a new food) or something massive (like... I don't know... wrestling a bear? FYI I'm definitely not going to wrestle a bear). It could be creative, scary, silly or delicious. It could be something I can do at home, something Midlands-based or something way more far-flung. Chuck any suggestions at me that you think might be interesting and all the best, non-filthy ones will be compiled into a list of Things I Intend to Accomplish This Year.

There you go. Have at it. CHALLENGE ME. I dares ya.

Milly x

Diving from the sky!

Post-skydive, with my awesome instructor, Geoff.

I just landed a ruddy PLANE!

Post-flight, getting my certificate from the lovely Jarno.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


As promised, the piece on depression that I wrote for my personal blog:

Over the past few months it’s become apparent to me that very few people actually know what depression is. I mean, everyone knows the word but these days it’s gleefully chucked around like attention-seeking confetti – how else could you possibly feel when you run out of milk at 
5pm on a Sunday or your favourite TV show gets cancelled? Under pressure at work? Cat scratched your sofa up? Got the flu? You must be depressed.

By contrast, when you’ve actually analysed your own mind and realised that yes, yes you really are quite depressed indeed, everyone seems to be incredibly keen to tell you that no, you’re not depressed – you’re just a bit sad. Some bad things have happened to you recently and of course that’d make you unhappy but all you’ve got to do is think positively and everything will be ok. Bizarrely, they’re partly right. But they’re mainly wrong.

So let me tell you what depression isn’t: It’s not being ‘a bit sad’. It’s not moaning about how crap life is and how so-and-so is a bitch and you’re SO unappreciated and listening to angsty music and wearing black clothes. It doesn’t raise its ugly head because of one specific dreadful thing that’s happened and fixing that thing won’t magic the depression away. Reminding a depressive of all the lovely and wonderful things in their life won’t make them suddenly leap up and go “You’re right! I AM lucky! What was I thinking?!” and start skipping through the tulips, singing a jaunty musical number. Depression has very little to do with reality, or rather… it has EVERYTHING to do with reality, just not the reality that other people see.

Depression’s like turning the TV to mute - you see the same things as everyone else but they don’t get in, either to your head or your heart. Nothing seems to mean anything any more. It’s not even really sadness or anger, it’s just… nothingness. Everything loses meaning and hope, conversations seem pointless and scripted, music that previously brought you joy is now just a collection of noises sent to taunt you with the existence of happiness. And nobody else GETS it. Everyone else still hears the music. You're alone. It’s like undergoing an emotional anaesthetic, or having your head wrapped in a thick duvet.

Depression is entirely to do with perspective. Yes, there are families living in shanty towns built on rubbish dumps who are pretty happy most of the time but, on the flipside, there are also millionaires with all the everything a person could ever want who are utterly, utterly depressed. Stephen Fry is the perfect example here – everyone loves him, he’s talented, wealthy, has an exciting life and could pretty much do whatever he wants at any time. Unfortunately, ‘what he wants’ is occasionally ‘to kill himself’.

I can only talk from personal experience here, but for me depression happened because I ignored the warning signs in my own psychology for far too long. Probably decades too long. I won’t go into the gory details right now, but looking back over my life I can clearly see indicators that I was going down the wrong road, not so much in the things I was doing, but the way I was thinking about them (the ‘doing things’ was more of a symptom than a cause). I can see every stupid coping mechanism that I allowed my brain to develop and every bad decision I made as a result that gave strength to them, causing the underlying problems to gain more and more power until I became unable to think in any other way. Re-wire your brain badly enough times and you’ll end up with a mess of cables and a device that just about functions but isn’t exactly efficient and certainly isn’t reliable.

Coming OUT of depression, by contrast, was like waking up from the anaesthetic. Actually, the closest thing I can liken it to is being a little kid lying in bed at night, the moonlight casting shadows across the darkened bedroom, and suddenly… there’s a monster in the room. You can SEE it. The shape of the body, the head, there are definitely eyes… is it MOVING? Yup, there’s definitely something in here. Then you flick on the light and realise that it was just a coat and a stack of CDs or something. That’s what coming out of depression feels like – everything’s exactly the same, you’re just seeing it differently.

It was quite a shock, but not a scary one. Suddenly I was flooded with positive emotions and all the niggly things that had been eating away at me for so long just didn’t have any power any more. They were still there, they just weren’t so important. I think it kind of bothers me that this all happened so quickly. Am I doing it wrong? Does this mean I’m heading for a relapse? Does this happen to other people? I’ve no idea. All I do know is that it’s a huge relief to feel anything at all, and that even if I do end up turning the light back out again, and being back in the room with that monster, at least I’ve had this comfort break in which to gain a little hope and perspective.

I think I know deep down that *I* did this. I made the decision to get better, figured out what the underlying problems were and I did what I needed to do to fix them (despite how pointless and crap it often felt). I re-wired my brain. Does that make me feel empowered? A bit, but it also makes me feel annoyed and a bit guilty that I let the wiring get into that state in the first place. I’m supposed to be clever. I should have known better. But fuck it, it’s done. Onwards and upwards. So long as I’m aware of the specific ways in which my wiring tends to tangle then I should be able to minimise the chances of it getting into too much of a state again in the future.

Oh, and I got that gig I auditioned for. And a few others, actually. Things are looking up, though I’m trying not to focus on that. The wiring’s what’s important.

