Mental health, the big M.H; stress, the black dog, anxiety, irritability, numbness, whatever you call it. Everyone’s dealing with it, whether they’ve realised it yet or not. I believe I am the first generation of my family who’s been able to speak out and ask for help, thankfully, due to being born in more accepting times. But I’ve heard stories of my family members and the inner struggles they suffered quietly, especially the men. To speak out would have meant them being labelled as weak. Not to compare my family to The Sopranos (my Dad does push his spaghetti round the plate like a Don) but look how carefully T dog had to tread whilst undergoing therapy. Maybe it’s an Italian family thing, more likely it’s a generation thing. I certainly felt ashamed when I was a child, dealing with an extreme bout of depression, yes it’s been with me that long, receiving a get well card from my young cousins, ashamed, embarrassed, like I’d caused a fuss out of nothing. But now, if I break down on the tube and get handed a tissue by a stranger, it brings a huge warming sense of togetherness and survival. We’re all here for you.
Mainly due to social media, the line between raising awareness of mental health and glamourising it is becoming thinner. Stop glamourising it. It’s not trendy, a heroin addict wouldn’t show their tracks, but they might send a message of survival. Know the difference.
However, what did I go and do? Write a damn hour long show about it for the stage, arguably the most exuberant of all art forms. But it’s not glamourous. I lay out the pitfalls of my past behaviour, the crutches the coping strategies. The unsustainable chemical hits that got me through a social event. The personality buffers because hey, anxiety makes you think you’re boring and you need 12 vodkas, a Smirnoff ice a dab of MDMA and some coke up your arsehole to take the edge off or people will actually hate you. It’s a comedy by the way.
Why does an anxious person go onstage and talk about their masturbation habits, fears and addictions? I wanted to do something that scares me and that’s just about takes the number one spot on the anxiety inducing activity list, it’s a long list, am I right guys? This show is for me as much as it is for you. Is that OK? Did I break the theatre code by admitting that?
I’ve collectively looked at every piece of advice I’ve received, or can remember receiving, from; therapists, talks, buddhists, spiritual gurus, doctors and that clever clogs called science and tried to work out what it is of those that has really helped me. I mean really contributed to why, at this stage of my life, I feel the strongest I’ve ever been.
When the charity SANE came to see my first ever preview, I was relieved to hear they thought I’d pitched the subject matter just right. After all, mental health isn’t a laughing matter. If I’m going to laugh at someone, it has to be myself and that’s exactly what I do, for an hour. It’s great fun. It is in fact a buddhist habit to laugh at oneself in the face of hardships and we all know that age old saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. To which I agree, but so is self care. Can I get a hell yeah self care! Sorry. I’ll go.
On the surface the show is stand up, improv and character work but look a little deeper there is a set of tools and advice the audience are free to nab and apply to daily life. Under the guise of silly costumes, accents or song, mild poisoning of a willing audience member, there lies all the things that mean I’m still alive and kicking today.
If you’ve ever wanted to understand anxiety better, or if you are the kind of person that likes laughing, this ones for you, even if it’s only to laugh at my terrible singing voice *spoiler alert* ‘she can’t sing!’ I’ve given myself every terrifying task possible in this show for your enjoyment and the sake of self care. I hope, for a little hour a night, in the tunnels of Waterloo, we can chaotically and farcically stick it to anxiety, together, as one, wholly, with wank jokes.
And who or what the frig is ASSMONKEY? All will be revealed.
ASSMONKEY: In Conversation is at the VAULT Festival 7th – 11th February at 19:45, with a Sunday matinee at 15:15. For more tickets and more information click here!