I write this post with the notion of encouraging others to be open about their mental health. I decided to write a show about mental health after appearing on a platform last year where several comedians spoke about the issue. At the end of the night I was approached by a young man who was studying dentistry and had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He let me know how much it meant to him to see somebody talking so openly about the more acute side of mental health. So I decided to do more…
I’ve been a comedian for nineteen years and yet have only spoken about my journey with mental health in the last year. I was reluctant to speak about such things because of stigma and the strange notions of shame that can induce. However, since deciding to do so I’ve encountered nothing but positive feedback. So I’ve made a wee list here of some comments and memories from the past eight months in the hope it encourages others to do the same as me.
- Meeting Elle. In my show where I collected donations at the end. One day in my bucket I found a note from Elle. In it she described herself and wondered if we could enjoy a cuppa together. I was very much up for doing so. Since then we struck up a friendship and after a wee bit persuasion I encouraged her to do this blog with me. I’m sure you can tell by reading her posts she is one of the most insightful voices out there in regards to mental health.
- Feedback at the Edinburgh Festival. During my run I encountered feedback both from other service users and mental health professionals. A psychologist told me, “Everything in the show was entirely appropriate.” I was delighted with this. I do still worry about this as I don’t want people to think I’m making light of these issues by doing comedy about them. On another day a big burly Scotsman approached me and told me he now felt more confident to talk about his depression after seeing the show. I was also approached positively from people with diagnosis of Dissociative identity disorder, Schizophrenia and Bipolar one and two.
- Just recently. Last night Elle messaged to tell me this.
“A guy on the forum (another one from here) has just contacted me to tell me that his mum was bipolar, and the blog has helped him understand better what she went through. I think for the generation above us this is a really big deal – he would have grown up with no conversation about the matter at all. No real understanding. My writer friend’s mum was bipolar too, and I know the blog is a real eye-opened for her – I think for her, her mum was just variously crazy and very cruel. Unmedicated and often hospitalised, so she felt abandoned too. The blog has given her a more rounded picture of her mum I think.”
Also on Twitter this week somebody messaged to tell me this, “Hi John, I was at the Yes bar show in Glasgow on Sat night with my wife and we both enjoyed the show. I wanted to contact you specifically for being so open about your mental health history and the humour you identify around it. You also commented that you (and me) grew up in times where such things were simply swept under the carpet. I am happy that things are changing and more people are talking about this stuff. Both my dad and brother were affected by the issues you personally described. I was the lucky one and managed to come through relatively unscathed in comparison. As a result, I try to be as open, understanding and positive as possible on mental health with people I come into contact with, so thanks for doing the work you do and please keep talking about it. Cheers, Neil. Ps, fuck the Tory bastard for trying to fuck OUR NHS, which has saved my dad and brother on multiple occasions.” Trust me feedback like this means everything to me and Elle. It’s why we do what we do on hear. It took me nineteen years to come publicly out of the closet. Since doing so I’m now happy to be known as the mental health comedian. You don’t have to take up a career in comedy to be open about this stuff. Step through the door you may be surprised as to what’s on the other side.