“There’s only us, there only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other course. No other way. No day but today.”
Rent the Musical was playing at the theater downtown this past weekend, and I ended up being able to go see it twice. Rent has been one of my favorite musicals for about five years and was a part of the first coping skill I consciously participated in. Seeing it brought up a lot of memories, some good, some not so good. It also spurred a night of reflection on my life with chronic and mental illness.
“I can’t control my destiny. I trust my soul. My only goal is just to be.”
A majority of the characters in Rent are suffering from AIDS. The plot revolves around the fact that the characters are sick, and will be for the rest of their shortened lives. When I started acknowledging my mental illnesses and realizing that I would suffer from chronic pain for the rest of my life, suddenly the lyrics of nearly every song had lines I could relate back to my situation. I found myself doodling the lyrics in the margins of my school notebook. I listened to the songs on repeat while sitting in the bottom of the shower, mourning the healthy future I would never have. I started feeling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, because I identified with the characters, and if they were doomed to die young… what was my fate?
“Goodbye love. Hello Disease.”
Rent takes you through a series of emotions during its performance, and I found it easy to get swept up in the brilliance of the music. I’d be crying happy tears in Act 1 from the beautiful harmonies and sobbing into my pillow by Act 2 because of the plot. Back when I first started watching it, I realized it was a way for me to forget what I was going through in my own life. The rollercoaster of emotions it took me on was extreme enough that no matter what I was dealing with at the moment, I could forget for an hour or two.
“Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?”
Fast forward to this weekend. I’ve come a long way in 5 years. I’ve started, and stopped, self-harming. I’ve attempted suicide. I’ve received 8 mental health diagnoses and 3 chronic illness diagnoses. I’ve gone from being on my way to college to living in my grandparents’ basement while on disability. I’ve gone from thinking I’m going to work a traditional 40 hour work week for the rest of my life to multiple doctors appointments every week. I’ve lived in a mental hospital. I am sick. This weekend I watched these characters who have been with me my entire recovery play out their lives on stage. I watched them care for their sick significant others and hold them in their arms while they die. Tonight while I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep, I kept imagining a future partner sitting by my bedside as I struggled with my illnesses. I could almost feel them stroking my hair as my body shook uncontrollably. I could hear their voice pleading with me to try to eat something, or handing me a glass of water so I could start taking my handful of medication. I became so upset. I would never wish that on anyone! Why would someone choose to be with me, where there will be nights like that?
“You don’t want baggage without lifetime guarantee. You don’t want to watch me die.”
The message of hope the plot sings is not lost on me. The characters say that they would always choose love and sickness over no relationship at all. When someone loves me romantically, there will be happy moments. There will be tickle fights and movie nights. There will be adventures and laughter. They will make the commitment to me, in sickness and in health, and love me despite my baggage. Now if only I can emotionally understand those facts.
“There’s only now. There’s only here. Give in to love, or live in fear. No other path, no other way. No day but today.”