Rethink Mental Illness

Relationships can be hard; long-distance relationships even harder. Keeping a relationship with my therapist during the last year has been a challenge.

I’ve been in and out of therapy for 20 years. I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act when I was 17 so when asked “why are you still in therapy?” I say “If I dislocated my shoulder playing rugby aged 17, but I want to carry on playing, I’d wear a shoulder support. Due to the stress of being alive, I was deemed insane to the point of my life being in danger, but I want to carry on living, so I get support from therapy.”

When I say “therapy” I mean lots of different types – I’ve experienced (but not always engaged with) CBT, talking therapy, psychotherapy, psychologist appointments, psychiatrist appointments, inpatient treatment, hypnotherapy, art therapy, cinema therapy, equine therapy, music therapy, group therapy, workbooks, meditation, mindfulness, massage therapy, addiction programmes and of course medication.

I’m still in therapy because life throws me curveballs every day. If I want to survive them without being knocked down so hard by life I’m unable to get back up again, then I’m happy to be coached through this.

“A week is easier to get through if I know for 50 mins out of the 10080 minutes of the week I can get some help processing every possible difficult thought, feeling or circumstance I find myself struggling to deal with. And struggling just means successfully not giving up.”

Therapy helps me name my needs (which due to childhood experiences I struggle to do), my feelings and helps me understand my behaviour and learn from it all. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Just before lockdown 1, having been diagnosed with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I was embarking on EMDR therapy. After the death of a previous therapist (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t due to exhaustion of having me as a client for 10 years) I’d found a new one. She and I had a good and trusting rapport with healthy boundaries and I felt ready to face up to the traumas of my past to head on deal with them (a bit like Wanda in WandaVision Episode 8. Give it a watch if you want to see what I think EMDR therapy is a bit like). EMDR therapy can have fast responses, massive changes I was told. It has to be done in person in a safe, face-to-face space. I was nervous but I was so ready to grow beyond those memories and accept with tolerance the truth of my history, to finally be liberated from those old shadows… and then lockdown was imposed, and remote therapy was introduced.

The concept of remote therapy wasn’t new to me. I work as a comedian so when I’ve been touring in Australia or New Zealand or around the UK I’d try to keep my therapy sessions going via Skype or phone sessions. It wasn’t easy but it was better to keep the line of communication going between me and the therapist I was seeing than to give up. It’s like any relationship, you’ve got to put the work in to keep it well-oiled, to keep the lines of communication open and keep the trust there.

But in lockdown, remote therapy was harder. I felt trapped. Like we all were. Trapped in my flat which I share with two others during lockdown, so therapy on the phone with privacy proved challenging. Boundaries had to be drawn for those 50 minutes to provide a safe space for me to talk uninhibited. And the best place for those conversations ended up being a walk outside. Walking by a river talking on the phone to my therapist about the reality of life in lockdown, mental illness during lockdown, losing my income and my purpose, my friends, my social support network, audiences.

Suddenly I was trapped in my thoughts too, those thoughts and feelings I’d been trying to run away from my entire life. Suddenly I had to learn very quickly how to simply sit with my feelings. And I needed help from my therapist again.

Between lockdowns, I tried in-person sessions with my therapist but it was comically difficult.

Months after the pandemic first started, I walked in to the familiar setting, sanitising my hands, wearing my facemask, then swapping it for a plastic visor which was meant to be see-through but covered in scratches and steaming up with the exhalation of my panic-attack breathing. For those 50 minutes I sat opposite my familiar trusted supportive therapist also wearing a visor through which I could barely see her trustworthy eyes. All I could see was my breath, my annoying, frustrating, vision-blurring breath, reminding me I was alive and struggling to live. I burst into tears – not unusual for me in therapy – but I couldn’t speak. I kept reaching for tissues to try to wipe my nose but every time I tried to bring a tissue to my sodden face I kept hitting the stupid visor. Which made me laugh and cry and then sob harder.

“Therapy is all about connection, no barriers, a trusted space with no holds barred. I can say what I want, feel how I feel, without fear of judgement. And suddenly there were so many barriers in place, physical and mental”

After the year we’ve all had, I yearn so hard to let my barriers down without feeling guilty or angry or scared or sad.

