It’s been a rough old few weeks, as I’m sure you can probably tell. Most likely, you can tell because I have mentioned this fact on social media. Part of me wishes I hadn’t. Social media is a bit of a double edged sword, really. Social media can be a great tool for organising, promotion and keeping in touch with people. It can also be something that be used to channel negative emotions I would rather weren’t in the public domain.
Mentally speaking, I’ve been at a low point for a couple of weeks. It was sparked off by one incident, and then got worse and worse. I’m sure the readers of the this blog are fairly clued up on this, but bipolar disorder is not the oscillating wave that it’s often portrayed to be. Not everyone with bipolar leaps from euphoric highs to crippling lows at a drop of a hat. In my case, if we imagine mood as a graph, my general state of being is a reasonably straight line beneath the X axis. In other words, I’m generally a bit down most of the time. Occasionally, I shoot above the X axis, charting highly on the Y axis, with highs, though for me this comparatively rare. More frequently, I plunge down negatively and will either recover after a bit or keep going. The latter happened for me in the last few weeks.
I’ve also been experiencing something new with my mental state. I say “new” but I suppose it’s something I’ve always experienced but only now can put a name to: disassociation. I increasingly find myself feeling detached from myself, unable to follow conversations, aware on some level of what is happening in the world around me but unclear how it relates to me. Case in point, last Tuesday I was at a gig, one of my favourite bands in fact, and I spent the entire set standing very still. I could see the band playing on stage, I was able to tell which songs were being played and in what order, but despite being at the front, with a mosh pit churning behind me, it all felt like I was daydreaming about it. Even when people from the pit banged into me, I barely registered it, only realising late when I found the bruises.
This relates back to social media in the sense that it was on Tuesday, when at my lowest, fluctuating between feeling connected and disconnected from the world, I sycophantically announced that I was quitting comedy and quitting several campaigns I was involved in. The following days were characterised by several people all trying to get in touch and ask a) if I was ok, and b) what was going to happen to x campaign or y show now? That’s understandable. One cannot disconnect from the world so easily in the era of social media. If you’re one of those people, I’ll hopefully have gotten back to you by the time you read this post.
My outburst was motivated by extreme negative emotions. That has lifted somewhat. So let me clarify, I am not quitting comedy. I am certainly having some issues with being a performer. These are numerous – on the one hand, I always strive to improve my ability to being a comedian, and I sometimes think a short break is necessary to take stock and try to write new material, review performances and so on, I’ve taken several such breaks without fanfare. I just don’t audition for shows, beg illness which I’m offered a spot, and take the time to think and write. On the other hand, there are further concerns, which I think are more personalised. Accuse me of political correctness all you want, but I view my comedy as a political act. I want to make sure that I am always “punching upward” with my jokes, never abusing my position of privilege to mock the weak. Unfortunately, I have been doing this with some material. One can retire the material, which I have done, but I think one also needs to take some time to think about why, in an earlier age, I thought I joke was acceptable and it wasn’t until I was called out on it that I stopped doing it. Lastly, I have been struggling with social anxiety. I find it harder and harder to be involved in social situations. Meeting new people is a nightmare. They often get an impression of me I don’t like – I get distressed about the number of people who google me, and then demand that I explain to them exactly how I was assaulted by someone working in the Graduate Union in 2012, or they have perhaps read some of the hateful stuff Internet trolls have said about me and then accuse me of reprehensible things. I also find it increasingly hard to relate to people who have not, for example, suffered significant mental distress as a result of the welfare system at Cambridge, or from a familial environment. The disassociation doesn’t help, either. In social situations, I find myself suddenly out of sync with what is going on. Comedy, in a way, has helped me get over that – a stand up performance is a social interaction with very set perimeters. I know what is expected of me in the ten minutes on stage. The unexpected can always happen during a performance, but I have some measure of control over things. Or at least, this is how I rationalise performance half the time. The other half of the time, the thought of going near a microphone frightens me. The latter is one of my reasons for having anxieties about comedy.
In other words, I haven’t quit. What I will be doing, is limiting my performances until I can sort myself out a bit. I have a number of gigs booked in the coming months, and I will be doing them, and no more. So if you’re reading this, and you’ve booked me, don’t worry. I’ll be there on the night.
With regards to campaigns, I am involved in several. In most, I am the driving force behind those campaigns. I am the chief organiser and administrator for a lot of important work. This frequently gets overwhelming. Far too often in the last few months I have found all of my free time consumed by planning, organising, writing press releases, drawing up policy documents, to the extent that I would have no time for myself. This grew to become a significant burden. I intend to apply for a PhD this coming academic year, and currently, I do not have the knowledge to do so. I have had no time to sit down and go over my MPhil, reading more around my topic, think carefully about what I want to study and so on, because all my free time has been consumed with organising. Any free time I have on top of that falls victim to CFS, something I’ve written about before.
Ultimately, however, I can’t step back from my campaigning activity. I care too much about what is at stake. It’s often the way with campaigns that much of the work inevitably falls onto a single person, particularly if your campaign is student run. I thought stepping back would give me time to deal with my depression. Ultimately, it just made me more depressed.
I suppose at this point it’s worth mentioning that I have had to relive a lot of things in the last few weeks I really didn’t want to. I won’t go into detail about them here, but if you do want to read about that, I’ve written two posts about these here and here. I warn you it’s not nice reading, with appropriate trigger warnings in the text.
In some senses, this blog post is about trying to take back things I said on social media while depressed. Social media does often feel like the only way one can express oneself while low. It’s much easier to post a status or send a tweet than it is to try to explain to others around you why you haven’t said anything for 20 minutes. At an earlier, less healthy stage of my life, I used Facebook in particular for fairly ridiculous outpourings of negativity. I had, ultimately, no one else to talk to. Not that people weren’t there, but that I was unable to relate to them. I had a sense of deja vu about that period of my life earlier this week. I said what I said on social media, because I felt it. I don’t feel quite that way now, but it did have the effect of worrying a lot of people, and for that I’m sorry. I will try to exercise some restraint in the future.
Thank you for your support, whether in person or online, during this time.