Sorry my blog is late. I have been having a hard time. I have Cyclothymia (Bipolar Lite) and Recurring Depressive Disorder and it's all been a bit hard lately.
That's probably not the best way to open a piece that's supposed to demonstrate that the one in four of us that suffer from mental health issues are just as reliable as you 'Norms' but you know what? I bet lots of mentally well Huffington Post bloggers miss deadlines too. We all have stuff that makes life difficult mine just happens to be a chemical imbalance in my brain.
Again, in defence of my current depression, this is a week in which racism has increased due to the EU Referendum, the country has become the first ever nation to be downgraded two credit rating points in one go and the pound is now essentially cheap kindling for the fires in trash cans we'll all be huddling round come winter. Sometimes depression isn't irrational.
My partner Sophie always says, "it's not where you're at that counts, it's what you do next" and, although she also says "but what about the privies??" in what she calls her 'Blackadder voice' whenever someone mentions plumbing, she's right about this one. I have some things that help. I'm going to share them. Stay with me.
My brief from the Huffington Post with this piece was "tell us about comedy and mental health". I suspect performing my (ahem) unique blend of stand up and mind reading has kept me alive on more than one occasion. My condition makes me frequently suicidal but when I'm gigging every day as I am from tomorrow to Sunday it keeps the darkness away.
There are actually solid psychological/physiological reasons why performing and even watching comedy can help alleviate depression - did I mention I'm also a psychologist? Performing releases a massive dopamine rush which in turn facilitates other 'happy' chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. Laughing and cheering releases endorphins - the more and louder you cheer, the more endorphins your body releases and the happier you are. This is why Americans are inexplicably cheerful. That and the fact that ignorance is also bliss!
Basically a comedy performance is a pretty good place to be if you're a depressive regardless of which side of the footlights you're on. The show I'm currently previewing on its way to the Edinburgh Fringe has basically become a life raft for me to cling to, at least until September. The show is actually called I Can Make You Feel Good and is an exploration of the things that make humans happy. I take the science of happiness and add some mind tricks and jokes in an attempt to make everyone in the room feel good. I had no idea it would be so desperately needed when I started writing it in December 2015.
The whole thing has become somewhat joyous. Shows have ended with group hugs, the entire audience dancing in the street and strangers exchanging phone numbers. These are my people. This is my medicine.
So what advice (other than coming to see my show) do I have if you are struggling with mental health issues? Firstly: you are not alone. We are many and I know from personal experience that if you reach out to fellow sufferers, one of us will catch you. Feel free to tweet me on @Doug_Segal. SANE run some excellent support resources. And The Depression Alliance run really good support groups.
I know some days it can be a struggle to even get out of bed but give yourself simple goals and try not to put pressure on yourself. If you put a weight on the sand in the top half of an hourglass it stops flowing completely. That's what you do when you beat yourself up for not being able to achieve much. It's all relative. I have days where just getting out of bed and washing are Herculean tasks. If that's all you manage on that day then that's ok. It's a win not a failure - take the pressure off the sand.
If you can, try to create something; it doesn't matter what. Paint, sculpt, build, model some playdough or write something. The act of creation can put you in a completely different head space which brings us full circle. It's taken me an hour to write this. When I started I felt bleak. I'm actually feeling much better now. You did that. You're great you are. Be nice to yourself and others.
Doug Segal's new show I Can Make You Feel Good will be at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For info please go to www.dougsegal.co.uk
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Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)