Coming clean…

Hello, I’m Wes Packer. I’m a stand-up comedian from Wales, battling depression and crippling anxiety while riding the SSRI rollercoaster.

I ‘came out’ as having a mental illness earlier this year and linked to this blog from my website: www.wespacker.com but forgot to come here to apologies for:

  1. Disappearing for so long, and
  2. Forgetting to ‘come clean’ and introduce myself properly

I made some incredible friends on Twitter and WordPress.com while writing as Black Dog Moan, some of you were literally a lifeline at certain points – the only ones I could reach out to. The anonymity just helped increase the honesty of the posts as I wasn’t ready to ‘out’ myself at the time.

So, sorry for disappearing again. I’m in recovery now, in a much better place than I was back then although I’m still struggling with anxiety and depression, like many people. I’d love to re-establish contact with some of my old Twitter/Wordpress friends and I’d love it if you’d all join me over on wespacker.com if you’d like to hear about what I’ve been up to since you last heard from me (HINT: it’s not been easy), where I’m at at the moment, and where I’m heading; or, pop over if you just fancy a laugh.

I’ll try to make it funny, honest…

Wes (BDM) x

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Latest…

In case you’re wondering why there’s such a big gap, I haven’t been arsed to write anything. I can’t think of anything to write about and, to be honest, I don’t much give a fuck. I’ve realised that spending all this time worrying about blogging and writing and podcasting and radio and shit is just wasting energy on stuff that isn’t comedy. I know that, in theory, they should all feed into each other but I don’t think I’m ready for that, yet. It all seems too big to deal with and you know what they say about breaking big problems into smaller chunks. I’m a comedian, that’s what I do, and so I’m going to concentrate on that and every else can develop as it will. I feel better already just having made that decision.

And so to health issues…

I’m feeling much, much better these days. The “bad” days are less frequent which, obviously, makes the good days (and even the “meh” days) more frequent. Maths works like that. I only saw the Occupational Therapist about four times and we agreed that I was getting stronger and should try to get out of the house more. At the time I was confident but it took more effort than I thought it would. It was effort well-spent, though, as since then I’ve done more gigs in the last three months than I did in the whole of last year, started working in coffee shops and cafes instead of at-home, and am spending more time with my family and friends than I have done in a while.

It’s not so hard. My best friends are aware of my condition – some have even opened up about their own private struggles, which is very positive – and so if things get heavy I can just make my excuses, leave, and know that the people in the room who really matter to me will understand. I’m getting much better at spotting the signs and changing the situation, taking the pressure off, even if it’s just nipping to the bathroom for five minutes to straighten my head. I’m working with a personal trainer to sort out my weight and fitness issues (I’ve been living on coffee and chain-smoking since last August) and am feeling stronger and fitter every day. What they say is correct: excercise and diet can kick the arse out of depression.

And I’m reading again! This is probably the best part of my recovery so far. I’m a very big reader and the inability to concentrate when reading was really starting to get to me. Now, I can throw myself into a good novel, learn about my condition, and research a new career (if comedy doesn’t work out) and that makes me a very happy bunny indeed.

Anyway, I have jokes to write. Sincere, heart-felt thanks to the Twitter crew – you’re support has been invaluable and is very much appreciated.

Theme Update

I thought I’d give this blog a little facelift to reflect my mood of late. I wanted to move away from the dark, gloomy theme I was using toward something lighter, more focused on the words and, well, just more pleasant.

I’ve chosen to go with Book Lite as it’s the closest I can get to Leo Babauta’s new zh2 theme on a WordPress.com hosted site. I think it looks quite simple and is much easier to read so I hope you like it.

So what’s been going on?

I noticed that my last blog post was back in September 2012 so I’d better get something up here to fill you in on what has been happening and what is about to happen. I’ll do that very soon – I promise.

bdm x

Journal

I didn’t sleep at all last night, again. My wife got up for work at seven to find me in the kitchen, on Twitter. At least I was semi-coherent. The cats had been fed! I made her some sandwiches for work and kind of wandered around the kitchen for a while unable to decide what to do next. I made a coffee, went out onto the patio, smoked a cigarette, and came back in because it was cold. My wife went to work, the cats went out to play, and I was alone, in the kitchen, with my thoughts – a place I’m not very comfortable in these days.

I did some tweeting and spoke to some friends on Facebook and then I got itchy feet. I drove down to mum & dad’s at about nine. I love my parents dearly, words aren’t enough, but this morning was hard. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk about it any more. Sometimes I just want some normalcy. We chatted about football and family and then, inevitably, the conversation turned to me. I told them as much as I dared – I don’t want them to worry too much – and assured them that all will be well in another few weeks. I wish I believed that.

