About an hour before the Stand Up for Mental Health show was to start, I found myself crouched in a bathroom stall, crying uncontrollably. We’re talking full-scale sobbing as I sat on the toilet. My eyes were puking tears.
Granted, rehearsal hadn’t been great, but I have tackled bigger challenges in my short and stuttering stand up comedy career. I have gotten lost on the way to a show, sprained my ankle the afternoon before a performance, forgotten jokes, lost jokes, performed in a gym and a cafeteria (both are horrible), had people in the front row talk as loudly as I was while performing (and I had the microphone), bombed miserably, had a sound system go out, had nervous pooping all day…
These are all I can remember just off the top of my head, and they are not uncommon. They are the cost of doing business.
So why all the crying?
Having PTSD While Joking About PTSD
I messaged Husband as I perched on the toilet in my formal pair of yoga pants.
Me: I am currently in a bathroom stall, crying.
Husband: Not puking? Not pooping?
Me: No. (Hmmm, uncontrollable puking and pooping would be worse than crying, I thought)
Husband: Nice. That’s means you are ready.
Me: I hate you. Really?
Husband: I’m proud of what you are doing. It is important work. It’s no wonder that you are emotionally invested in it. This means it is important to you and that you are doing the right thing.
I had been writing this particular set of jokes for weeks and weeks with my classmates, revising and refining and performing them until we had all but memorized each other’s material. As I delivered them onstage during rehearsal, a part of my brain squeaked to a stop and a tiny voice said, “Hey, um, what the F**K are you doing? Are you crazy? This is way way way way way personal.”
I felt dizzy and panicked and numb and attacked at the same time. I walked off stage and headed straight for the bathroom. Tears leaked from my eyes. The PTSD event had begun.
And I had no control.
The Show Must Go On, You Know
By an act of Providence, I had a counseling appointment scheduled for the Monday after the performance – with Hannah, from Caskets From Costco fame, of course.
The tears started to stream down my cheeks as I stepped through the doorway of her office.
“Tell me,” she said.
So I did – about the rehearsal, and how I had cried uncontrollably in the bathroom stall for 30 minutes.
“Then I came out and looked in the mirror, and I kind of looked like a demon with pink eye because the whites of my eyes were so pink and my irises are really blue, and it freaked me out and the rest of my face was swollen and my pretty makeup had come off, and that got me crying again,” I said.
“Awwww,” Hannah said.
“So I stood against the wall and didn’t look at the mirrors, and I just wanted to sit on the floor, but I couldn’t because it was a public bathroom and EWWWWW, no. When I had calmed down again, I kind of girded my loins, took a deep breath, and went out to face everyone.”
“Wow, so you ended up performing?”
I nodded, folding and refolding a kleenex over and over again between my fingers, taking it apart and putting the layers back together while I sat on the couch across from her, under my favorite blanket.
“That is INCREDIBLE,” she said. “So you’re having this PTSD attack and you STILL went on stage? How did it go?”
“I killed it,” I said. “Seriously, I made that set my b*tch.”
She laughed. “You had a Corrective Emotional Experience.”
The Corrective Emotional Experience
“Is a Corrective Emotional Experience a thing?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “It’s like shoving 300 counseling sessions into one and coming out victorious. Your boundaries were violated by your parents, but now you have power and control. You are constantly pushing your boundaries to regain that power and control, and doing it for the good of yourself and others. It’s part of your healing,” Hannah said. “It’s also a huge middle finger to your parents and to PTSD. You know that phrase, ‘Go Big or Go Home?”
“Yeah,” I said, as I balled up the kleenex and threw it in the garbage can.
“You definitely go big.”
I laughed. “No half-assing it for me!” I said.
Know Your Why
“Why do you do this?” Hannah asked. “Why do you take these risks? Why do you put yourself out there like this?”
I had actually been thinking about this a lot over the last few days. Yes, I enjoy performing improv and stand up comedy, regardless of how terrifying it can be. Yes, I want to improve my stage presence and become more comfortable as an entertainer and a speaker. And yes, I do enjoy the challenge of it all.
But the Why has to be bigger than I am, or something like this PTSD event right before a performance would neatly end my comedy career. And I have a pretty specific set of skills when it comes to writing and comedy – I can’t keep it from leaking out (kind of like the uncontrollable sobbing, just without the cry face).
“A few things,” I said. “I want to educate people about mental illness. I want people like me to have hope. I want people with mental illness to not give up and to try different things – including comedy – to find some healing. I want us to stick together, because we are stronger together than we are alone.”
She nodded. “I want to make sure you have that why out in front of you. It’s part of your healing.”
“Yes,” I said. “And let’s not forget the irony of the situation.”
The irony is not lost on me: I had an attack of my mental illness as I was performing comedy about mental illness with a group of people who experience and fight mental illness every day.
Yes. THAT is my life.
Please enjoy this Stand Up for Mental Health set, and now you know that during the whole thing, I was experiencing a nervous breakdown and STILL came out on top.
A Funny and Poignant Grief Book
For twenty years, I thought that I had been marching through the stages of grief in a straight line. I had been following the formula, crossing each processed grief experience off my list.
Except that I was totally deluded. And I didn’t discover that until Jim, my beloved father-in-law, died. I found myself drying off from my shower the morning after his death, really hoping he couldn’t see me naked. Or, if he could, that he was averting his eyes.
From that moment, my path through grief resembled a roller coaster, spiraling and twisting and turning, circling back around. Echoes of past trauma, including childhood abuse and cheating death, would no longer be ignored. I somehow needed to get from the beginning to the end of this grief adventure, and I don’t have a good sense of direction.
But what is always present during a journey through grief, regardless of the path chosen?
Caskets From Costco is a funny grief book that demonstrates the certainty of hope and healing in an uncertain and painful world.