Playwright and actress Jacinta Sheeran writes for Culture about her new play Sweet About Me, which tours Ireland in June.
My name is Jacinta and I am a compulsive eater. That's what I've been saying at meetings for a long time now. Full of shame and secrecy and thinking I was the only one who suffered from this piggery. If I had a problem, I ate, if I was happy, I ate. I pretty much ate all around me.
Food was my companion through dark and happy times. Food managed my feelings because I wasn't able to. But overeating means putting on weight, and it became a full-time job and took a lot of head space to control it. And so came the over-exercising, the undereating, the calorie counting and obsession with size, not just mine, everyone’s. I had clothes for fat days and skinny days, depending on what type of week I had.
But it took a long time and a huge process for me to know that this was an addiction. Just like an alcoholic, I was eating to numb pain or to block out my emotions. Before I knew what I had, I would walk around with a sore bulging tummy promising myself that this would be the last time I would do it, that I WOULD start the diet on Monday and that there WOULD come a time where I'd be skinny and happy. My eyes would be red raw from crying as I looked in the mirror hating the person that faced me, my throat sore from purging all the food I ate and my wallet was empty as I spent everything I had trying to fix me - diets, diet pills, hypnosis, retreats, diet books and magazines - but it was a losing battle. There were no quick fixes to this. I also spent a lot of time lying to people and the biggest lie was, "I'm grand." I thought I would rather die than admit I had a problem with food, but 10 years into recovery, I am writing a play about it and telling the world.
Food was my companion through dark and happy times. Food managed my feelings because I wasn't able to. But overeating means putting on weight, and it became a full-time job and took a lot of head space to control it.
During my worst times, I felt so isolated and alone and I never thought for one instant I had an eating disorder. I knew about anorexia and bulimia but never heard of binge eating disorder so I literally thought I was the only person who couldn’t control what they ate. I never for one second thought there were thousands out there just like me. But you don't know that when you're in the thick of it, you're so ashamed that you believe you’re the worst in the world. And this is where the inspiration for the play came. I wanted to share my experience in case anyone else out there was feeling the same. And because I believe it’s worth looking at, especially for young people growing up today, where Facebook and filters are perceived to be true depictions of people's lives. It’s not real!
Listen: Maggie Doyle talks to Jacinta Sheeran on The Ryan Tubridy Show:
Although the play is based on my experience, it is in no way about me, (that would be sooo boring!) It's a fictional story about18-year-old Bernie Fagan and her experience in a treatment centre. I wanted her to be young so it would appeal to younger audiences. The audience gets to meet the other characters in the centre also, a heroin addict, a coke addict and an alcoholic, and we get to see them all through the eyes of Bernie. It's pretty dark but there are light moments too. I tend to explore subjects through humour when I write, it keeps me engaged and hopefully, the audience too.
I have been fortunate enough to have the amazing Veronica Coburn as my dramaturg and director. She steers me in the right direction, mines for the gold within the piece and puts me through my paces on a daily basis within the rehearsal room. Without her, the play would not have the structure it has, she has an outstanding eye for detail and creates magic on stage. I love working with her.
I thought I would rather die than admit I had a problem with food, but 10 years into recovery, I am writing a play about it and telling the world.
It's a one-woman show, so I get to play all the characters, which is great fun, but it also allows me to tour it around the place without having to rely on other actor’s availability.
What I am hoping to do with Sweet About Me in the future is bring it to as many schools as I can. To get them to come to the theatre and give them the full experience of lights and sound and a great engaging experience.
Watch: Jacinta Sheeran in Waiting for IKEA
This is my first solo show. Before this, I co-wrote and co-acted with my friend Georgina McKevitt. We wrote Waiting for IKEA together about two young ones from town who lived their lives wearing pyjamas. It was a lovely play about friendship and support and went from a small stage in the Dublin Fringe Festival to every stage in Ireland for the next 5 years. It was a magical time. We went on to write, I'm not ADHD, I'm BOLD! Which won the Bewley's Little Gem Award. This play was about a teacher who needs therapy because she has a child with ADHD in her class. The inspiration for this came from our years of drama facilitating experience around classrooms and youth groups and meeting all kinds of children. At one stage, in London, I was a classroom assistant and my job was as a runner, to run after the children who did a legger in the class and return them to their teacher. I was very fit around about this time.
I write what I see or what I experience. I guess that's because I know the truth of that situation. I am hoping that the truth of this new play hits a nerve with someone and perhaps helps them along in their journey.
Sweet About Me premieres in Glór Ennis on March 6th and 7th, before going to Droichead Arts centre on March 14th. Friarsgate, Kilmallock, Limerick on March 15th, and axis Ballymun on April 11th.