Comedian and writer Rhona Cameron talks to John Daniel about adoption, therapy, healing and the life hereafter
Learning to live with myself
I’m a storyteller. Whether I tell stories on stage as a comedian, in a book or any other format, storytelling is intrinsic to my being; it’s my vocation and tied up with the complexities of my character and life experiences. However, I’ve not been one 16th as productive as I could have been, had my emotional baggage not eclipsed my creativity. When I write I lock myself away and live like a hermit. I have to live something until it’s coming out of my pores. I used to be very open and honest about everything but I’m learning to fictionalise more.
When I presented Gaytime TV in the 90s, it was the first programme of its type. I was just being me, which was a mixture of masculine and feminine. I still do countless things where I’m ‘Rhona Cameron, the out lesbian’. But that’s not how I define myself now, although I have my major relationships with women. People now don’t need to explain what they are – it’s not a big deal. I don’t want to be pigeonholed in just the gay place, because my life is about so much more than that. I’ve always felt sexuality is more complex and that most of us are bisexual anyway.
This summer I re-read 1979: A Big Year in a Small Town for the first time since writing it in 2003. I’m in a very different place now. I grieved for the first time for my father while writing it; he died in 1979. I’d sometimes have to go and lie down and sob. At the moment, I’m trying to write the screenplay. I don’t have a problem with starting ideas but have difficulty seeing them through. I do beginnings and endings but find middles very difficult.
My mum, who’s 82 now, had a very hard life. She had a baby die and she adopted me. I feel the burden of my age and generation, and of being an only child. People always say, ‘The war generation, they were real stalwarts,’ but my generation – people in their 40s and 50s – we’re the first generation who had to go to therapy to sort all that shit out: the children of parents who really shouldn’t have been married to one another. I’m not saying that about my parents but I would question why most people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation got married in the first place. Indeed, why anyone does without a period of self-examination.
I’ve done a lot of therapy about being adopted and I’ve read a lot of books. I’m always recommending The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier to other adoptees. In my day, when you found out you were adopted, there was no help, no social workers, no counselling. For people wanting to adopt at that time, all you had to do was wear a collar and tie if you were the father, and have a decent home with running water. They certainly weren’t told that the baby they adopted might have a whole list of problems because her mother left her.
When I was very young and asked where babies come from, my mum said, ‘You came from a home with lots of babies.’ I asked her why she chose me and she said, ‘Because you had beautiful eyes.’ Later, when I was nine, she spoke to me properly for the first time about it. She said my biological mother had a temper and that she was happy I was going to a good home and to a family who had a caravan so I would go on nice holidays. She asked me if I had any questions – which was quite unlike my mum – and I said, ‘I don’t care about her.’ I was very angry. My world collapsed at about that time.
I met my birth mother in a pub when I was 22. Despite how articulate I am and how connected to my emotions, it’s something that’s very hard to convey to those who haven’t gone through it. But that feeling you have when you are in love with someone, or when you are excited by early romance, it’s sort of like that. This is the person who made you and you’re seeing the image of yourself for the first time in your life. That very thing that everybody takes for granted, it’s the strangest thing to you if you’re adopted.
I took antidepressants when I was younger but feel strongly that far too many people are being medicated. I lose count of the people I meet in their mid-40s who are popping antidepressants. I didn’t want to, so I sought out a more esoteric path that drew me into a mix of astrology, spiritual healing, and core process psychotherapy with a therapist who is a Buddhist. We’re all depressed sometimes; we’re all sad. Some people can fall further down but I honestly feel that about 70 per cent of people who are on medication don’t need to be.
I was in analysis for seven years until a few years ago. I’m naturally an analytical person. Librans suffer terribly from over-analysing and I am the worst case. Looking back, it was helpful but it didn’t help me put into place on a practical level a way of dealing with my character and the wounds I carry and how they manifest. I absolutely needed it, and sometimes I really miss my analyst, but I left because I no longer found it helpful.
Currently I’m in core process psychotherapy, which originates from the Buddhist way of thinking. It’s about helping you put the mind back in the body; the changes come from a developing sense of connection with your core. It’s helped me feel more grounded as a person, which has helped me dissolve some of my fears. At the end of the day, we can understand why we become who we are but we then need to be able to stay with who we are without wanting to run away from ourselves. The thing I love about the Buddhist way is there’s no bullshit: you learn to sit with yourself and be with your feelings – the fear, the sadness and the joy.
I believe there’s another dimension to our existence and that the soul goes on. I’ve been involved in the spiritualist church and have had evidence that those who leave this world are still around us. I feel life is spiritual and you can choose to tap into that and live by that or not. I think the whole world is moving towards a more holistic slant. I think artists and healers will lead the way, as will others whose work is about connecting with people, like teachers and therapists.
Middle age is very much about shedding and loss. I’ve gone through this process of change and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going yet because I’m a work-in-progress. I’m in a better place now than I have ever been in my life, but it doesn’t end; you don’t arrive at anything. The big life struggle is about the connections we make while we’re here and the attempts we make to connect with our authenticity.
I’m not as angry as I used to be. I understand my mother’s pain and I understand mine. I try not to be self-pitying, because it’s not helpful. I try to be grateful for all the things that have happened to me, even though some of them are painful.
Rhona Cameron is an award-winning comedian and writer.