But You Don't Look Crazy

When I ran down the street naked in West Point Grey during a manic psychosis, I had no intention of writing a play about it. I had no intention period. But years later, after police-pick ups, ambulance rides and several stays at the psych. ward, a solo show was born. Crazy for Life recounts my journey with bipolar disorder.

I wish the reasons I wrote the theatre piece were more virtuous. They weren't. After being at 'Club Medication' (a.k.a. the psych. ward), I wasn't getting the auditions quite like I used to. And I was rather gun shy about the whole business of acting. I didn't exactly leave at my peak.

Prior to putting pen to paper, I worked as a marketing and administrative assistant and craved a more creative life.

And really, I knew a good story when I heard one. Something about a naked woman running down a road always makes for "good copy". So with trepidation, I began writing about what happened.

It decided it would be a book. Yeah, not a play. I was finished with that theatre stuff. But lo' and behold when I read excerpts at a festival, the pieces began taking on a life of their own.

So I wrote some more. And more. And tweaked. And hedged and polished. And eventually Crazy for Life materialized, originally titled The Truth Shall Set You Free - but first it'll piss you off.

In retrospect, I realize I created the play to capture a glimpse of one face of psychiatric illness. One I didn't often see. I wanted, or more accurately, needed to see examples of middle-of-the-road people, like myself who were managing their mental illness just fine, thank-you very much.

I wanted to hear other experiences about psych wards and side effects and crap doctors and good doctors. As an invitation to others I wrote my story. So we could band together, celebrate and commiserate about what it's like to be poked and prodded, diagnosed and dismissed, loved and labeled, to recover and relapse.

I've performed the show for over a year and half now, and without fail, enjoy each and every new performance.

I continue to discover new elements of my experience, the illness, the art of storytelling and acting and most especially about the tenacity and heart of others who withstand the often traumatic experience of psychiatric illness.

I want to smash the stigma of what society thinks "the mentally ill" look like. What kind of families we come from. The backhanded compliment I get: "but you don't look crazy?" continues to make me chuckle.

Just as there are many paths to the top of a mountain, so are there innumerable faces of mental illness, treatments and stories of recovery and hope.

If I'm not mistaken, we, as well as family members, undergo similar fears when diagnosed with a chronic illness, especially a psychiatric one. Is it treatable? What will people think? Will I be able to work again? What are my resources? What will medication do to me? Will I ever get better?

Hope and affinity are crucial factors in recovery; at least they were for my parents and me. I struggled with enormous inner shame and stigma when reaching out for help. But once I did, my chances of recovery increased dramatically.

Mental disorders are serious, yes. And they require us to make serious choices. But the approaches to treatment and awareness don't have to be so dour. Humor and the arts have an amazing capacity to heal, both audience and artist.

How does it feel to take medications that sound like characters from a bad Star Trek sequel? You know those guys: Captain Zoloft and Lieutenant Paxil who negotiate with the Lithium Liberation Army? Or the irony suicidal fantasies sometimes keep us alive? Or what about that relentless track of self-hate that spins in your head when you're so depressed even blinking is an effort?

For me the show breaks down my own fears. It empowers me as I demand mental illness be brought out of the proverbial closet. It allows me to exchange information and hear other people's stories; to know I am not a freak of nature, even though, my inner-meany-minded voice tells me I am.

The play reminds me I can discuss being "nuts" with a light touch and a kind heart. In a very selfish way, it is my companion and a form of self-preservation. It prompts me to be in the driver's seat, as much as I can, of my treatment plan, to shake off the web of embarrassment and create my own recovery, whatever that may look like.

Perhaps it will encourage others to do so as well. And maybe not. Regardless, it keeps my creative fires alive and my mental health in check. In truth it is my life breath, both as an artist and a person.

And it offers me the priceless opportunity to see my own reflection in others. This power of community cannot be underestimated.