I came back home and tried to do some writing but I was too exhausted to think straight. TV grated on my nerves, as did music, and I couldn’t concentrate to read. I made a pot of fresh coffee and chainsmoked for a bit before giving up and going to bed at eleven. My wife came home around one and, a lovely surprise, came to join me in a quick nap. That was nice.

Since I’ve been up I have been in the most foul mood I’ve experienced for a long time. I have anger issues, there’s no doubting that. Road rage is my speciality as I am also a coward. The depression also means that I tend to ruminate, seethe, and exaggerate things out of all proportion. Knowing that doesn’t help, though, and tonight I was a tightly coiled steel spring of anger and bitterness. I have a couple of things that I need to deal with at the moment but nothing that warrants that level of rage. It’s the kind of anger that leads me to seek out isolation as I fear any kind of outburst will escalate to ridiculous levels. I’m not a violent man – like I said, I’m a coward at heart – but I have a very sharp tounge and I can, when the mood takes me, wield it like a sword. When I get like this I’m scared that I’ll say something that I can’t un-say, that I’ll really hurt those closest to me. I know that depression is a “selfish” illness but I have to be constantly on my guard against snapping, shouting, screaming, offending, and it’s fucking exhausting. Since about five o’clock I’ve been shaking almost constantly, my chest tight and my stomach clenched, adrenaline rushing and mind racing, and it has sucked the energy out of me.

But guess what? I can’t sleep.

I am actually wide awake right now, again in the kitchen, again on the laptop, again drinking coffee and chainsmoking. I know they don’t help but at the moment they are the only succour I can find.

I’ve tried to “chill out” and watch some of my favourite old movies but I’m too jumpy and aggitated to sit still for that length of time. I’ve tried reading but I don’t have the concentration. The only thing I can manage to do is write. For some reason I’ve probably written more in the last few days than I have in the last few months. Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a writer, in love with literature that I still don’t understand, with shelves heaving with books. After so long in a career that was clearly wrong for me and, in my last job, a run-in with a workplace bully that I simply didn’t have the energy to fight, I’m finally “living the dream”. All I do all day is smoke and write and you know what? That’s fine by me.

All I need to do now is pay my mortgage.

These hours, between eleven and seven a.m. That’s when I’m at my best these days. In the cool quiet of my kitchen I can be anyone I want with these words. I can be strong, I can be compassionate, I can be humble. With this laptop I can explain the feelings and articulate the thoughts that plague me. I can reach out across the oceans and make contact with someone I’ve never met who is suffering and, through the power of words at the speed of the internet I can help, maybe, in some small way. I can do all this from the safety and security of my own home, but…

With great power comes great responsibility.

I want to help you but I honestly don’t know how, yet. I’m learning, slowly and mostly about myself, and one day I will have answers for you if that’s what you’re here for. For now, though, all I can do is share with you what it’s like to be me.

I’ve spoken to some good people on Twitter who tell me that it’s valuable just to know what other people are going through, that it’s not just you, that someone understands, empathises, even if they have no concrete answers to this most complex and individual condition. So I’m going to keep blogging and, starting with this post, I’ll be writing a daily journal to let you know what’s happening in my life and in my head. If you want to comment or get in touch on Twitter then that’s cool with me. I don’t understand what’s happening to us and I can’t experience your pain but if we stick together, for just a little while longer, I’m sure that we can work it out between us.

I hope that’s ok. It’s all I have to offer you right now.

 

Shouldering…

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” – Samuel Johnson

I came across this quote on Twitter recently after having spent the whole night pacing and twitching and trying to come down off my meds – meds to help me sleep, I should add. I’ve had similar thoughts to Dr. Johnson, albeit not nearly as eloquent, very often while working in comedy. It is very difficult to find the someone he describes within the comedy industry; the industry is chock-full of people who indulge in what I call “shouldering”.

I should explain…

Imagine you’re at a festival – one of the biggest and most prestigious festivals in the world – for the second time. Last year you did well, for where you are in your career, and you’re excited, nervous, and a bit high from swanning around the hotel bar like your somebody. You’ve been rubbing shoulders with the chosen ones, even bumping into one of your heroes on your way back to your room, and it feels great. No-one’s talking to you, obviously. No-one knows who you are, save for the few people who work at your venue and the guy who’s job it is to make sure you’re on stage when you should be. No-one is struggling valiantly through the throng of hob-nobbers in order to shake your hand, tell you they love your act, and offer you a sitcom pilot on HBO. Everyone is oblivious to you and, at first, that’s cool. Your the outsider anyway, right? The maverick? You don’t need to toadie to execs and air-kiss with fellow comics. Fuck that. Not your style at all.

