Delusions. How becoming a comedian got me the correct diagnosis for my mental health condition.

Below is a link to a short ten minute interview I did recently with the BBC regarding my new Fringe comedy show. And below that is an excerpt from the same show. It’s all pretty much how about I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 24 and how by becoming a comedian, mental health services arrived at the correct diagnosis of me being  Bipolar One. The show runs in Edinburgh from the 4th -29th. You can get more details from the image above. 

BBC interview on mental health.

OUCH.

HOW BECOMING A COMEDIAN GOT ME THE CORRECT DIAGNOSIS FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION.

Hello, my name is John and for the past thirteen years I’ve been a professional Stand Up comedian. Also during those years I was a person who was diagnosed with schizophrenia which was then changed to the correct diagnosis of being Bi-Polar One. So there’s a lot get through here. I am aware Bi-Polar comedians are quite common now. I was thinking of getting us all together, forming a jazz band and calling ourselves Mood Swings.

So I’m here to tell a story about how becoming a comedian was actually a big factor in me getting the correct diagnosis and then correct treatment for my disability.
So, the reason I chose to do a show at The Fringe about my experiences came about because one night I found myself doing a show with other comedians about mental health and I came to realise that I’ve had experiences that aren’t that common to many of the things you’ll normally hear about mental health. My condition can induce psychosis and delusions, which is why at age 24 I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

In the 90s when I was diagnosed you were either schizophrenic or you were Bi Polar. There wasn’t much in-between. But there’s also a thing called Schizoaffective Disorder and it wasn’t until as recently as 2013 that it was acknowledged this can affect Bi Polar people also. Prior to that change in assessment we are told there was “excessive misdiagnosis”. At least that’s what Wikipedia says and who dares challenge them. I also agree with that. On another note people like me take up less than one percent of the population. This makes me feel kind of special.

You see I never developed many of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia. I never had the most common one which is auditory hallucinations; I never heard voices, which is the most common sign and must be an awful thing to endure. And the voices can say terrible things which can on very rare occasions lead to something bad happening. Like an attack or something. Sometimes people think God is telling them to do things.

This always makes me wonder…why does God never say anything sensible to the mentally ill…like…

“Hello, this is God…maybe it’s time you tidied the house? You’re looking a bit anxious, perhaps you should give your mum a phone…have you ever thought about switching to a cheaper energy supplier?”

But these bad events are rare. We’re more of a danger to ourselves than anyone else. Although I am aware at moments when talking about such stuff I may look a bit like Steve Irwin going, “You know what…Stingrays are really misunderstood.”

I’ve also suffered delusions. Bipolar delusions can often feel like you have special powers or are on a special mission. For us just watching an X – Man movie can sometimes lead to a trip to the doctor.

I was raised in a religious background so that would come to the fore when my health was poor. I would actually think things like Hell was real. Which is bloody terrifying. And when the delusion wore off my sense of relief was palpable. I’d be thinking, “Thank heavens that’s over. And thank the Lord I’m only Church of Scotland. Had I been raised a good catholic boy I might never have snapped out of that!”

Thing is we all have delusions to a certain degree don’t we? I see just now that young Millennials have a bit of an obsession with all things Unicorns. People are putting colour in their hair and glitter in their beard and dressing up for fantasy conventions. Thing is…if I was a young person with no chance of a house, working a zero hours contract, for minimum wage for seventy hours a week…I’d pretend I was a bloody Unicorn as well. That’s what a delusion is. It’s just your brain needing to get away from it all for a bit.

But as I mentioned Bipolar delusions are a bit different in that we can think we have special powers and are on a special mission. Special powers, special mission. Yeah…kind of reminds you of a certain Donald Trump.

And a lot of my new show does bring into question the idea of who’s really deluded. I mean, I’m mad so I’ve got an excuse. But right now it feels like half the planet is deluded. It’s as if the world has been taken over by a bunch of shite James Bond villains. The most powerful man in the world is a Wotsit coloured used car salesman. I think we’re starting to realise that “because it would be a great laugh” was not a good reason to make him president. People say we should respect Trump because he’s a self-made millionaire…Yeah but he started out a billionaire.

