It was one of those days where, in the middle of the afternoon, I was still in my dressing gown. Usually I get up early, go to the gym, and come back after a couple of hours of sweating and punching, feeling that, well, if I don't achieve anything else today, I did that. It's been a fairly reliable little mental health shot in the arm over the last few years. Regardless of the size of the black dog that might have arrived overnight, some exercise at an early hour of the day has a decent shot at shrinking it.
But this was one of those stuck in first gear days. Momentum eluded me, my mind only had energy for dark distractions, and I navigated my house in dull shuffles, with my handbrake on.
I've developed a close enough relationship with my mental health to be able to recognise the various triggers and whatnot, so there was no puzzle about why I was subdued, but knowing why something hurts doesn't often make it hurt much less, so here I was. I had some toast and did some grumpy, half-hearted yoga, and spent most of the rest of the day just..sitting..trying not to slide any deeper into the stupid emotional quicksand.
I knew that I'd have to get my shit together at some point though, because I was working that night. You might assume that the idea of doing a show when I'm feeling depressed would be a deeply unpleasant prospect, but the truth is that I know, deep in my heart, that as long as I can get to the gig, I'll be OK. I've never cancelled a gig because of depression, and I doubt I ever will. Shows are good medicine. I took it slowly, one thing at a time, until I was putting on my suit, that armour making my skin feel a bit thicker, as it always does. making me feel a bit more like Mat Ricardo. Headphones in, during the journey to the venue, all the better to insulate me from the jerky anxious cacophony of the outside world. Then, dragging my flight case through London as the sky darkens and the last day of the work week becomes Friday night, and a growing sense of gentle comfort. I've done this before. I can do it again. I know what I'm doing.
Before long I'm in one of my favourite places on earth - a dressing room full of people I love. And there are hugs and jokes and teasing and catching-up and people who understand each other, and understand me. And I stretch and prep and get given an introduction that makes the audience think I'm a star, and makes me feel like one, and for the time that I've got that spotlight half-blinding me, the black dog is chased away. It doesn't like the sounds of laughter and applause, because, I guess, it doesn't quite understand them. But with that darkness gone, I can relax in the protective magical bubble of being on stage, where I'm the capable and witty person I wish I could always be. For that time, there's no voices in my head trying to scare me with reminders of mistakes made in the past, or threats of what awful things might happen in the future - when I'm on stage, I'm only in the moment. And what a fun, warm, shiny moment it can be. To have that privilege for a handful of minutes is more than most get, and I will never not be grateful for it.
They're a lovely audience, and later, I'm striding back to the station, suitcase bouncing down curbs behind me, the sounds of late-night revelry still ringing in my ears, heart swelled by time spent with friends and strangers, the stage sweat evaporating from under my suit in the chill of the nearly midnight air.
And the black dog isn't gone, and will be back, but momentarily, he got taught a lesson, so maybe he'll be a bit more skittish next time.
(Oh, and if you think that looks like a cool show, you’d be right…