Since that one attempt at in person was too difficult, we went back to remote therapy on the phone.

But the easing of restrictions means the door to my therapist’s office is open again. She’s offered me the choice – do I want to restart in-person sessions? I want to very much. But sometimes a remote session on the phone provides fewer barriers, fewer obstacles to physically trip across. With fewer barriers I can access something more honest, without the distractions.

And now, just like with my comedy, I’m doubling down on my therapy efforts, finding new tools to use, new approaches to take, and a new appetite to learn. I’ve been actually reading the books recommended by my therapist to consider more deeply the traumas I’ve been through and the illnesses I’ve been ruled by. I’ve been listening nightly to meditations they’ve recommended, I’ve covered my bathroom mirror with post-it notes full of affirmations and mantras collected over a year of remote therapy sessions, and for both my physical and mental health I’ve kept up my running schedule like my life depended on it – and right now that may just be the case.

We might be heading towards the finish line of this momentous, life-changing, world-changing time. But it’s also a new starting line full of fears and worries and concerns. And now, more than ever before, therapy is helping me to learn how to simply sit with my feelings, accept them and do my utmost not to push them away.

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No Photoshop

No photoshop here… thank you to my best and beautiful and only body for getting me through eating disorders, heartbreak, mental illness, distress, Edinburgh fringes, travelling the world, disappointment, physical illness, self harm, holding those I love, hugging audience members, 10k charity runs and longer runs for fun, and the past year of ridiculousness. You’ve kept me dreaming, blinking, thinking, regenerating, breathing, loving, hoping, struggling, surviving.

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The Book Of Hope


written in 2019, published in The Book of Hope by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Britt Pfluger (published as chapter 1 in the book of 101 stories of hope) on 15 April 2021.

I can’t tell you not to go down the route you’re going to go down. I can’t tell you what to do. Knowing you, you wouldn’t listen anyway and that’s ok. I still don’t listen to everyone who offers me unsolicited advice. And that’s what this is – unsolicited advice. 

Years ago, a helpful person on my recovery journey suggested I avoided giving unsolicited advice or unsolicited information. There’s no point in offering it if the person isn’t seeking advice. And you’re not seeking advice right now. You’re the kind of person who needs to learn by observing, thinking, musing. You’ve got to make the mistakes you need to make – and they won’t even be the “mistakes” people tell you they are. They’re lessons. And you will learn. It might take repeated mistakes before you learn some lessons but life is a series of opportunities to learn, if you want. 

You’ll gravitate towards people on similar paths. Draw those closest to you who have gratitude and positivity in abundance. You get what you focus on and it’s easier to focus on the things you want if you surround yourself with people who have it. 

I can’t tell you one day it’ll all make sense. Honestly, I’m still confused. The real secret is that all adults are. There is no magic secret to life other than to keep going, keep rediscovering that beautiful, childlike joy of being alive.

Things don’t get easier; they get different. Any moment of darkness will pass. Every feeling that feels like it will go on forever will at some point end. Whether it’s a happy feeling you enjoy or a negative feeling you feel like you can’t withstand a moment longer. Everything shifts. I don’t know when it will, and I don’t know why. But I can promise you; every time you feel broken, you will come out stronger.

I’d love to tell you to fuel your body so your mind can achieve all it has the potential to. 

I’d love to tell you to ignore all the outward messages telling you you’re not good enough, to realise the school bullies were wrong, the adverts telling you to be thinner are wrong, the adults telling you to lose weight – their obsession is not on your holistic wellbeing but your physical health. 

I’d love to tell you every day to find at least 5 things you like about yourself and nurture those traits. What you focus on, you get. If you focus on positivity, you get positivity. If you focus on sadness and flaws all you will feel is sadness and all you will see are imperfections. 

Follow your bliss. If something makes your soul sing, makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, follow it. Do it. Make it your reason. Sooner than I did. Demand to do more of it. Whatever gives you lust for life and makes you want to live, do it, surround yourself with it, demand people take it seriously. If they don’t, find others who will. 

Above all, never give up. I know you want to. And I know you will want to right up to the day you become me, sitting here, writing this. As hard as it all will feel, it will be worth it. 

