The blog, “We Must Not Think Too Much,” is becoming one of my trusted sources of cool stories about depression and mental illness. I have no idea how she is able to scour all the sources she does. But she’s making my life easier.
Recently she posted writer Doug Williamson’s story in the “Windsor Star” about seven comedians struggling with mental illness, who took the stage at the Caboto Club for the kickoff of Mental Health Week, organized by the Windsor-Essex County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Says the article, which you can get to by clicking here:
“I went a whole year without laughing or smiling, I just wanted to die,” said Denise Jackson of Windsor, one of the neophyte comics who performed at the Caboto Club, and who is being treated for bipolar disorder.
“The message I’m trying to share is there’s hope,” said Jackson, 45. “Whatever people are experiencing, people have experienced it before. I’m just doing what I need to take care of myself.”
People with mental illness also suffer from the effects of misplaced public perceptions, said Vancouver comedian and counsellor David Granirer, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, a group which advocates using comedy to empower the mentally ill.
The cliche that laughter is the best medicine holds true, he said. “When you have mental illness there’s a lot of shame. All of a sudden (comedy) diffuses the shame.”
Jackson, in an interview before her seven-minute routine, said a combination of religious faith, therapy and “caring people” have helped her, and said the experience of delivering standup comedy was exciting.
“I want people to be inspired. What we set our mind to, we can do.”
Bill Hamel, 57, of Windsor, said he has always harboured a secret desire to do comedy. His routine focused on subjects as varied as coffee addiction, song titles, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and the Beatles.
“In there, I talk about schizophrenia and psychosis,” he said. “Really, what I’m trying to do is make people laugh.”
He is bipolar, and suffers from post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorders. He said he wanted to deliver his message to people with mental illness as well as those without.
“We’re just people,” Hamel said, adding he is well aware of public perceptions. “If I went for a job interview and told them I was bipolar, they’d be afraid of me.”
Granirer said coaching people with mental illness can be challenging.
“The subject matter is very serious,” he said, adding that some people are on medication or have cognitive impairments which can make preparation more difficult.
But then again, many professional comedians probably suffer from some form of mental illness without realizing it, he said.
“There’s the diagnosed and the undiagnosed,” he laughed.
“I think you’ve got to be a little bit nuts to do standup comedy.”