And then it happens: someone spots you.

Turns out, he’d seen you at a different festival the year before and really liked your act. He introduces you to his companion, a famous comedian whose work you’re not really familiar with, who exchanges the briefest of pleasantries before running off to talk to someone more important.

“What a cock,” you think to yourself. “Oh well. Fuck him. Plenty more schmoozing where THAT came from.” You turn back to your new companion to continue the conversation.

Then you notice something strange. The person you’re talking to is starting to get fidgety, like he needs the bathroom. The conversation becomes strained, forced, but neither of you have actually said anything worth saying yet. Then it happens. The shoulder.

The first time it happened you had dressed in black, as befits a dangerous, edgy comic like you and although this will sound silly, at first you actually thought that he was looking at dandruff. “Fair enough,” says you. “Spot of dandruff. Nae bother.”

But then you see that his gaze is not directed toward your shoulder at all. From what you can work out without the aid of a protractor, he’s looking higher than your shoulder. Oh fuck! Your ears! Are they red? Have you had one too many Vodka & Cokes? What the fuck? Is something hanging out of your ear like some ear-bogey? What in hell will he think?

As nonchalantly as possible, you reach to your ear and just give the lobe a light rub between thumb and forefinger, all the while desperate to get back to the conversation you were having, the question you were about to ask. Nothing. You ear is fine. You know your hair is ok because you can see yourself reflected in the mirror behi…

And then you see it, like you should have seen it all along. Gazing into the mirror you can see why this two-bit yuppie in a cheap suit is staring over your shoulder like some catatonic estate agent. You glance over your shoulder just to make sure you’re not going crazy and there, in the flesh, stands Eddie Izzard laughing and joking with some people in very expensive suits. You look back at your companion. He catches your gaze. He knows, you know, the whole fucking WORLD knows that he would rather be talking at Izzard than at you.

Briefly, awkwardly, he makes his excuses. You shake hands, all very polite, and he dashes off for pastures greener and there you are: the boy without a prom date. Nursing a battered ego and a vodka & coke. Alone.

So what do you do? Do you realise that this is the way of the world, learn the art of “shouldering”, and dive right in? Do you resolve to learn the tricks, the gimmicks, and the market and self-promotion that will allow you a seat at the top table?

No. You’re an edgy, dangerous comic, remember? A maverick who plays by no man’s rules? “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees” and all that?

You drink way too many vodkas while staring at the throng, hating each one of them more with every leap of the second hand. You decide you’ve had enough. You can’t be in this nest of vipers for a moment longer. You go to your room, drunk, complaining, shouting, throwing things. You’re wife is terrified. She shouts at you. You crumble, broken, into her arms and cry like you haven’t since you were a child.

Lesson one, grasshopper: there is no Santa Clause, there is no Tooth Fairy, we’re not all in this together, and the comedy industry is full of cunts.

Welcome to The Game.

Lost in my kitchen…

It looks as though it’s going to be a writing night again. I’m in my kitchen and I’m lost. It’s Sunday night, the world is preparing for sleep, for work tomorrow, and I’m sitting here wondering why I can’t cry.

I feel numb today. The usual emotions are there; anger, pain, anxiety, fear; but they all seem subdued today, muted, and not in a good way. As if watching a loved one slip away, I watch the last of me fade to nothing. I make a coffee, light a cigarette, and wonder where I’ve gone. I watch the smoke hang in the air and wonder if I too am made of that stuff. Atoms, neutrinos, quarks, whatever. Am I simply just an indivisible part of the universe? I can’t take anything “out” of the universe, put it to one side, clean up and then put it back again. That’s impossible, as a far as I know. So am I just a part of the universe? An integral part of what is? Is the only difference between the sea and the air one of gradient? If I am so caught in this universe, this perception, then am I the universe itself? Just as a plank is a plank until it becomes part of the door?

I want to be the man I used to be but I can’t remember who he was. He’s gone, maybe for good. He never writes, he never calls. Sometimes I see him in town, while shopping, I catch a glimpse of him in a thought, an opinion, a shop window. As quickly as he’s seen, he’s gone. Do I try to find him again or will I simply slip back into the old ways of thinking? Do I try to build a new “me”? Where would I start? My mind fills with thoughts of heros, of mentors, of role models, NLP, modelling, talking therapy, therapists, counsellors, depression, fear, anxiety. I’m back.

I’m me again: sat in my kitchen, cigarette smouldering, coffee going cold, fingers hovering above the keys, cursor blinking. The fridge shudders, the heating moans, the cat stirs but quickly returns to sleep. The bed creakes as my wife settles into sleep. The clock ticks. My heart beats.

