Performing at the Fringe this year? Worried about your mental health? Taylor Glenn’s got a handy self-help quiz for you.
This year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’m performing a standup show called Taylor Glenn: A Billion Days of Parenthood. The show is about the (seemingly) never-ending journey of parenthood, but also tackles my experience of postnatal depression. It’s a show I never intended to write, but another part of me sort of took over and wrote it anyway. A depressed ghostwriter, if you will.
After my daughter was born a few years ago, I cancelled all my scheduled gigs while I was coming to grips with a ‘new identity’. Nothing seemed funny any more, so I just binge-watched Lars von Trier films, which is never, ever a good sign.
In between lots of amazing, magical moments (to be fair – because it wasn’t black and white, and I loved her something fierce) I was often scared, anxious, angry and sad. At the worst of it, I didn’t want to be here any more and I wanted it to all end.
I weighed up my options and thought the unthinkable sometimes, coming up with all sorts of insane ‘outs’ in my sleep-deprived, compromised state. I watched Orange is the New Black and wondered if prison really wasn’t such a bad fresh start for me – after all I’d get my own bed, do some gardening, maybe have some non-penetrative sex?
All of those suffocatingly dark feelings and desperate thoughts wound up being, after a journey of getting better and coming to grips with things, pretty fucking funny. So like many (I daresay, more talented acts) before me, this year it’s about ‘cutting myself open’ emotionally and turning tragedy into comedy.
Coincidentally, one of the tools clinicians use to diagnose PND is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. So it would seem a show about my experience was always on the cards, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I notice lots of declarations from fellow performers about their mental states ahead of this month. There’s been an increasing trend in comedy to focus on mental health issues as material in the past few years especially, and it’s a trend which I think reflects what I hope is a decreased stigma around mental illness and a shift towards more open communication.
“Did you sit and read other people’s reviews and press in a paranoid blur of jealousy and bitterness-slash-schadenfreude? Did you show kindness and support to your fellow performers or act badly towards them or talk behind their backs like in Mean Girls?”
In the UK, where I practised as a psychotherapist for several years before chucking it in to follow this (clinically) crazy dream, I discovered two things: one, people here do indeed seek out mental health services and therapy, but two, there is still a real sense of shame around needing this sort of help.
I hope things are changing in general. It feels like we are making headway. If comedians are any sort of litmus test for social change, and I believe it still is part of the role of the comedian to tackle the taboo, then there’s good things afoot.
In the meantime, I reflect back to that Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale. I used to take it obsessively late at night, and spoiler: it’s not as fun as Buzzfeed quizzes and my score was never reassuring. But I thought it would be good to make a sort of Edinburgh post-Fringe depression scale for anyone performing.
Read it now and then think about what sort of answers you will want to give come September, when all is finished and you’re at the end of your efforts. I’m going to give a healthy approach to this madness my best shot. After all, there’s always the next billion days to focus on.
1. How well did you take care of yourself during this year’s Fringe?
Give yourself one point for each: eating non-beige food, walking straight uphill without taking a nap on a bench en route, sleeping more than five hours and without alcohol, enjoying the Fringe, healthy social interactions.
Yes, I said healthy. No, no, HEALTHY.
2. What star rating do you give yourself for your efforts?
Turn off all the noise, from the pain of no audience to the screaming of social media to the possible stinging blurbs from critics which bore into your brain like parasitic worms, and give yourself a fair rating for doing your personal best. For doing something which meant something to you and that YOU were proud of.
Give yourself one point for each star. Hint: aim for four-and-a-half stars; that’s the ideal number.
3. How supportive were you of people around you?
Did you sit and read other people’s reviews and press in a paranoid blur of jealousy and bitterness-slash-schadenfreude? Did you show kindness and support to your fellow performers or act badly towards them or talk behind their backs like in Mean Girls?
Were you secretly a dick? Were you overtly a dick? STOP BEING A DICK. Subtract 10 points for being a dick. Get some help for being a dick – you’re probably deeply insecure and you should be throwing that into your art, not at others, for cripes’ sake.
4. Did you celebrate your efforts for what they really are: a glorious contribution to a glorious festival that relies on many varied players to complete a wild jigsaw puzzle of human expression, a celebration of life itself?
OK, maybe that was a little overblown, but truly, there’s too much focus on personal achievement and not enough focus on the Grand Picture. We’re all part of a bigger picture. The world is a confusing, scary place a lot of the time and here we are dancing around like clowns making art. We get to MAKE ART.
So sit and sip a good glass of something in September and simply say, “I did it. I was a part of a bigger something.” Ten points if you can achieve this existential bliss. Five if you can do it but it makes you cringe a little.
RESULTS (disclaimer: this is no more clinically significant than Buzzfeed’s ‘Which Harrison Ford Character are You?’)
15-20 points: Ohmmmm you have achieved the ultimate Post-Edinburgh Mental Health, but of course, it’s not a competition. Also, my maths sucks, so who knows if I’ve added this right. But well done with your balanced self!
9-14 points: Not too bad. But how do you feel, really? Maybe be a bit kinder to yourself, artist. The world needs you to be well and you matter. Have some broccoli.
0-8 points: Uh, oh. Are you OK? It doesn’t sound like you’re that OK. Let’s work on being more OK.
-10 points: Uh oh, you’re a dick. Let’s work on that insecurity stuff, OK?
Taylor Glenn: A Billion Days of Parenthood is at Just the Tonic at the Caves from 4-28 (not 15) August at 9:20 PM. Book ahead or pay what you want at the venue.
Read our round-up of where to catch top Standard Issue contributors at this year’s Fringe here and here.
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Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.