Writer, stand-up comic and mental health campaigner, Dave Chawner’s work is inspired by his own experience of living with an eating disorder.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of comedy as a way of exploring taboo topics. It is kind of ironic that quitting work to focus on writing Over It, the show I took to the Edinburgh Festival in 2014, should trigger such a relapse. I had been dealing with my anorexia for years but had never been into therapy until then.
Up to that point I guess my attitude had always been that my personal and professional lives didn’t cross over.
Of course, you make friends with some of your colleagues and personal things come up. I have never been ashamed to talk about it. After university I worked on a magazine, doing ad sales, then I went into sponsorship and promotions. But for the past couple of years I have been focusing full time on writing and comedy.
I had been doing stand-up in my spare time all the way through uni and carried on when I moved to London – actually, that was the real reason I came to London in the first place, to try to get into the comedy scene here. There was a lot of whimsy, a lot of self-deprecating stuff, but I hadn’t really addressed the eating disorder head on. I guess Over It was the show I’ d always wanted to write. It was a two-hander, with another comic called Robyn Perkins. She was talking about the death of her partner. So it was very much about really tackling those issues that people try to avoid, and challenging the idea that you ever really ‘get over it’ .
For me, it triggered a big relapse and I went into therapy for the first time.
It was tough but looking back I can see that it helped to accelerate something that needed to happen. My next show Normally Abnormal came out of those experiences. It is all about eating disorders and mental health and identity – all the biggies! We took that show to Edinburgh, and then on tour around the country. Most recently I have been at the Brighton Festival testing out my new show, Circumcision. The clue is in the title...
Comedy has always helped me and it continues to do so. I love the way it makes the most difficult things palatable and approachable.
Some things are just too important to be taken seriously. It has also helped me to come to terms with my own experience and get my thoughts about it into some kind of order. It has given me a different perspective.
Everything I am doing at the moment is linked with eating disorders or wider mental health issues in some way. I am a volunteer for Mind, a media representative for Beat and an ambassador for CALM and Men Get Eating Disorders Too. I have contributed a chapter to a book by Mind and I am working on a book proposal of my own – watch this space.
I always try to think: what would have helped me when I was 17?
One of the things I really needed was for people to just be normal with me. The more you say ‘ remove the stigma’ , the more you are perpetuating the idea that there is a stigma! None of us are perfect and we should all stop pretending that we are. The other thing that is really important to me is to be honest. There were aspects of my eating disorder that I loved. I miss it. People often don’t want you to talk about that because they say it is glamourising the illness – but it is true! I don’t think you can really connect with people unless you are prepared to be really open.
I am not fully recovered yet. It is not always easy.
The writer Caitlin Moran has this idea that people with mental illness and depression are walking around with a layer stripped off them.
It makes life more painful but it makes it more beautiful too. To anyone in a similar situation, I would say, be patient with yourself.
It’s OK not to be perfect.