Faye Treacy – perspectives from the other side

Faye Treacy

Photo by Matt Crockett

Ever wondered how teachers cope with mental health issues? Or What it takes to be a stand up comedian? This incredible interview with teacher and comedian Faye Treacy provides the answers and so much more.

We at Mental Magazine aim the majority of our content at students and their mental health. We cover many issues such as well-being, we provide tips, and offer first-hand accounts. Our overall goal is that everyone understands that they are not alone.

However, what about the other side? The people doing the teaching? Afterall teachers are people too and will not doubt, have their own struggles with mental health. Therefore, we thought it would be not only important but really insightful to understand things from a teacher’s perspective.

With this in mind I reached out to Faye Treacy. She is a musician, comedian and music teacher with a long relationship with mental health. Here is what we talked about….

Mental Magazine (MM): Tell us a bit about yourself. How does one go from music to comedy and then becomes a teacher? 

Faye Treacy (FT): I think most musicians if they go through conservatoire training, end up doing some instrumental teaching on the side. I ended up going into comedy as a dare. I was having really bad anxiety about my musical performance. So I figured if I was able to do a comedy gig it would scare me more. And then I realized I started to fall in love with comedy as well. I did alright in some act coms and it built from there.
But when the pandemic hit, I was like, oh god, I have to pay my rent! So, I ended up taking a lot more teaching, and last year I took a job at a secondary school. It turned into classroom teaching which was totally new to me. It was like a baptism of fire really.

MM: You became quite successful comedy-wise. How did you deal with the recognition?

FT:  I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist, I always strive to do what I do really well. I usually focus more on my process and development. As long as I am enjoying what I am doing, the other side of things is easier. When I first got my radio gig I was quite nervous thinking I didn’t have enough things to say. But I think that is also the imposter syndrome. So the more I did it, the more I knew I could go on. Basically, I dealt with it by doing a lot of hard work (laughs). Through that hard work I can turn off those inner demons.

MM: In your gigs, do you make fun of yourself?

FT: Oh yes, all the time! As an audience member I really like to hear about things that I can relate to. So yes I think it’s quite a good tool.

MM: But do find it therapeutic mental health-wise?

FT: Yes, definitely. When you say you did something that you were ashamed of it, having a room full of people laughing about it with you, you don’t feel as isolated. But it can also go the other way. You need to be careful not to be the butt-end of all your jokes. You have to be proud of who you are, and not just go for the easy laugh.

MM: You have dealt with a jaw stress injury. How did that happen?

FT: Well I am a trombonist and the jaw position that is required is not a natural one, so the tension in your face builds up after a while. You have to be sure to warm up and warm down properly. Also, I used to clench my jaw in my sleep. I have to use a mouth guard now so I don’t end up having surgery down the line.

MM: What effect did the lockdowns have on your mental health?

FT: I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt completely overwhelmed. I remember going to the dentist about my jaw and he asked me if I had a stressful two years? I was like, what kind of question is that?! Of course, I had (laughs). On the other hand, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when I was young so I think I was kinda ready for it in a way. I didn’t spiral because I had been prepping for the end of the world forever. But it was quite stressful.

I couldn’t be with my sisters who live out of the country and work wise I was on a zero-hours contract. This meant the hours went up and down and I ended up having to move to a bigger house share to be able to keep a roof above my head.

MM: What about your anxiety disorder how did that come about?

FT: I was always an anxious kid, I was a bed wetter, I think it’s something innate in me. Also as a female brass player from a working-class background, I was a bit out of my comfort zone when I went to music college. My professors just told everyone to take beta-blockers which prevented us from having to deal with our anxiety. It just built up and so after my first teaching job in Florida I was diagnosed with severe panic and anxiety disorder.

MM: As a teacher did you feel an added pressure to succeed as a result of the lockdowns?

FT: It wasn’t so much like I’m gonna go in and this is going to be the school of rock. I was teaching in a school in South London, where I am from. And it soon became apparent that it was going to be hard work; teaching first-year students an orchestral instrument all at once. But, you have to follow it because it is where the funding goes.

However, you have to remember these are middle-class people making decisions on working-class kids rather than thinking it through. I found that very frustrating. And then to be expected to take that same class online, I couldn’t do my job, which was not fair to the students. The government didn’t seem to understand that most of my students didn’t each have a screen at home, so it was very demoralizing.

MM: Were you told to do more with less?

FT: I mean everyone was very stressed and stretched too thin, it wasn’t the teacher’s fault. There are powers-at-be making all these decisions. Everyone has too many roles working too many hours and you just need to make it work.

MM: In your opinion what are the main causes of mental health deterioration for teachers?

FT: In one word? Burnout! I don’t think that we the teachers realize we have burnout until we actually burnt out. At that point it’s too late and I don’t think there’s anything in place for boundaries to be set up. I don’t even include stress and anxiety because these things were there before the pandemic and we just had to ride it out.

MM: Do you think that students would benefit if they knew that their teachers also had mental health issues?

FT: Yes. I think being honest about things, obviously with age-appropriate conversations, talking about stress, depression and anxiety is very beneficial. Because then it doesn’t become so stigmatized, which unfortunately is still the case in some schools.

MM: If you could and had the means for it, what would you do to normalize mental health issues in schools?

FT: I think we have to work out what works better for every student. I’ve got a student that wants to do every little thing perfectly and he gets very anxious. I notice that because I was that kid. so I’d work my lesson around what works best for them. Also, I would want students to be able to recognize what their emotions are. Then provide them with the tools to verbalize their frustrations, anxiety, and anger, be it a five year-old up or someone 18. In doing so you are going to build a better society.

It would also be a good thing for the teachers to have mental health days where I could actually be able to check my emails!

You can see Faye Treacy at the Edinburugh Fringe Festival between 6th and 27th August 2022 performing her brand new-show “Where´s your head at”. Tickets available here.

You can also find out more about Faye Treacy on her website here
Follow Faye Treacy on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook

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