A few months back, I wrote about my relationship with the TV show Gilmore Girls in regards to my mental health, and I decided to do something similar It seems almost inevitable that Dear Evan Hansen, a musical about young adults struggling with depression and anxiety (among other things) be tackled on this blog. However, I write here not about the representation of mental health issues, or even about the power this musical holds, but about my specific relationship with it. Others may praise it for their own reasons, and others still may criticize, but I view it as a turning point in the way I cope with my anxiety. This is why.
***The following includes spoilers. Read on if you please.
It was a Monday night when my father came into my room and said he had gotten a ticket for Dear Evan Hansen for the next night. Let me clarify – it was Monday, August 28, 2017, the day after my entire college Plan had shifted after I had spent 36 hours in a downward spiral of tears and panic. Needless to say, it had been a weekend of turmoil and internal struggle for reasons most people would have trouble understanding. The point is, I was not in the best place mentally or emotionally.
My dad had seen DEH a couple of months previously, a musical with which I’m sure most of you (especially perusers of this blog) are familiar. He decided, for not-so-mysterious reasons, that seeing a show about a teenage boy with mental health problems and his personal growth arc would be cathartic for me at that particular time, and, as usual, he was correct.
The process by which I got there, however mundane to the untrained eye, was also important. I am not a city gal. New York is too busy and dirty and loud and chaotic for my liking and was it not for my love of theatre and other experiences that could not be multiplied elsewhere, I would not go in often. On this particular night, I was taking the train in alone, meeting my dad at Grand Central, seeing the show alone, then meeting him afterward – keeping in mind that I was a competent 17 at the time, but in a particularly delicate state. The whole ordeal did cause quite a bit of anxiety – until the curtain rose (metaphorically) and the show began.
Now, I am one to talk about the transformative power of theatre till the cows come home, but that evening I experienced a feeling quite unlike what I usually felt during a show. I’m not an overly emotional person; I do not cry at Nicholas Sparks movies or poignant human interest stories, but, I swear to God, the opening vamp of “Anybody Have a Map” started and tears sprang to my eyes almost instinctively. Once the initial shock of being there wore off, I was caught up in this beautiful world that had been created, as I know others are. I found bits and pieces of myself scattered throughout and absorbed them like a sponge. When Larry Murphy breaks down at the end of Act I, finally coming to terms with his son’s suicide, I allowed myself to break a little bit, too. The moment I will remember most, though, came when I sat and watched Heidi Hansen comfort her shattered son in “So Big / So Small”, promising to never give up, to never leave. I saw my mom, who, after almost 20 years, has moved the moon and the stars to make me feel safe and capable and loved. My mother is absolutely extraordinary, and in that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to her that is hard to put into words.
When I met my dad outside the theatre, I simply nodded, and he knew. We then went to Junior’s to nerd out over the theatrics of it all, but I was simultaneously wrecked and healed that night.
On my extensive hodgepodge of a Spotify collection, I have exactly one playlist and one album downloaded offline. The album, of course, is the aptly titled Dear Evan Hansen (Broadway Cast Recording) [Deluxe Edition] :). When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, which of course is a loaded term, I pop an Ativan, because, ya know, medicine, and then I press play. At this point, I don’t even listen unless I need a rooting point of focus. I just breathe and let the music wash over me. I can’t explain why it helps; it probably has something to do with the experience I had, as well as the soothing familiarity (which Spotify makes me well aware of with it’s annual Your Top Songs playlists). I habitually check my pulse when feeling anxious, and it miraculously slows as the first three songs on the album play. This happens most often when I am in the car, driving to something or other that my mind has identified as threatening. Since I can’t exactly take out a Harry Potter book and absorb the comforting words while I’m driving (my other mode of choice), Pasek and Paul’s score keeps me company instead.
In my mind, DEH is a soothing, gut-wrenching, calming, emotional rollercoaster of a journey, and, in a different scenario, dwelling too much on something so complicated would, therefore, cause me to spiral further. My mind works and reacts in mysterious ways, though, as all of ours do. It takes a piece of theatre that can strip people down to their emotional cores and turns it into a means of strength, holding me together like quick-drying glue when I begin to shatter. I don’t associate it with pain, but with hope.
A number of its mantras have permeated my psyche; they help me through the little things and the big stuff – which always have different meanings for different people. One message, though, is universal. It begins the opening number and comes full circle in the finale, running through the show and providing solace to anyone who may need it. When I am feeling inadequate, overindulging on social media, anxious about whatever my mind chooses to latch onto, or gripped by any of the everyday worries we all experience, it is there, simple and reassuring. It is not a magic fix but is true and I ask you to read it now, then read it again, whether you think you need it or not. Then, try to believe it.
Today, at least you’re you, and that’s enough.
If you haven’t had the chance, please give it a listen here or here.
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