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Comedy and Tragedy

It's August 14th - just over half way through the Edinburgh Festival. My show, 'Lucy Frederick and the Claw of Anxiety' is ticking along nicely. Thanks for asking.

This blog was going to be about the trials and tribulations of handing out flyers. How draining an activity it is and how very rude some people can be (I appreciate that I may be the 275543685th person to approach you in the last five minutes, but please try to refrain from telling me to F off. I am only trying to get bums on seats).

But then Robin Williams committed suicide and it didn't seem that relevant anymore.

I don't think you had to have been a big fan of Robin Williams to appreciate what he brought to the screen or stage. I personally was a fan. I love a bit of silliness and have always had the greatest respect for the man as an actor who could bring such enormous pathos to any character.

As many have pointed out, one of the sad silver linings to this event is that social media has been flooded with frank conversation on mental health and depression.

So I would like to join the throng of human hearts standing on our desks and crying -

"O Captain, my Captain...

I too have seen the darkness. I too have wrestled that demon..."

Now, this might seem a touch melodramatic to some. But it's the only way I can find to express how I feel. So lump it yeah?

Like many 'entertainers', depression has been a lifelong battle for me. And it is just that, a battle.

I have felt at times that I am forever swimming away from the edge of Niagara falls. I've never let it take me completely, but I've made some very poor decisions in the past while in its grip.

Obviously, the tide is stronger when things aren't going so well. At the end of 2012 I found myself living with a bully, terribly terribly in debt and unintentionally isolated from the people who cared about me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I spoke to the Samaritans during Christmas of that year. To be absolutely truthful, I'd be lying if I said they were particularly helpful. I'm sure they wanted to be, but their advice was simply to get up and face my problems. And at the time I had neither the energy nor the will to do that.

And that was the problem for me. I had help, I had the path to normalcy enlightened for me. I even had people who cared for me. But the route seemed too treacherous, too arduous to undertake. I was tired of swimming. Tired of keeping my head above the water. I wanted to give in to the tide and let it whisk me quietly over the edge and down into the deep.

But just as I began to think I could let my head slip under the surface, I had this image of my mother. My mum died ten years ago, and I suddenly imagined her standing at the gates of the ever after, spitting and swearing and telling me to go straight back and finish what I had started.

So I took a deep breath and started swimming again.

Nearly two years on, things are better certainly. I am lucky to have a host of pals to count on, I'm in Edinburgh performing my own hour long stand up show every day, my career is beginning to gather momentum. All better huh?

Well. To a point. I still feel like I'm swimming. I daren't look back in case I see how close to the edge I am. And once in a while the smallest thing can pull me under for just a moment.

Sometimes strangers will question my choice of profession, they'll query whether or not I am cut out for the bumps and scrapes of being a comedian. But those who know me well could tell you that it's the only thing I keep doggy paddling for. I'm not the only one by any stretch. Ask about and you'll find probably hundreds funny guys and gals beating away the demon before stepping out to make others laugh. As if the lights on the stage are the only thing keeping the darkness at bay.

So in summation, sadly, I feel a level of understanding for what Robin Williams did. It's desperately tragic and I wish he hadn't taken that course. But I do understand the need to stop. Stop thinking, stop fighting, stop swimming. Rest.

Let me be clear that I am in no way advocating suicide or excusing it - the ripple effect of grief and anger must be truly devastating. But before you make a flippant comment about 'selfish acts' or 'seeking help', please remember that those who suffer from mental illness are fighting a huge, Lord of the Rings style battle most days. And that's hard. So instead of shouting at them to swim faster from the side lines, maybe try swimming beside them a while or at least chucking them a decent pair of arm bands...

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