Now I’m inside. I’m inside myself, trying to feel what it is to be me, to be this. My stomach hurts, knotted for too long with anxiety and fear. My chest hurts from too many cigarettes, acid reflux from too much coffee. My letters lie as unopened as the emails offering me work. I don’t want to work, it’s too superficial. I want to create art, not entertainment, but I don’t think I have what it takes. I don’t think I have the intelligence to create a work of art. I’ve spent most of my life bluffing, pretending that I have what it takes. I spent a decade in industry pretending to be good at what I do, talking a good game, fakin’ it until I make it. I got found out.

This illness that, I am beginning to suspect, I’ve lived with and worked around for most of my life hit me hard. I struggled on for a few years but had to finally admit that I’m ill. I was open and honest with my employer. Within a few months I’d been sacked.

I adjust my cushion – my back is aching – and light another cigarette. My mind jumps from one topic to another: from work to sex, from depression to meditation, from death to strength. I read some words back and they don’t make sense. They don’t have to. Not anymore. Now I just need to write whatever comes to mind or I know I’ll go mad. I’m so angry. I’m so scared. I’m so everything that I’ve always pretended I’m not. Maybe I’m just tired of pretending. Maybe my will to present myself to the world as a normal, capable human being has gone. Maybe I’m just simply too tired to fuck around any more.

Something good will come of this. I know it. Right now, though, I can’t even begin to imagine what that is. Every time I try to look forward, the past barges in. Maybe that’s how it is. Maybe I can only look forward by referencing what has already been? I can’t remember ever having an original thought, a unique piece of wisdom that is mine alone. Everything I’ve done has been a re-heating of what’s gone before me.

I inhale more poison and wonder about originality. Are we capable of it? Truly capable? Or is everything that is said, though, and written merely echoes of our past. Is that Karma? I don’t know.

I have so many things to tell you, so many things to write, I can’t put all the thoughts in order. Maybe I should go and read something? I’m slowly becoming more able to concentrate on reading now. That’s a positive thing. When I was a child my mother and I would lie on my bed for hours every night and she would read to me. She always (well, usually) read me funny things like Mr. Twiddle. She read me The Borrowers, The Magic Faraway Tree, and we laughed and got lost in the stories. No wonder I’m like I am. I love to read and I love to laugh and I have my mother to thank for that. Lately, I’ve not been able to read or laugh. I have depression to thank for that.

This thing won’t beat me.

I’ve had to cancel a number of gigs – something that I hate to do – because I was terrified of leaving the house. Over the last week I’ve made a number of trips to the shop and to visit family. I don’t feel strong enough to do the gigs but if I don’t get out of this fucking house and back to something constructive then I’ll lose my mind. I know I will. I’m a comic. That’s what I do and right now I’m not doing it. This is going to change. It may take all of my strength, courage, and will power to step back onto a stage but I will do it. I have to.

Apologies for such a rambling, confused post but I needed to talk to someone and you seem nice.

bdm x

You…

“You did this to me.”

“You.”

“You never let up did you? Every time I tried something new, something to improve our lives, something I thought I could be proud of, you told me I’d fail. You never supported me in anything. You said you supported me, sure, but you didn’t. You were all talk. I tried everything I could to make myself happy, for you, and you managed to wreck my confidence and my plans for the future every fucking time.”

“I hate you.”

“I wish I could wrap a wrope around you kneck and hang you high, slowly, so you suffered and I could watch you die. I wish I could find the finest of blades and slit your skin open for all to see the hatred inside you – the hatred you must feel for me to have done this.”

“You did this to me, you fucking cunt.”

“Every joke was sneered at, ever good idea discouraged, ever attempt at inidividuallity, of independent thought, was smothered under your stifling control. Sometimes, when I sensed your presence, I’d go cold. I would freeze up, unable to think, unable to act, for fear of your seering scorn.”

“You did this to me. I let you do this to me. I even thought I loved you, that you were somehow an essential part of me that worked to allow me to do the things I do. I thought you were my muse, my mentor, and my biggest fan. I trusted you. I trusted you and you crushed me – mentally, spritually, physically – without a single shred of regret or humantiy.”

“I hate you. I wish you were fucking dead.”

Jonathan raised his fist, staring coldly, blankly at the person standing before him. His expression froze as he brought his fist forward, hard, toward that face that he had previously so loved and cared for. His aim was good and the knuckles of his balled fist made contact right at the point of the jaw where unconsciousness was assured.

