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.

 

I/Mmature 10. Patsy Rodenburg. Why I do theatre

Like a lot of people that may or may not read this I’m no expert on Theatre. Yes I’ve done a bit Shakespeare and I’ve seen a few plays at the Festival and locally. Being a student of scriptwriting we’re going to be experiencing a fair amount of it this year. Patsy Rodenburg is an expert in the field and has worked with many of Hollywoods top actors. This clip is only 6 minutes long and is as good an argument as to why you should try to see some live theatre as any. Hang in for the reveal at the end it will hit you like a punch in the stomach.  

 

 

 

John gets mad. Bi Polar tales 3. Bad behaviours.

Some stories from a new show I’m doing on mental health.

A friend of mine who is recently single asked me one night. “John did you ever have a longer period in your life when you were single? And was it all right.”  I told them yes I had and no it wasn’t that great. It was over a 5 year period when I’d been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. That’s never a great icebreaker. It reminds me of that daft valentines poem. “Roses are red violets are blue. I’m a schizophrenic and so am I.”

So not schizophrenic but this was a period in my life when I was self medicating with dope a lot which gave me drug induced psychosis. Drug psychosis is a lot more common that you think.  David Bowie had it in the 70s. At one point he was so off it he thought his backing singers were a coven of witches. It would have been some show if for an encore he came running on with a mob insisting we burn them at the stake.

The best Bowie story of that period was the night he thought he’d been ripped of by a cocaine dealer. So he went out looking for him in his car. Eventually he thought he saw the dealers car at a garage. Then he thought the best plan of action would be to start ramming it with his own car. But it wasn’t the coke dealer it was just a young German couple who sat there looking stunned as David Bowie kept ramming them over and over. Scary enough to have someone ram you as you’re sitting having a snog. But then to turn around and realise it’s David Bowie. “Holy Scheisse Helga. Ve ist being attacked by A lad insane.” Eventually Bowie realised his error. Got out, apologised to them, handed them a pile of money then drove of into the night.You don’t get that stuff from ther winner of X-factor. A lot of people say X Factor has destroyed the spirit of rock and roll, but that’s rubbish every time it comes on I’m ready to throw my telly right out the window.

A lot of folk don’t understand what addiction is. So I’ll try to explain it via a story. One night me and a mate did get ripped of and got sold some Ritalin instead of ecstasy. The medication they  use to pacify disruptive children. We knew not long after it definitely wasn’t E. As we were feeling weird.  So what did we do? That’s right take some more. Later in the night we decided to go for some groceries. Well once they managed to get me up off the naughty step. Thing is as we decided this I’d just made myself a cup of tea. So I thought, bugger it I’ll take it with me. When we got to the supermarket at 2 in the morning a security guard stopped me and said, “Oi! Is that alcohol in that cup?” I said, “No mate it’s tea.” He replied, “Tea? Where you going with that.” I said “Where do you think…the biscuit isle.”

I’ve embarrassed myself many times in those day. worse one? I reckon that would be one morning at a friends house after a particularly bonkers night on the Rave. My mate had gone out and his wife had just up and gone into the shower. As soon as she got in there I felt my stomach shifting. It felt like there was about 2 litres of pure liquid diarrhoea rushing through me like mercury. There was no ifs about it any second I was going to explode out of me and complete transform my tie dye jeans. I had no idea what I was going to do…and then I spotted the cat litter tray. There was nothing else for it. If you saw what came out of me it looked like Id been on a diet of cabbage and cough medicine. Not a minute too soon as my mates wife came into the kitchen. I just stood there with the tray and said, “I really think your cat might be quite unwell.”

 

  

 

Favourite Jokes no.2 (The funniest thing I ever saw)

this is worth another airing…

DISSENT.

In this series of occasional blogs I’m going to post some of the routines I’ve done as comedian and explain where they came from. This one below is probably the first routine I ever wrote. When I started out I was a very different comic. Much of my shtick was about being a camp guy growing up in a tough mining town. This piece very much comes from that world. The core of the story and punch line are very much based in fact. Of course I’ve embellished and gagged things up to turn it into comedy….

KARMA FOR THE SCHOOL BULLY.

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” So said primo New Romantic Adam Ant. He obviously never grew up where I did. If ridicule came in the form of 10 skinheads chasing you down the high street it was plenty to be scared of.

skinheads

I grew up in the 80s…

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Drug Tales. no.1

When I was younger me and friends, like many youths in the 1990s, used to experiment with drugs. I’m going to post a series of stories here regarding this. Most will be funny. It was a fun time…but there’s always at least one horror story.

*NB (if any of the moral brigade/authorities/police read this I now work as a Vicar and do a pile of charity work)

“Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight”  So asks the Joker of his victims in Tim Burtons version of Batman. I’d gone to a screening on my own. The first time I’d ever done such a thing. When that fateful line was spoken it resonated to my core. Why? Because just a month before I think I maybe had done just that.

LSD as you may or may not know is a fairly potent psychedelic drug. Now I’m not going to get into here the ins and outs of what it does, or any hippy notions of “opening the doors of perception” or any such stuff. I’ll keep it simple. Me and my tripping buddies probably went on about 20 LSD trips between 1990-95. And that was it for me. I now feel it’s a young persons experience and I’ve got too many worries about repairing the back gate and potential Armageddon scenarios to go opening up those “doors of perception” What if I can’t get one shut again?

