Why Not pursue my dream!

Hello reader! My name is Steph Tisdell. I have been doing comedy on and off for the past 3 and a bit years. I’m a creative at heart and comedy has been the single most important vehicle for my self-discovery and self-confidence.

My comedy journey has many parallels to my real life and my own personal journey. A journey stunted and stifled by – but ultimately defined and strengthened by – mental health struggles and a gradual education to accept and embrace vulnerability and find great strength in it.

Comedy wasn’t ever something I had thought about growing up. While I had toyed with ideas like acting and performance, the idea of comedy and the creation of work that was so easy to critique and judge never appealed to my self-critical and anxious brain. When I finished school, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to incite change and challenge apathy; I wanted to get involved in Aboriginal advocacy, human rights and even policy writing.

I studied law and journalism at university but I hated it. Law wasn’t about justice as I’d always thought but more about precedent, loop holes and money. Or maybe I just didn’t have the wherewithal and commitment to see it through and get to the bit where I could make a change.

I was lonely, depressed and having up to five panic attacks a day. I wasn’t achieving well at uni and I was disillusioned. I sought out therapy but wanted to put the theories into practice lest I learn the rhetoric and never follow-up with action and therefore repeat the same pattern of thinking, over-thinking, thinking about my over-thinking and then over-thinking my over-thinking.

I decided to backpack alone through the UK and Ireland without planning or booking anything. The single most anxiety provoking situation I could put myself in was how I would give the proverbial middle finger to the anxiety and depression that had latched onto my brain like a parasite.

For the first time in my life, I had to rely on myself and myself only. It also meant I could celebrate all of my little ‘wins’ as my own and nobody else’s. I decided to live like a ‘Yes Man.’ In my case, I became a ‘Why Not Woman’ following an incredible conversation with a stranger who remarked that living in the present and jumping through every open door was the only way to take life in both hands and wring joy from it. She said the only thing you should ever say is “Why Not.” I got a tattoo of a snow man saying that on my wrist the following day so I would never forget.

If you’re wondering why this tattoo and this holiday relate to my comedy journey, it’s simple: for 3 months I wasn’t allowed to say anything at all apart from ‘Why Not.’ I had loose rules but mostly nothing was off-limits. So when some drinking buddies dared me to do Stand-Up Comedy, off the cuff, in a bar that didn’t do comedy, didn’t have a microphone and was full of 10 stoney-face regulars just enjoying a Thursday night at the pub… Well, I said ‘Why Not?!’

This single act changed my life forever.

That night, standing in the corner of a random pub, telling stories and chatting with the audience – I fell in love with comedy. There is an opportunity to create passing little happy connections with strangers, to invite them into your brain for a moment, allow them to see the world from your perspective for a moment and therefore reflect on their own.

I came back and did a few open-mic nights and figured I might actually be not-terrible at comedy and I had well and truly caught the bug. I was told to enter the Deadly Funny Competition (for Indigenous acts to try comedy) and I won the National Title in 2014 on my 8th ever gig. It was an amazing experience and I was excited beyond belief to succumb to the comedy bug. But, as ever, my mental health had started to decline and I found myself struggling to grapple with the self-doubt and self-sabotage that followed me. So, on a whim, I made a decision to move to Edinburgh, Scotland. I figured that I could have a new start and explore comedy without any expectations. I gigged a lot, I made a lot of friends and I challenged myself constantly. It is pertinent to mention that during this time I had a lot of support from my family who knew that if I could get out of my head for a moment, I’d probably be alright to re-direct the train onto the tracks. That undying faith in me was and has been the most special thing in my life.

There were a lot of serendipitous moments that affirmed to me that I was pursuing my passion. I lived with a comedian – by chance – and he taught me that talking about my culture, specifically from the perspective I had always thought about it – was hugely important and would make me a better comedian. For that I will always be grateful because he was right.

After some mild success in the open circuit in Scotland, I opened for ‘Scottish Comedian of the Year’ at the Adelaide Fringe. That was a generous and kind opportunity given to me by Daisy Earl who saw my potential and wanted to nurture it. Again, these serendipitous meetings hugely impacted my journey.

When I returned to Brisbane from just under two years’ travel and independence, I lost sense of myself and the black dog bit like it had never bitten before. I had a break-down that last about 9 months and I refused to do any comedy, fearing the judgement and critique too profusely.

I got medicated, I got therapy and I found creative outlets like writing and painting to focus my brain. Weirdly enough though, it was actually fishing that helped me most. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I move, talk and think quickly and I can never just be still or quiet. But when fishing, that’s all you can do: practice patience, take in your surroundings and just stop for a moment.

