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.

 

John gets Mad, Class and Elites.

I was doing a gig in a posher bit of town the other night and an elderly lady came up to me and asked, “Why is it that all comedians are on the left?” I replied that there are conservative comedians nowadays. And if you think not so long ago lots of comedians were  right wing or Tories. Just look at Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning. And she replied, “Yes but they were horrible.” I said, “Yeah I know. I wonder why that was.”

I miss the simpler days when there were just three classes. Upper, middle and working. Now we’ve got

  1. Elites
  2. Upper
  3. Middle
  4. Working
  5. Oh my god he’s wearing Crocs.

Class really does inform your sense of humour. here’s a genuine conversation I had with one of the Cambridge Footlights at The Edinburgh festival this year.

ME. So yesterday my front row was four 13 – 14 year old boys.

FOOTLIGHTS. That must have been difficult.

ME. No. They were great. I had a great moment when I did my money bucket speach. I said to them. You young guys don’t have to pay…But I do want a blow job. Don’t worry you still get the free CD.

FOOTLIGHTS. Good God! And the audience were OK with that?

ME. Yeah. Err…It was one of the biggest laughs of the night.

FOOTLIGHTS. Im shocked.

ME. That’s nothing. I shifted another 4 CDs and got a blow job.

FOOTLIGHTS. ( Gazes into the middle distance…. Then goes inside)

ME. Sniggers…

I recently quite inadvertently stumbled on a way to make yourself feel like an Elite. I was in the park and had eaten a bag of pistachio nuts. Obviously when you finish pistachio nuts you’re left with a bag of hard empty shells. Just as I was about to clear them away a gust of wind came and scattered them over the ground. I suppose it looked like I was throwing out grain as a flock of pigeons descended on them… Well, suddenly I felt like the chancellor. I thought “You think you’re getting something. But it’s nothing but empty shells. That’s trickle down economics for you. I get nuts, you get empty shells. Know why? Because you’re vermin.”

And there was this one pigeon that couldn’t fly because it had a broken wing. Well…It was making out it had I broken wing. But I knew better than that. So I started kicking it, “Come on you, you can fly, you’re not fooling me.” Eventually I just picked it up and threw it in the air. It came down with a thud and died. I said, “Fair enough. You’ve passed the assessment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVERT!!

I’m heading to the Edinburgh festival. Here’s the front and back of my flyer. Designed by good friend Stewart Robertson. And a great job he’s done as well.  

“We bailed out the banks to the tune of 375 billion pounds. And still the bankers claim their bonuses. We have mega corporations running amok in this country and not paying a penny tax. And we expect the poor and the vulnerable to make up the deficit of the money we’ve lost to this. That’s like having a big dog come around the house and make a terrible mess on the carpet. You say, that big dog has made a terrible mess on the carpet. I know how we can fix this…Let’s rub the Hamsters head in it.”

Dissent final.

Dissent final 2

The Crisis with ISIS…or…How we’ve not managed to bomb peace into the middle east.

I’ve got a new show coming to the Edinburgh Festival this year. It’s called Dissent. Here’s a wee segment from it on our wars. This is not meant to be taken seriously. It’s from a comedy show…

Our war on terror is now looking about as effective as our war on drugs. We should probably have a war on Pandas and then they’d be everywhere.

It’s strange how we’ve not yet managed to bomb peace into the Middle East…

Since Ed Miliband failed at the election the Blairites have been back in the news. David Miliband criticised Ed after the defeat.  He said that Labour should build on what the Blair government achieved.  We would David, but we’re running out of countries to invade.

Because the truth is we’ve played a massive part in destabilising the Middle East. I see Tony Blair has now stood down as a Middle East peace envoy. Well that’s a job well done. You can’t fucking move for peace out there. It’s downright tranquil. Is that a tank over there? Err…no… that’s the mobile library.

A lot of middle class kids like to have gap years. Saying that poor people have gap years as well, we call it the dole.

I’m just saying this because I was chatting to a couple of students and they couldn’t think where to go and I said, “Well Syria seems to be the go to place at the moment.”

