Last night I got to go see the Rep's performance of "Next to Normal" and though I expected to cry a bit, I did not expect to be so shaken. Oh, and by shaken I mean sniffling the entire show, going down to my basement the minute I got home to cry, and falling asleep exhausted.
If you do not know the show, I'll give you a second to go Wikipedia a plot summary. I can wait.
Got it? Yup. I knew the gist of the story but maybe should have looked into it a bit more before I started bawling like...like...well, like I usually do I guess. I think what got to me the most was how much I connected with the characters and the music that sent me over the edge. Standing on the other side of depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and self-mutilation, looking back at a dramatization of some parts of my past was overwhelming.
The song that sent me into complete hysterics (seriously, it's a good thing I was biting the inside of my cheek) was the song "You Don't Know." I'll put the lyrics here, written by the brilliant Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey:
"Do you wake up in the morning and need help to lift your head?
Do you read obituaries and feel jealous of the dead?
It's like living on a cliff side not knowing when you'll dive.
Do you know, do you know what's it's like to die alive?
When the world that once had color fades to white and gray and black.
When tomorrow terrifies you, but you'll die if you look back.
You don't know.
I know you don't know.
You say that you're hurting, it sure doesn't show.
You don't know.
You tell me let go.
And you may say so, but I say you don't know.
The sensation that you're screaming, but you never make a sound.
Or the feeling that you're falling, but you never hit the ground.
It just keeps on rushing at you day by day by day by day.
You don't know, you don't know what it's like to live that way.
Like a refugee, a fugitive, forever on the run.
If it gets me it will kill me, but I don't know what I've done."
Among songs about love, loss, and trying to hold the family together, this one hit home. It hit home in a way I cannot explain, a way that hurts and helps to watch at the same time. It vocalizes what I try to say sometimes when I talk about my past and those darker days, but the raw intensity and utter abandonment of the lyrics stir something deep inside.
The scene with the therapists made me laugh at their authenticity, especially the awkward and impossible to answer question, "Tell me about yourself," or "Tell me your story." The drugs listed throughout the show were mind boggling since I knew almost every one of them. The adjusting of regiments, the constant promise that it's not an exact science but we'll keep trying, and the reassurance that we'll find something that will work. I was lucky enough to find something that did, but not everyone is so lucky or it takes years to find a combo effective enough for stability.
I never dealt with the numbness, but I can understand it in numbness I felt off my medication. Nor have I ever had the urge to go off my pills for I fear myself without their aid. Fear...fear is an interesting thing for me. The emotion saved my life in a way. I never carried through with any suicide attempt for fear of it not working and waking up in a psychiatric hospital. I think that was always my worst fear. I worried if I did tell of my thoughts and feelings I would be carted away, restrained, sedated, and force fed medications.
For reference, here's a picture of me in those darker times:
You see that girl? That girl, 11 years old, was hurting too much to tell anyone.
Looking back, perhaps I should have told someone during instead of after the fact. I'm lucky I didn't fall completely off the deep end and that medication and therapy worked.
The other thing in the musical that sickened me (literally, I had to look away) was the portrayal of ECT. Next to the hospital, ECT is another one of my hidden fears, since it's main use is on patients with untreatable chronic depression. I worried many times, "What if this medicine doesn't work? Will they do that to me?" Granted, it isn't used often and is seen as beneficial to it's users, but it still frightens me. I don't mean to say either that psychiatric hospitals are horrible or shameful places; rather my own twisted fears kept me from acting on impulses.
Overall though, my review for the musical in one word would be: beautiful. From the lighting (I'm a sucker for well-executed lighting), to the music, lyrics, acting, bare-bones set, and tense subject material, I loved it all. It struck a cord with me, yes, and made me reflect about certain things that I had left buried deep for a while, but I was moved. That's the point, isn't it? Great theater is what I have a passion for, the kind that touches every fiber of your being and electrifies your senses. This show had that element for me, and I'm grateful I was able to be a witness to it's art.