A 2021st for Women: Laura Kelly
Actress Laura Kelly has survived more than her fair share of health scares – from the time she was born. Yet she went on to begin her acting career at a very early age. Laura was just 4 years old when she got her TV break on the iconic children’s show Pumpkin Patch! She went on to make a name for herself in television, radio and business – and is now forging ahead while living with Bipolar Disorder. Laura tells media personality Uveka Rangappa all about fearlessly “getting on with it” after facing near death…
You started acting about 20 years ago - that must surely come with many Fearless 1sts …
My first fearful moment was around the age of 11 or 12. I was auditioning for a place at The National School of the Arts in Johannesburg. I had to present a monologue and a song. I was very nervous and scared because I really wanted it. I beat that fear by making sure I was prepared AND being myself, being authentic.
You were quite ill from birth and had many scares since then including something very serious about 12 years ago – tell us about that?
I was born with a hole in my heart and had open heart surgery before high school. I've had a virus in my brain called encephalitis, had my jaw broken in 3 places during an attempted hijacking & I've survived a cerebral aneurysm which I consider a miracle.
Surviving a cerebral aneurysm is indeed miraculous.
I definitely thought I was dying. Probably because I was! Were it not for the very quick reaction of the people I was with when the vessel in my brain burst, I doubt I would have made it. There was a montage of my life playing in my head, thoughts of my mother, father and sister and then what felt like a calling on the other end, drawing me in. I remember doctors trying to get me back, telling me to hold on because my mother was on her way. A mother’s presence is so incredibly strong, everything changed once she arrived.
How did that affect your career?
I feel all the time I spent recovering put me about 10 years behind my peers. While I’ve done many things quite successfully, I still can't help but wonder where I'd be had I not had those experiences to overcome.
How did the passing of your mom Sylvia in 2010 lead to your Bipolar disorder diagnosis?
Before my mom’s death I'd been diagnosed with Depression. Diagnosing a Bipolar patient with Depression is a common mistake. My mother’s passing was the trigger for my Bipolar diagnosis, it was most certainly a fearful moment. What followed felt like a four year manic period - a combination of ups and downs that just seemed endless.
How did it affect your daily functioning?
Everything changed. It took a miserably long time to find the right medication and in the meantime the side effects caused everything from rapid weight gain to memory loss, which impacted my career, my income, my self-esteem and my relationships.
You’re getting back into acting – how challenging is it?
It's hard to remember that you're good at something when you struggle to trust your own emotions. I live in my head a lot as a symptom of having Bipolar and being medicated. It’s difficult to trust and believe in myself and not expect that people are going to judge or mistreat me.
As a performer, you need to be able to take constructive criticism and believe in yourself enough to deliver. The very nature of Bipolar fights against these things.
What’s your advice to other women who have been hit by illness and tragedy to keep going?
Tell someone, speak honestly about how you feel. Ask for help and accept it. Take it one day at a time and never assume that it's payback for something terrible you've done. I always ask myself, “How can I learn from this experience? How have I grown from this experience?” This brings purpose and meaning to the difficulties I've faced.