Who would be mad enough to choose comedy as a career?! I have. I might be mad for doing so. But I have. I chose it whole-heartedly because comedy comes from madness.
Comedy comes from a really dark place. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light. If your mind has taken you to the darkest of places one defence can be to create light. Comedy is the light for me.
It's well known that comedians have a darkness about them. Many famous comedians and comedy performers have publicly spoken about their mental health difficulties: Stephen Fry, for example; one of my heroes. I began to idolise Stephen Fry when I was 14, when I was first diagnosed with mental health issues. My mother, when driving me to one of my earliest psychiatrist appointments, handed me an article about Fry's battle with depression and bipolar disorder. Those were two of the many labels I'd recently been given.
Fry's ability to talk openly about his experiences and how he'd pulled through the darkest of times gave me hope. If I kept going, maybe I too could one day achieve even a small fraction of what he had. A few years later I decided writing and acting comedy was what I wanted to do.
Comedians are meant to tread the border between what is "acceptable" and what is not. A lot of mental health issues are still not fully accepted and definitely not seen as "normal". For many years I just wanted to be "normal" - not "anorexic" or "bulimic" or "bipolar" or "depressive" or "an acute anxiety sufferer" or "OCD sufferer" or "compulsive overeater" or even "psychotic". People I meet in a pub seem to think I'm strange if I say I had a psychosis. You should see their faces if I say that in that experience I time-travelled or saw God and the Devil and angels and aliens. Over the years I learnt I could make my friends laugh about my "unique" mental health experiences. And since I still don't know how to make sense of it all - all I can do it laugh at it.
Comedy lets off the steam of the pressure cooker of my mind. My mental health problems stem from stress and anxiety. But when I laugh, I let go of all that tension. Laughter helps me physically let go of the stress.
I'm excited to see that people are starting to talk more openly about mental health. Increasingly vital campaigns like Time to Change, the efforts of charities like Mind and even advertising campaigns have all helped raise awareness of mental health issues. And then there's the recent BBC3 TV series Don't Call Me Crazy. That's introducing an even younger generation to mental health issues, and by becoming informed they might more readily accept.
I watched My Mad Fat Diary on Channel 4 earlier this year - a popular comedy drama series that had clearly been really well researched and very sensitively written. I loved it. Until the episode where the anorexic character collapsed. I couldn't watch it after that. That episode brought on too many dark thoughts. I didn't want to risk watching any more, just in case it was triggering.
Dark thoughts can create pain. The best thing I can do with pain is turning it into creativity. In the last few years there's been an increase in the number of clinics and hospitals that schedule art therapy into their treatment plans. Maybe they could include comedy! Stand up courses teach that you have to let your darkest side out in a routine - say what you (and quite possibly everyone else) is thinking but no one dares to say.
When I stand on stage with a mic in hand saying all the things I really want to say but can't unless I'm in a therapist's office -hearing that laughter resound back at me is a sign of recognition from the audience, a sign that they themselves have been through the same thing too - they've thought my darkest thoughts, they've been to those places in their minds too.
In my docu-comedy When I Grow Up I show pictures of me before and after I was sectioned. I talk about the darkest moments in my mental health history, when I really didn't want to fight any more. Taking audiences with me on that journey and then resolving it with more laughs has helped me accept my past - because audiences accept it too.
Life is hard for us all. It can be lonely. Comedy unites us it how absurdly hard life is. All we can do is laugh.
If there's something troubling you, then call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.