R U OK? How Ambassador Casey Donovan Is Dealing With Anxiety

Casey Donovan

Casey Donovan is one of Australia’s most versatile entertainers who was thrust into the spotlight at the age of 16 when she became the youngest ever winner of Australian Idol in 2004.

Over the last thirteen years, Donovan has made her mark not only as a musician but also in the areas of stage, screen, presenting and writing.

She was the 2017 winner of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here and captivated readers with her autobiography Big Beautiful & Sexy.

In May 2019, Donovan revealed that she had been catfished for six years by her friend Olga, pretending to be a man named Campbell.

“It affected me in a big, big, big way,” she said during an interview with TheLatch—. “There were a lot of obstacles and challenges that I had to overcome and a lot of fear of being so vulnerable in such a public setting”.

Now, Donovan is an ambassador for R U OK?, the not-for-profit organisation that aims to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with friends, family and colleagues who might be struggling with life.

Here, she talks to TheLatch— about how she is looking after her mental health during coronavirus global pandemic and shares advice on how to look after yourself during this time.

Casey Donovan
Casey Donovan. Supplied.

Anita Lyons: Hi Casey! This is a pretty tough time for everyone. How have you been going?

CD: It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, as I’m sure everyone’s been going through. There have been lots of changes in a very short amount of time. So it’s been a lot to grasp, and just coming off the back of a national tour with Chicago and settling into realising I had a week off before I went back into corporate [gig] life and then that all stopped. It was very confronting. It’s definitely been something that I’ve been having to get my head around but as a creative you just roll with the punches, so to speak.

I was booked into some corporate dinners and whatnot, so it was good to have gigs booked in after a national tour where you’re getting a weekly wage to then going, okay, how am I going to live from this period to this period and what am I going to do next?

AL: Congratulations on the success of Chicago. Were you able to finish the run?

CD: We thankfully finished in early March and we just got it done in time, which is amazing.

AL: Why is being an ambassador for R U OK? important to you?

CD: It’s so important because I deal with anxiety and I know how it feels not to talk to people and for someone to ask if I’m OK. It’s a great talking point and it really does highlight issues within the community. I think it shows a lot of compassion from people and it’s just such a great thing to be a part of.

AL: How’s your mental health been at this time?

CD: I’ve been getting out and walking. Some days I argue with myself because I’m like, “this isn’t working” because my thoughts are just running everywhere and some days I just can’t get them to where I need to be and I just sit here going, “what is going on with my life?”

Being a creative, you just feel everything deeply because you question what you should do. Should I write about it? Like, what avenue do I want to go down? So, I find myself just sitting here going, “I’m just going to nap”.

It’s just a very interesting time and you’ve just got to try to keep positive and be positive. I’ve been doing a lot of Tik Toks, trying to keep other people occupied. I always think about what makes me laugh and can I make other people laugh?

AL: How do you know when you’re not feeling your best? What are some of the triggers or emotions that you feel?

CD: It starts in my tummy where it just feels very gloomy and doomy, and I just feel quite heavy in my body which I know it’s starting and then the palpitations will start and I’ll have anxiety about that. It’s a domino effect where I can feel myself going down. So, when that happens, I just try to lift my spirits or watch something funny or I’ll try and get out and go for a walk and really just concentrate on my breathing.

AL: Do you ever just sit in it and allow it to happen?

CD: Some days I do, but I don’t like to sit in it and I know that’s something that when I chat with my psychologist, he tells me to sit in it. “Don’t fight it.” I’m just one of those people that I just find it hard because I don’t like to feel it so I’ll distract myself — I distract myself doing emails — I’m just really good at distraction therapy [laughs]. Sometimes when I’m feeling it, I’ll chuck on a meditation which has helped me immensely. I haven’t actually been doing it for the last week or two and I’ve just been trying to go to sleep without noise. I used to like to listen to meditation to fall asleep and now I’m seeing if I can meditate myself to sleep and that’s been really working.

I’m just focusing on my breathing before I go to bed and meditation does help me when I feel like there’s no escape.

“I’m just focusing on my breathing before I go to bed and meditation does help me when I feel like there’s no escape.”

AL: What are some of the steps you’re taking to prioritise your mental health?

CD: I’m just looking after myself and not getting upset when I don’t achieve certain things throughout the day. It is a very tricky period we’re in, and a lot of people want things from me and I’m not a big person of change or change in a very short amount of time, so I get very overwhelmed with things. I guess it’s just about prioritising what I can during the day and not getting upset with myself if I can’t complete it.

Casey Donovan
Casey at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Supplied.

AL: Have you been writing songs during isolation?

CD: I’m always writing songs. I thought I’d be writing more because I’ve got the time and as an artist, you crave this kind of time to write. But now I’ve got it… I get a lot of inspiration from watching people and going to cafés and watching people interact but you can’t do that. Going for a walk in the park is the most interaction I get or going to the shops. There’s only so many songs you can write about COVID-19 before the world goes, that’s enough! I have been playing and listening to a lot of music and have gotten back into my painting but it’s also finding the motivation to do that especially if you’re in an anxious kind of depressed state, everything just feels like a chore.

“I have been playing and listening to a lot of music and have gotten back into my painting but it’s also finding the motivation to do that especially if you’re in an anxious kind of depressed state, everything just feels like a chore.”

AL: What has it been like not being able to perform?

CD: I’ve noticed that people in my industry, especially now that we’ve got all of this downtime, we’re not getting the adrenaline rushes from going on stage. It’s almost exhausting because you live for those moments as an entertainer and when nothing is happening you might record something to camera and then if you don’t like it, you do it again and then the perceptions come into it. It’s a roller coaster ride.

AL: What are some heart-warming examples of compassion that you have seen from others during this time? 

CD: There have been a lot of people reaching out. It’s a beautiful thing. Every industry has been hit hard so people are just trying to find their adrenaline hit and put that into the social world. There’s a lot of compassion through that side of things.

In terms of going to help people, it’s a very fine line. There are so many things that we cannot do. It’s such a battle because we’re such a loving and helping nation that when you can’t go and help people, all you can do is rely on your skillset, so people are still creating music and putting out content.

AL: You’ve been through some very public trauma. What has it been like in the past few years, experiencing some of the hardest things in your life in the public eye?

CD: It affected me in a big, big, big way. There were a lot of obstacles and challenges that I had to overcome and a lot of fear of being so vulnerable in such a public setting. It was very, very, very scary but I guess, the kind of person I am if my story could help someone is the way I looked at it, that it would help someone.

It’s just it’s a constant battle. People always say, “you’re always so chirpy and happy and everything’s so amazing”. But that’s what I like to put out into the world. But there are days where I just sit at home and do nothing because I enjoy quiet.

It taught me a lot about myself and the strength that I have and that it’s ok to be vulnerable and it’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to reach out. Yeah. And that’s, I think one of the biggest messages is it’s ok not to be ok. But just know that there is support for you and there are people there that you can talk to that will not judge you and they will just listen.

AL: If people are struggling, how can they reach out and ask for help?

CD: You can jump online onto the R U OK? website. There are lots of tools and numbers you can call and there’s even now a text line. You can text someone so you don’t actually have to have a verbal conversation.

And you can call up a mate, say you’re struggling and just talk.

R U OK? Day is a national day of action, held on the second Thursday of September each year (September 10, 2020). But every day is the day to start a conversation. Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found at www.ruok.org.au.

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