Comedian Susan Stuart – Taking Mental Health Seriously

 ‘My brain stopped working. I didn’t want to live anymore.’

 Join comedian Susan Stewart for a night of laughs while she shares her mental health journey and what she has learned the hard way about taking mental health seriously. You won’t want to miss this important community event that raises awareness about mental health and raises money for the Brantford General Hospital’s Mental Health Unit. Here is the link.

If you want to hear the entire interview with Susan, check it out here.

 Don’t miss Susan’s Show on March 27th and March 28th

 Hi there, I’m Judy Croon. Canada’s Keynote Humourist. Welcome to another episode of Laugh Long and Prosper. Today I’m chatting with Susan Stewart.

 For the past 15 years, Susan Stewart has been entertaining and inspiring audiences across North America. Susan is best known for her ability to make people laugh while helping them to meet their challenges with a sense of humour. Susan is the author of 3 books including her latest title, You Gotta Laugh: Wit And Wisdom About Not Taking Life (Or Yourself) Too Seriously. Susan’s podcast, Still A Hot Mess, and her comedy album, Relentless, are available on iTunes and Spotify. You can learn more about Susan on her website.

 By the way, Mar 27 and 28th, you can check out Susan’s latest show called; A Bit More Than A Rough Patch: A Comedy Show About Taking Mental Health Seriously. 

 Join Susan for a night of laughs while she shares her mental health journey and what she has learned the hard way about taking mental health seriously. You won’t want to miss this important community event that raises awareness about mental health and raises money for the Brantford General Hospital’s Mental Health Unit. Here is the link.

 Susan’s catalyst for this important fundraiser

Judy: Susan, welcome to the podcast. Your brand-new live show is called ‘A bit more than a rough patch. A comedy show about taking mental health seriously.Can you tell people what was the catalyst for this particular show? 

Susan: Well basically it was inspired by some events that happened to me last year. I found myself in a clinical depression and suffering from a high grade level of anxiety. I was having panic attacks and all that good stuff! So that happened late winter/ early spring last year. That’s when I reached what is called a mental health crisis.
To make a long story short, I basically didn’t want to live anymore.
The way I was feeling… my brain stopped working.

I was also caught up in a negative assumption that I was never going to feel better again. 

The situation was permanent. I had a feeling of hopelessness. So, with that bleak outlook on life, it resulted in an attempt. Luckily, I was unsuccessful. So, my new show reveals how I got there. I wasn’t interested in taking medication. I did not want to make an admission that it had gotten to that point. Right? You’ve read my bio; I’m an author. I’m a speaker. I’m a comedian. I help people see the lighter side of life. So, this was my own personal stigma. That was the real main contributor to reaching that crisis point. Also, I didn’t reach out to my therapist so I didn’t get the help. I wasn’t honest with the people in my life about how severe my condition was getting.

 When it comes to suicide, people often wonder, ‘How could you let yourself get to that point?’ 

Judy: Did this mental shift happen over a month, over a week or one day, did you suddenly feel like a switch went off? Explain the timeline to me if you can.

Susan: I would say that both my symptoms of depression and anxiety got to an intolerable level around last June. So, it was a slow decline. I was so resistant to the idea of medication that I could have gotten on medication, like, say, in January or February and avoided the whole damn thing. However, I was so unwilling to admit what was going on because of what I do for a living. I was convinced that I could handle it on my own.

You convince yourself that you can just think your way out of it.

Yeah sure, I had the tools in the toolbox. I had healthy habits. But I didn’t start to feel better with all of my self-help. The self-help wasn’t helping. I was at a point where my brain’s chemistry was so imbalanced that medication was a necessary element to my recovery. So, I finally did get on medication, but then I was playing around with it. First of all, I wasn’t taking it every day.
Then I would switch prescriptions. I‘d go see a psychiatrist and decide that I needed a new prescription. It was a series of errors where I just didn’t respect the role of medication in my recovery.

My symptoms just kept on worsening.

