For a long time I had heard about this incredible woman called Sancia Robertson. She was known as being an all rounder in the entertainment industry. She could act, write, produce and juggle (not sure about the juggling bit).
Her body of work includes acting or producing on A Country Practice, Blue Heelers, The Panel, Spicks and Specks, Thank God You’re Here, Neighbours, We Can Be Hero’s, City Homicide and a bucket load more. Not to mention she was the Producer of the hugely success radio show Martin/Molloy.
It is fair to say this lady is a real talent and one of her best traits may be here honesty.
In 1994, after suffering from Anorexia and Bullemia Nervosa for 12 years, Sancia co-created “What’s Wrong With Mary Jane” with her pal Wendy Harmer.
Together they put the landscape of Sancia’s mind on a stage so people could hear the voices of hate, judgment, punishment, fear and deprivation that people who suffer mental illness experience.
Sancia orginally performed the play to incredible reviews. Fast forward several years and “What’s Wrong With Mary Jane” is back. This time with the fab young actress Gab Sav as the lead, (Sancia is Directing it this time around.)
I was thrilled after years of knowing about Sancia, to be able to pick this highly regarded women’s brain on her 12 year struggle with eating disorders.
From 16-28 you suffered with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. What was your life like for those 12 years?
It was shrouded in lies and shame. I found it very difficult to see I had an actual problem – sometimes I could see it, when it was very bad, but most of the time I thought it was something I was “doing” and if I was a “better person” then surely I could change it. I was very, very ashamed as I saw it as a “weakness” because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t “snap out of it”. Conversely I also couldn’t imagine a life without my illness so I was very protective of it being “taken away”- that kept me stuck too. So it wasn’t just my shame but also my reliance on it as a coping mechanism that was keeping me stuck. Dieting was how I survived, controlling my food and my body, not dealing with life on life’s terms – always thinking my problem was that I was too fat. So I moved a lot and I lied a lot because people who loved me asked a lot of questions… and I avoided anyone that might “bust me”. I stayed away from close relationships – especially with men – men always tried to “fix me”… can’t have that. So it was very lonely and quite shit to be honest. Good times…
You eventually sought professional help. What made you realise you could not overcome this on your own and how did you go about getting help?
A few things crashed into each other. I was really unhappy and when I was unhappy in the past I would always think, “What I need to do here is to lose a few kilos”… like that had ever worked! But that was what I did. Anyway I lost a lot of weight and I was working really hard as an actor, so it actually was something that wasn’t seen as that big a deal, as thin is good in that game. But I remember thinking I didn’t have many more of these periods left in me, I was exhausted, they take everything from you and I was very suicidal. The only reason I didn’t do it was because of the show I was in. Anyway, I went to a Dr and he did a bone scan and he said very coldly, “Well you better not go the gym you have osteoporoses and you could break your back.” No sympathy, which ironically was good as it meant I couldn’t play the “victim”.
I had a problem and I wasn’t doing anything about it. Then my mother appeared and I hadn’t seen her for a long time and when she saw me for the first, she cried. She had never shown me that pain. And it was awful and I knew that even if I couldn’t do it for me – I had to it for her. So I finally got help.
What do you think the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders are?
That you do it. That you choose it. You don’t. You have a mental illness and you need professional help.
Eating disorders in our culture are at an all time high, how do you feel about this and what do you think can turn this around?
I think early intervention in helping young people see that changing their body/dieting isn’t the answer to a problem is vital.
Educating people that mental illnesses are serious conditions, that people aren’t “bunging it on”.
Helping people who have a propensity to take their emotions out by over/under-eating to have new skills in dealing with life from a school age.
Helping people see that their bodies are there to help them have great lives, not things to be manipulated and controlled and abused.
Helping girls know they don’t always have to be nice, happy, and sweet- that they can be angry, sad, powerful and take up room. My anorexia and bulimia were a lot about me not being able to be appropriately angry, firm with people. I had a lot of feelings that weren’t acceptable and I buried them or acted out on them inappropriately with food.
You wrote, “What is the matter with Mary Jane” with your friend Wendy Harmer. Why did you decide to share your story this way?
I was at her house one day and Wendy literally asked me “If you could do anything what would you do? And I said “Write a play about anorexia and bulimia so people know what it’s like to be inside a mental illness” and she went “Ok. I will do that with you” How fucking lucky am I?
Was it challenging to relive what you had been through when writing this?
Yes – I was very, very ashamed – all those lies, all that gross behaviour, and for so long – such insanity and ‘vanity” but Wendy is the least judgemental person ever. She always saw it as something I wasn’t choosing and helped me see it the same way. She was very, very kind. I remember her sitting with me on Opening Night telling me I should be proud – it was brave- and it wasn’t something I had chosen and I mustn’t be ashamed anymore. It gave me huge strength.
Who do you hope see’s this one-woman play and what do you hope they walk away with?
Someone who isn’t coping with their food or life– I want them to see it and realise they will end up where I did if they don’t open their mouth. I want them to decide to do something there and then. We will have The Butterfly Foundation people and Eating Disorders Victoria there to help out on the night and they are freaking awesome resource. I want them to choose life.
I also want families and friends to see it and walk away understanding what is going on at a much deeper level, so they also know this isn’t something that someone is “doing”- it’s not personal – that this is a serious illness. Lots of families said it was a great help to actually hear what was happening inside as they only see the outsides.
You have done so many different projects in your career, would you say this is one of the most important/powerful?
Without doubt. Although it is the most painful – there is still a lot of shame about admitting this was what I did which I KNOW there shouldn’t be – but there is. But this is the one I love the most. To have people who are adults tell me they saw this when they were young and it made them open their mouth and get help – man – it cannot get better than that.
For more information on “What’s With Mary Jane” include dates and tickets click here.