It’s 8:25 in the morning and Tania Lacy is on the phone from Berlin. For me, it’s been one of those days in one of those weeks. To cap it off the ‘tech’ gremlins have been at work, so it’s been a long phone call coming.
GREG: “I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you?”
TANIA: “It’s me.”
GREG: “It’s taken awhile but it’s worth the wait”.
TANIA: “I am absolutely worth the wait”, Lacy says, laughing.
Tania Lacy seems comfortable in her own skin. As much as it is possible to tell coming down a phone line from Berlin, which is her base these days, she seems to be in a pretty good space. As one of Australia’s dearly loved funny women, her bio reads like a breathless jump from one fortuitous opportunity to another. As a girl, her hopes of a classical dancing career were dashed by a cruel injury, but not so long after she was choreographing and dancing with Kylie Minogue – by the way, that’s her in the Locomotion clip. Molly Meldrum spotted her dancing on Countdown and on a whim, had her open the show. There was The Factory and then Countdown Revolution – where in one infamous episode, she and co-host Mark Little led a protest at artists having to mime their songs. It led to the show being axed. She has done stand-up, she’s an actor, written for film and television, and now in her most recent segue, is writing graphic novels pitched at ‘tween’ girls.
But perhaps Tania Lacy’s bravest move was to speak candidly and publically about the battles around her own mental health. “I knew at around age sixteen that something wasn’t right. I wasn’t experiencing life as I should have. I wonder if I’d said something then, how different things might have been.”
As a celebrity in the late 1980s, her manic lifestyle could easily be attributed to the image and expectations of being in the public eye. Drugs, alcohol, erratic career – they could have all easily been passed-off as just part of celebrity territory – but she knew deep down that she wasn’t well. It was not until her 40s, that she was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder – a spectrum of conditions that effects about 2% of the adult population. It includes depression, obsessive compulsive tendencies, risky behavior and poor self-image to name a few. Tania Lacy has every one of them.
Understandably wary of being the poster child for mental health, she is nonetheless articulate and quietly impassioned about the undercurrent of prejudice that still exists around mental health.
“I have experienced it and continue to experience it on a daily basis,” says Lacy. “People say, ‘well we talk about mental health now and isn’t it great’. I think we’ve done enough talking. I think we start changing things now. I’ve lost jobs over being mentally ill and I swear, if you’d swapped the word cancer for my mental illness, then I wouldn‘t have lost the job. As soon as there is a mental illness involved, there’s still prejudice. That’s why people don’t speak out. I’m sorry but I don’t think it has come that far.”
Heading back to Australia, she has a book in the pipeline, the second in a series of comic graphic novels pitched at ‘tween’ girls, Tracy Lacy for Classy Captain. Jokes aside, is there a word of wisdom, perhaps born out of experience, that she is trying to pass on to this precarious ‘tweendom’?
“Don’t be afraid to get into trouble. I think that so often women in general are afraid to step forward and say things because we will be told off or told ‘your opinion isn’t needed here’. It’s very easy to get into trouble as a woman – you don’t have to try very hard – so just step out and be that trouble. I mean that in a very positive way.”
It’s pretty disturbing, that the stigma around mental health, particularly in the workplace, is still very much alive and well. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that if a person is already dealing with their own internal stress then how can they possibly deal with the additional stress of the workplace? Lacy sees it the other way around. If you are resilient enough to cope with your own mental health demands, then the workplace is simple by comparison. It also has a highly creative flipside.
“It’s a creative double edged sword,” says Lacy. “The reason I can write the stuff I write, that it’s funny and I can get that on the page is because of what I am. I am not just my disorder but I am lots of things. That is certainly part of my creativity. People love what I put on the page, they just don’t want all the stuff that goes with it.”
One wonders how life might have played out had she not had that dancing accident all those years ago.
“If I could have my way I would have continued with dancing but I was unable to continue. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed everything else. I’ve had a very rich life. I’m really lucky that I was bestowed with these abilities. I certainly still have goals of things I want to achieve and I keep going until I do.”
When all is said, and done, one thing is pretty clear.
Tania Lacy is absolutely worth the wait.