FiveOnFriday with The No Normal host Richie O Connell
Five on Friday
person by Fiona Smith
“I want to show that mentally ill people are just like everyone else; they have personalities, passions, brains, a sense of humour, …their illness doesn’t define them and is nothing to be ashamed of… – The No Normal host Richie O Connell
The No Normal is a new Cork-based web chat show, and host Richie O Connell interviews people about their mental health and how it affects their career, creativity and life in general. Richie is himself an actor, photographer and filmmaker and is open about his own mental health issues which he discusses them in the first show with actor/writer Colette Forde.
Check it out and read Richie’s thoughts on this project which aims to shed light on the often hidden topic of mental health…
Q1. What prompted you to start interviewing people about their mental health for The No Normal?
Well, it’s something I’ve been trying to get off the ground for a while now, pretty much since I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and severe depression. I put out a call for interviewees a while back and although I received a lot of interest, many were, understandably, reluctant to speak to me on camera. I say understandably because there is still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental health issues in this country, indeed most countries. I could have found a way to interview the brave people that came forward and wished to remain anonymous without revealing their identities, but I felt I had to inform them, for this project, it was important for participants to be seen – with The No Normal I want to show that mentally ill people are just like everyone else; they have personalities, passions, brains, a sense of humour, that their illness doesn’t define them and is nothing to be ashamed of, and I felt I couldn’t express this while hiding the identities of my guests. I completely understand those that were bold enough to come forward but were not yet ready to be seen… it’s not their fault, it’s society that makes it difficult for them to speak openly.
Q2. The show’s tagline is ‘Chatting to Interesting People about Mental Health’. What drew you to your first interviewee actor and playwright Colette Forde – I mean, I can guess why as her interview is frequently as hilarious as it is serious….
Colette is hilarious, a great comedian, actor, singer, writer, dancer, counsellor, she has fingers and toes in all the pies. I met her on the set of my short film, Hush Clowns, where her amazing performance opposite Lorcan J O Neill helped us win the Elevation Indie Film Award. She wrote a terrific one woman play, Innit, about a teen growing up in the 90s that blew me away. It’s hilarious but touches on some serious issues such as teen sexuality, neglectful parents, and youth mental health. While talking about the show Colette mentioned that parts of it were autobiographical and she had been to counselling as a teen so when the idea for The No Normal came up she was a natural first guest. One, because she is interesting people and two, because I thought it would ease me nicely into my first interview gig if my first guest was a pal.
Q3. You plan to interview people from every walk of life that have had issues with mental health and undergone therapy etc, but I’m guessing it will skew heavily towards creative types? Do you think your own creativity is deeply bound up in your issues with depression etc?
I’m open to chatting with people who have mental health struggles outside of the creative sphere, but it does seem many folks with mental health issues can be very creative. I don’t know if this is because thinking creatively leads to dark trains of thought or if mental illness opens creative pathways, but either way there does seem to be some connection there. Personally, I find to write my best work and to create real drama I must access some pretty dark places, but rather than make me more depressed it’s mostly cathartic, in fact I get very depressed if I haven’t created something in a while – it’s a release, an exorcism almost. Most careers encourage people to hide their inner emotions whereas artists are encouraged to express themselves, even the darkness, which might be what makes it so attractive for those of us who suffer depression.
Q4. You talk on the show about suffering from depression for many years, can you explain what was the turning point for you in terms of tackling the illness and finding some relief or recovery?
Aisling. My fiancé. The thing with depression is hitting rock bottom rarely teaches you to get your act together, get help, because you have no sense of self worth, you think you deserve to hit rock bottom and deserve to fall even further. It can take someone from the outside to love you or at least care about you so that through them, the way they look at you, worry about you, value you, you see that maybe there is something of worth there, even if you don’t see it yet. That can be enough to get you to take the first steps toward recovery. I know there are some people out there that manage to get better by their own perseverance alone and I am truly in awe of them, but I couldn’t have done it without Aisling.
Q5. You are also an actor, photographer and filmmaker, any recent or upcoming projects on that front?
A couple more shorts this summer and a new web drama series I’m very excited about. It’s entitled “The Big D” – a dark comic drama centred around two brothers and the woman they share a flat with in Cork. Each of the three characters suffers from mental illness so not only do they have to cope with the usual sitcom obstacles and capers, but they also must deal with “The Big D”, which is named for what one of the characters calls their depression. There’s also more The No Normal to be shot and we’re always looking for more guests.
For more on Colette, see https://www.coletteforde.com/
For Richie, check out https://www.facebook.com/ocportraits/