Shitting Bricks: Launching the show at The Duke
Neath…I am coming…
I’ll be honest, I almost cancelled the gig.
It’s been a busy few weeks – busier than I’ve been in a while – with a lot of travel, a funeral, lots of bullshit admin stuff to do for the jobs and income people and the divorce people and the healthy head people…and I have a tale to tell about medication…
I’ve recently started working with a brilliant new GP and we’re having something of a re-boot: initially, we’re concentrating on finding a medication, or a combination of meds, that will keep me stable, working, and as happy as you can be when you have depression, an anxiety disorder, and no discernable career to speak of.
Anyone who has taken anti-depressant SSRI (Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor) medication will tell you that not only do they usually require a period of adjustment (between two and six weeks, I’ve read in – this is brain chemistry we’re messing about with) but that they also require a period of tapering before you can stop taking them. Stopping your meds cold-turkey is very likely to result in some pretty shitty mental and physical symptoms. I’ve done it twice. The first time was hell and it wasn’t any better the second go-round.
The first time I stopped taking my meds cold-turkey my then brother-in-law had called for the evening. I had to pop down to the studio to catch up with Lee, erstwhile singer for Whack Turkey and the closest thing I have to a big brother, about something musical or other. I said I’d be back real quick…
After a period of shooting the shit with my OG, my then-wife turned up, tamping, asking me where in the hell I thought I’d been all this time. I would swear on Keith Moon’s grave that I’d been in that studio for about twenty-five to thirty minutes. I’d been there for something like two-and-a-half hours. I’d vomited, too, apparently.
Fucked if I can remember.
The second time I came off ‘em was most certainly NOT planned. This time it was an accident. Life sometimes gets in the way…our last few weeks has been super-busy and we’d travelled cross-country to Scunthorpe, which was tiring but, more crucially, I’d run out of my meds and forgotten to order more…
At the time, I was on Sertraline (100mg), Mertazipine (15mg), Propranolol (10g), and Temazepam (10mg). That’s not a combination you should just stop taking. I don’t care what Johan Hari says, or whether I’ve just woefully misrepresented him.
I’d previously been taking just the Sertraline and I was feeling generally better, mood-wise, but anxiety was still wreaking havoc with my life and my daily routine. I can’t sleep. That’s it in a nutshell.
I’ve always been a poor sleeper. Even as a child, I would be up most of the night reading and then struggle to get out of bed in the morning. If it wasn’t for mam screaming at me to get up and get washed, I wouldn’t have a GCSE to my name. These days, though, it’s serious. If I can’t sleep then everything else will crumble, sooner or later. I lie awake at night, trying not to think about it, trying not to let it get to me, trying not to get angry again. Then I’d get angry. Then I’d start to twitch, to itch, to shake and wake my partner – who has work in the morning. So I get up, I go downstairs. I used to smoke a million cigarettes and drink Lucozade and wonder why I couldn’t sleep before I realised that it doesn’t matter what I do when I’m like that. Sleep just isn’t coming.
So I self medicate.
We’ll leave that there for now. I’ll just say that I am, thankfully, in no bother with alcohol (hardly touch the stuff these days) or hard drugs, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Self-medication, however you choose to do it, eventually becomes a crutch and eventually becomes the problem. I remember years ago, reading an article about The Manics’ Richie Edwards – who struggled so much with sleep issues and nightmares and stuff that he turned to vodka to get what he described as a “blank sleep” – I think I’ve remembered that correctly. Apologies if not.
Lack of sleep will kill me, eventually, and makes daily life almost impossible after a while so I do whatever I have to to get to sleep. The next morning, I’m usually knackered. Physically and emotionally exhausted. Not a great start to any day.
So I went to see the doc…
We decided that self-medication is probably not the way to go (surprise!) and instead, we decided to attack the anxiety and the anger, the things that are stopping me from sleeping or exacerbating the issue, first. Once we’ve established a healthy sleep pattern (I’m a stand-up comedian, don’t forget) then everything else can build upon that. Fair enough. Sounds good to me. I was initially prescribed Temazipam to use as a kind of chemical cosh, to get me to sleep regardless of what’s going on in my nut. The doc said I’d only get them for a short period because they’re addictive so I’ve taken 28 of them in my life so far and I have no more. They kinda chilled me out a bit but didn’t really do much for me. Why anyone would take them to get fucked up is beyond me. Get some proper drugs.
The Propranolol I can take six 10mg tablets of per day as and when I need to. These are what’s called “Beta Blockers” and are, I think, supposed to address the physical symptoms of anxiety and anger (and panic and stuff, probably). They did that, it’s fair to say, but they also made me inexplicably irritable and angry. That’s nothing I want to enhance and so they’re not really for me. I pretty much stopped taking them straight away. The Mirtazipine is the intended long-term replacement for all three above and is the only one I’m on at the moment. It’s an anti-depressant with anti-anxiety properties and really does get me to sleep with no outside help.
The first Mirtazpine I took hit me like a transit van – I was all over the shop – and put me out for eighteen hours. Over a period of about a week, I settled on them and was singing their praises to anyone who asked. Some days I am physically exhausted when I wake up and find it difficult to get out of bed – this morning, for instance, I took about ten minutes before trying to move and when I did, my legs felt like I was holding a wardrobe. Still, I am in a good place where I don’t need to rush to a factory for six every morning so I can deal with that for now.
I went from the fifth to the eleventh with no meds and in that time we went to Scunny for the funeral, had my best mate Matt Price over as he was doing the preview for his 2018 Edinburgh show, “Last Night a Weegie Saved My Life”, at The Duke also. Bear in mind, too, that it has been oppressively hot lately and I’m not built for hot weather. People usually have second thoughts about marriage when they settle down to domestic drudgery and 2.5 kids and find out that they’re partner isn’t the answer to all their problems after all; I started getting second thoughts when we landed on Cyprus for our honeymoon. How that place hasn’t burst into flames by now, I’ll never know.