The mirror smashed into a thousand glistening pieces and rained down before him. He stood, for a moment, with his head bowed – motionless, expressionless – contemplating the shards of ice at his feet. Slowly, he turned and walked to the kitchen. Dazed and silent, he took a “Welcome to Cyprus” tea towel from the kitchen drawer and wrapped it around the gaping wound, highlighted against his own pale skin. He sat in a chair at the dining table and rested his feet on another. As he reached for his cigarettes, he wondered in silence how long it would be before he finally killed himself.

He lit a cigarette and breathed deeply, leaning back in his chair, enjoying the pain as the poison eased its way into him.

Briefly, for a moment, he was happy.

 

Advice for Young Comics and New Acts…

Dear Young Comics and New Acts,

Please stop writing advice pieces to other comics.

If you think that someone needs advice on their individual technique then please just quietly point them to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about like John Gordillo, Gary Delaney, Andre Vincent, John Fleming, Nick Revell, Bennet Aaron etc.

If you just want to generalise and make other people feel bad for not being as amazing as you (a comic I’ve never heard of in almost ten years on the circuit) then, please, just step away from the iPad.

Go and fix your hair or something. It could use some work.

bdm x

[EDIT]

It’s been pointed out to me that John Fleming is not a stand-up comedian. I’ve simply added him to this list as I find his blog (http://thejohnfleming.wordpress.com) very interesting – he tends to document the more worthwhile areas of stand-up comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe. Worth a read.

A Design for Life…

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Spiderman

“He who dares, wins. That is my motto.” – Derek Trotter

I’ve always wanted a motto, a code that I could live by, something against which I could judge ever action, every decision, to ensure that I was doing The Right Thing.

I’ve read countless self-help manuals that advocated positive thinking, positive self-talk, affirmations, mantras, commandments, and precepts but have yet to find anything that really feels like me, that just…fits.

The closest (and funniest) one I came across is: never do anything that you wouldn’t do in front of your mother.

I like that but it does kind of proscribe a bunch of perfectly healthy actions that I still wouldn’t do in front of my mother – I wouldn’t make love to my wife in front of my mother, for example – and so doesn’t really work as a design for life.

I’ve been thinking about this, on and off, for years. It came to me this morning, in the shower.

My grandfather died when I was a small child. I don’t remember much about him except that he was a tall, handsome man and I loved him dearly. When I look back, all I can remember of being around him is feelings of love and of safety. I wasn’t told about his death and I wasn’t taken to the funeral. One day he was there and the next day he wasn’t and everyone was sad. I didn’t really understand what was going on – just that I missed my granddad terribly. I used to cry a lot about how much I missed him – especially at New Year, for some reason. It must have broken my mother’s heart.

I went through a series of psychotherapy sessions last year and one of the things I learned is that I am still holding on to a lot of pain from this period of my life. I still, 30-some years on, miss my grandfather a great deal. My mum has always told me what a great man he was: strong, kind, brave, gentle, generous, like all my heroes rolled into one, an almost mythical figure in my life. I think about him every day, I have a number of greying pictures of him around the house, and my mum often tells me how proud he would have been of my musical talents, being a musician himself. I’ve always held onto this. Back in my musician days, every time I walked onto the stage I would momentarily glance up and think, “watch this, gramps”, and then go and play my heart out for him. Every show I played, ever song, was to make my grandfather proud of me.

Yesterday, I was in the shower and thinking about my grandfather. It came to me as easily as breathing:

I will make my grandfather as proud of me as a comic, and as a man, as he would have been of me as a musician.

So there you go. I have a goal in life, a mission, a yardstick by which I can measure ever action, ever decision, every word and every deed. This, along with the often-cathartic writing of this blog and the wonderful, supportive people I’ve met while doing so, could be the start of my road to recovery. It certainly feels that way to me now.

I’d like to thank everyone who has commented, re-tweeted, and reached out over the past couple of days. It means so much to me, words aren’t enough.

Gramps, I won’t let you down.

bdm x

Nothing…

Have you ever felt nothing? I mean nothing at all?

Complete nothing. Not a thought, not an emotion.

Nothing.

A nothing so complete, so empty, that it seems devoid even of nothingness itself. Not cold, not dark, not numb just…nothing?

I can’t tell you what it’s like to feel nothing just as I can’t describe to you the taste of coffee. You have to experience it yourself.

When someone laughs, or makes a joke, you feel nothing.
When someone smiles at you, you feel nothing.
When a scared and frustrated spouse screams at you, you feel nothing.
When an audience applauds, or shouts you off the stage, you feel nothing.
When you hear a child cry, you feel nothing.

Nothing.

A nothing so devastatingly complete that you have no option but to yield to it.

Nothing.