Written by Lucy Nichol

Health

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer… naughty elf

In this series, Lucy Nichol proves you never know who mental ill health will come after next by celebrating the diverse qualities and eccentricities of her lovable friends and acquaintances. This week, she’s going backstage.

Illustration by Joanna Neary.

Illustration by Joanna Neary.

When the snowman brings the snoooooooowww
Well he just might like to knoooooowwww
He’s put a great big smile on somebody’s fa-ace… du du du du dudu dudu du du du

Snowmen, Santa Claus, Rudolph, the elves… turns out, they’re just human beings too, and no amount of sparkle, tinsel and Christmas magic can save them from our human vulnerabilities. So, while they might be total pros in making us lot smile at Christmas, they’re just as likely as you and I to be troubled and stressed from time to time.

I applaud Iceland for showing the real man behind the beard this year. He might be an A-list celebrity, but that doesn’t mean Santa spends all his time schmoozing with the likes of Jason Donovan and Kerry Katona.

No. Iceland showed us the real Santa Claus (Santa is his stage name by the way, he’s actually called Nick). The family man who puts in double shifts every year, and the strain that his hectic schedule puts on his wife, Sarah, who has to look after him and all the reindeer.

We see these Christmas characters as invincible, living in a magical world and completely untouchable. But, just as Christmas can be a difficult time for individuals under stress or suffering with mental ill health, it can be exactly the same for our festive heroes.

Wayne Miller is one of Santa’s elves. And, just like Santa (who we now know is a Geordie – thanks for clearing that one up, Iceland), Wayne the elf is also from the northeast of England.

He’s earned himself a bit of a reputation for being one of the naughtier elves, but Santa isn’t quick to judge. He knows that Wayne sometimes struggles to keep his energy up and his smile beaming, because, like so many others, he suffers from depression.

Wayne says: “I began suffering from depression around 2011. It didn’t become apparent to me what it was until much later. It started with days where I struggled to motivate myself, days when I just didn’t want to converse. It evolved into me spending many days alone in the house, not wanting to leave and pushing friends away.

“It wasn’t until I began to talk about it out loud that I started to understand what was developing.”

Just like Santa, Wayne works every festive season, and has done since he was 16. This year he is appearing in a show at the Customs House in South Shields called Santa’s Naughty Elf.

“When I started out I used to think it was the greatest job in the world, it was like getting paid to play make believe. Once I began to struggle with depression, however, I’d be like, ‘Thank god I get to be someone else today, because the real me sucks.'”

As is the case most festive seasons, Wayne will be working right through until Christmas Eve. So how does he cope over Christmas with such a hectic schedule and the challenges of depression to contend with?

“Working on a Christmas show is actually something I need. Being busy, active and keeping my mind focused on something really helps,” he explains.

“However, performing three shows a day for three weeks is of course draining. It takes untold amounts of energy. Even those moments when you’re standing still, having photos taken with the kids, you still have to be full of life and giving off a beaming smile that says ‘I love Christmas!’

“Once the performing day is done, I am physically drained. I used to just go straight home afterwards and sit alone, but that made it too easy to fall into a depressive state. So now I try to spend more time with the rest of the cast, or go to see another panto in the region. Keeping up the festive cheer has become a great way to keep me going over the last few years.”

As an actor (sorry – I should have mentioned earlier that there were spoilers in this), Wayne finds taking on the character of Santa’s naughty elf, and indeed the many other roles he plays throughout the year, helps him feel better.

“When I started out I used to think it was the greatest job in the world, it was like getting paid to play make believe. Once I began to struggle with depression, however, I’d be like, ‘Thank god I get to be someone else today, because the real me sucks.'”

“Working on a Christmas show is actually something I need. Being busy, active and keeping my mind focused on something really helps.”

But while role playing helps, leaving the stage and being himself again is something that Wayne often struggles with. Still, he believes that without the opportunity to work, stay focused and be creative, his depression would be much worse.

During another performance earlier this year, Wayne spoke openly to the audience about his struggles. He was performing a play based on his life called Being an Ultimate Warrior and made the decision to get a lot of stuff off his chest. And he used the stage to do it, something he appreciates might be a strange concept to others.

Being an Ultimate Warrior was about my life growing up as a wrestling fan, discussing my favourite battles in the ring, and my real-life battles outside of it.” Wayne explains.

“In it, I shared my experiences of being bullied, losing family members to cancer, my dad’s alcoholism and my own struggle with depression.

“When the play opened, I felt like I’d shed my skin. Like I was a new man – cliched, I know, but it’s 100 per cent the honest truth. Being that honest and open in front of friends, family and strangers was a great help. It was the first time I was myself on stage and the first time in a long time that it felt great to be me.”

While Wayne may have taken things to the extreme in terms of opening up in front of an audience, his story reminds us that it’s good to talk. You may not want to share your inner feelings with a large crowd, but perhaps talking to a trusted friend, family member or GP is a good place to start if you’re feeling like Wayne did.

So remember, an elf is for life, not just for Christmas. Behind the tinsel, the smiles, the laughs and the funny costumes, elves, snowmen, Santa and even Rudolph may be experiencing personal struggles as they return to their daily lives outside of the North Pole.

It just goes to show that you really can’t predict who mental illness will be coming after next.

Get to know more of Lucy’s friends and acquaintances here.
And check out her blog on all things mental health here.

@lucy_nichol78

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Written by Lucy Nichol

Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.