Another thing that seriously aggravated my condition was when I was younger is that I was addicted to smoking cannabis. Lots of it. Regardless of your viewpoint on drugs they are there to alter your judgement. We were the rave generation and we could be a bit reckless. We used to drug drive. Well, my mate Jimmy would drive and I’d roll the entertaining cigarettes. It does affect judgement. I remember once looking up and saying, “Jimmy we’re going to hit a tree…Eventually…There’s a tree Jimmy it’s right in the middle of the road…Oh no…hang on it’s the air freshener.” So don’t drug drive kids. These days I generally feel there’s nothing in life that’s worth achieving that can be improved in any way by a stimulant.

So how did becoming a comedian help change things? Well when I started out in comedy I was without treatment. I had been taken off all meds, there were now questions on my diagnosis, but nobody would come forward and say what they really thought it was. At that point it was really hard to get a diagnosis changed.  So then I started getting up on stages and telling everybody about it. Now what sort of person does that? I’m lucky in that I have a condition that can actually become profitable.

Eventually I started researching Bi-Polar disorder because even though at times delusional I was aware many of my behaviours were beyond average. One day I phoned The Scottish Bi-Polar helpline. As I was telling the woman on the other end of line about myself I happened to mention I did a bit of stand up. The woman says, “Oh I like a bit of comedy do you ever play Glasgow?” I said, yes I was just there a couple of weeks ago. Then she asked, “Hang on do you go under a stage name?” And at that time I did. I used to use the name John Littlejohn. And then the helpline woman said, “I saw you two weeks ago. You are definitely Bi-polar.” Wow. I actually wish other comedians would phone some mental health helplines, “Hello, this is Jack Whitehall I think I might be deluded.” “Nah mate you’re just a tit.”

Also during this period my Bipolar behaviour was impacting on everyone around me.  There’s a thing called hypomania. The term means less than mania. You’re not delusional with hypomania. Some of its affects are positive. You become creative with a lot of productivity and energy. But it can also make you aggressive and short of temper. I was never physically aggressive but my girlfriend at the time could often get verbal stress and aggression from me. “Everything is wrong, the house is a mess, the cats done a poo…And it’s all your fault.”

So I went and got some literature on Bipolar to help her understand why I was being like this. Thing is she came home from work one day and off I went, “Everything is wrong, the house is a mess, the cat’s done a poo…” then I went, “Oh hang on I’m doing it again! Wait there I’ve got a leaflet.” Then I ran off to get the leaflet and gave it to her to read, also apologising on return.

On other nights my hypomania could keep me awake all night. Eventually I decided to visit the local psychiatric hospital and see if they could help in any way. So I turned up on their doorstep at two in the morning…as you do. Eventually a ward manager came to see me. I told them my symptoms and they asked if I could hang on for a bit. After about an hour they came back with another ward manager and a consultant and said, “John we know who you are. We know you do comedy…there is no way you can be suffering paranoid schizophrenia and do the job you do.” I replied, “Exactly, I mean if I was in a permanent state of paranoia I’d just be up there going what’s everybody laughing at?”

Then they said. “You’re definitely Bipolar and it imperative we get this sorted out immediately.” Finally I thought. I’m to get the help I need…and eighteen months later I did.

Yeah that’s how long it took. It turned out to be quite tricky to get a diagnosis changed. At one point I visited the local GP because my condition was acting up, and he didn’t believe I was a comedian. He actually thought I was being delusional again. Thankfully at that point I had my secret weapon. The same girlfriend I mentioned told me to gather up my entire collection of press clipping. I had a whole folder of them. And she escorted me to a meeting with the same GP. So I showed him my reviews (not the bad ones obviously, I’m not totally mad) Then my girlfriend asked if she could speak to the GP alone for five minutes. To this day I’ve no idea what she said to him. But when I went back in the room he’d gone all kind of meek and insisted I was definitely Bipolar and it was imperative we get this sorted out immediately. Two weeks later a consultant changed my diagnosis and I started to receive treatment which eventually made me well again. Although even as the consultant was agreeing to change my diagnosis he actually said to me, “This Bipolar is a very serious condition you know. You’ll be registered as disabled, are you sure you want that?”

I replied, “Well trust me on the odd occasion I’ve run about telling everyone I’m Jesus, I’ve never really felt I should be allowed to operate heavy machinery.”

I no longer have that girlfriend in these stories any more…Now she’s my wife. I can’t go on too much about how much she means to me because I start to well up. Just trust we are very happy.

Tell you what though…Schizophrenia? I wouldn’t want to catch it again.

 

Endings.

