Awesomeness 1, Anxiety 0
Writer and performance poet Byron Vincent is taking his honest and moving one-man show Talk About Something You Like to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer. In a lively piece, Byron uses his unique brand of humour to paint a vivid portrait of his experience with mental illness…
I’m freaking out. I’m sat on the plane to Edinburgh in my flip-flops and I can smell a panic attack lurking. What kind of doofus wears flip-flops to Scotland? It doesn’t help that I’m sat next to some 90-percent-bicep boyband type - he looks confident and chatty. I hope he’s not chatty.
I’m sure I’m doing this all wrong. Taking a show to the fringe is expensive. It’s costing me about ten grand. I know, right? Ten bloody grand and I still couldn’t afford a producer so I’m winging it, doing all the admin, marketing, production etc myself. I keep trying to convince myself that this is all very DIY and punk of me but those thoughts are quickly overridden by the anxiety that everything is going to fail.
That’s one of the things about growing up with a mental health diagnosis, it can result in a weird kind of arrested development. We can be cosseted by services. Not in an affectionate or loving way. It’s more of a disempowering “you’re too crazy to run your own life” sort of vibe. I suspect that’s one of the reasons I’ve never really felt like a proper grown up. One of the symptoms of my illness is an inability to focus for any prolonged period. It frequently results in me not reading emails or organising my finances or doing anything vaguely serious or adult. So here I am, a sockless loon, on my way to Edinburgh. Convinced that I’ve messed up some important bit of admin. That I’ll be turned away at stage door for forgetting to fill in a form or ignoring a vital missive.
My show is a bunch of stories about my experiences in the mental health system. I dare to dream to hope to believe that it might be funny and moving, but it’s hardly an easy sell.
But that’s far from the only thing churning my worry butter. Thanks to years of medication I have no retention recall facility. I need to learn seven thousand words. I mean, is that even possible? I’ve been trying really hard, it’s really boring. I’ve got my fingers, toes and eyes crossed that it will all stick to my Teflon brain in time. My first performance is less than 48 hours away. Ugh, I think my stomach just joined the Cirque du Soleil. WHY AM I PUTTING MYSELF THROUGH THIS?
I’ve been up to the Edinburgh Fringe before, but never to do a run. I’ve seen what it does to people. I’ve seen strong, mentally robust performers crushed under the pressure of it. Tugging at their forelock whilst furiously Googling themselves, gout ridden from 3am Buckfast and battered haggis binges. That’s why I’ve sworn off the sauce for the month; the problem is that alcohol is a very real (albeit temporary and potentially harmful) fix for my social anxiety. How will I schmooze without the odd swig to lubricate the conversation? You’re supposed to schmooze at the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s a thing people do. That’s sort of what performing at the festival is all about. I however am predictably terrible at it. If I had a producer they could schmooze for me …I’m going to stop repeating the word schmooze now.
Then of course, there are the critics, which thanks to the internet is just about everyone. My show is a bunch of stories about my experiences in the mental health system. I dare to dream to hope to believe that it might be funny and moving, but it’s hardly an easy sell. What if they think it’s rubbish? …What if it is rubbish? I’m freaking out. I’m sure everything will be fine …right? You’re going to come and see it, right? We hit some turbulence and bicep boy makes an anxiety noise and grips the armrests.
“It’ll be fine in a minute,” I proffer in my calmest voice. He throws me a panicked smile. He’s obviously a very nervous flyer …I ask him why he’s travelling and he tells me he’s going to his best mate’s birthday party. Every time the plane shudders he stiffens and turns a shade lighter. Apparently he hasn’t seen his mate since he left for uni, if he’d have caught the train up, he wouldn’t have made it in time.
“You’re putting yourself through this for a party?”
“Too right, what was I going to do - stay at home? It’s going to be awesome.”
And that’s the thing isn’t it; I can crow about the multitude of ways the festival will stoke my anxiety or fret about returning home bankrupt and exhausted, but ultimately neither of us would be on this plane if we didn’t think that ultimately, we were heading towards something awesome.
Talk About Something You Like is on at Edinburgh’s Pleasance Courtyard until 24 August.