One of the very satisfying things about publishing my first book has been seeing the responses from readers on social media, often accompanied by a photo of the book. Especially satisfying was seeing it land in Austin, Texas, both due to the distance travelled and the fact that I have a family connection there.
One such post on Facebook provoked a response from a friend of the reader in question that made me smile. A simple response to the book’s title:
‘Not a comedy then?’
My friend responded that it does have its comedic moments, and praised it for being uplifting. This made me happy, I would like to think that the book contains plenty of humour, and it was certainly my wish that the overall impression that the reader is left with is one of hope and positivity.
Where there isn’t any humour is in the parts that detail my struggles with mental health. I wanted to paint as clear and stark a picture of my experiences of depression as I could, to illustrate just how terribly bleak, how horrific an ordeal that it really is, and to help people to understand the true nature of this crippling illness. Depression kills. And it doesn’t kill people because they are ‘miserable’, it kills people because they are very, very ill. For me, there was no hope in that place, and there was certainly no humour.
But, like the comic-genius creation that is Alan Partridge, I’m ‘Bouncing Back’. He too was ‘clinically fed-up’ but, unlike Alan, my despair never led me to driving to Dundee in my bare feet. (And, thankfully, I have yet to acquire a ‘mentalist’ fan).I believe that humour is an important tool in helping us to address serious issues, and indeed one of the few people I would readily identify as a hero to me, the late comedian Bill Hicks, was a true genius in his ability to do this. I want my book to make readers smile and laugh, as well as to think and, if it helps them, to cry in recognition of the dark places that many of us go to in our lives.
I will often jokingly refer to myself as ‘mental’. This can be frowned upon by some within the mental health community, but, for me, it helps to break down barriers and engage with people that may otherwise feel slightly uncomfortable with the fact that I have openly struggled with my mental health. I feel able to do this without belittling the seriousness of mental illness because I don’t shy away from expressing the reality of what being ‘mental’ is actually like.
Using humour to deal with difficulties is a very British trait and is an extremely useful coping mechanism to have when life gets on top of us. But we mustn’t ever feel afraid to be able to admit when our lives aren’t a barrel of laughs. This is so important. The British can tend to be very conscious of upsetting people, of making them feel uncomfortable or putting them on a ‘downer’, preferring instead to maintain that stereotypical ‘stiff upper lip’.
But we all know that life isn’t a comedy and, during those times when smiles and laughter are hard to come by, it’s important we feel that we are allowed to admit that everything isn’t hunky dory, and that we are able to seek the comforting shoulder of a friend. When somebody asks us how we are, we don’t always have to defer to our auto-pilot’s ‘I’m fine.’
In a world where reality is often projected through heavy filters, honouring this truth is more important than ever. And when the worst has passed, well, we can look back from a position of strength and share a drink and a laugh about it.
This post was written as a guest post as part of the Neverland Blog Tour for my book, Something Changed. It is featured on Wrong Side of Forty, here: https://wrongsideoffortyuk.wordpress.com/2018/02/25/something-changed-by-matthew-williams/amp/?__twitter_impression=true
Jet – Wings (the band The Beatles could have been)