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.

 

Cat In The Hat I Do Not Like Trump

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.

 

John Gets Mad. Bi-Polar tales 1. (Don’t be a pain in the arse.)

I’m soon going to do a new show based around experiences of mental illness called John Scott Gets Mad. The things I post here are first ideas of what will be in it.

There’s a fair bit of hippy dippy thinking out there that goes along the lines of, “oh but if you take a medication for your mental health problem you’re not addressing the problem you’re just masking it.”

Look the condition I have is genetic. It requires treatment but is also very treatable. If it rains you put on a coat. It’s the Same idea when taking a treatment. Of course you get whack jobs like Scientologist Tom Cruise who claims all mental health treatments are the work of the Devil. Perhaps Tom if you took a pill you might have a moment of reflection on your double divorces and come to terms with the fact that your gay.

Saying that, having a mental health disability isn’t an excuse for being a pain in the arse. Or so my wife keeps telling me.

I once went on a tour to raise awareness on suicide in the highlands of Scotland. It’s really proportionally high up there. Lots of alcohol and access to shotguns.

The woman who organised the tour works with self harmers. She herself was a self harmer. She was also one of the rudest and more difficult of folks I’ve ever had to deal with. If she wasn’t trying to completely control everything we did she spent the rest of the time trying to convince us we were all self harmers. By the end of two weeks I was wondering why she had to self harm at all. I would have happily offered up a quick punch in the kidneys.

“Oh you bite your nails. That’s a sign of self harm. Oh you smoke. That’s self harm”…OK you got me there…”drink, that’s self harm”…Fuck you the reason I’m drinking is to get through the next week with you. The best one was, “If you were a Goth in the 80s there’s new evidence to suggest that’s self harm.” Are you kidding me? The reason I was a Goth in the 80s was because I liked to sleep with slightly over weight girls in fishnets. How can being a Goth be an illness when you’re in a band called The Cure???

But the biggest pain was the obsession she developed over the size of my luggage. Every day at regular intervals. “That case is TOO BIG. It’s too big for the Highlands. It’s TOO BIG for this tour.”

The reason my case was bigger than the other comics was they were all going home half way through. I was away for a full 12 days.

Eventually one night in a calmer moment everyone got to speaking about their families, partners and children. “Do you have any children John?” She enquired. “Yes I’ve got three.” I replied. “Oh really? That surprises me.”

“Oh..Well I should explain none of them are mine…no they’re all in that big fucking case I’m dragging around the place.”

 

I/Mmature Student 5. Getting ahead of myself.

A CONVERSATION.

ME. OK besides how awesome Mathew Mcconaughey is (especially in Killer Joe.) How far has everyone got with Macbeth?

STUDENT 1.   I’ve finished it.

ME.                  Fuck off! Ooh Mrs Swoty knickers.

STUDENT 2. Shit! Were we to read Macbeth?

ME.                  Ah now I like this guy. Don’t panic I think we only really have to have got most of it down come Thursday. So did you read it with the notes and everything? It took me over two hours to get through the introductory notes in the copy I’ve got.

STUDENT 1.  Yes, notes and everything.

ME.                  Hmmmmnn….Your edition is probably simpler than mine. What with you being foreign and that.   (this last statement was recognised as the joke it was)

So we settled down to proper study this week. I’ve been hammering writing exercises and putting in reading hours all over the weekend…only to discover today that I didn’t need to do all that until this week commenced. So I turned up with a handful of work today which isn’t due until next Monday. This is no bad thing as  I intend to enter a playwriting competition  later this week so probably best to be ahead of the curve. On another note there was one wee bit of reviewing work we were supposed to have ready today and I was the only one who’d done it. So who’s Mrs Swoty Knickers now? I imagine this also explains why STUDENT 1 had more time than me for reading. Am I starting to sound competitive here?

On another note completely…isn’t Tim Farron an utter tit? I would take the trouble to write more about him if people actually had any idea who it is I’m talking about. Bottom of the class Tim. I’ve never seen such a fake/contrived bit of public speaking since Stuart Hall was due up in court. He says he’s got two major political policies. I’m assuming they’re Mr Wing and Mr Prayer.

https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/

 

 

Scene from a play. (I/Mmature student 4.)

I imagine I’ll regret posting early stabs at stuff up here as things go on. Bugger it. We’ve been asked to write our first wee scene. We were given this start… 

A man enters and finds a letter. He opens the letter, reads it and tears it into little pieces, then leaves.

