A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.
In the second show, I talked to comedians Juliette Burton, Laura Levites and Jorick Mol.
All of us had experience of being in mental homes.
This is a short extract from the chat:
JOHN: Laura, you were telling me last night that you had been really happy at the Fringe this year. Surely that’s bad creatively? Performers need to be troubled to be creative.
LAURA: No! I’ve spent my entire life being troubled. Why would I continue wanting to be troubled?
JOHN: You won’t have a show next year if you’re not troubled.
LAURA: That’s not true! That’s not true at all. I’ll find trouble anyway but if I’m not troubled, it doesn’t mean I have to have a life without experiences. You don’t have to be miserable to be creative.
JORICK: I’d like to pick up that idea that performers and mental illness are, in some form, related. I think that’s complete nonsense. It’s only when people actually do have mental health problems and are performers that that conversation will very quickly start. Although performers and writers and creative people are maybe more willing to play with the spaces in their mind and go places people wouldn’t normally go. They won’t go for the easy answers.
JOHN: Isn’t there a point that creative people, in order to create something new and different, are thinking laterally and, in order to think differently from other people, you have to be different?
JULIETTE: The experiences I’ve had – the psychoses and stuff – forced my brain outside a certain box and I feel like it’s a gift in a way, although it fucked up my education. But I have had experiences that were outside the normal way of thinking. And to try and make any sense of that… I kind of think that the world’s crazy anyway, but… to not laugh at it all… The fact that I heard voices and I saw weird things that weren’t there…
LAURA: Oh my god! I’m so jealous!
LAURA: You did?
JULIETTE: Yeah, totally. I saw God and the Devil and…
LAURA: You saw God?
JULIETTE: I time-travelled.
LAURA: You time-travelled? I don’t have that. I’m so upset. What’s your diagnosis?
JULIETTE: It was a while ago. It was 11 years ago I had a psychosis as a result of anorexia. I don’t have that now.
LAURA: You stopped eating?
JULIETTE: No, I… I have been told not to take any drugs because it might happen again. If you have those weird experiences and try to make sense of those experiences… For me it just means that anyone who’s doing a normal job in a normal office, it’s like…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a psychiatric social worker. My work is to sit talking to people like you with two medical doctors and to argue your case. And it’s really hard.
JOHN: Why is it hard?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: They say That person is completely off-the-wall. They have to be hospitalised. The last sectioning I had to take part in – luckily I didn’t sign the paper – the patient was saying I feel this love for this person and the psychiatrists wanted to section them because they were having this wonderful overwhelming feeling of love. They couldn’t understand…
What you are talking about is really interesting, because you’re talking about being in a certain world and having certain ‘mystical’ experiences that a lot of mystics and spiritual people have had. But, because ‘spiritual stuff’ is so alien to the medical model…
I’m interested in the spiritual emergency that comes from these experiences, that pushes people through into something else – the medical model isn’t looking at that. They’re saying This person needs medication in order to be ‘managed’ either by a family unit or by society in general, because they’re ‘dangerous’.
JULIETTE: With me, I was sectioned for anorexia and then I had this experience – seeing all this stuff – and then they got me on all the pills and got me away from seeing all these things and hearing all these things and then they carried on treating the anorexia. But they didn’t treat what I saw and all the theological implications of that.