Judy: Is this a common reaction for people like yourself who are going through that slow decline?
“I don’t need to do this with medication. I can talk myself out of this”.
Or is it also a fear of what the side effects of the medication might be like? Or are you so removed from yourself that you just can’t think clearly?

Susan: Well, all of the above, I think, Jude, yeah, it was fear around side effects. But if I had to pinpoint it, if I had to get down to one major reason, it was stigma. I didn’t want to be standing on stage as this motivational speaker on anti-anxiety, antidepressant medication. I thought that it made me a bit of a fraud.

Judy: It’s funny that you would say that, because your keynotes and your workshops are all about mental health, right? Yet, you don’t want to be considered a ‘fraud’.
What would you say to people now who are feeling the way that you were feeling back then?

 Susan: Well, now, I understand a lot more. We have these neurotransmitters in our brain; like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine. When they are basically imbalanced to a certain degree, all the self-help in the world isn’t going to be enough. Right?

 Like, all the exercise and positivity and spirituality in the world is not going to be enough.

 Now, what’s in the equation is medication to balance out those, well, we call them good feeling chemicals, right? It gets down to science. I didn’t know that at the time.
This is now clarity. This is information I have now.
But you talk about me being this mental health advocate, and so, yeah, I’m choking on the irony of it all to this very day. But I think there was just so much shame around it. I just couldn’t believe that I was sick.

Going on medication was not an admission I wanted to make.
Now, here’s the thing. If there had been something physically wrong with me, right, like, if I all of a sudden got diagnosed with diabetes, like high blood pressure, even lower back pain, I would have had no problem getting medication. So, there’s my stigma.
I really had to face down my personal stigma with this. As a result, that’s the show that we were talking about earlier- the show that I’m doing March 27 and March 28th called, A Bit More Than A Rough Patch. Really, it’s just me sharing with the audience what I learned.

Judy: I would say it’s a bit more than a rough patch. That’s the understatement of 2024, Susan Stewart.

Susan: Well, the title comes from a conversation that I had with my partner when I was in a recovery treatment program at the Homewood Health center in Guelph. It was a nine-week program.

 I basically went there after my attempt.
Yeah, one day I’m at Homewood, I’m talking to my partner and we get talking about my mental health crisis, and I say to her, “Yeah, it was a bit of a rough patch”. And it was just like silence. We’re facetiming, actually. I could see her, and she was, like, stunned and wide eyed, and she said, “What the hell did you just call it, Susan? Let’s be very clear. It was a bit more than a rough patch.”

And so, to this day, we laugh about that conversation. Now, there I was, minimizing it to the very end. So, when I was thinking about the title of the show, like, what the hell am I going to call this a show? And then I recalled the conversation and I thought, well, that’s kind of. There it was, yeah, it was a bit more than a rough patch.

Judy: But it’s interesting that you say that it’s a stigma because there are no mistakes on this planet, right? And I mean, something in the universe picked Susan Stewart. Funny Susan Stewart, who says this is a stigma to write a comedy show about it. And I think you’re going to reach a lot of people who have too much pride, who have too much, who have too much going on in their head that they don’t want to ask for help.

 How does someone in a similar position go about getting help?

 Susan: Yeah, well, I think it’s really important that you get your symptoms assessed. There are some classic symptoms when it comes to depression and anxiety.

 Judy: Tell us what they are.

Susan: You lose interest in pretty much everything-an apathy about pretty much everything sets in. Another symptom is isolation- I withdrew from my family and friends. The chemical imbalance in your brain really affects your cognition. I had a severe problem focusing and making a decision. Finally, the last big symptom is that you go into survival mode. You lose your creativity, your curiosity, your courage and your sense of humour.