There will be moments, quiet moments between you and a sunset, you and another human, you and a whole roomful of people that will absolutely be entirely worth all the pain and distress you feel opening up inside you like a chasm. For a moment it will mend. You will be exactly where you need to be. And you will feel peace. Cherish every one of those moments. They won’t last, but more will come. 

And when you reach the moment where you are me, sitting here, writing this to you sitting there reading this in your own imagination…think of you in another 17 years sitting somewhere else, writing probably very similar words. 

  • Listen. Take wisdom in. 
  • Have a voice. Speak your truth.
  • Forgive.
  • Believe.
  • Get more sleep. 
  • Spend time with your mother. She’s the best human you will ever meet and you must learn all you can from her while you can. 
  • Be kind. If not to yourself then to everyone around you.
  • Kindness is power. It nourishes. 
  • Kindness is beauty. The kinder you are, the more beautiful you will be.
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Finding Hope When The Lights Go Dark

Imagine spending months writing a sell-out one-woman show, only to find that days from your opening night, a global pandemic hits and the stage lights abruptly go out. Could you find hope in the darkness? Writer, comedian and Rethink Mental Illness ambassador Juliette Burton spent much of the year pulling on her superhero boots and searching for the elusive beast that is hope. Here’s how she got on…

Juliette looking at camera with sparkly eye makeup.

As we approach the end of 2020, I offered to write an article for Rethink on ‘hope’. And honestly, I’ve found it much harder than I expected.

I’ve had times in the past when hope was hard to find.

My mental health history includes being sectioned when I was 17, falling out of education, not treading the path of Oxbridge university and a “proper career” as intended but instead being an inpatient five times due to various mental health distresses including anorexia, bulimia and trying to end my life. And that was all back in The Before Times, when life was, I now see, relatively simple.

In 2020, hope has been hiding a little more than usual, but it’s still there. And there are two things in particular which have helped me hold on to hope: comedy, and connection.

Firstly, comedy. My mind tends towards darkness even when the world is basking in lighter times. And this is why I chose comedy as a career. When I write and perform comedy I feel less alone, experiences are recognised, it’s my surest way of finding hope.

To me, comedy means many things. Comedy is a survival technique. It’s a world of creativity; the welcoming in of new ideas, new connections, curiosity and questioning. It’s my purpose, my reason, my baby, my home, my family. Comedy is a way to bask in the acceptance of the absurdity of life. And hasn’t this year been just utterly absurd?

Comedy also means audiences, connection and laughter. It’s my favourite place to find a sense of belonging, community, possibility, and faith in humanity. It’s hard to deny in a room full of people laughing, together, united that there might be hope for the future.

But this year, there’s not been much laughter. Quite literally. I’ve been doing lots of comedy gigs via Zoom and I never hear whether people are laughing or not.

And when the video call ends, the lights go out. And I’m alone again.

Isolation, loneliness and persistent uncertainty isn’t good for my mental health. This year, I’ve found some alarming mental illness symptoms raise their awful heads once more.

Being trapped in my flat, with no happy, healthy distractions of travel, gigs, friends, socialising, being busy, making positive plans has meant my CPTSD experiences and thoughts having been thick and oppressive. They’ve advanced on me over the year. The longer and longer these lockdowns and tier restrictions continue the more and more I feel the darkness closing in. And the more and more I’ve observed my desire to rely on those old coping mechanisms increasing.

Even persistent suicidal thoughts have returned and been more frequent, thicker, harder to challenge. Life was supposed to get better, it was getting better. And suddenly everything changed and I was powerless to stop it. And because I was powerless, I’m angry. And my anger has turned inwards. Depression is often outrage turned towards ourselves, the heavyweight I physically feel when every day I’m crying all hours is as thick as the fog that descends on the Thames this time of year.

But like many things, the fog is temporary. And when the weight eventually starts to lift, I can put whatever energy I have into finding hope again.

The second major thing that’s helped me to find hope in is connection. I’ve found hope in the people who’ve reached out. Some have been personal pals, others my comedy family. And others are audience members. They’ve reminded me of my value, my power and that I’ve felt this way before but with time and effort it has shifted.

This year more than ever, social media has provided me with a sense of connection. I find hope in connecting with other people’s experiences and knowing I’m never as alone as I might think.

