Comedy & mental health

If I seem nervous… it’s because I AM! This statement sounded a lot softer in my head than it does spilling out of my mouth. I was aiming for cute and honest, but it comes out more like a bark, startling the woman sat across from me.

Rachel Fairburn, comedian and one half of the hugely popular All Killa No Filla podcast, is both a Manchester legend and personal idol of mine.
From solid working-class stock, Rachel is self-made. This alone deserves recognition. For those unaware of the creative and artistic industries, it can be difficult to get ahead without a silver spoon in your mouth and a hefty safety net behind you. (Not that I begrudge people their silver spoons, you’d be foolish not to embrace the advantages life throws you). However, I have great respect for people who do it off their own bat. I’m in this category myself, so I appreciate the reality and hard graft that’s required.

I always suspected that Rachel was very smart and this suspicion is confirmed a mere five minutes into our conversation. Not only that, but she’s also hilarious, down to earth and happy to discuss mental illness freely. There’s something refreshing about her honesty, I find it disarming. When for example, I point out the wine that I’m sipping to steady my nerves, she quips; sometimes, you just need one mate! For the anxious, alcohol really can be liquid courage, (one glass, not five). However, admitting this often sparks controversy, as I found when my first book was published.
Alas, mental wellbeing is not all yoga, crystals and clean living. Sometimes it’s a freak out on the tube, followed by a rant over a f**king huge glass of wine!

Speaking of which, I’m here to interview Rachel about the link between comedy and all things crazy.
She’s experienced both depression and OCD, and as a child, was cripplingly shy. Her anxiety manifests both physically and via intrusive thoughts. Having anxiety & OCD is like being psychic, but nothing ever comes true! I blush and get nervous sweats, which is annoying. (We then have a lengthy discussion about the horrors of blushing for no reason)!
My earliest memories are of being incredibly shy. I didn’t want to do anything. Even with relatives, I was still shy. Anxiety held me back at school.
Therefore, the fact that her day job involves standing on stage and performing to a hungry crowd, is something that people might find odd.

I’ve long believed in the therapeutic value of comedy. It opens doors to conversations, allows people to talk about things they might normally shy away from, and provides much-needed respite. Rachel talks candidly about her OCD in her sets. It can be a relief to hear someone else laugh about something that’s also happened to you. It’s a bit of reassurance. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Realising that you’re not the only one doing weird sh** is not only a relief but a comfort!

The comedy underworld is no doubt fast-paced and filled with intense characters. It’s also been suggested that a large number of comedians have diagnosable mental health conditions. Rachel nods enthusiastically at this; Not all of them even know it themselves. Some think they’re a tortured genius and I’m like “nah mate you’re just depressed!” The stage strikes me as being a drug of sorts, one that rules with the toss of a coin. ‘Heads’ the audience is good, ‘tails’ they’re drunk and angry…. ‘Heads’ you’ll do great, ‘tails’ you’ll bomb. It also strikes as a place where you can be at one with your demons… let go of the reins, so to speak. An empowering thought.

Her approach to mental wellbeing is very proactive. She doesn’t see herself as a victim of her OCD or anxiety. It (mental illness) should be an aspect of who you are, it shouldn’t be ALL that you are.
Standard medication wasn’t right for her and neither was CBT. At this point, I take the opportunity to bend her ear about serotonin and how this vital chemical keeps the brain balanced. Along with prescription SSRIs, it can also be found naturally in Omega 3 (fish oil). Unfortunately, she’s allergic to all seafood. Is this why my life is miserable.. because I can’t eat fish?!
Instead, she keeps her demons in check with distraction, (trashy romance novels are a favourite), channeling it into her writing and simply by going to the pub with mates.

Rachel Fairburn is living proof that you CAN have a normal life if you live with mental illness. There are good days and there are bad days, but as she reminds me; you just have to crack on!

Click HERE for Rachel’s upcoming tour dates.

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