comedians don’t joke about mental health
Laura O’Mahony: ‘When you first become a mom, you definitely feel overwhelmed and I felt quite isolated’
You only realize the importance of your mental health when it is not healthy. Luckily, I didn’t come across anything that put mine at risk, but I love opening up a conversation about it. This conversation should, however, be based on good sources. I think sometimes people can jump on the bandwagon and important voices can get lost.
For my own sanity, I try to find joy in the little things. It can be having a cup of tea, taking a short walk, listening to my favorite song. I think it’s really important to allow yourself the freedom to be excited about these things.
I also try to relieve myself of the pressure. There’s so much pressure now to be the best at your job, to be the best mother, to burn the candle at both ends.
When you become a mom for the first time, you definitely feel overwhelmed and I felt quite isolated. All of a sudden, going to the store is so difficult, putting gas in your car is complicated, there are so many logistics and a lot of panic. I was thrilled when I had my two kids, but life got so different so suddenly and I had to learn to deal with it. I had to use my voice and ask for help.
You may also feel very vulnerable as a comedian, especially when you stand up. You ask yourself a lot of questions and it’s hard not to blame yourself, especially when the toxic message comes in saying you suck. You really have to learn to be strong. If I have a day where I’m not feeling very craic, I won’t go online and if I’m playing and a joke doesn’t drop, I try to see the big picture.
There’s always a stigma of not being on top of mental health and there’s always shame in asking for help, even if it’s something you can go to your GP for – that which I don’t think a lot of people realize. If I feel very bad I will see my GP and I have also been very lucky to have had access to therapy in the past.
On a daily basis, I also set much better limits than before. I say no if I’m overwhelmed. You don’t have to tell everyone how you feel, but you can tell a friend if you’re too busy to go to their party. There is nothing wrong with that.
I went through a tough time after the Repeal the Eighth campaign and was very much against it during the pandemic. I needed to seek medical help. I had to sit with my thoughts and confront what was happening. We talk about mental health, but I think sometimes you can feel so bad and bad that you just have to be there. It can be scary but it usually passes. If not, it is so important to ask for help.
It can be difficult, it can be very difficult to access services in Ireland, but it is a start. Often people can’t handle it on their own and they shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.
People I never thought would struggle have spoken to me about their mental health. People with an exterior of strength, calm and control. This shows how important it is to talk and check in with the people around you.
As for me, I think I bottle things up. In April 2020, I started to be very stressed by the pandemic. We didn’t have our gigs and the main part of being a comedian is traveling. I got busy but it went on and on and it was a struggle. I did talk things over with my partner though, which I think was key. It helped me stay calm and the stress level started to drop over time. It ended up being positive in terms of spending more time with my partner.
Outside of the pandemic, I’ve been through a difficult time in terms of grieving. The only time it had an impact on my career was after my mother passed away in 2003. The following year I was in Australia doing gigs and they weren’t great and I didn’t care. Once I was five minutes away from a show and saw that the table in front of me ordered food while I was playing and they were all talking and I felt so out of place. I thought: they don’t care, so why should I? There were a few months like that and I realized afterwards that I was still grieving.
I think there’s a sad clown cliché when it comes to comedians. I feel like people think that because we’re the ones making people laugh, we have to die inside. Before, it bothered me, but when Robin Williams died, it really affected me. There’s obviously some truth to that, but I don’t think we’re predisposed to be depressed. I like to brighten up people’s days, even if you don’t always feel like it.
I think most people have become more aware of the importance of their mental health. The pandemic has certainly thrown things upside down and forced people in the entertainment industry to see what life would be like if they suddenly couldn’t do their jobs for 18 months. I have a job that has a lot of ups and downs so some degree of hindsight is good to maintain.
I used to have a radio slot with a brilliant psychologist named Niamh Fitzpatrick and a lot of the advice she gave listeners stuck with me. She often emphasized the importance of self-care. It is even very difficult to try to solve external problems in your life if you do not take care of yourself. I try to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and get outdoors.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, dogs should be available on prescription. The unconditional love they give and the routine they demand is food for the soul. A harrier dog called Mick and a three-legged lurcher called Lola are what got me through the pandemic.
When I went through other tough times, I talked to the people in my life that I trusted and we helped each other. I also watched a lot. I think as Irish we use humor to find balance in our lives. Maybe it’s our way of dealing with things. My mother used to say “if you didn’t laugh, you would cry” and there’s a lot of truth in that.
I’m not even sure the humor itself is the point. By its nature, humor is communal. Jokes should be shared with others and I think that’s the real benefit of being around other people.
It’s so great that people are talking about mental health, but I think we still have other things to talk about. Depression is something that doesn’t go away, you always have to deal with it.
I try to give myself ten minutes at the start of each day to do some breathing techniques and relax into the day.I think that’s also why I do comedy. I laughed so much as a child. Stand-up is a natural form of therapy for me. It’s so cathartic.
I try not to depend on it either because it can have its own constraints. When I was younger, I spread myself too thin. I sought validation from strangers by trying to make them laugh. I associated it with popularity. Looking back, I wish I had those breathing techniques I have now and been as calm as I am now. I would like to love myself more.
I never sought professional help, maybe I should have, but I talked to friends. I’m so lucky to have the friends I have. We’ve been friends since I was seven and they’ve never neglected me.
I’m also blessed with an amazing wife and child now too. I found out I was becoming a dad a month before Covid hit and it was so encompassing. It was difficult trying to deliver her first child during a pandemic. He ate some sleep, but we’re all fine now.