Managing Comedy and Mental Health

Shooby dooby dooooooo. I’m feeling great today. It’s a far cry from where I was just a few days ago, because I was nottttttt doing well. I knew that moving to a new city on my own, not knowing anyone here, and pursuing stand-up comedy would provide me with challenges, I just wasn’t sure exactly what those challenges would be. After being here for a month, I’m starting to get a better grasp on what those challenges are and how I’m going to have to overcome them going forward.

First of all, stand-up comedy is very difficult. I knew this before I came here, but it’s not the act of standing up in front of a bunch of strangers and making them laugh that’s the most challenging part for me. I’ve always done well on stage, especially for how green I still am as a performer, and part of the reason I’m pursuing this is because I know that I have a strong ability to write and perform great jokes.

I’ve been writing jokes ever since I was a kid. I have hundreds of pages of word documents of jokes. I wrote a whole collection of jokes in the form of sonnets, weaving through lines of iambic pentameter and rhyme schemes to arrive at the ultimate punch line. From high school speech class to college poetry workshops to the stage in Austin, I’ve always been able to write something on the page, say it in front of a group of people, and make them laugh. I love the whole process. The feeling of sharing a laugh with someone is one of my favorite things in the world. But it’s not just that. I get as much joy if not more joy from the moment when I’m sitting alone at my computer and come up with something that I know is hilarious. I absolutely love the creative process.

I think you have to be in love with the process if you’re going to be successful in whatever you do in life. Maybe you don’t have to be, but I think people who are in love with the process find the most success. I consider myself so lucky to have the opportunity to pursue a process I so passionately enjoy. Some people don’t ever get that chance. Some people don’t pursue their true passion until late in the their life. Some people know right away and find success early and often in their lives.

We always admire people who are wildly successful at such a young age, but that brings along a lot of problems, too. Especially if you’re an athlete, because your career will likely end at a young age. So, what do you do after? If your whole life has been dedicated to a craft that you aren’t able to pursue anymore, you’ll have to rediscover a new purpose, and for some people, it never happens. I remember reading a story on the late Roy Halladay, a hall of fame baseball pitcher. His wife talked about how his entire identity was baseball, and he didn’t know how to exist in the world as a non-baseball player. It’s devastating to hear, but it’s not uncommon for people who find great success early in their lives.

I don’t remember where I was going with this. I feel like I was going somewhere specific at the beginning and then went off on a tangent. Oh, yes. That’s right. The challenges that I’m facing doing stand-up. I’ve realized that the biggest challenge for me will be managing my mental health. I’ve had an anxiety disorder my entire life, and I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to stimulus. I hated fireworks as a kid because they were too loud. I would get so nervous at parties that I couldn’t eat or would get physically ill. Any situation where there’s a lot going on at once has always been a challenge for me, and I can get overwhelmed very easily.

Stand-up can be a lot. There are a lot of people around, a lot is going on, and it’s incredibly nerve-wracking. Not the best concoction for someone like me. But that’s okay. I just have to learn how to manage it. This realization hit me square in the tits a couple of days ago. I woke up and I was so depressed I couldn’t even get out of bed. I had never felt this way in my life. Like I said, my main problem throughout my life has been anxiety. I have felt short periods of mild depression here and there, but this was entirely new. It was so intense, and I knew I never wanted to feel that way again. I meditated on it for a couple of days and I think I’ve figured it out.

To a degree, it was a perfect storm. Over a year of isolation, just having my heart broken, the stress of performing in a new city, not having a stable income at the moment… but my own habits weren’t helping me. I was over-stimulating myself. Too much time on my phone, too much video game playing, too much caffeine and alcohol. I realized that I if I’m going to be a successful comedian, I need to cultivate a life of calm around me. When I’m not on stage or gearing up to go on stage, I need to be able to decompress instead of continuing to be in a pent-up state.

So, I turned my phone off for the day. I unplugged my PlayStation and put it in the closet. I meditated, I did yoga. I stopped taking everything besides the medication for my colitis. I sat and I dealt with my feelings. I took a break from going on stage; and I turned the corner much quicker than I had expected. It was a wake-up call, and a much needed one.

I have a better understanding of what kind of life I need to live to make this work. I can’t control the chaotic nature of stand-up comedy and the industry. It’s always going to be that way. But I can combat it by having stability and order in the rest of my life. I can continue to find ways to unplug my overactive brain, I can seek out more stable relationships, and I can have better control of my habits. It’s all part of the process. One day at a time.

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