If this radicalisation of students continues I’m sure the next video they pop up is going to be some middle class student from Edinburgh called Findlay.

“Hullo there Findlay here…or as I’m now called Findlay Mohamed Corstorphine Koran. I’m having a rare wee time on a wee Jihad…I must admit the poolside rules are a bit strict, no running, no undressing but bombings allowed.

But on the bright side the Humus is the best I’ve ever had and I’ve now got 6 wives. Result! Admittedly 2 of them are men but that’s what we extremists call the burka lottery. Och aye the prophet the noo.”

Jihadi John has been all over the news in Britain.  They keep telling us he had no friends, he was a loner, he didn’t mix well.   I don’t know how they expect me to react to that – am I supposed to feel happy for him that he moved to Syria and made some new friends?

There’s also been a lot of discussion about whether the security services were aware that Jihadi John was an extremist.  I’d have thought the name alone would be a bit of a giveaway.

It’s now been suggested British police should all be armed with Tasers to help combat terrorism. Yes because every time I see a bloke with plastic explosive strapped all around him I think. You know what would help this situation….running 50’000 volts through this guy.

I’ve lived for over 20 years of endless war. I worry that this notion of endless war has desensitised a generation to violence….

Remember this incident. This is when Charles Satchi was photographed with his hand at his wife Nigella Lawson’s throat. Now he dismissed this image as, “nothing more than a playful tiff.”

Saatchi

And me have been dismissing their violent attributes like this for centuries. Look at this image of Vlad the Impaler. He described this as a cocktail party that got a bit out of hand…

Vlad impailer

Or what about this. This is the Nazis marching on Poland which Hitler described as A Stag Do that escalated…

poland

Or finally this. Which president Truman described as…just a bit of banter.

Bomb

We’re completely detached to the plight of the middle East. To us they’re just the brown people across the sea….

I went to Egypt. Just as the Arab spring started. Basically I’d booked my holiday, couldn’t get my money back so we had to go. And I was worried. But my wife’s a Geordie. She was unbelievably stoic in the face of things.

We were watching the riots on telly. 4 days into the riots we were supposed to be leaving the next day. My wife turns to me and says, “Have you noticed on the telly. Everybody in Egypt seems to be wearing jackets and long sleeves. I hope it’s going to be warmer where we’re going.”

I was just hoping they weren’t going to be running around with my head on a pole.

But it was actually great we got there and we got upgraded with our hotel. There wasn’t enough tourists to fill certain hotels so we all got shifted into bigger and quite frankly safer hotels.

But British people don’t like change. There was a chap in front of me checking in at the desk. And he says, “I’m not moving hotel I want to speak to someone in charge.”

And the young Egyptian on the desk was brilliant. He just laughed and said, “Listen sir you are missing the point. Nobody is in charge. We’re having a revolution.”

And my wife says to me. “Don’t you get pissed and start banging onto the Egyptians about revolutions.” Because I’ve got typically Scottish romantic ideas about revolutions. But this just ended up putting the idea in my head. By the end of the night I did get pissed. I rounded up 4 bar staff and a toilet attendant. I said, “Come on we’ll paint ourselves blue and take down Israel.”

But the funniest thing that happened….and this will give you insight into what life’s like on a day to day basis for these poor people…

We flew with Thomas Cook and one night there was a hotel about a mile down the road from us, they were Thomas Cook as well and they were having a quiz night. And it was advertised in our hotel. So I said to my holiday rep, “Can we go to the Thomas Cook quiz night.”

And she says, “Yes you can, but half way down the road there’s an armed security checkpoint. Just say your with the Thomas Cook quiz night and they’ll let you through”

What? That gets me unfettered access to the Middle East. Well we could have saved yourself a lot of trouble in Iraq if we’d just adopted those tactics. Just show up on the Iraqi border. “What do you lot want?”

“Nothing, we’re with the Thomas Cook quiz night.”

Really? Well where are going with all that oil….

Err…that’s first prize.