Updated: Apr 2
Nottingham-based Jay Sandhu is a maths teacher by day, and by night a comedian, writer and poet. Punchy, informative and witty, his poetry and comedy focuses on race and culture. Jay is also part of the GOBS spoken word collective and has performed at Rooftop Comedy and at The Bradford Fringe. He's headlined Poetry Scum and has recently had his poetry featured on BBC radio Nottingham.
Today, Jay is sharing his own mental health experiences with us to raise more awareness around anxiety and loneliness. He's telling us what it's been like for him as a teacher and helping children through panic attacks during school hours.
1. Hi Jay, how are you?
I’m good thanks!
2. How are you really?
I’m feeling good today but have not been all month, I experienced a decent amount of anxiety this month. I think linked to comedy/poetry/spoken word performances, going back to teaching, about leaving teaching (and how that may affect some of the pupils I teach) and a little bit about loneliness.
3. Why did you want to do this interview today?
To talk about things that might help people. You’re doing an incredible project and I wanted to help in any way I can.
4. What's it like to be you?
Hmmm don’t think I’ve ever been asked/ thought about that! I’m going to say some people will think I work too much from teaching, tutoring, writing and performing comedy and poetry, doing a podcast, writing a book and a comic, sports (football, climbing, gym), my PlayStation, football manager and seeing friends and family. And no, I can never fit everything in haha. It’s been important recently to make sure that I’m taking breaks to relax my head as well. Loads of people that know me always want to see me teach but I’m pretty much just me when I do. I mean, a less sweary version of me, but it’s still me.
I think I put a lot of time and energy into helping people. I don’t think a lot of people see this because I really don’t shout about it, that’s not why I do it.
Being that busy though can be overwhelming sometimes and can become too much. I’m getting better at recognising that and taking a break. Whether that’s just chilling watching Netflix or cooking with my music on loud. Since I’ve started writing, it’s really helped me organise my thoughts, especially when I started to write things just for myself and not to be shared.
It’s also been really interesting meeting and connecting with so many creative people, not really having had that before, I feel like it’s letting out a side of me that I don’t think would’ve ever came out.
I think that when people see me, I tend to be laughing, joking and smiling so when I’m not, people worry more than they need to. I might just be having an off day etc.
5. How long has anxiety affected your life?
I honestly don’t know. It has only been recently that I’ve actually thought about and accepted that I have moments of anxiety and that’s cool. I have to learn how to cope with it, and I am starting to get to grips with it.
6. Have you ever tried to hide your anxiety from people? If so, is it tiring?
Yup, all the time and yes, it’s so much effort! That’s why I’m glad I’ve got some people I can talk to properly and not hide it.
7. More often than not, do you find people do or don't understand what having anxiety is like?
The people I choose to talk to about it do, but I pick those people carefully.
8. Does anxiety affect you more when you're on your own or around other people?
Mostly when I’m by myself and I can’t turn my head off. When other people are around I can usually distract myself or depending who they are, talk to them about it.
9. If you're around other people and feeling anxious, is there anything they can do to help you?
Listen if I want to talk, be normal with me, have a laugh, act as you normally would, don’t make a big deal about it.
10. How important would you say it is that people who don't experience anxiety still try to understand what it's like?
Massively, if only to allow them to be empathic and understand how to help people that do feel like that.
11. Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
I haven’t had one, but I have been around pupils when they’ve had one.
12. What went through your mind when you saw a pupil struggling with a panic attack?
The first time I had no idea what to do at all, a hundred things are running through your head especially as its a child that you have built a relationship with for years. How can I help, what's happening, why is happening, who/what caused it, why did they want me?!?! Someone came to my room telling me that a pupil in my tutor group is having a panic attack and wanted me. I went to her and was starting to panic myself! Eventually, I got her calm, kept reassuring her and talking to her. When she was more composed I would try to use humour to make her comfortable and take her mind off it. Then we talked her through what might've caused it and got her some counselling. After this, I felt more comfortable dealing with pupils in the future.
13. You mentioned at the beginning of your interview that you've experienced a bit of anxiety around loneliness lately. Do you think we underestimate how much loneliness can affect our mental health?
Yeah, 100%. I've always had people around me, whether it's family, friends or my previous partner. But over this past year, there have been more periods of time in which no one was around, and those thoughts start taking root and start to develop. When those thoughts start developing and you have nobody around to talk to about it, it accentuates those feelings. When you feel lonely you don't even want to speak to anyone, whether that be a phone call, text, FaceTime, even chat on the PlayStation. As I've not had many prolonged periods of time alone it's never anything I've ever really had to think about. It's taken me a long time to readjust and learn to cope with it, I feel like I'm just getting there with recognising it and knowing what to do to help my self.
14. If you were to confide in someone that you were feeling anxiety around being lonely, how do you hope they respond?
I really struggle to confide in anyone, even though I know enough people would be happy to listen and let me lean on them! But the rare times I do I just want them to be supportive and listen and be normal with me, don't tiptoe around me, still have a laugh and that. I know people possibly wouldn't believe or would think I'm over dramatising that I'm having anxiety because of how I usually am, which is why I think I'm so hesitant to talk to people.
15. Do you have any coping mechanisms to help you through a tough mental health day?
Music, music and more music. I have some go to artists/ albums that usually help. Kano in general, but Hoodies All Summer album in particular at the minute. J Cole, The Game, Little Simz, Old Kanye, Chance. And generally anything uplifting with a good beat, old school to new school.
Also, I don’t think there’s anything better than watching comedies (TV shows, films, stand up). My go-to shows are Fresh Prince, My Wife and Kids, Friday Night Dinner, Brooklyn 99 and Taskmaster.
Writing down what’s bothering me and what I can do about it has been very helpful, and writing is something that I look forward to as well.
16. Tell me more about your creative pursuits…
Comedy, writing a book and a comic, poetry/spoken word, creating videos of poetry, and anything I’ve not tried before!
17. If someone is reading this today and is tired of hiding their anxiety, what would you like to say to them?
Find someone you are comfortable with and speak to them, you don’t have to say everything but even saying a little bit will help! Then next time say a little bit more. If you don’t have anyone to speak to speak to me! @sandhuwrites I’ll help however I can!
18. Does talking about how you feel help you to process how you feel?
Yes, and for me feels like a weight is off my head, I feel less stressed and better in general.
19. Do you believe that letting someone feel heard when they're speaking is a powerful thing to do?
Yeah, that’s one of the most powerful things, there is nothing worse than opening up to someone to feel like they’re not paying any attention. It makes you feel even worse and smaller than you did before and makes you recoil and not want to talk to anyone about it at all!
20. How do you feel after answering these questions today?
I feel good, I wanted to make sure my head was in a good space so I could answer these questions properly!
Jay, thanks so much my friend for doing this interview today to raise awareness. You're awesome. Wishing you all the best work wise as you move into a new career, and with all of your creative pursuits. I really hope we get to gig together again in the not too distant future!
Jay has a Covid-pending feature comedy show coming up at Nottingham comedy festival. You can keep up to date with everything he is doing at sandhuwrites.co.uk.
Follow him on insta @sandhuwrites and check out his podcast @jaychatspodcast.
In fact! You can check out the time he invited me to be a guest on his podcast right here... https://anchor.fm/jaychats/episodes/Ep-9---Jay-Chats-Everything-with-Jemima-hughes-eoeovo
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health, please reach out. There is help out there for you and you are worth it. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of useful contacts.