I started gigging again and I found a new sense of purpose, drive and passion. Every gig I wanted to work on allowing myself to be more and more vulnerable on stage; I wanted to express the most authentic side of me. I wanted to open myself up to the audience and know that their judgement and critique could never truly hurt me because I was the only one who was really dishing it out.

As soon as I learned to be myself on stage, audiences actually started to connect better, my material was sharper, my stage presence was brighter and my audience interaction was easier. And as I learned to open myself up on stage and find the strength in my vulnerability, so too did this become true in my personal life.

Comedy has allowed me to get in touch with my true self and learn and grow. Such is the power of allowing yourself to completely give your all to any creative pursuit. I am an artist, a creative, a comedian. And there’s no other me to be.

Thanks to the guidance of my ‘Comedy Dads’ as I call them, I have been able to rub shoulders with some of my heroes and ask the guidance of some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.

If ever you get an opportunity, say ‘Why Not?!’ And if ever you feel unsure, break down the wall and find strength in your vulnerability. This is my comedy journey and I’m excited to see where it takes me next!

 

Losing my job, starting Centrelink and ‘following the dream.’

Hello readers,

Welcome to my brand new time-wasting hobby: blogging.

The phrase ‘idle hands make for idle minds’ is playing on a continuous loop through my mind that is almost driving me mad. Think of that Simpsons scene:

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In my mind, the remnants of anxious thoughts gone by and the lingering fear of a breakdown on the horizon keeps me frozen in place. If I commit to a job, do I have to commit to a career path? At what point do you give up on your ‘dreams’ in the pursuit of stability? If I go on Centrelink, am I lazy? Does it go against my most basic principles i.e. wanting to make a difference and be the master of my own destiny.

I suppose there’s room for much thought on this subject. Without getting too Meta here – is anybody really in charge of their destiny anyways? Are we not all some floating matter interacting with each other? Whether you believe in fate, religion, or science, the question of freedom and control has been taken out of our individual realm in any kind of real sense. It is left in the hands of the proverbial ‘they’ (the fates, God, guiding spirits). And if we are just random smashing atoms making weird things happen –well then nothing we do has an affect either as everything is random.

So perhaps I can ease some of my guilt there. Perhaps ‘they’ always planned for me to go onto Centrelink so I could learn fucking patience, poverty and how to get stuck in an internet loop ultimately leading back to an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy.

I walked into Centrelink today and it was a visual assault of baby shit green, fake laminate wood and every shade of beige you could imagine. Oh, and frowns. Lots and lots of frowns. Nobody gives a shit – everybody stopped caring a while ago I think. And I couldn’t help but to feel like there was something so wrong with this dead-end feeling the office gave off. I would have loved some bright colours, even one single smiling face and anything that seemed to signify that this is not the end of the line and the end of all hope.

I’m incredibly grateful we have the luxury of having a Government scheme that can look after our people in difficult times. But as a free-spirit with an intrusive and intellectual brain, there is a silent argument in my head that chides myself for being just another statistic. I never want to be a number.

(As an aside, I think there is certainly a difficulty for policy to be empathetic – but I’ll touch on that in a later post 😉 )

So how did I get to this position where I’m looking to go on Centrelink? This is how we get to my second point… At what point do you cash in the dream and seek stability?!

I suppose the first thing to say here is that I’m aware that this is such a First World Problem. It is the most firstiest worldiest of first world problems, I know. I’m not sure if that’s reason to discount it though.

You see, as it turns out – I’m a dreamer. And this means I’m always slightly too present or not present at all. It means that I have terrifying concept of the future but no real world understanding of consequences of my actions and how they affect this future.

All I want is to do what I love and love what I do. That thing I have an unending amount of passion about is comedy. Writing, thinking it, performing it… though, weirdly enough, not really watching it. I have a really irrational fear I’ll watch someone and then accidentally steal their material because it’s in my mind. But that’s neither here nor there

Because I want to be a comedian but struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem and absolutely no understanding of budgeting and finance, things are hard. Basically, what my journey towards the dream currently looks like is this:

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Nothing. Just nothing. It is usually a battle of voices in my brain that keep me in a state of flux. On one hand, there is a voice that believes that I am able to do the things I want so long as I put in the hard work and effort required. The other voice reminds me that it is more likely that I am deluded and that the eyes that watch on might be giggling at me, or looking on with pity. Either way, they come to the same conclusion that if I was meant to do this – they can come to me. Oh yeah, but here’s the catch: if I’m working and I don’t have the flexibility to move about freely picking and choosing my gigs – the job is not worth having because it will only get in the way of my true passion.

So, anybody reading this: have you ever struggled with this feeling of being stuck? I’m still passionate about my dream but are there any tricks you use to push through the anxiety in order to move forward and make your own luck?