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The Play I Relate to Most as Someone With Mental Illness

“Make up your mind that you’re strong enough

Make up your mind let the truth be revealed

Admit what you’ve lost and live with the cost

At times it does hurt to be healed” — Make Up Your Mind/ Catch Me I’m Falling (“Next to Normal”)

In my lowest periods, I’ve always had music to console me. During my last two low periods, the musical, “Next to Normal” has been significant figure in helping me when my therapist was out of reach. Its lyrics were so poignant and real, both qualities I love. The more I listen to the music, the more I find ways to relate to each of the characters.

In Dan, the father, I find the “me” who was a witness to the cries in the dark of a former friend’s volatile and tumultuous mental issues. In Natalie, the daughter, I find the “me” who is an ever patient but frustrated daughter who feels unheard and wants to break free of it all. In Diana, the main character and mother, I find the “me” struggling to come to terms with my illnesses and figuring out how to manage them in my life. In Gabe, the son, I find my demons anxiety and depression, who use me like a marionette doll. In the characters of Henry and Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden, I find the two things I want in my life. They represent the love I want for myself and a clear level-headed conscience. The two things that have to fight every part of me to make sure I stay afloat. The characters of this family represent every part of me. They show the kaleidoscopic person I have grown up to be.

There are also certain songs that hold an enormous meaning for my life. The first song I always come back to every time I’m feeling low is called  “Make Up Your Mind/ Catch Me I’m Falling.” The words Dr. Madden sings as he encourages Diana to free herself from her memories always gets me. There were times I would be listening to this song and crying on the floor holding myself tightly. I would hang on to every word they sang, willing myself to be strong and believe I would get better. I would sometimes write the lyrics on myself like a tattoo, willing the ink of the pen to seep into me so that my troubled heart and mind would get the message. I still use them as a spark to keep myself going. They tell me if I work harder and keep focused I can work to a time where I finally feel like I am OK.

The other song I come back to is “Light,” which is the last song of the musical. It sings of acceptance of your flaws and letting the light in so others can do the same. It also sings of hope, a hope that things will get better for everyone. It’s the hope that the shame of having a mental illness will dissipate and people will open themselves up to others. It’s also the hope you will overcome your trials, learn to be OK and come to terms with everything in your life. It has the characters coming to terms with where they are in their lives and moving forward. I find myself still coming to terms with myself and everything. There are days where it’s lighthearted and easy to feel good about myself, then other days it’s extremely hard and I can’t find a good thing to say about myself. I am still learning how to accept and love myself after years of being inwardly hateful and destructive.

I can’t ever say my life has been “normal,” but I can say it has been an interesting ride so far. I may have made some mistakes and took some wrong turns, but some of those wrong turns and mistakes have led me to places I never thought I would go. I am still learning every day and at 22, I would never have pictured my life the way it currently is. I guess it’s truly all a journey, one  I am still figuring out as I am writing this. I am finding my way to a happy life. One step, one day, one month and one year at a time.

Day after day, wishing all our cares away.

Trying to fight the things we feel, but some hurts never heal.

Some ghosts are never gone, but we go on, we still go on.

And you find some way to survive and you find out you don’t have to be happy at all,

To be happy you’re alive. — Light (“Next to Normal”)

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Photo via “Next to Normal” Facebook.