So I thought I’d ask my social media followers where they find this thing I keep losing. Here’s how they Rethink Hope:

“Hope is having things to look forward to. After a year of cancellations, I am finding it hard to trust that anything I am working hard towards will happen.” – Dawinislosingthelot

“Hope to me is a tiny pocket of light that lifts you a little. I find hope most often when friends share something funny and I realist they are as weird as I am” – Violetchiroptera

“I hope for smiles. They are infections and inclusive” -SusanMillerJones

Hope is knowing that even if the thing you need to happen doesn’t happen, you have the resilience to get through… You are your own light in the darkness” – A Guilded Eye.

“I help others. I find the greatest fulfilment in a smile from someone else. It might sound daft, but that’s the biggest one. And home-cooking with fresh food.. that really gives me a lift” – Spudfish.

“I find Hope in past history, That at times when it looks hopeless or scary, that too passed: – SuzieKennedy

“Hope is knowing that impermanence rules. I can surft this wave, I can get through the next minute if nbescessary and then start work on the next one” – Bethany Black

“Hope is knowing that nothing is ever definite. If I know there is an end to something I can always cope with it” – Sooz Kemper

“Hope is planning for the future and looking forward to things… hope is knowing that there is something good happening outside of the current circumstances.” – Catherine Edgson.

“Hope is… my wife” – The Grant Perkins.

“Hope is feeling that nothing is fixed and things can change, normally for the best and tro one’s advantage.” – Neal.

“Hope is that indefinable glint of light in a darkened corridor. It’s not always easy to find. It also lives within us. I find hope in friends, their humour and tgheir compassion. Hope can also be found in moments of solitude, walking around a park or green space…” – Barry Watt.

Hope can be elusive for everyone sometimes, but my younger self lost hope many times. And she found it again. That’s the beauty of lost things, with a little bit of time, a little bit of searching and sometimes a bit of help, they can always be found. My experience of mental illness has taught me that hope is not necessarily a question of faith. It’s curiosity. Hope is not the knowledge that things will get better, but the possibility that they might.

Writing this for you has not only reminded me of the things in my life that are a source of hope. It’s also reminded me that I still have my voice, even if recently I’ve struggled to find it. That little rebellious punk-life, kick-ass superhero still lives inside me; that little voice that breathes in light and exhales power and tells me to never give up; that part of who I am that is humble enough to remind me we don’t know what’s around the corner.

Things will change. I don’t know when or how but it will. Perhaps things are already changing and turning ever so slightly towards the hopeful. And once I know I’ve found hope again, I will cling onto it and protect it by sharing it with others, helping others find it. I’ve already started finding hope again, thanks to this article and to you.

Join in the conversation: where do you find hope? What gives you hope? What is hope? Use the hashtags #RethinkHope #LiveInHope #Hopepunk and tag Juliette (@JulietteBurton) and Rethink Mental Illness (@Rethink )

For further information about Juliette’s future projects please go to

Support Juliette via her Pay Pal tipjar on

For some comic relief, listen to and support Juliette’s sitcom podcast ‘Sweet Dreams’ on ACast, Spotify and Apple podcasts (donation link via

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The Show Must Go On-Line

Written for Rethink Mental Illness

We are all told that mental illness isn’t a laughing matter – but what happens if laughter is your therapy and, mid tour, suddenly the safety curtain descends and the stage lights go off? In this special blog, comedian and writer Juliette Burton explores the impact of lockdown on her mental health, and how comedy has helped her through.

Comedy is my profession. Taking to a stage and, finding the funny in my most painful of experiences is how I’ve survived my mental illness and the worst, darkest, loneliest moments of my life. I was on my second national UK tour before the lockdown was announced. I’d had three of my all-time favourite ever gigs and was looking forward to a run of many more. Then we went into lockdown, and everything changed.

Luckily for me, I believe a career is a vocation, not just a job. It turns out there are ways to get my comedy across to a remote audience. Mainly through home performances and writing like I am to you right now. 

But I’m not going to lie, this has been difficult for my mental health. At first I was rather arrogant. “Stay in? Avoid people? Stay away from others? Be anxious all the time that you might hurt other people?” Easy! I’ve got depression and anxiety disorder! I’ve been training for this my whole life! 