I’m writing a new show that will be biographical and feature tales about mental health. Last time I felt the black dog tugging on his leash was after the death of my dad. In truth though that wasn’t depression it was me grieving, which is perfectly natural. I feel it’s important we recognise that and don’t define ourselves via a condition…some of these jokes are in bad taste…good.  

I hold everything the NHS does in the highest regard. Being Scottish I’m quite reliant on them. I hate these twits that say, “Ah but you can’t expect free care forever.” It’s not free. We pay for it. And being an ex smoker of 20 years, with the amount of tax I’ve paid, when my time is up I want a gold plated bed and disgraced Tories washing my feet while I whack their arses with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star.

I’m not claiming NHS care is perfect. I used to have an uncle who had an NHS pacemaker and every time he farted the garage door would open.

My dad went out in an NHS bed. Not so much to do with a Scots lifestyle and more to do with he was chock a full of white asbestos from his job. The funeral was lovely and very well attended but his cremation went on forever.

That was the last time I felt depressed. But the point is it wasn’t depression I was just grieving. We should recognise that, I feel it’s very important we don’t define ourselves via conditions. Being sad is sometimes the right way to be. I really don’t like how we romanticise bad mental health. Poor old Van Gough get’s that, “Ah well, the reason he was so great was because he was so tortured.”
Bullshit. They claim his last words were  “la tristesse durera” meaning  “The pain is eternal” Well that was conveniently poetic of him wasn’t it?…and just not true. You know what my dads last words were? “You maybe better get a doctor. I think there’s something really wrong with me.” Which makes perfect sense. He wasn’t rattling out little bon mots on the nature of being. “Ah the universe is a hurricane and we are nought but farts.” What? What’s he saying? I’m not sure, something about farting like a hurricane. Ah…it’s probably the mixture of hospital cabbage and morphine.

I reckon Van Gough’s last words probably were more along the lines of, “Speak up you fool, I’m missing a lug. What? No I don’t feel like getting it down in a painting! I’m really fucking depressed! Send out for some prostitutes and Absinth, that tends to work”

And if those really were his last words then he was wrong. Pain isn’t eternal…Well unless you’re watching Scotland in a world cup qualifier. In which case it can feel like it. The point is you get better. Of course I can still feel a swelling of emotion when I think of my dad, but it’s a nice feeling. I was just thinking today how he could be full of constant surprises. I remember watching indie band The Smiths on telly one day and he looked up from his paper and said, “What a lovely singer that man is. Perfect diction, you can make out every word.” I was stunned. As far as music went he wasn’t into anything post Sinatra. Now he’s gone from Sinatra to The Smiths and cut out pretty much everything in between. That’s some gap. Or maybe he just liked the idea of “hanging DJs” Then there was the time gay icon Boy George first appeared on Top of the Pops. Again he looks up from his paper, “What’s that.” He enquired? Not who, what. I said, “It’s Boy George. He’s gay.” To which he replied, “Well if gay means happy then that man’s ecstatic.” A joke I feel good enough to go in this show.

Although the death of my dad from cancer was anything but pleasant I didn’t find it horrific either. Life kind of prepares you for such stuff. And even in among all the pain nice things would happen. The day before he went he decided to rally round and find the strength to watch Scotland play England at Rugby. We hadn’t defeated England in an age…that day we won. Nice one God. I always reckoned if he did exist he’s probably Scottish and invented England to punish us for our sins.

Even on the day of his passing quirky stuff was happening. My family is like The Broons. There’s as many of us as them and like The Broons if one heads out to solve a problem then another nine follow behind them. On the day my dad was at the end he had been put into twilight to ease his pain. It was decided a word with the nurse was required and in typical Broons/Scott family tradition nine of them set off down the corridor and I was charged with watching my dad as I had a “nursing background”. I’d worked for nine months in a psychiatric hospital about ten years prior. They hadn’t been out the room more than two minutes and my dad decided, from whatever level of consciousness he was on, It seems to have gone a bit quite I’ll just sneak away now. And he stopped breathing. I got a fright. I then said, “Shit dad they’re all out the room. Could you please just hang on.” And he promptly started breathing again.

So then I lean out his room and call on the family. As I was doing this I did the most ridiculous thing of keeping one hand on his bed, like you do with a shopping trolley in the supermarket…in case someone is looking for exactly the same groceries as you and makes off with your stuff. I’ve no idea where I thought he might be going. I think the chances of him leaping up and announcing there’s maybe some time left for a final bet at the bookies were slim.

