Appearing on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ last year marked a turning point for comedian Susan Calman. The self-confessed “grumpy woman” realised she needed to be kinder to herself.
Performing on the hit show meant there were always complicated dance routines to learn, not to mention having to sport those outfits – all while being judged by professionals and the British public.
“I was suddenly in a very different environment,” the 43-year-old from Glasgow tells HuffPost UK. “I needed to give myself a bit of a break because this was a very different thing I was doing: I was dressed differently, I was doing different things. If I didn’t give myself a break I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Yes, I wasn’t the best at jiving – but you know what, it was a bloody good try.”
Her new book ‘Sunny Side Up’ – which follows ‘Cheer Up Love’, about Calman’s experience of living with depression and anxiety – builds upon a personal quest, of sorts, to find kindness and joy in everyday things.
When I ask her what three things bring her joy, I am in no way prepared for the answer. “This is going to sound weird. Bare with me,” she says, before proceeding to tell me she loves the smell of her cat’s paws (apparently they smell of digestive biscuits); she eats a tub of Marks and Spencer’s ready whipped cream on her birthday each year; and is extremely passionate about model trains.
With her book now on shelves up and down the country, here are seven things the comedian wants you to know about the wonderful world of kindness.
Anger can be extinguished by kindness. Writing ‘Cheer Up Love’ allowed Calman to analyse herself in detail. “I realised one of the reasons for my anxiety was that I was quite angry at the world,” she explains. “I think it was because I saw a lot of unkindness.”
She says during this process she was struck by the realisation that she wasn’t angry at people, but rather the way people treated each other. “I started thinking about kindness because I think it’s probably the greatest thing in a person,” she adds. “I think a kind person is just glorious. I started thinking about how I behaved and how other people behaved and why kindness is such a good thing.”
Kindness isn’t just about helping others. At the beginning of her new book, Calman talks about what kindness is and how it isn’t just about being nice to others. “There are so many parts to it: there’s kindness towards ourselves; the act of being kind, a gift or an action; but I think there’s also kindness in terms of how we look at each other as human beings,” she explains.
“I’m so unkind to myself, I’m my worst critic. Kindness isn’t just about random acts of kindness, it’s about waking up in the morning and giving yourself a break.”
It’s a positive thing for mental health. Having experienced depression and anxiety for many years, Susan acknowledges that kindness can absolutely impact mental health for the better. “I think people with depression and anxiety...we’re superheroes, we feel things too deeply, and sometimes your anxiety increases when people are not nice.
“Depression and anxiety are helped by a holistic attitude to a lot of things - but definitely kindness to ourselves and others, without question, helps.”
Simply thinking about kindness can make a big difference. “If you think about kindness when you leave the house, you might find an opportunity to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, you know, help someone with their case or with a pram,” Calman explains.
The comedian says she’s received messages from people saying they’ve left the house thinking about being kind and then they’ve actually done a good deed.
It is often powered by love. What is the nicest thing that someone’s ever done for her? Calman seems momentarily stumped. “I think [it would be] my wife supporting me in giving up my job as a lawyer to do stand-up comedy about 13 years ago,” she says. “I’d done it for six months, I was earning no money, it was a pathetic pipe dream and she said: ‘I’ll support you financially, go and live your dream’. That’s probably the most important thing that someone’s ever done.”
When the world gets angry, kindness takes hold. Lately you might have noticed more and more people sharing stories of random acts of kindness on social media. If not that, it’s some lovely soul leaving nice notes and money on ambulances. But Calman doesn’t believe it’s a new trend: “It’s cyclical,” she says. “When the world gets angry, people start talking about kindness.”
Even the smallest gestures make a difference. You don’t have to perform grand gestures to change the world for the better. For example,Calman likes to pay for someone’s coffee in the morning - usually the person in the queue behind her. If she’s on a train, she’ll help someone with their bags or their pram. It’s all about being aware of your surroundings so you can help people, she says.
“I travel around the country on my own a lot of the time and people are tremendously kind,” she says, citing that sometimes people will sit with her and have a drink after a show when she’s lonely. “Every day people are kind. And I think, not just because of my lifestyle in that I have to get to lots of places but also as an anxious person, someone being kind to you is tremendously important.”