And then to develop some physical action to follow this and then to produce a scene. I admit this is a bit hack and obvious but hey it’s also about having fun. Any resemblance to real life characters is purely coincidental. Oh and one other thing if you want to see me live I’m hosting Stand Up for Corbyn at The Tyne Theatre Newcastle tonight.

THE CLEANER.

Scene  1.

A man enters and finds a letter. He opens the letter, reads it and tears it into little pieces, then leaves.

A woman then enters. She is cleaning. On the wall are two paintings, one of Winston Churchill and one of Margaret Thatcher. She dusts the Churchill then blows a raspberry and makes a rude gesture towards the Thatcher leaving it uncleaned. She then finds the letter and starts to piece it back together.

Mrs Ribble.  Ee…Someone’s not popular. There must be about two thirds of that shower asking for his resignation. Shower o’ shite the lot of em.

The man re-enters. He finds the cleaner with the letter.

Mr Radisson.   Err…hello. Are you the new cleaner? You really shouldn’t be reading that you know.

Mrs Ribble.     Divin’t worry pet. Your secret’s safe with me. Ah haven’t got that git from the papers lodging in me spare room to cover that friggin’ tax o’ theirs.

Mr Radisson.   You mean Rupert Murdoch?

Mrs Ribble.     No the one that does the gossip column. Piers…something…Anyway he’s gone right doon in my estimation since he was hacking all them phones. How dare they, and Hugh Grant was such a gentleman aboot it all.

Mr Radisson.   Yes but I really must stress the severity of this. If one word gets out…err…Mrs, Ms?

Mrs Ribble.     Ribble. Like rabble but with an ibble as opposed to an abble.

Mr Radisson.   Well Mrs Ribble I really can’t emphasise enough how what you’ve read mustn’t be spoken of outside this room. I have to prepare a statement in response. You do realise this is what we call a political coup? There’s every bit of a chance I might not even be in this office this time next week.

Mrs Ribble.   It must be hard…

Mr Radisson. It was expected. You see I’m trying to take the party back to…

Mrs Ribble.     No I mean on your feelings. It must be hard on your feelings. There’s a lot of people on that list I’m sure you regarded as friends and yet here they are putting the knife in. That must be hard. I reckon a lot of folks don’t really see you as a real person. Just another face off telly. To tell you the truth Mr Radisson I’ve never really been interested in the world of politics but that was because the world of politics was never really interested in me. But then you arrived and I thought you had some nice ideas. I’d like cheaper trains. I have to get the train here every day and it costs a bloody fortune. It’s no wonder they’re called Virgin ‘cos no bugger wants to ride on them. (LAUGHS)

Mr Radisson. (LAUGHS) Oh that really is quite good…

Mrs Ribble.   Ee maybes you could use it at the next Prime Ministers question time.

Mr Radisson. Well… perhaps not. Look, Mrs Ribble that really was the kindest thing I’ve had said to me in months.  I am a person and yes this betrayal is causing all sorts of pains. These ideas of mine aren’t new, if anything they’re quite old fashioned. They’re what this party is supposed to stand for. However much a brave face I put on this I really am not sure this is a fight I can win. Too many of own party have a lot to lose.

Mrs Ribble.     Well I for one hope you take them on and fight this oot. And there’s a lot of folk feel like me aboot you. You’re a proper fresh breath ye are. If it helps there’s a saying we have in my family, I don’t know if it’s become popular, but we say it a lot. It goes, Divin’t let cunts put ye in a mincer.

Mr Radisson.   Err…I think that might be, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Mrs Ribble.     Trust me pet. I know what I mean. My husband came up with it after he saw that film Frago.  Anyhoo I best get on. I’ve got a pile of overtime on since we did a Brexit. Most of the other cleaners have buggered off back to where they come from. And who can blame them! (LAUGHS)

Mrs Ribble exits leaving Mr Radisson in contemplation.

I/Mmature Student 3. More Macbeth. More fellow writers.

Did you know that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as his response to the Gunpowder plot? I did actually know this myself but it had gone to the recess of my mind until I started reading it  again the other day. The version I’m reading is the Arden publication that comes with helpful notes for those, like me, not well verses in The Bard.  Shakespeare was obviously loyal to the Royal Court and with good reason if James 1st had detected any obvious sedition in his work he would have chopped his head off. Which you have to admit is probably a bit worse than a one star review. For a more modern example of a similar situation see Mel and Sue’s loyalty to the Court of the BBC when choosing not to flee to  Channel 4 with The Bake Off. Trust me I’ve met some BBC producers and if they thought they could get away with the odd beheading the gates to their studios would now currently be decorated with the heads of the former hosts of Top Gear. On a personal note I could not give but one fuck as to what Channel people want to watch people bake on. I’m of the school of thought that reality TV is just another nail in the coffin of  quality TV Drama. Although I have often thought we could improve The Jeremy Kyle show by getting rid of the lie detector test and just make the opposing factions fight some crocodiles.