When we took decent LSD for me it did this 1. Made me hallucinate in a very pleasant and mild way. 2. Loosened me up enough to realise  I could come out with funny diatribes and impressions that made people laugh (I suppose this was the start of me becoming the comedian I now work as today) 3. Made all involved laugh a lot (or was that me?)  4. Made us rap about cod philosophies that our young minds knew little about. 5. Made us more perceptive. (perhaps) 6. Generally made you feel pretty great. A huge feeling of wellbeing.

So, there we were. It was a Friday night and me Chaz and his girlfriend Alison had scored three blotters of acid from our mate up on a trip (pun intended)  from his London squat. Blotters often came with an image printed on them. These were called Jokers. Yup, that’s right…they had an image of Batman’s the Joker on them. Believe it or not the irony/memory of this has just struck me now. Hmmm, so much for increased perception.

And so we took our trip and headed out for a splendid time, For a few hours a splendid time was what we had. I remember the trip first kicking in when the three of us were in a taxi going across Edinburgh. “Orange” was the one word remark that Chaz made. And we all started giggling in fits knowing exactly what he meant without another word having to be said. You see street lights are orange and the generally glow they gave off was starting to be greatly accentuated by the chemicals.

And so we made our way about the streets of Edinburgh laughing, chatting and occasionally stopping dead mid pace to look at an interesting pattern on a wall. Eventually when we reached Stockbridge it was decided we should venture off the streets and follow a riverside walk called St. Bernard’s well. Id never been here before. Once we were a bit along the way I was struck at how isolated this bit of town was even though we weren’t too far from the heart of the city. What also struck me was the loud sound of the rushing water running beside us. I actually joked “well if someone wants to rape or murder us this would be the perfect place to do it because nobody would hear a thing.” I’d come to regret that notion shortly.

It was decided we should get off the path and get down by the waterside for added sensual shenanigans. So we climbed down a steep embankment and got by the river shore. The predictable lobbing of stones and rocks into the river began and after a bit Chaz and Alison wandered a bit up the river leaving me isolated. I was stood tripping merrily away when that unusual feeling hit me. How we do these things we’ll never know. But I suddenly felt as if someone was watching us. So I turned around and there up the bank leaning on the fence we had cut through was a figure. Or was it? I’m tripping you see so the first thing I think is, “you’re seeing things John” The  reason I thought this was purely logical. Because if that was a person standing looking at us then they would be a confidant person indeed. After all this was a murderers paradise.

And so I stood staring at this figure. Imagined or not I was now becoming convinced there was something there. Was it a statue? There was something unusual in the way they were standing. But eventually the potential severity of this situation began to dawn on me. If that was a person he was stood staring at me only 20 feet up an embankment while I stared back at him…for a while…and there were three of us.

I decided to turn quietly away and make like I was seeing things. I pretended in my physicality that I’d seen nothing untoward. I then made my way up the river to my friends and with my back turned to the thing that may or not be there quietly explained the situation to them. Telling them not to turn quickly. And then all three of us did turn. There was nothing there.

Now at this point I have to explain a thing to the hallucinogenic uninitiated. When you hallucinate on LSD you don’t just make thing up out of thin air. There has to be an object that your eyes misperceive. When we turned around and there was nothing where I had seen something I knew I’d been staring at a person and they’d been staring back at me…for a while.

We made our way back the river bank. I didn’t want to alarm Alison too much (a misguided sexism as she was equipped to deal with this situation as any of us) so I took Chaz aside and explained I was convinced someone had been standing watching us. I asked what was the quickest way out of this isolated area as we’d walked along it quite a way and he explained we were better to keep going forward rather than backwards. Eventually to clear the air we started to make a joke of Johns imaginary stalker. But to be on the safe side Chaz  would walk backwards and me and Alison would walk forwards so we could be absolutely sure no one was following us. It became a laugh and a game. I was now convinced we were in the clear. I was wrong.

About 20 minutes later we emerged back onto the streets of Edinburgh. I had no clue where we were. it was 3. a.m. so there was no one about. We were walking up some back street of Edinburgh and I thought “I’ll just have one last look behind me.” there emerging from where we’d just been was our stalker. I knew it was him immediately. What had been a silhouette became a person. Long hair, long jacket and in my heightened state of perception really fucking dubious, in fact obviously very dangerous.

I turned away and said nothing. I turned around again and he’d halved the distance between us. I then began to panic. “Chaz how far are we from an area where other people might be?” Chaz sensed my panic and turned around. “That’s him he’s been stalking us. He’s not afraid mate. There’s something really wrong here”

Our predator was now on the other side of the road from us level. He must have ran to cover that distance. He looked scary, evil and seemed to have some kind of intent. And whatever that intent was he was about to let be known. He opened his lengthy jacket and let us see he was carrying a shotgun. We were frozen.

That’s when I realised what I’d seen earlier. I mentioned he seemed to be standing in an unusual position. He’d been pointing a gun at me.

That’s when the group of revellers came around the corner. I’ve never been so relieved. he just turned and walked nonchalantly away.

We made our way home fast. When back at the flat we realised that all that had saved us was that when he’d pointed his gun at me I had reacted in a really calm and unusual way. The LSD had saved us. Had I panicked, had I screamed I’m sure he would have been on us.

Anyway the moral of the story is we took another trip a few months later and all was well in the world again. No visions of stalking bogeymen, no fear of walking again across the city at night. And that’s when something hilarious happened…I’ll tell you the next time.

WHY NOT FOLLOW SOME OF MY COMEDY ON FACEBOOK….