But Doctor, I am Pagliacci.

July 31, 2020

Magic and mental health…

“Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”

“But doctor, I am Pagliacci” is the punchline to a joke given by the character Rorschach in Alan Moore’s seminal ‘Watchmen’ series published in 1987. I first heard it when watching the movie which is based on the comic series when it was released back in 2009.

That line more than any other part of the movie has always stuck with me and feels more poignant now than ever. You see, I will let you into a little secret. Us performers are all drug addicts and what we are addicted to is something that money cannot buy and something that we can only get our fix of when we are performing. We are addicted to the plaudits and adulations of our audience and we can only get that when we connect with you and see your smiles, laughter and temporary freedom from every day concern that sharing our art forms gives to you; however fleeting that may be.

For me, as for many of us, this Pandemic has been particularly difficult, and I have found myself really struggling with my mental health at times. At the end of March, as the UK entered lockdown, the entertainment industry shut down over night and in an instant left us that pay our bills and feed our families through the pursuit of our passion for performing in limbo with no way of supporting ourselves or our families. The entertainment industry were for months the forgotten people and had no support from the Government unlike many other sectors that we able to access rescue packages to help keep them afloat.

I  one been one of the lucky ones. My specialty is as a wedding entertainer and thankfully people still want to get married (even after 4 months of been stuck in the same house together) and almost all of my clients rescheduled for next year. This has meant that although this year has been and will continue to be tough, I have an almost full diary of events to look forward to next year. My partner has is still able to work from home whilst we look after our 4 children and her income has been just enough to keep us going. Others sadly, were not so fortunate, I have peers that worked predominantly in the corporate sector and they lost an annual income overnight with their events being outright cancelled.

Here is the thing with performers though, we are used to putting on our masks, both literally and figuratively at present. We get up, dress up and show up, no matter how we feel. We are quite good at putting on a brave face and giving the world the best of us no matter what is going on internally. The old showbiz saying of “the show must go on” is our mantra. Also, here in the UK, we have it ingrained within our DNA to have a stiff upper lip and whenever anybody asks how you are doing the answer is always “Fine! You?” Even if our current experience is tantamount to the dark night of the soul.

We often hear of people in show business that have taken their own lives, and nobody ever sees it coming. Robin Williams was a prime example of this. He brought joy into so many peoples lives through his genius comedy and appeared outwardly to be the embodiment of joviality, the sacred clown.  However, beneath the surface, he was plagued with depression and when he did eventually take his own life none of us could quite believe what had happened.

Robin’s case was one of many and I feel is symptomatic of a society that is ill equipped to deal with depression and mental health. Here in the UK, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45. Let that sink in! Suicide takes more men’s lives than smoking, alcohol or disease yet we still as a society have extraordinarily little in place to tackle this epidemic. Personally, I feel that the most immediate and pragmatic way that we can alleviate this problem is by being more honest, kind and having open dialogue about mental health, without judgement. Thankfully, we live in a time where a lot more people are having these conversations and it is taken a lot more seriously these days, but I believe that we still have a very long way to go.

Before we go any further I should add that though I have had some really rough days during these past four months, I have not been suicidal or even depressed for that matter but I have spent a lot of time and energy to keep myself in a balanced place to prevent myself from spiralling. Apart from wanting to draw attention to the negative affects on mental health that this Pandemic has had for many of us I wanted to share some of my thoughts and some of the coping mechanisms that I have utilised to help get me through this period…

  1. Find somebody to talk to.

No man is an island and a problem shared is a problem halved. I can be the worst for taking my own advice and I am prone to bottling things up and carrying my burdens alone, like a good little soldier, but it really is not a helpful or sustainable approach. Thankfully, I have come to realise this over the past few months and I am very fortunate to have my partner Carina and a couple of good friends that I can talk to who will listen without judgement and who accept me as I am; warts and all.

If you are reading this and you feel like you have nobody else that you feel you can talk to then please get in touch and I will be there for you to do the same as my nearest and dearest do for me.

  1. Look after yourself.

I know that this seems glaringly obvious, but it is something that many of us neglect to do and often we prioritise ourselves last and everything and everyone else first. That is completely backwards. We are the centres of our own universe and to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life we need to do it from the inside out. If you look after your physical and mental wellbeing, then you will be in the best possible position to look after those around you and deal with whatever shit the world throws your way.

If you are tired, then rest. If you are hungry eat and if you are feeling a little ‘off’ and unbalanced, then do not make any life changing decisions until you are in a better state of mind. Finally, do things that your body will thank you for. Practice a balanced diet, get some exercise, hydrate and work towards removing any toxicity from your life.

At the beginning of lockdown, I decided that I needed to keep active for a couple of reasons. One was to get me out of the house and get some ‘headspace’ I have a beautiful partner and 4 wonderful kids whom I love dearly, but, we live in a pretty small house and they drive me up the wall at times. Having the excuse of going to do some exercise gets me out and gives me a little respite which we all need from time to time. I have been mixing up my exercise regime by running, skipping, cycling, training martial arts, stretching, doing a little yoga which has all helped keep me out of mischief. You really do not have to do all of that. Just get out for a walk for a while, I promise you it will make the world of difference and you will not regret it.

