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Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 16:41 UK
Mackenzie Taylor talks about mental health problems
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Mackenzie Taylor
Comedian Mackenzie Taylor performs at the launch night

It's not easy to talk about mental health but that's what comedians have been doing as part of a project to highlight the illness.

Using comedy, the project, Warning: May Contain Nuts, has been launched to break taboos around the subject.

BBC Radio Berkshire has teamed up with Company Paradiso to work with people with experience of mental health services.

The project was launched by poet John Hegley.

An evening of comedy and entertainment was held at South Street Arts Centre in Reading on Tuesday, 11 May.

Mackenzie Taylor was another comedian who has experienced mental health problems and tells his own story of trying to commit suicide through his production No Straight Jacket Required.

He explains how the show works and performed an abbreviated version of it in Reading.

"I took the show to Edinburgh and it's going back up next year - it is about my suicide attempt," he says.

A performer at Warning: May Contain Nuts
A performer at the launch night

"When I was doing it in Edinburgh people accused me of using it as cheap therapy. I assure you it is not cheap therapy.

"For those of you who don't know, it cost me about £4,000. That's not cheap therapy, that's expensive folly if anything.

"With the phrase No Straight Jacket Required - people came flocking thinking they were coming to a Phil Collins retrospective. If you thought that, I'm sorry."

The show

Mackenzie has bipolar schizoaffective disorder and tried to commit suicide in Brighton.

"The show isn't just about my suicide attempt. It's about more than that. It's about the 15 weeks that led up to that. It's about the 15 years of mental illness and it's about the 15 months after that.

"You need to know every single word of this show is true-ish. I will confess that some things have been shortened, but I think honesty is better than truth. I think we get lied to through truth, every single day.

"If you think about it another way, I often get asked about my size and weight, the true answer is this, I'm exactly the same height and weight as Lennox Lewis when he last fought for the heavyweight title, that's true.

"The honest answer is one of us is fat, and I dare you to tell Lennox Lewis to his face."

There are five characters in Mackenzie's play he explains.

"The illness is a character, my girlfriend Katy is a character, there is a poet, someone called Neil and someone called Naomi."

Mackenzie tells the story going to Brighton to kill himself, his experiences in hospital and when he left hospital.

As part of Warning: May Contain Nuts, a series of creative writing workshops have been held, all based at mental health centres around Berkshire.

Mackenzie's illness

Mackenzie explained his illness to BBC Radio Berkshire's Andrew Peach.

"I have some element of schizophrenia which means I see and hear things and have strange thoughts when I'm not manic or depressive.

"Mania is just the best experience in the world, which is why it is so dangerous because you really do feel you can do

anything, be anyone, challenge anything.

"If there is a dare out there you will do it. It's intoxicating and it's wonderful. It's brilliant and its dangerous.

"It just feels like, if you've ever been in love, that first moment of love, when it's reciprocated - it's that feeling.

"If you're on a gambling win and you win ten on the trot, it's that kind of unbridled joy.

"You can do anything, to anyone, at anytime and you don't care about the consequences because you can handle them. So you do spend a lot of money, you do stupid dangerous things because you feel you can.

"It is the flip side of everything, it's the drug side of it, it gets compared to drug use and I think that's very true.

"The things you do when you're very drunk, or very high of drugs, not that we are suggesting you do any of those things, but they are the things you do in a manic episode.

"You're having the best time in the world, but you lose all sense of what reality is. You lose the sense that just because you think you've worked out a new way to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds, doesn't mean you actually have worked that out.

"The minute you try to do that, you won't accept the consequence that you have failed.

"It's a completely disingenuous high because it's based on absolutely nothing apart from a brain chemical that's gone wrong."

Extreme mood swings

Dr Giovani Borghini, a consultant psychiatrist explains the illness.

"It is a disorder of mood and the main characteristic is extreme mood swings. So from one side the low, depressive episodes, where people feel intensely depressed and despaired.

"The other side is a high in which people feel extremely happy and full of energy and extremely optimistic."

"The cause is not really well known, but we know it runs in the family, there is a predisposition.

"We think that also it is a dissemblance of some neuro-chemicals in the brain. Obviously the full mechanism isn't fully known at the moment but we know there are some medications which are effective and these medications put this balance right in the brain."

Dr Borghini explains that some patients do not want to, or are reluctant to be treated.

"It's so pleasant and I feel so guilty taking away their pleasure. They don't need to sleep, they don't need to eat and they feel very creative. A lot of people with creative talents are particularly productive in those episodes."

"We need to involve the family most of the time to convince them they need treatment."

Tune in to BBC Radio Berkshire from 7am until 10am from Monday, 24 May to hear more about the project. You can also listen online, go to the iPlayer

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