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Letter: 'Next to Normal' musical has message for all of us

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Everyone should go to Act Up Theater’s production of “Next to Normal” if you have any time in the next few days. You can find information and tickets at www.fmct.org.

Why? We are all impacted at some point in our lives by mental illness – whether it’s you, a family member, a child, a co-worker or a friend. If you don’t know anyone with mental illness, then you have your eyes and ears closed too tightly because it surrounds us all every day, and it is the No. 1 killer of young adults.

The heartbreak

After seeing “Next to Normal,” you will be shocked and blown away with the local talent and moved deeply to find compassion in your hearts for sufferers of mental illness and their families. It’s a subject that makes many of us uncomfortable and one that we often ignore despite it being one of the most destructive and misunderstood illnesses in our culture.

The musical captures the heartbreak and devastating effects of mental illness, and sheds light on the stigma that inherently accompanies mental illness, particularly in our region of the country. It is time to drop the Midwestern “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” adage with mental illness and start providing the necessary help and services for sufferers and their families without the shame and embarrassment that usually accompanies it.

Saddened

When are we going to reach out and start helping those who are silently suffering and who could never post on Facebook their story just to stay alive each day? Somehow it is OK to let people follow the journey of  other diseases but not an illness that is a leading cause of death or family destruction in the middle- age group and impacts every age range in our society, from children to the elderly.

As someone who has lived on the “edge” for the majority of my life with severe depression and anxiety, with little reprieve despite years of medications and therapy, it saddens me that this disease is still seen by so many as one that the suffer should just “snap out of” and that must be hidden to not be labeled as “crazy.”

Mental illness does not equate with crazy. Those two words should not be tied together.

Silent no more

While I am not one to hide a lot from my friends and most people who are closest to me know that I am a sufferer (although usually shocked when I tell them), I still fear the stigma that this illness presents and how it could impact my children if the public is aware of my illness. Will people send their child to an overnight with my kids if they know that I am “mentally ill?” Will my husband’s job be impacted if the community knows that I am mentally ill? These and other questions have kept me more silent than I normally am as I navigate through motherhood, marriage and mental illness.

Over the past year I have decided to end my silence. I’ve started speaking out because it is hard to advocate for a disease that is so crippling where even just getting out the door becomes a major feat. And my children are old enough to understand that this disease is a disease, not a flaw of mine or something they, too, need to feel shame about.

While I rarely use social media to promote my causes or beliefs, after watching the amazing production of “Next to Normal,” I no longer can remain silent. Scott Brunsven, you told us to speak up after watching the play. I did because I know so many of you out there suffer, too. And it is time that those of us in the community who have the desire to speak up and help start doing so without fear.

‘Bravo’

I want to shout out a heartfelt “bravo” to the actors and producers of the play. And to Kathy Halgrimson Hanson for being such an inspiration to my kids, and now to me as I witnessed the God-given talent that I never had known you possessed. As I saw you walk into the theater about a week ago as I was doing my daily run (one of the ways I manage my illness), you commented to me that you wished you were a runner. I didn’t get a chance to shout back that I wish I could be an actor. Who would have guessed that a week later your acting would upturn my world of advocacy for this disease.

You were beyond amazing, Kathy Halgrimson Hanson, as were the other cast members. Thank you for bringing the audience to tears and to laughter by shedding light on a terribly tough/tragic/relevant topic that personally affects everyone who isn’t living under a rock.

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