 

  1. Remain Stoic
    Stoicism is a school of thought that goes back as 300BC and is attributed to the thinking and philosophy of Zeno of Citium in Athens (thanks Wikipedia). I don’t want to bore you with too much of a history lesson so here’s my short and sweet explanation…
    Stoicism is focusing on what you can control and not worrying about the things that you can’t. Essentially, if something is within your control then you can influence, change and affect that thing. However, if a thing is not then there is no point in worrying or ruminating on it, as it is out of your control, and doing so would be pointless and futile.Often, I remind myself of this and have found it to make a big difference to my mind-set. If I am worrying about what has already happened, then I tend to get ‘down’. If I worry about what may happen then I tend to get anxious. I have found the best place for me mentally is to be ‘present’ and immerse myself in the moment.
  2. Improvise, adapt, overcome
    We are living through uncertain and unprecedented times and we have all had little choice but to adopt the unofficial mantra of the US Marine Corps and “Improvise, adapt and overcome” during what has been a turbulent few months. For me, it has been quite the revelation and like the curtain has been pulled back to reveal the Wizard of Oz. I have watched everyone struggle in one way or another and it has become clear to me that everyone from my friends and family to business owners to the world’s governments are just winging it and doing the best that they can in the circumstances. In a funny way, realising that has been quite reassuring.

At the beginning of the year I had a full diary and was looking forward to my busiest and most successful year to date and then chaos struck. As a performer I have had to review how I can adapt and provide for my family while being unable to work in the way that I have become accustomed to. The way I have done it is to plan how I can work remotely. Even though the lockdown measures are now easing it is in the back of my mind that we could have a ‘second wave’ or possibly even another pandemic in future.

Rather than dwell on it or worry I have spent a lot of time thinking on how I can continue to pursue my passions either remotely or socially distanced. The plan I have come up with is to offer online, interactive shows on Zoom as well as offering magic lessons via the same medium.

This Saturday I also begin training towards my Hypnotherapy diploma with my good friends Dan and Jess who both work within the Fitness and Well-being sectors.

Dan is the founder of Up-Grade Therapy and Training and does some very important and life changing work with young people who are ‘at the end of the line’. He is also in the process of opening up a martial-arts and education centre with his wife, Sarah which is going to be an amazing asset to our local community.

Jessica Fleischer is the founder of ‘I am Fighting Fit’ which is an amazing company that specialises in helping women and business owners operate at their full potential. To see how she has adapted and pivoted her own business model over the past few months has been an inspiration and she is a perfect example of leading from the front.

I have been fascinated with the field of Hypnotism for nearly 25 years since first reading ‘The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna’ as a teenager and now finally have the chance to pursue a qualification, which just goes to show where there is struggle there is opportunity.

I am really looking forward to immersing myself in the study and learning the tools and techniques that I will gain to help people change their lives for the better.

The other thing that I have been working on is adapting all my magic so that I am able to perform whilst socially distanced. To say that it has been challenging would be an understatement. I have spent over 30 years honing my craft so that the magic happens under your noses and in your hands so to suddenly have to rework everything that I do so that it is socially distanced but still interactive and entertaining has taken considerable work. I am pleased to say that I am making great progress on both a stand-up show and with my close-up magic too.

  1. Be Grateful

Something that I have started practicing that has really helped me is to write down 3 gratitude’s before I go to sleep of an evening. I know that may sound a bit airy fairy but stick with me on this one.

We are bombarded with messages of how we should live, what we should wear, how we should act and what we should do on a daily basis. I feel that consumerist society puts huge pressure on us to be constantly attaining some ideal to keep up with the Jones’. The truth of it is, in my opinion, none of that is at all important. If you have got a roof over your head, running water, electricity, food in your cupboards and people that you love and love you in return then you are doing just fine.

I have heard this Pandemic referred to as ‘The Great Pause’ and I really like that. It certainly has been for me and has helped me take stock of what is important. I have never been particularly motivated by money my real currency is time and I realised that I had started to get caught up in the rat race and lose sight of my ‘why’. Having this time where the world slowed down has allowed me to assess what is important and I have remembered that it is time and freedom. For that I am grateful.

  1. Be Kind

Kindness is something that the we all need a lot more of right now. I feel that with all the uncertainty and insecurity in the world many of us are operating with a constant low-level anxiety and have gone into ‘survival mode’. Consequently, it is causing a lot of division, hatred and meanness when what we really need during these trying times is unity, love and kindness.

We all have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations and we have more in common than we do that which separates us. What makes humans so great is our capacity to work together and create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. When we all come together, that is where the real magic happens. When we fall apart, well you know…

Try to remember even when people are being angry arseholes that they are struggling. In fact, probably more so. Anger is just the bodyguard of sad so try and keep that in mind and treat others the way that you would like to be treated yourself.

 

Well, there we are! If you have read this far then thank you for listening to over 2,500 words of my waffle. Please do let me know if you enjoyed this (remember, be kind) and if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason at all then please feel free to do so.

 

As Jerry would say…

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

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