Dropping the Mask

I’ve been debating whether or not to write this for quite some time now. In my line of work any sign of weakness is seen as a risk, so most actors steer clear of speaking their minds online for fear of losing work. Now, I’ve clearly never been one to shy away from voicing controversial opinions or engaging in public debate, but I also very rarely speak online about what’s really going on in my life – the things that are genuinely troubling me. I suppose it’s only sensible, really. That’s what friends are for, right? Airing your dirty laundry on Facebook or Twitter always seems like it should be accompanied by a flashing neon sign that screams “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” to every poor sod on your friends list.

Turn that sign off, you dramamonger – it’s hurting our eyes. Oh look, a video of a kitten having a bath! Awwwww…

However, a few things have happened recently that have made me feel like I need to speak up, not for attention or to rock the boat but because there’s an underlying issue here that’s causing people genuine pain. It’s an issue that can only be eliminated by being addressed, and if I don’t speak out then I’m effectively contributing to the problem.

Today is World Mental Health Day. There’s a huge Godzilla-sized stigma attached to the issue of mental health and there’s also a huge amount of misunderstanding on the subject, as beautifully and facepalmingly illustrated by ASDA’s recent ‘Mental Patient’ Halloween costume. Despite having a degree in experimental psychology, I don’t feel qualified to speak on the issue as a whole, but I can speak about my own personal experiences. Too few people do this, I reckon, and it leaves sufferers feeling all isolated and guilty, as if they somehow willingly caused their illness. Enough of this nonsense.

Most of you will at least be vaguely aware that I haven’t been having the best time of things over the past couple of years, but only those closest to me will know what’s really been going on. So… here it is… *deep breath*

Last Easter my mum was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and from that point on everything just seemed to fall apart, not because of the diagnosis itself but because the resulting stresses brought to light problems that had been bubbling under the surface of my brainbox for years, possibly even decades. My work suffered, my personal life suffered and, as I struggled to cope, I slowly became a person that I didn’t recognise – I was shy, wrought with insecurities and eventually stopped feeling any emotions at all (aside from those constant dickhead companions Fear, Sadness and Anger). All of this, of course, was hidden under the mask of someone who appeared to the outside world to be confident and sorted and, apparently, rather threatening in her levels of self esteem. All lies. Filthy, filthy lies.

When you’re going through badness then the temptation to put on that ‘la-la-la, everything’s fine!’ mask is strong, and it can be a powerful, positive accessory at times. However, when it leads to you standing in the London Underground, seeing an approaching tube train as an entirely rational way of getting the hell out of this reality, perhaps it’s time to drop the mask and seek help. So I did.

I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression and offered pills. I refused them, saying I’d take them as a last resort but I’d much rather fix the underlying problem. Believe me, I had to REALLY push to not just be medicated and sent on my not-so-merry way but eventually I was referred to a therapist, at which point I then had to REALLY push for individual therapy, rather than just being lumped into a group for a short course. I know enough about my own psychology to realise that if I’m put in a room full of people I will instantly slip that actor’s mask back on.

Then began a mind-melting three months of waiting for a therapist to become available. This was the worst part. By the time I got to my first session I was a total mess and ‘Clinical Depression’ was quickly upped to ‘Severe Clinical Depression’. Then the work began. I won’t lie, it was a slog. It still is. I had to actually talk about my feelings and yes, occasionally I cried, and I had tonnes of homework to do… but I’m happy to say (yes, HAPPY! What is this strange new world?!) that the results began to show themselves more quickly than I could possibly have imagined. I’m finally me again and I can’t tell you how incredible that feels. I’m not depressed any more, far from it, but there’s still a long road ahead and it’s one I’m actually rather excited about exploring.

I won’t bore you any further about my stuff here, but I’ll post a link to a piece I wrote about depression for my personal blog, just in case it might help anyone who’s going through something similar. That blog’s a recent thing that I started penning as a way to purge my thoughts during therapy, so please forgive me if it’s a little long-winded and morbid!

Aaaaanyway, there it is. I’ve said it. Feels… good? Ish. Satisfying, at least. One less mask to wear.

In conclusion, try not to judge other people based on your own psychology, be compassionate, don't make assumptions until you've really talked to the person in question, and no matter how dire the situation is, it can be overcome. I know how scary it can be to admit that you need help with this sort of thing but please trust me when I say that it’s not half as scary as it seems. And none of this ‘well, I’m not as bad as so-and-so so I don’t really need to see a doctor’ bollocks. Mental health is all about perspective. If you’re going through a tough time then talk to someone – to a friend, a doctor… fight for your right to really live, not just exist. And for your own sake, don’t blame yourself, or feel guilty for feeling the way you feel. This is just a shit thing that happened – like getting the flu or breaking your leg – and it IS entirely rectifiable.

If you’re going through hell, keep going. But take weaponry. LOTS of weaponry.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I am... procrastinating about the housework again

In response to all these 'I AM AN ARTIST' posts that have been flying about Facebook recently, here's my take on the situation.

While I don't think anyone's ever very keen on the idea of working for free, I think just occasionally it's worth taking the hit, especially when it means that, in doing so, you support talented writers, producers, filmmakers and other actors who want the chance to prove themselves to the people with the dosh, and who will value your contribution to the project.

Also, making this meant that I learned how to write things in a pretty manner using Photoshop (instead of on scraps of paper which invariably get lost). Joys!