Saturday, 8 June 2013

What's it like to be Dogfacedboy?

That's what I pondered after hearing Stephen Fry answer that question about himself at Monday nights Richard Herring Leicester Square podcast (RHLSTP!!). It was the final question of the night that came from the podcast producer's 12 year old son.

A lot of people despise Fry for his ubiquity, his manners, his sexuality, his beliefs, his "luvviness" and some even for his mental illness. "Bi-polar" they say "just an excuse for privileged people who don't have a proper job but just need something to whine about. Just snap out of it etc"

Monday night was an absolute treat - Stephen was as warm, funny, intelligent and interesting as you could hope he would be. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was an honour to be there - and this is why.

He answered that question in a brutally honest and upfront way. He explained what it was like to live with the literal ups and downs of depression. He outlined one experience when on a manic high he came home with 17 shopping bags which he never opened and when he came down he just put them out in the street for anyone to take away.

He also admitted to a more serious incident that happened last year and spoke about it very candidly and bravely. I expect you've already heard about it by now but I would direct you all to I-tunes or Richard Herring's site to hear it in context. You can buy a video version of the podcast too for

The thing that really struck a chord with me was when he talked about the importance of friends to people who suffer from mental illness. People always say "well at least you have friends that love you and will help". Those friends are often no help. Not through any failings on their part but because of your own sense of shame and isolation that depression creates. Stephen explained in the sense that if you had a genital wart you would show a stranger i.e. a doctor but would never dream of showing it to even your best friend. Its the stigma, the shame, the guilt and the pain that stops you from reaching out to the ones who love you most.

I treasure the friends I have. they mean the world to me, simple as that. Yet they could read all the books, fact sheets and watch films on depression, panic attacks and social phobia and still not understand how it feels to be me. I guess that's true of anyone but its the way that my mental illness impinges on everything I do - or  at least would do if I let it - that is the real hard one to explain.

I have been trying, particularly hard over the past six months, to try and limit the effect of my anxiety etc on my life and on how I am with other people. Rather than avoiding or engineering situations to fit in with how I have learnt to cope over the years I am letting things develop. I'll give you an example to two from this week.

I had arranged to go to meet a friend in London, go to a museum and get something to eat. Now if I was to let my anxiety be in charge of the situation I would much prefer to do the eating part after the museum. Th reason being my social anxiety causes nausea (or at least a feeling of nausea) and so i tend to avoid eating before putting myself in situations where that may occur. However I have come to realise that this is letting my ungrounded fears control how I behave. It would lead me to lying, making excuses and forcing people to follow the line set by years of conformity to the whims of my illness.

Therefore, we had a nice meal before the museum and it was fine, I felt comfortable that if I really couldn't cope my friend would understand and be there for me. Anytime I felt myself getting tense I took a moment to check my thoughts and carry on - I enjoyed the afternoon, had a great time and thereby hangs a small victory.  My friend was unaware of any of this happening as it was all in my head so nothing spoilt the afternoon.

later this week I was gigging at the Albert Hall. Now seated gigs can also be problem for me, I get slightly claustrophobic, nausea etc and need to feel that I can make a run for it. Theses seats couldn't have been more central in the row or under the gaze of the performer if I had tried. In the past this would have been on my mind for weeks leading up to the gig as I "catastrophised" the whole event - that's CBT talk for imagining the worst will happen and building it up in your mind in order to make it happen. This is why I often try to get aisle seats so there is a quick "escape route".

However, I chose not to think about it and it went flawlessly, stayed there for the whole 2 1\2 hour show, not an ounce of anxiety. I also did this at a couple of recent gigs where I deliberately chose to be in a place where an easy way out was not possible. Its working really well to cut down my habit of allowing myself to be dictated to by my silly brain. Standing crowds are still a problem, particularly big outdoor shows as the feeling of claustrophobia is worse being a shorter person. It annoys me that some friends still don't understand this and expect me to plow on to the centre of the crowd where its hard to move. They have their reasons but they need to understand the situation isn't easy for me.

So friends maybe can't understand all the myriad ways that metal illness can effect you're everyday life but neither should they be expected to make allowances for it all the time. i am glad that this week in particular I didn't allow myself to be influenced by my anxiety. The friends that were there with me DID help in that I was comfortable that they would be considerate and helpful if the worst did happen. I don't feel that with all my friends which may be a problem on my part but some are unwilling or unable to deal with my illness. Thats unfortunate.

I have seen people respond to Fry talking about depression before by saying "just give up then, mate, get off my telly, take your money and go live in the country somewhere, you don't have to do it.". Ignoring of course that you can't escape your own thoughts and feelings, location doesn't change things and that if you were to let your mental illness have that sort of power over your life it would be disastrous. the fact that the rest of the podcast was hilarious, revealing and downright filth is testament to this.

Its a great shame that mental illness is still so stigmatised and seen as a dirty little secret by sufferers and pariahs like the Daily Mail. I fear they will take Fry's confession and use it to beat up the BBC, Labour luvvies and make anyone with a mental illness never want to speak up about it. He self deprecatingly mentioned his own "always quacking on about it" on TV but I think its important that he continues helping raining awareness that MIND and The Samaritans are there to help if they can.

I'm glad there are people like Stephen Fry who will and feel that if there is any point to celebrity its to make people more aware of such problems. National Treasure? No. He's just as frail, scared, unsure of himself from day to day and confused as the rest of us. The love, warmth and genuine respect for the man in that room last night was extraordinary. I hope he felt that and it gave him a little comfort at the very least.

So what's it like to be DogFacedBoy?. The lack of posts like this on my blog and more of life & music may be a clue. Its getting better as I stop my illness controlling my life and think "Do It Anyway"

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