crazy is as crazy does. sounds simple, but it gets so much more complicated than a catch phrase. and i was once again reminded of this yet again as i watched and listened to the darkly fantastic “next to normal” playing at the elle caulkins theatre in denver last night. a musical about mental illness? the ironies only begin with that question.

not a perfect play by any means, i found it compelling and thought-provoking at worst and engaging and validating on the better part of the scale. mental health anomalies (ergo mental health issues) don’t get cured. they are endured and remain. or not. this nugget of truth makes up the dark part of this story of a family doing their very best to limp through their own wounded situation. all are heroes, all falter, and all of them make sacrifices as well as compromises in order to keep going. and keeping going is the light at the end of the lightless tunnel they take us through. this family keeps going, as individuals, and as a unit, just not the unit we were introduced to at the start of the show.

the daughter’s character held special interest to me. she has not bonded with her mother (who has the disorder) and yet she is so like her mother it’s uncanny. she handles life and mishandles life in the very same ways she learned from her mother, yet seems so eager to get angry at her mother with every action. it reminded me that indeed most of us learn by example, not by direction and this truth may be hard to get around.

i remembered last night during the walk back to the car that how i deal with life was mostly learned by example. my chemical imbalance is hereditary and is active in most members of one side of my family, although it does manifest itself differently in many. but i did learn about self-medication, avoidance, and denial from my older family members. and later in life- my twenties, i started seeing what the repercussions of their techniques were, although i was already entrenched in my own blend of coping and a course was set.

i liked the magic show approach to psychiatry that was presented in the play. it stings with truth as well as exaggeration. there is not a formula or an exact prescription that fits all. it is an approach at best. and even with the best approach, the symptoms of an anomaly continue. they may be quelled to a point, however, an imbalance still exists. and always will.

learning to live with one’s own mental health is a lifetime voyage. both for the bearer and for the people in their lives who love them. i love the lyric “this is the price we pay to feel”.  this difficulty is illustrated in a most tender and beautiful fashion in “next to normal”. and i believe that next to normal is probably the best anyone will ever get. “and still we pay… we love anyway”…

And you find some way to survive And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all, To be happier alive. Natalie: Day after day, Give me clouds, and rain and gray. Give me pain, if that’s what’s real. Henry and Natalie: It’s the price we pay to feel. Dan and Diana: The price of love is loss,Dan: But still we pay. Dan and Henry: We love anyway. Gabe: And when the night has finally gone. And when we see the new day dawn. We’ll wonder how we wandered for so long, so blind. The wasted world we thought we knew, The light will make it look brand new…. lyrics from “light” next to normal
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