Comedian Mark Watson: Life, to borrow a footballing term, is a hard place to get a result
“Understanding that you can sometimes go backwards as well as forwards, and allowing yourself that space, is crucial to your mental wellbeing”, writes comedian Mark Watson.
by: Mark Watson
10 Dec 2021
Mark Watson image: Matt Crockett
These days a lot of successful or noteworthy people write memoirs with a fairly similar angle: this is how things used to be for me (not very good), this is how I won my battles in life, and this is where I am now (rich, with whitened teeth and a dog that has more Instagram followers than you, the reader).
This is only a sub-genre of a massively influential field of literature that has emerged over the past years. Not just “self-help”, but “self-help so that you can be like me”.
A huge industry has grown up around the notion that certain people have really got life nailed, and that there are simple steps you can take to emulate them. I am winning at life, is the message, and you could too.
During one of the lowest ebbs of my career, I grasped desperately for this sort of mentorship. I had been dropped by my publisher after a memorable conversation with my literary agent.
“I’ve just been on the phone to see whether they’re interested in any more books from you,” he said.
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Little pause. “And I don’t think they are, to be honest.”
Soon, my comedy manager had also got rid of me. I was 32 and already felt as if I was on the scrapheap professionally. I endured a long period of depression. I was drinking to take the edge off, which certainly worked up to a point; but the trouble is, ‘the edge’ was an increasingly large chunk of my day-to-day activity, which receded into a sort of blur.
I was existing, more than living, and I got myself into a mental health spiral which brought about the end of my marriage and the dwindling of quite a lot of my friendships.
What brought me back from this brink was a combination of changes: a new, highly loving partner; a return to hobbies like running and watching football which I’d abandoned in the endless pursuit of career success (although if you found out which football team I support, you might question whether this is really a good route to sanity); and the courage to reach back out to some of those lost friends and rekindle the support network that had fallen away as a result of my carelessness.
I rediscovered my confidence gradually, allowed myself to enjoy life again. I valued myself separately from my work; let myself believe I was worth something. Life was good. End of story.
Except life doesn’t lend itself to pay-offs as neat as that. The fact is that over the past year or so, I have been struggling once more. The transition into my forties has been a rocky one, psychologically. The entertainment industry is a cruel one, averse to risk-taking and keen to dismiss people who haven’t been on TV in the past half-hour. My voice doesn’t seem relevant any more.
The pandemic has been much tougher on some people, of course, and I am aware of the many blessings of friendship and family that shield me from the cold wind of reality – as well as the fact I still have a career which plenty of people would be delighted by. But it has been a battle, and there are more battles ahead.
Life doesn’t pat you on the back and say, “Congratulations – you’ve made it.” Or, sometimes it does, but it changes its mind pretty fast. Understanding that you can sometimes go backwards as well as forwards, and allowing yourself that space, is crucial to your mental wellbeing.
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My recent live tour was called How You Can Almost Win. I don’t believe, anymore, that life is a game you can definitively win or lose. It’s better seen as a sort of mad dance; sometimes you can hear the music, and sometimes you just have to trust that it’s there.
“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” You come across this axiom from time to time: on a fridge magnet, painted on a wall, or coming out of the mouth of an optimistic aunt. Again, real life offers so few guarantees that this is true. But it is possible to come back from what feels like the end – again and again, if you have to.
Life, to return to footballing terms, is a hard place to get a result. Sometimes defeat is inevitable. But no defeat is final, if you don’t allow it to be. Keep going.
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