Today is March 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you make sense of what is happening?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well often involves learning how to make sense of what life is giving you at any period of time in your life. Today’s reflection looks at the 2011-2016 period of time in the life of actor Emilia Clark as she had to make sense of a great deal of what was happening to her. In a New Yorker essay published March 21, 2019, Clark let the world know what she had kept secret for so many years. She had been sick. Extremely sick and near death. She was depressed. Her life was far from what most believed. As she recalled in an interview “It was nerve-racking to share it, to be honest. It always is when you make yourself vulnerable.” She waited for years to let me people know what had happened because she didn’t want people to think of her as sick. In short, here are the five events that transpired during those years that challenged her to make sense out of life.
Global career success and terrified of the attention: “It was the beginning of 2011. I had just finished filming the first season of “Game of Thrones,” a new HBO series based on George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. In the weeks after we finished shooting the first season, despite all the looming excitement of a publicity campaign and the series première, I hardly felt like a conquering spirit. I was terrified. Terrified of the attention, terrified of a business I barely understood, terrified of trying to make good on the faith that the creators of “Thrones” had put in me. I felt, in every way, exposed.
A near fatal brain hemorrhage: “On the morning of February 11, 2011, I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on.” She had to be rushed to the hospital and was eventually diagnosed that she suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm. In her recovery from the operations she experienced aphasia (inability to speak clearly) “a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered. Even as I was muttering nonsense, my mum did me the great kindness of ignoring it and trying to convince me that I was perfectly lucid. But I knew I was faltering. In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job—my entire dream of what my life would be—centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.” Eventually the aphasia subsided and she went back to work for Season 2.
Exhausted and worried: On the first day of shooting for Season 2, in Dubrovnik, I kept telling myself, “I am fine, I’m in my twenties, I’m fine.” I threw myself into the work. But, after that first day of filming, I barely made it back to the hotel before I collapsed of exhaustion. On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled. Season 2 would be my worst. I didn’t know what Daenerys was doing. If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die. Even before we began filming Season 2, I was deeply unsure of myself. I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die. Staying at a hotel in London during a publicity tour, I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming. I sipped on morphine in between interviews. The pain was there, and the fatigue was like the worst exhaustion I’d ever experienced, multiplied by a million.”
A second brain aneurysm and deep depression: In 2013 Emilia was back in the hospital with another aneurysm—and this time, it almost killed her. "With the second one, there was a bit of my brain that actually died" and said her greatest fear after her second stroke was that she had lost the ability to act. "That was a deep paranoia, from the first one as well. I was like, 'What if something has short-circuited in my brain and I can't act anymore?' I mean, literally it's been my reason for living for a very long time!” Her recovery period from her second brain surgery was also more difficult than her first—both mentally and physically. "With the second one, I found it much harder to stay optimistic," she said. "I definitely went through a period of being down, to put it mildly."
Her father’s death: “Every day, I miss my father, who died of cancer in 2016, and I can never thank him enough for holding my hand to the very end.”
To recap, between 2011-2016 she achieved global career success in short fashion yet was terrified of the attention. She then suffered a near fatal brain bleed. Upon recovery she was exhausted and worried all the time. She then suffered a second brain aneurysm and went into a deep depression. Her recovered a second time, continued with her career success and then her father passed away. Clark said her character on Game of Thrones—Daenerys Targaryen—helped her through the toughest times. "You go on set and you play a badass and you walk through fire and that became the thing that saved me from considering my own mortality," she said. At the end of one interview, she paused and reflected on how she navigated such a chaotic time in her life and said, “I’m quite a resilient human being, so a parent dying and brain hemorrhages coinciding with success and people following you in the street and getting stalkers – you’re just, like, ‘Well let’s try and make something sensible of it.’”
How often do you try and make something sensible of the chaos in your life?