So last week I got to meet the rest of Northumbria’s second and third year writers. Some of them knew me already due to trips to the local comedy club. The seem a lovely bunch. I was asked in a group bonding session what I looked forward to most in the coming years and replied collaborating with others. Stand up is a lonely job and having worked in a sketch show and produced my own panel show I’m fully aware of the good results you can get in a gang. The more experienced students offered good advice about joining the writing and drama society as this way we can get time to know the actors better and form some bonds. Apparently at times the actors can worry the writers think ourselves a wee bit above them. How silly, we don’t think ourselves better than them at times. We know we’re better than them all the time. This reminded me of the opening credits of the meta superhero movie Dead Pool. When the credits got to the point “Written By.” It quite knowingly said, “The real heroes of this story.” (I’ll add a knowing wink here as I am partially joking. 😉 Actually I’m fully joking. I’ve admired “The Shit” actors can do for decades. They have abilities way beyond my own. Just look at how long Tom Cruise has managed to convince us he’s straight.

I’m off to see two plays next week. This is more plays than I’ve seen this year and I’m quite excited to be immersing myself in a strand of the arts I’m not familiar with. I’ll report more on that once having seen them.

So I think that’s me for the day. It’s sunny so I’m off out for a walk. On return I’ve a list of stuff needs doing, so we’ll get onto that. Have a nice Sunday all.

 

 

I/Mature Student. 1. Northumbria Uni. 1st impressions.

It’s enrolment week at Northumbria university. As I’m starting a degree in Drama and Script writing I’ve been advised to start a blog or keep a diary of my thoughts and experiences. It’s nice when you’re ahead of the curve.  So far I’ve only been picking up my student ID and been to a chat on the Library.

For a Uni that used to be a polytechnic Northumbria sits high on academic leagues.  The Library stands among the equal top 8 in the UK and yes that’s alongside the Oxbridge toffs. Having lived in Newcastle for 13 years this doesn’t surprise me. As a city with limited resources the Geordies are adept at looking after their own. They’ve thrown much effort into their newest centre for academic excellence and it’s nice to see so many working class kids being able to throw up two fingers to the supposedly more established Newcastle University which is just across the road. Did one of them produce the touchscreen  phone or I-Pad? No that was someone from my Uni, ta very much.

As a mature student of 46 years I will admit to feeling a wee bit isolated just now. You can see gangs of new friends and potential chlamydia catalysts forming all around me. But I haven’t actually met my fellow writer/performers yet. I am however headlining the student comedy night this week. Via this they will learn that their fellow alumni has been a professional performer/writer for 13 years. They’ll also discover I’m a Bi-Polar, former addict, political activist. Who once after a particularly harsh weekend on the rave and in dire emergency had to shit in their good friends cat litter tray because someone was in the shower. There you go kids that’s the competition.

Northumbria themselves also have a comedian on for fresher week. Matt Richardson is your typical Boyband, anodyne type, “Hey I’m an every day bloke. But what I really want to do is present.” Which he has. The Xtra Factor. You can make your own assumptions as to how informative or challenging his comedy noodling’s will be. On a brighter note Northumbria Uni is the place Bill Hicks played his last ever British show. There is a glimmer of hope. I’m just looking forward to see if they have a comedy society. And if not why not.

As for my own observations on my fellow alumni. There are a hell of a lot of them gazing into idiot lanterns (mobile phones) This quick fix entertainment is one of the things that has killed live comedy/entertainment in the UK. I look forward to the coming backlash when more switched on youngsters throw up arms and say, “What you watch it on a screen. No fuckwit…YOU’VE GOT TO SEE IT LIVE!”

And the one heartening and funny thing I overheard was from a group of three lads. One imparting this bon mot to his pals, “You see if you do coke all night and then take a Valium in the morning…what you want to do after that is get home quick as you can for a wank.”

Wise words indeed for a young man already living beyond his years. I just hope he makes it. On listening to that we bit of advice it made me realise it’s much better that I’m starting my higher education now than when I was his age.

.

https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/