By Christopher Green
It is all about this woman, a suburban mother and wife, who is, as the program spelled out, bi-polar. She is portrayed as being over medicated, is diagnosed and that her life is just one big pile of mess. The title comes from how she describes herself when she quips late in the play that she
is “at least next to normal.”
It is an apt description.
I liked the play; it spoke to me in a way that I am sure some other people in the theater could understand. Even though it is hard to avoid being preachy when taking on a subject such as mental health, or rather that lack of mental health, which they didn’t, the message about the challenges of living in a normal world when you feel less than normal came through loud and clear.
Here is a link to a good review that spells out the story much better than I can…
Unfortunately, Next to Normal has finished its brief run, but I think this play will ultimately end up in the performing portfolios for many local repertory theater’s. (BTW, It is wonderful to live in a city like Cleveland that has an active entertainment district like Playhouse Square. It truly is one of a kind and another reason to think of Cleveland as the “biggest” medium sized city in the country.)
In fact, I think that being next to normal is a great way to describe how I feel most of the time. My mental health is not in question although there are a more than a few people out there who might disagree with my assessment. However, being physically challenged is not normal in our society that has tended to worship the perfect body, the perfect life, the perfect hair. (Do not get me started on the hair…)
The way I, and I imagine a lot of people who are challenged, want to look at it is that we are all challenged in some way or another. But that is, to me, at least, just political correctness brought down to the personal level and frankly does nobody any good.
No, it’s good to know that there are people out there who are in the same predicament that I am in. I am sure there are because I sat in rehab classes with the oxygen challenged. But it is also good to realize that I am different than most of the people in the world that surrounds me.
The idea that I am next to normal is driven home by the fact I am attached to an Oxygen tank or Oxygen producing device. I am sure I could survive for a pretty long time not attached to that supply, but I would be challenged in a completely different way. But then I would be no good to anyone anywhere. And I would be hurting myself exponentially if that cord was cut and not repaired.
Having that oxygen allows me to be almost normal. I can strap that tank to my back and strike out into the world. If I hadn’t broken my hip some twenty years ago, I would probably be able to jog or even run as long as I had that portable tank strapped to my back. Now if they can somehow get one of those oxygen tanks that cranks out up to 10 liters per minute into a contraption that I can strap on my back I would be even closer to normal. (Why are we not completely on the metric system?)
Anyway, remember from last summer that I was able to go swimming at my sister and brother in-law’s back-yard pool. It was because I had one of those big portable tanks that cranks it out at a rate of 6-8 liters per minute. I can ride my stationary bike, on a good day, for 30-35 minutes (35 last night) attached to the machine and it was delivering O2 at 4.5 liters per minute. Pretty good for a guy with the lung capacity of a big gerbil.
Still, I am not normal. I’m not really even next to normal.
I might be next to next to normal. What is really telling about this is I was awarded disability status with literally no questions asked. We all have heard horror stories about people who were denied disability over and over again. I think that is what really made me sit up and take notice.
For the longest time I wanted to, like the heroine in the play, appear as close to normal as I possibly could. I tried my hardest to walk as tall as I could, to treat my oxygen as if it were just a natural extension of me and that I tried so very hard to keep up with the flow, whatever the activity.
But this was all for appearances sake only and it was, to be dreadfully honest, exhausting to pretend that I was normal or just this side of normal.
Now that I have truly come to grips with my delicate condition and, in the vernacular that so many have adopted, just let myself be myself, I am under much less stress physically and emotionally.
I may not be normal in the purest sense of the meaning but I am normal in the sense that I have accepted what has been tossed my way and learned to deal with it as best as I possibly can.
To be perfectly honest, my fight to appear as normal as I could actually has set me back a bit. You see people who know me through the façade that I have built up around me don’t really know how “off” I really am and so they have expectations of me that are not realistic.
The worst damage to my normalcy was that I would accept most social invitations that came my way then find myself not being able to attend. All this did was cause a lot of my friends to stop extending invitations.
And that is my fault.
So, over the course of the last two years, I have slowly let the true me out of the box, so to speak. I have been able to say no to certain to things that I was afraid to say no to just a few years ago. I have embraced, in the words of Jon Lovitz dating advice from Saturday Night Live, Girls, lower your expectations….
In that way I am, I guess, next to normal.
At least I feel as next to normal as I can being that I am nowhere near normal, whatever that really means…