Collapsible is a brilliant one woman play by Margaret Perry produced by High Tide and Ellie Keel. Esther has just lost her job and recently broken up with her girlfriend.
“I feel like a chair… like one of those folding chairs, you know?… Those collapsible chairs. Solid one minute and then.”Collapsible by Margaret Perry
She asks her friends and family to describe her in a word or phrase and makes a list of her qualities to share at interviews. “Feet firmly on the floor” is one of the first on the list. Only they are not. This one woman monologue is delivered from a high platform symbolising how un-grounded Essie is.
“In an ending something has terminated: a relationship, a job, a project, or even a life. A sense of relief and satisfaction may occur, or a great sense of loss and emptiness may transpire. Suddenly being without something that was an integral part of our life can cause us to feel completely ungrounded. An ending without a sense of completion implies being unfinished rather than settled. We have more issues to deal with when things end against our wishes than when we purposefully conclude something in our own lives.”Beck, R., & Metrick, B. (2003). The Art of Ritual: Creating and Performing Ceremonies for Growth and Change. Berkeley: Celestial Arts. Page 49.
Collapsible explores Esther’s mental health. Although not perfect at the start, we watch as it deteriorates further as the play progresses. This is a common experience for people who are unemployed
“Vast research has shown that those who experience unemployment, impoverishment, and family disruptions have a signiﬁcantly greater risk of mental health problems such as depression, stress, suicide and suicidal ideation, and the mental health of spouses—as compared to the employed.”Lahad, M., Cohen, R., Fanaras, S., Leykin, D., & Apostolopoulou, P. (2018, 01). Resiliency and Adjustment in Times of Crisis, the Case of the Greek Economic Crisis from a Psycho-social and Community Perspective. Social Indicators Research, 135(1), 333-356. Page 335
The stress of being under-employed is similar but different to that from a stressful work environment where the person may feel a lot of pressure to meet deadlines or not have much time for their personal health.
“When people think of stress it is often the stress of having too much to do and being overstimulated. This is what is known as ‘overload stress’. However there is another aspect of stress which is the stress of the long-term unemployed and the parent at home all day with small children, which is known as ‘underload stress’.”Crimmens, P. (1998). Storymaking and Creative Groupwork with Older People. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Pg 23
Robert Landy talks about the role theory in dramatherapy whereby a person acts out certain roles to increase their flexibility and ability to respond to different situations. It has been suggested that people in jobs take on similar roles in life – e.g. the role of manager may be different to the role of shop worker.
“If you play a role in society, you develop a subpersonality corresponding to that role.”Rowan, J. (1993). Discover Your Subpersonalities: Our Inner World and the People in it. London and New York: Routledge. Page 17
This may indicate that when we lose a job we also lose, or under nourish, an aspect of ourselves.
In the play we see Esther building up a list of who she is as if trying to keep hold of this sense of self in a life which is adrift.
Employment can be an important part of a persons well being but sometimes it is not possible to find work. Or someone may get into such a negative cycle of self doubt that they find it difficult to apply for or gain employment. In this case, although the work may be the most obvious area of life in need of boosting, it may be beneficial to start by focusing on another area. Perhaps volunteering will allow the person to build confidence in the roles they can do. Maybe connecting with other people can remind them of who they are outside of their work life. Or for some people meditation, mindfulness or spirituality may help to remove some of the internal stress.
Work is an important part of work-life balance but where the balance is lost sometimes focusing on the life part is an important first step to restoring the work balance. And sometimes what we accept as “work” may need to change before we can restore that balance.