Anne Hailes: Pauline shows her strength to succeed

Singer and actress Pauline Carville has told her life story - including living with depression - in her debut book Am I Mad Or What?

PAULINE Carville is a singer, an actress, a theatre coach and an author. In her debut book Am I Mad Or What? she charts the course of her life and her ever-present chronic depression.

Yet this is an uplifting and fascinating book full of important information on the subject; undoubtedly her life has been one of drama.

After years of trauma, she ends up consulting a professional and this is how she introduces us to chapter one: "The psychotherapist asked me, 'Why don't you start at the beginning?'"

In the beginning, life was happy for the little girl born in west Belfast, a child with a talent to entertain, be it in the front room or, accompanied by her proud father, singing in working men's clubs.

Like many youngsters she loved television and most of all sitting with her mother and sisters on a Saturday afternoon watching films. She adored Doris Day and she was fascinated by John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man; little did she know that one day she would meet O'Hara and listen to her advice.

Her family concerts soon drew a wider audience of friends as well as relatives and she discovered the excitement of applause.

When she was eight she had her own theatre company of school friends and she directed them in dance routines she had watched on the small screen, including Dirty Dancing and that iconic lift. And so a director as well as a performer was born.

Sadly the seeds of self-doubt were sown at primary school when she told a teacher she couldn't see the blackboard; instead of being brought to the front of the class, she found herself further back and feeling ignored.

"You speak up you get punished, and so I began to tell myself that I clearly wasn't good enough," she writes.

"Even today I have to work really hard not to let that thought in."

Pauline felt frightened and alone and her childhood experience was the prelude to a lifetime of depression.

Am I Mad Or What? contains shocking examples of going through mental torture and a series of dreadful events, including the unexplained death of her father, found unclothed beside his car in a wood between Carlingford and Omeath, and the men who abused her, pressuring and controlling and so assisting her into deeper depression.

Then there was the husband who gave her £30,000 to go to New York to 'sort out her head', and discovering that he was having an affair; the American psychic who conned her out of thousands of pounds.

As a child she went to stay with a family in Belgium as part of Project Children, a project for young teens to enjoy respite from the Troubles. But it turned out to be another terrible time - she saw her Belgian 'sister' being attacked and raped and another new friend was killed crossing the road.

From those early days singing in Belfast, Pauline had achieved a career as a top model, acting and singing and enjoying lucrative promotional work.

She appeared on television and in films, happy and successful on the surface, but in fact struggling with deep dark thoughts and confidence levels at an all-time low, always questioning if she was good enough. Many times she contemplated suicide.

She poured her heart into a diary. Entry for April 2 2001: "My heart feels like it is beating out of my chest and I can't seem able to breathe. All day at college I kept hiding in the toilets talking to my thoughts, asking them to stop.

"I feel completely mad and my head is spinning. I keep hearing the voice in my head saying how no-one likes me, that I am no good at anything and it would be better for everyone if I wasn't here.

"I just want the voice to stop. Oh God, my head is away. Please make it stop. Please."

In Glasgow she trained in acting at what today is the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, there were many happy times, the occasional 'wee joint' to relax with her friends but during a visit to a local psychic she was told to ditch the 'wacky backy': "You need your voice because London is beckoning you. I see you on a big stage with bright lights, singing."

She was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1998. All went well for the first week - developing friendships, excited about the course - but soon her insecurities set in and she suffered sleep issues and the cloud of severe depression descended so she isolated herself.

Despite this she made history, winning two prestigious prizes at the same time - something never done before or since, with one for performing poetry and prose and the other for acting through song.

As promised she made it to the West End, appearing in Honk! The Ugly Duckling, Sweeney Todd and Titanic, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and The Comedy of Errors, as well as concerts in the West End and off-Broadway in New York.

Pauline also taught singing and acting, is the founder director of Apollo Arts Theatre in Belfast and currently runs the very successful Belfast School of Singing.

Thanks to treatment and continuing psychotherapy, today Pauline Carville is pacing her life, taking time to consider her health and her future and she is happy with her husband Robin Elliott: "He's my best friend in life and work, he's my soulmate."

When she asks herself these days, 'Am I mad or what?', the answer is: "After 30 years I'm the extremely strong woman that I am today. Am I mad or what? Yes I am and you know what - I like it."

The little girl from an estate in the heart of west Belfast has proved to that primary school teacher and everyone else that she is more than capable of being a success.

Am I Mad or What? by Pauline Carville is published by Excalibur Press, £9.99.

The Aware NI depression support line can be contacted Monday to Friday from 11am-3pm on 075 4853 0931 or 073 4048 8254.

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