PS My dad’s the one on the left in this photo.

 

 

 

CAT IN THE HAT DONALD TRUMP. #WorldPoetryDay

CAT IN THE HAT DONALD TRUMP

I do not like him or his hair

I do not like his angry glare

Or riding on a Camel hump

I do not like that Donald Trump

I do not like his orange face

His policies are a disgrace

I do not like his suit and tie

I do not like his beady eyes

He’s about as smart as Forest Gump

I do not like that Donald Trump

I do not like his fascist chums

And his crazy views on the Muslims

I do not like his tiny hands

I do not like for what he stands

I do not like the things he says

Or where on women his hand lays

He is the chief of all the chumps

I do not like that Donald Trump.

I do not like his Mexican wall

To make them pay takes some gall

He moans about the fake news

I hope it’s giving him the blues

You can only ask him stuff he likes

Just like Hitler and his Third Reich

Get rid of him I do beseech

This president we should impeach

With climate change he’ll do the trees in

He’s not afraid of committing treason

In the bin he should be dumped

I do not like that Donald Trump.

I do not like his nuclear expansion

While living in a gilded mansion

He’s got his hand upon the button

His face is like a cut of mutton

I do not like his Stepford wives

Just look at her she has no live

This man child he is a bully

A simpleton with brain so woolly

This bad man he is a racist

He sees the colour in our faces

He treats women like they are strumpets

He grabs a leg and then he’ll hump it

This planet really took a slump

When they elected Donald Trump.

Why I’m pro Scots Independence.

I think it was around 1990, I was sat in my parents house on my own watching The SNP conference. This was unusual in that my family are a couple of generations  of natural Labour supporters, as was I at the time. So why was a watching this? Well this bloke Alex Salmond was on speaking and it struck me the some of things he was saying sounded decidedly more left wing than what even Labour was offering at that time. Labour had purged the left by this point and were well on the road to becoming “New”. And then Salmond pointed something out. I can’t quote exactly, but it went something along the lines of, “An independent Scotland would NEVER have to be ruled by a Conservative government ever again.” And with that won thought my viewpoint changed.

I’m from a mining area and already at that young aged was well versed in the brutality a Conservative government can bring down like a cosh on people like me. I had a cousin who was a miner who’s suicide I lay directly at the door of Thatcher. He was blacklisted then made homeless by her policies.

But Scottish independence isn’t true to the values of socialism you cry. If I may I’d like to quote a friend of mine Thanasis Manitarellis who said yesterday  “Blaming Scotland for causing further division after Brexit, is like blaming an abused wife for wrecking her marriage after running out of the house. ”

Also can anybody point out any of our main parties who are implementing more left wing policies than the SNP at the moment? Trust me, I know the SNP are far from perfect but free access to education, free school meals and free prescriptions are all steps in the right direction. Of course I am sympathetic to the principles of Jeremy Corbyn (I’m also a Labour party member as I live in England. If I lived in Scotland I’d be with the SNP) but I have no idea what his policies are. And when Scots Labour leaders and mayors of London start comparing the entire Scottish nation to the likes of Donald Trump! Well,  I’m reminded of how completely they have lost the plot and the ability to communicate to ordinary workers/voters.

But they’re imposing cuts. No Westminster Tories are imposing cuts and the SNP are having to follow. We’re not independent remember. Saying this there is much in SNP economic policy I disagree with. But here’s the point. If you don’t like it… an Independent Scotland could vote in a more leftist/Socialist government if they had the power to do so. The way Scottish politics leans the only way I can see someone out manoeuvring the SNP is to move to the left of them. This is something that would never happen in a United Kingdom. For me it’s a win, win situation and the reason I’m for self rule. And I don’t even live in Scotland any more, but if any nation on the planet managed to liberate themselves, even partly, from oppression then I’m all for it…And don’t even get me started on Europe…

Vaping Vs. Smoking

This is a genuine conversation that unfolded in a train station yesterday…. 

 

MAN. Oi! You cant smoke there.
ME. I’m not smoking mate its a vape.
MAN. Yeah but that’s the same thing.
ME. Its not mate. Its a very different thing. I’m totally with you on the smoking thing though. We should just have them all shot.
MAN.(After looking a bit confused). Look just cos its electronic doesn’t make it different. There’s still secondary smoke.
ME. There isn’t mate it vapour. Look what comes out of your kettle.
MAN Smoke!

It was around this point I realised this was a debate I could never win.