But staying at home involves me staying alone with my mentally ill brain. I have multiple illnesses ranging from depression and anxiety disorder to complex post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from traumatic events in childhood from which I could not escape. 

How have I been coping? Well arguably, many times, I haven’t. I wasn’t finding my mind easy to live with before this began. 

At first, I was excited to follow one bit of therapy speak I’d been told most of my life “Be kind to yourself”. “Great! I’ll have all this time for the self-care I usually tell myself I don’t have time to do!” I thought. And that worked. For about a day.

I moisturised every day. For a day. I had candlelit baths. Once. I ate healthy food and went to bed at a healthy time one night. And then the darkness crept back in. It was horrid, but also comforting. It felt so unfamiliar to be looking after myself. Far more challenging than doing what I’ve always done – not looking after myself.

My depression raised its head. Then the anxiety kicked in with a vengeance. I couldn’t sleep. And once asleep I kept waking up loads, shaking, sweating. I couldn’t breathe. Really started worrying this might be The ‘Rona. But no…anxiety disorder.

Then my OCD started being an utter prick…I’ve not really been bothered by that for years. I found my paranoia suddenly reappeared, stronger than ever.

To add to this, my eating disorders started whispering to me that well if there are food shortages maybe I just don’t need to eat…anything?

Eating disorders, OCD, paranoia… These are mental mind enemies I thought I’d defeated. But no…it’s like a big old original cast reunion in my head right now…it’s like the end of Avengers Endgame…won’t say any more but if you have a Disney Plus account – watch it. In fact do a Marvel marathon and you’ll feel better.

I had to go back to the drawing board. I started doing what I did when I was first out of hospital – meal plans. Sticking to a meal plan. Making meals that are healthy and happy and bright and colourful and varied. Creativity and structure with food help me a lot.

I’ve kept running part of my routine, too. I’m in a WhatsApp running team during lockdown. We run alone, but we encourage each other. We’ve got a team name. We’re the Rundowns. We raised money for Rethink Mental Illness doing the 2.6 challenge.

I keep reminding myself I still currently have more freedom than I did when I was sectioned. Yes, there are similarities. Loss of freedom, frustration, feeling disconnected. But also just like when I was sectioned – there’s still hope. All is not lost. There’s a lot to be grateful for.

As frustrating as it might feel, the little positives already feel so much more delicious.  It helps me to focus on gratitude. We’re not disconnected, not really. We might be remote but we don’t have to feel alone.

I can’t take to the stage right now, but I can still use comedy to feel less isolated and to reconnect with others…When the lockdown began I was incredibly touched by messages from audience members asking how they could help, how they could watch my performances at home. I’ve been live streaming, performing at virtual festivals and writing loads of new material. It’s hard to not hear that glorious thing comedians thrive off of and live for – laughter. I’m missing hearing laughter like missing hearing the beat of a beloved’s heart. But a silent audience in this situation doesn’t mean they’re not laughing. They’re just on mute. And if an audience isn’t laughing usually that is a sign the joke isn’t funny. But right now I’m being braver with all my material because if I can’t hear the laughter anyway I may as well be brave.

I’m find the quality of connection with audiences is even better than before. Those legends who rock on up to a Twitch, Zoom, YouTube Live or Facebook Live show aren’t sitting there waiting to judge. They want to be entertained, they want connection, community, laughter and fun. And that’s exactly what I want to give them.

And more audience members than ever seem to be watching and then instantly buying tickets to my rescheduled tour dates too.

Audiences were always what got me through the tough times before – the promise I made to them to turn up to a show months down the line was often what got me through the worst boughts of depression, grief, mental ill health.

But now more than ever, a kind word in a tweet post-performance means everything to me. It means the effort to get through these strange, lonely days is worth it. Because I’m not alone. Not really. None of us are. Remote doesn’t have to mean lonely. And distance doesn’t have to mean isolation.

I never want anyone to feel as alone as I’ve felt in my mental illnesses. That’s what got me into comedy and that’s what getting me through this lockdown. That is my purpose.

To me, the opposite to depression isn’t happiness. The opposite of depression is purpose. And right now I’m striving to recommit to and strengthen my purpose – to connect with audiences and make the world a brighter, happier, more honest place.

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