If they were to ever make a film of my life (any producers out there fancy making a biopic of a stand-up of middling success?), the opening scene would definitely be the time when I was three years old and my mum walked into her bedroom of an afternoon to find me sitting on the end of the bed crying uncontrollably. She asked me why I was upset and in a response straight out of a horror film, I looked up and told her how I'd just realised that I was going to die one day. I don't remember my mum's response but it's safe to say that she knew from that day on I was ever so slightly weird!
Obviously in the film of my life, this would be a seminal reference when later on, as I lay on my deathbed, I would hark back to that moment with a knowing smile and say to my crying family (made up of numerous adopted children from all different races) that "I'm not scared anymore". Then the credits would roll and the audience would leave the cinema with tears still rolling down their cheeks and say things to each other like "I never realised just how amazing a human being that cult comedian Carl Donnelly was. I really wish I'd gone to see his 2016 Edinburgh show 'Bad Man Tings' that was on at the Pleasance Courtyard at 20:30 every night (apart from the 17th)" or something like that. In reality, that film will never be made and that moment was actually not a seminal one off episode in my life but actually became a recurring theme that I only really faced up to in the last five years.
I learned very early on that it didn't take much for my mind to wander to the darkest place it possible could. Given just a few seconds thinking time, I would find myself going from a happy frame of mind to the depths of despair with very little catalyst. It was because of this that I started learning coping mechanisms and an ability to hide my inner thoughts like a professional poker player! By my teens I was a master of papering over the cracks of insecurity with a cheeky grin and a well timed joke at the expense of an unlucky classmate. Being from an Irish working class Catholic family, I picked up the Irish way of dealing with emotional turbulence. That, being to keep things to yourself as you'll be dead in 50 years and it'll pass!
My life from then until about five years ago pretty much followed that trend. It was a constant battle against myself that no one in the world knew I was fighting. At home, at college, in relationships, in comedy etc I was the laid back funny guy that only very rarely let the mask slip. It wasn't until circumstances in my personal life hit a wall that finally the act had to come to an end and for the first time in my life, I snapped and told someone what was going on inside me on any given day.
I'm one of the lucky people that was met with understanding and for the first time in my life was told the obvious fact that there were other ways of doing things. However, others have not been so lucky, hence the importance of discussing this subject in public. The stigma of mental health problems are slowly being broken down but there are still those in society who react with the ever tedious response of "snap out of it" on hearing people ask for help. The phrase "snap out of it" has its place in society and that place is on train platforms when the next train is delayed by five minutes and some arsehole starts shouting at a member of staff that he's going to miss the start of 'Britain's Got Talent'. That is a suitable time to wander over and say "Snap out of it". When someone is genuinely struggling to cope and is close to the edge is not the time for it.
It's not easy to go to your doctor and admit that you're not coping but it was one of the most important things I ever did as it started me on a path that leads me to now, where after a lot of hard work, i've never felt more in control of my own mind.
Arguably, this new Edinburgh show has been a bit trickier to write as I don't have the backdrop of exciting topics like therapy and anxiety but if, at this moment, the biggest problem in my life is my vegetable garden being attacked by cats, i'll take that.
Carl Donnelly brings his stand-up show Bad Man Tings to the Pleasance Upstairs as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 3rd - 28th August at 8:30pm. More info and tickets available at wearelivecomedy.com
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