When depression and anxiety set in, you do not feel like yourself- your behavior dramatically changes.
 I think the one indicator that something was going wrong was actually last January, I had this gig in Victoria. I was out there to do an after dinner talk for a bunch of travel agents. And I don’t know about you, but when you’re a couple hours away from getting on stage, I start to get kind of pumped up. I have a lot of energy in my body. I can’t really sit down anymore. I pace around, I run some lines. On the day of the event, my partner and I did some sightseeing during the day, and then when we got back to the hotel, I crawled into bed and fell asleep.
The girl who practically does jumping jacks before a gig, was napping.
That change in behavior was a sign of much bigger things to come.
So, you just start doing things that you never do.

There’s just a lack of energy for everything. Physically, mentally, emotionally. You just feel drained.

 Judy: What else are you hoping to achieve with this blockbuster pre-Broadway show?

 Susan: No pressure felt there whatsoever.

 Well, first of all, I want to emphasize that it is going to be fun. I promise.
t’s a comedy show, of course, and any shows I’ve ever seen you do have been ultimately comedy shows. We’re going to have lots of laughs about our experiences with mental health. I poke fun at stuff like anxiety, but what I’m achieving, or what I hope to achieve with the show is, I think, helping people feel less alone, people feel seen and heard. I really hope that it’s incredibly validating for people just to, I think, understand how I got to a crisis point. So maybe they can avoid reaching that point. Seek help, like talk to a therapist or a social worker, anybody, really, just talk to anybody and get medication if your symptoms are at an extreme level. So, yeah, it’s really just to kind of understand the necessary steps to avoiding that feeling of hopelessness. So, yeah, like you said, it’s really what I learned the hard way.

 Judy: You’re a tough egg, my friend. And I don’t know how many other people would have come out of this saying, “You know, what? I’m going to write a comedy show about this, and I’m going to teach people what they should do.”

Because the great takeaway out of just having this interview with you is you said it right in the beginning. Sometimes you just need medication because the chemical imbalance is something that you can’t fix on your own. So, stop being brave, you know, worrying about the stigma. Do what Susan did. Talk to somebody, even if it’s just talking to a friend or talking, know, just get it. It’s. You’re not helping anybody, especially yourself.
Susan, how many comics do we know that have mental health issues? Again, it’s the tears of a clown. You see people who are on stage, they’re funny, they’re confident, and then behind the scenes, it’s the exact same thing. Right? So, my hat is off. I’m really impressed that you’re putting this together.

 Why do you think it’s important to see humor in something serious, like mental health?

Susan: Well, okay, first of all, I think there’s something funny about everything. Okay. Like, even the really tough stuff, for sure. I strongly believe there is room and a necessity to laugh at the hard things in life. Mental health is a serious topic, but it’s important not to take it too seriously. I believe seeing the humor in our struggles helps us move through them and get to the other side. Actually, research has proven humor to be a key element in our ability to be resilient, and I’m not surprised by that one bit. The struggles we face create tension in our lives. Right? There’s tension there, and laughter releases that tension, which gives us the boost to keep going. So, like I said, I think it’s not only important to laugh, but I think it’s necessary. So that’s one of the things I do at the beginning of the show, is I give the audience permission to laugh, and hopefully they take that cue. Hopefully we can feel like we’re in a safe space to see the funny, because there’s funny stuff. And hopefully I’ve done a good job in bringing it to the stage.

Judy: Every show I’ve seen you do has been hilarious. So, like I said, I’m not worried at all. I know we’re talking about a heavy topic, but it takes a brave person, and it takes somebody with sometimes a dark humor to see through that. Because again, we’re talking about the combination of humor and tragedy.

Like the comedic experts say, tragedy plus time equals comedy.

 Once again, March 27th and 28th, join comedian Susan Stewart for a night of laughs while she shares her mental health journey and what she has learned the hard way about taking mental health seriously. You won’t want to miss this important community event that raises awareness about mental health and raises money for the Brantford General Hospital’s Mental Health Unit.

Get your tickets Now

 Susan, Thanks so much for coming on my podcast!

Until next time, laugh long and prosper.


Feel free to take a listen!

If you would like to catch up on any of my other Laugh Long and Prosper episodes, voted one of the best podcasts of 2021 in Canada by CTV, check me out.

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