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The Song Of Purple Summer


Illustrated by Richard Todd.

I’ve been thinking about regret and preventability a lot, mainly while wishing I’d bought a Nintendo Switch before all this popped off.

As a certified Mental Person™ I’ve mainly spent my time in lockdown worrying. I’ve made trite jokes about how, as a shut in, I should be thriving, but I have not coped well with only my own company. Noise and stimulants and audiences are my friends whenever I am in the throes of “””an episode”””, and being cooped up overthinking career or current affairs or cowering at shadows of my own devising is proving difficult. I stopped taking SSRIs last year but leftover citalopram and sertraline are, to be a Pirate Of The Caribbean for a second, starting to look real friendly. I suppose I won’t need a libido for a few months anyway.

As a freelancer whose bread and butter was live performing, I’ve been worried for my liquidity and my future. I’ve been stuck in my childhood room, watching a lifetime’s worth of possessions accrue dust, wondering how one can spend years building up something seemingly consequential only for it to turn out not to matter at all within the space of hours. In my immediate financial worry, my fear for the safety of my family and friends, not least my blooming neuroses, I find myself in Reference Back, wishing I’d built my church upon the rock. I chide myself for buying into the once seemingly self-evident truth of my career now that it’s swiftly evaporated, in the way that waking undermines the believability of dreams.

I had a panic attack during a game of Scrabble. My heart and lungs danced about to tell me there was something I wasn’t doing but should be, like an exam I hadn’t revised for; that I was shirking work and sure to fall behind. I took ten minutes to recalibrate my senses and then went to my room to work, but there was nothing to be done. I suffer from the phantom pain of obligation. In the absence of stimuli and consequence, intrusive thoughts, attacks, ideation all suspend and persist in the solution of the mind, refusing to sediment or dissolve. In the face of such upheaval of usual life, they justify themselves by their existence and offer no reason, method or process by which they may be overcome.

I am worried about democratic backsliding and governments expanding executive powers. I am worried that empathetic radical sentiment will evanesce under everyone’s desire to return to normality. I was hopeful for compassion and a reevaluation of the importance of collective responsibility, then I went to a supermarket for the first time since the lockdown. I saw people fighting with their face masks on wrong, essential workers screamed at, someone in wellington boots scoop every Quorn sausage roll on the shelf into their trolley and run away, and intrusive pessimism justified itself again. This pessimism was fermenting when, a few nights ago, I was sat on the roof.

Whenever I’m having a ‘brain time’, as I call it, there’s a small, little-known park I frequent. I like to sit among the old trees. They were here long before I was and they’ll linger long after I’m dead. To an extent, they are a balm to my worry as they remind me that I am just an extra but the film’s about them. It’s hard to get that feeling now as I can’t get to the park, but staring into space fulfils a similar purpose. The incomprehensible size of the cosmos lends welcome insignificance to my woes by context. So I sat on the roof. And while on the roof, I heard clapping.

My attention left the stars as one by one doors on my street opened and people in dressing gowns or work clothes stepped out and began to applaud. I watched the people grow in number and heard their clapping build as occasional woops or whistles punctured the ovation, until the sound outgrew my street and began spilling over the tops of houses to meet with the applause of the rest of the country. I’m hardly a romantic. If anything, though it may be ugly to admit, my instinct was to see a kind of contemptibility in the coordinated action, like it was callous to pretend everything was ok and that we could do something upbeat and sincere, to pretend to show appreciation for essential workers when people couldn’t express that same sentiment in the voting booth. Though, as I know, a change of context can make you reevaluate things. The trappings of our usual existence and social norms seem to be only meaningless impositions on bucking chaos, a gesture to soften the blow of absurdity. Like clapping in the street to say thanks. Maybe normalcy didn’t go anywhere. My mood leaking out and projecting itself onto the world is certainly nothing new. I clapped too.

I am aware the above may seem melodramatic. I am grateful for the supply chain, my living conditions, my loved ones and the roof over my head. I know I have it better than countless people, but you can’t do the maths on sadness and, to be selfish, this is catharsis. Also it’s for a blog about mentally ill comedians, so get fucked.

I wrote this because it seemed a good way to try and give shape to some of the real and imagined worries I’ve been having, to maybe make them less threatening. With luck, it might resonate with some people who may be feeling similar things. You aren’t clapping on your own. And if not, maybe I am as mental as I’d currently have myself believe.

I never second-guessed the stability of my career, I never thought something like this would happen, that I would be this fearful for the future, stuck in the house in the midst of one of my worst spells of brain time for a while. Crucially, though, I also never see those spells coming, despite experience. I never see lights at the ends of these tunnels when I’m in them yet, to repurpose an earlier analogy, they seem as intangible as dreams on the occasions that I’m not. So I’m trying not to catastrophize, not to anticipate what the world will look like coming out the other end of this; I will do my best to treat it as an “””episode”””. It doesn’t always work, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, but it might help to at least try to bear in mind that the wood exists and that I’ve been in woods before.

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