Anyroad, the plan was not for me to stop taking all of my meds at one go. I’m pretty sure that’s a stupid idea. The plan was to gradually come off the Sertraline, ditch the Propranolol and the Marzies and gradually build up the Mirtazipine to a 30mg/day dose. Shit didn’t go down like that but my GP is awesome. I may have come off the Sertraline “with a bump” but as I’m off, I may as well stay off. So for the last few weeks I’ve been dealing with the fall-out of coming off one type of SSRI cold-turkey while also trying to get used to another. It’s been fucking hard.
Now I’m on 15mg of Mirtazipine per day until Tuesday and then, from Wednesday, I’m on 30mg. I’ve a repeat prescription and a review booked with the GP so we’ll see what happens. The last couple of weeks have been hard. I’ve made new friends, met new people, experienced new things (visitied Arkwright’s shop in Doncaster!) and supported those whom I love as best I could but it’s been tough without my medication.
Last Friday, I woke and decided to quit comedy. I’d been back on the Mirtas since Wednesday and was as low as I’ve felt in a long time. Physically exhausted, dark, angry, solitary – and that’s before I’d got out of bed. By one in the afternoon I had allowed my dark, intrusive thoughts and anxiety to tie me in knots. I hate feeling anxious. All of my life, I’ve either been too laid back to care or I’ve felt capable. Losing that confidence is one of the greatest blows I’ve been dealt by depression. It’s a fucking awful feeling. I lay there and stared at the valleys summer through the glass, felt the breeze blow it’s greeting through the house, heard the birds sing, and thought dark thoughts about my career and my life. I was done.
Luckily – and this is something I’ll blog about more at some point – I have people around me.
It’s Thursday evening. At four PM tomorrow I will stop working, gather my notes, and call the show ready to launch. That doesn’t mean it’s any good, just that it’s ready to launch. It may sink, it may fall off the edge of the world. Who knows? Not I.
Just for shits, I thought I’d keep a little diary over the next twenty-four hours, starting at tea-time today, just to give you an idea of what the build-up is like. Prior to taking Mirtazipine, the nerves used to kick in about three days prior to a gig: if I have a gig on Friday night then I start shaking on Wednesday morning. If I have more than one or two gigs in a row then I spend the week in a state of constant anxiety. Add the pressures of a day job into that mix and let me know how long you think you’d last…
16:00 I was feeling great until about eleven last night. I had a shit night and slept very, very late. I got up at about two. I’ve had my coffee, a croissant (well, two), and I’m working on the show. Panicking, trying to convince myself that it looks like something, if not a finished Edinburgh show. I’m shaking, wishing I could quit, wishing I could just cancel the gig and disappear. Somehow, though, I’m working too. It’s taking shape…
As this is my first proper ‘show’ then I guess I’m allowed to use old material that I’ve previously used in the clubs over the years. I don’t want to do that, though. I want it to be brand-new from the ground up. It’s not, yet, but it’s close. By Edinburgh 2019, it’ll be sparkling new. There may have to be some old jokes thrown in to keep the laugh count up, just for now, but I don’t know. The crowd at The Duke know the score.
Starting to panic now. Gremlins are starting to infest my thinking and I’m finding it harder to concentrate. I’m going to keep working…
19:50 I’ve been working flat out. I had a working ‘lunch’ (dinner) and it’s almost eight. I have the show structure almost finished and have collated all of the jokes and material that I’m going to use. I can guarantee that I won’t remember all this shit so I’ll be committing that most cardinal of sins: taking to the stage with notes. I need to remember the structure so that I can tell the tale in the correct order so it makes sense. I’ve written this structure in various notebooks and pads over the last few months so the biggest job was collating, editing, and organising. Now I’ve got to remember it all…
21:25 This is like being teenager again, leaving until the evening before an exam to start revising. I’m making it sound worse than it is because that’s what depression does: make everything seem much worse than it is. I’m sat here now, looking at a small pile of notebooks and legal pads, and screen full of ZenKit mind map, and I have a show. It will change over the next twelve months, of course it will, and I hope that by then it will be something I can be truly proud of.
But this is why I’m launching this ragged bag of incomplete thoughts and dodgy punchlines at Neath, tomorrow: they’re family down there in the darkness of The Duke, they look after each other and me, and they’re good, comedy savvy folk. They know when they’re being sold a line. We’ll have a good fucking laugh whatever happens tomorrow night, I’m sure of that. The cameras will be there to capture it all, my good friend Leroy Brito will be there to save whatever ship I sink and so the gig is still on…
Neath, I am coming…
13:20 Awake until around one this morning. Worked very late and so took a while to wind down. Took 30mg of Mirtazipine and watched some old Royle Family. Got to sleep at just gone three. Zero dreams that I can remember. I woke a few times this morning, for various post and neighbour-related reasons but, unable to think straight, I involuntarily went straight back to sleep on each occasion. I remember noticing that it was half-ten and being happy with that, plenty of time to work on the show!
Next thing I know it’s one in the afternoon. Fuck sake.
But I’m up, so that’s a thing. Gonna pour some coffee on it, meditate and walk, then work. Only working until five today – that’s the cut-off point. Anything not ready by five will be dragged out naked in front of a baying crowd at Neath.
18:20 That’s as done as it’s gonna get, time to wrap it up and work on mood management: I’ve had a shower and the bottom half of me is dressed. Some tea and something to eat, to kill this nausea, and some music to soothe the shattered nerves and encourage the crippled self-belief.