Thursday, August 3, 2017

PERFORMANCE AND DEPRESSION AND ME AND YOU

There's never a bad time to tell everyone you know that you live with depression. They all live with that shit too.

It is, of course, a question of degrees, and a question of how we manage it. Some of us manage it way better than others. I have had times in my life of not managing at all. In my late teens and early 20's, depression ate my soul. It wanted my body, too, but I didn't let it have it.

DEPRESSION is a terrific word. It really does capture the experience of having an elephant sitting on your life force. Maybe nothing so cute as an elephant. But something big and heavy is pressing you down, and you don't feel like you are even in there anymore, really. You've been pressed away.

I've been lucky, in that meds and therapy worked when things were very bad, and now, exercise and breathing and mindfulness do a pretty good job keeping the elephant cute and manageably-sized. Sometimes when I'm running on the treadmill and a particularly inspirational 80's pop hit comes on I run even faster and my blood beats in my brain: I'm alive, I made it, I got through and I do it and I do it for that little back-in-the-day Me who didn't know if she was going to get through. I run and run for her.

Unsurprisingly, or maybe surprisingly, but probably not, working as a performer can bring a lot of dark shit right back to you. I don't exactly understand the brain chemistry of it, but I have theories. The kind of performing I do seems to cause a big rush of chemicals to flow through me, so that, afterwards, I'm high as a skyscraper off my own brain. But the next day, especially a few hours before my next show, it's like the skyscraper was never there.

At first, I don't think I really understood what a weird cycle I was on. Showbiz! my mind said, and I went on drinking coffee, eating sugar, checking my email in bed and doing whatever-the-fuck.

I keep a show journal. I journal before each show, done it for years. I started it to clarify my thoughts, get my head in the game, write out any new jokes, priorities for the show, but then I started to notice that entry after entry started with something similar to I don't want to be here/ I don't want to do this show/ I'm so unhappy. After flipping through pages and pages of this garbage, I thought, what the shit?

The shit seems to be that my brain goes through a cycle of some kind of pre-show depression and post-show euphoria. Nowadays I think of my brain as cleaning house to make way for the post-show chemical party. But it took at least a year or two of journalling for me to really see the pattern. And of course, now that I've seen it, the mood swings are less dramatic. The euphoria is less, sure, a little, but that's fine, it was kinda crazy in there anyway. And the depression is less. That is the most exciting thing.

Here I am at the Edinburgh Fringe again. Last time I was here, two years ago, it was hard, mood-swing-wise. I didn't feel in control of the chemicals in my brain. But I've done a few of these big long festivals now. It's all about self-care and exercise and journalling and rest. Does that make me boring and uncool? Of course it does! Does it make me sane in my brain? Yes, it does that too!

And I run. I run for the Me who couldn't run. Then I get up in front of people and we hit the highs and lows together. We do it for those who can't. We all do it for those who can't. We run for everyone.



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