Next to Normal - Community Playhouse

The Omaha Community Playhouse presented the musical Next to Normal earlier this year. The 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner, Next to Normal is a deeply moving rock musical and raw account of a family dealing with mental illness, tragedy and the realities of modern society.

Next to Normal is the story of Diane Goodman and her family as they try to cope with her bipolar disorder and struggle to maintain normalcy in their suburban home.

We asked several friends of BHECN to share their reflections on Next to Normal and share how the story mirrors some of the real life struggles they have faced in dealing with mental illness in their families.

Kristi Barth, co-founder of Teens Finding Hope, found the story rang true—especially the challenges of finding the right medications, the mother struggling with impulsive behaviors, how the disease impacts the whole family and forming effective relationships with the counselors.

Kristy Gustafson, another family member who has struggled with a loved one’s mental illness also echoes the trueness of the portrayal of bipolar disorder. She said it’s the “wanting everything to be ok. And have it look ok, even though you know it is not… So when those manic times happen, even though you know it is manic in your brain… You convince yourself that maybe this time it will work out and all be ok. That this time we got the right combination of medication. This time he will be happy. This time he won't isolate and withdraw from us, his family.”

While the story in Next to Normal focuses on the mother, the show also portrays the impact on loved ones. Gustafson stressed the importance of “getting out of your own head” and talking to someone. “It would have been easy for the father (in the show) let depression sink into him, but he chose to speak with a professional to get out of his head and talk about the pain.”

Kristi Barth points to the “Four Cs” of coping with a family member’s mental illness (via Nebraska Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health):

  • You didn't Cause the mental illness
  • You can't Cure the mental illness
  • You can't Control the mental illness
  • You can Cope with the mental illness

“Educate yourself. Make sure that you put support systems in place. Remember to take care of yourself because if you don't, you won't be able to care for your family.” She adds that it’s the “Same theory as the oxygen masks on a plane. Take care of yourself first before placing the mask on your child. Make realistic expectations and enjoy and celebrate each and every day.”

Following two of the performances, UNMC experts led a discussion of the play and took audience questions. Kristi Barth and psychologist Rachel Labaton, Ph.D. spoke following the February 16 performance. BHECN Medical Director Howard Liu, M.D. and Kristy Gustafson spoke following the March 2 performance.

Next to Normal continues through March 16 at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Tickets are available at the Box Office or online .

Photo credit: Omaha Community Playhouse