Olivia D'Lima, best known for her role as Fenisha Khatri in the hit BBC series Casualty, has been nominated for the best newcomer category in this year's National Television Awards. Here she takes a little time to talk about what is was like to work on the busy set of a prime time drama, and how the production crew accommodated her needs on set.
I write this blog whilst lying on the sofa, too tired to go upstairs and get some socks. Sound familiar? I'm having one of my worst bouts of exhaustion from my Hypermobility Syndrome for a long time and I'm not sure why (no, Mum, I wasn't out late last night and yes, Dad, I slept OK). But what I do know is that I need to allow myself to rest and not feel guilty for lying down and watching Sex and the City all day. Again. Sometimes I forget I have this syndrome - I'm used to the constant pain and the need to sit down a lot. I manage my tiredness by not making too many plans, and pacing myself when my schedule is getting a bit too much. But today, for whatever reason, it's time to stop my body and brain.
As an actor, every day is different. You need to get good at keeping yourself busy but need to be ready to drop everything when you get that call from your agent. While shooting as Paramedic, Fenisha Khatri, on BBC's Casualty for a year and a half, I learned just how much my body and brain can do when they have to. I didn't know that I had the ability to be at work for 12 hours a day, sometimes 5 days a week. But I definitely knew that every weekend would require at least one day of sofa-sitting. I didn't want my syndrome to rule my life so I didn't really mention it on set. But there were some days that I just had to in order to bag a chair and take the weight off my feet. Whenever I would have a break in-between scenes, I'd be straight in my dressing room, lying down with the covers on but my co-stars would be up and about, sometimes even exercising in their rooms! I didn't understand how they had the energy to do everything they did in one day! On my days off I would often be sitting on the sofa, learning my lines and doing life-admin (and of course, eating and watching TV, especially during the scariest COVID months). I constantly felt the need to explain to my peers that I was tired but I find that never truly sums up how HMS sufferers feel and I think there is commonly a lot of guilt about the fact that we require more rest than others. But it's important to remember that it is rest! Not laziness!
It can sometimes feel hard to explain your syndrome or disorder to others but you naturally find a shorthand! I generally say something like "I'm basically too flexible and it means everything is that bit harder for me. Oh and I'm in constant pain!" whilst laughing because I don't want people to worry; I'm handling it fine. Some days are harder than others but it's part of my life and I'm OK. But I know I can let my loved ones know when I can't deal with it and they'll be right there to run me a bath or get me a hot water bottle. My character on Casualty was a courageous paramedic and in one episode she needed to do some abseiling. A wonderful Producer from the show sat me down and asked if I would be OK with this considering the disorder listed in the medical section of my file, or if I would prefer a stunt double to do it. This meant a huge amount to me because he acknowledged my struggle but kept the decision with me. I went ahead with it because I thought it would be an amazing memory and because I felt more than comfortable with the fact that I could say "stop" and be brought down immediately. It was reassuring to know that people at work could be aware of my needs without it having to feel like a fuss.
When it comes to some of the other symptoms, I've noticed some improvements. Since becoming vegetarian and now being vegan, my stomach has been much more settled and I think even my headaches have calmed down. I'm definitely still more clumsy when hormonal but I learn to expect that and laugh at myself instead of getting frustrated. I mean, who needs more frustration when they're already PMS-ing?! But the joints in my thumbs are particularly bad at the moment and the heavy dependence on our phones doesn't help. I'm emailing, searching, texting and more on more phone and I am definitely feeling the effects. I try and do my exercises but sometimes the pain is too much so I wear a brace. The HMS accessories! Oh my gosh, I've got it all - shoe insoles, hand braces, straps, wrist supports for when I sleep, the list goes on! But hey ho, whatever helps, right? It's a weird old journey trying to understand your body and syndrome and I'm still figuring things out every day, but I've learned that it's important to go at your own speed, not compare yourself to others and enjoy some guilt-free rest days, because we all need them.
I'm now nominated at the National Television Awards in the Newcomer Category for my performance in Casualty and I can safely say that my disorder has not held me back in any way. The Awards will be tough on my body, especially as I will be wearing heels all night but I will make sure I'm never far from a chair and will have some emergency painkillers in my bag just in case! I'll be working the next day too but you can be sure that I won't be moving much that weekend!
I know my limits and make sure any other necessary people do too. I might not be out and about, walking here there and everywhere every day but I'm enjoying my life, even if it might look a bit different to my peers'.
The NTA vote is open until 9th September so get your votes in! Vote | National Television Awards (nationaltvawards.com)