Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pain travels & travails ...

OK I did expect a play about mental illness - that's how it's advertised after all. I've known Dan Berkey for many years, since 1993 to be exact when we met at a poetry reading. We've been in touch on and off since then and more often now that we've discovered the pleasures of email.

I am Dan Berkey a schizophrenic actor in remission he announces as though we were all together at an AA meeting. Hi I'm Joy and I'm crazy too which most of us are but how many of us have spent time in the psych ward being evaluated and treated and let go again and come in again and again. Some of us slip by this maneuver by the hairs in our nose - we manage not to be there, but somehow this play makes me feel like I signed up for a degree in craziness please, which in some ways I feel I have but not purposefully or at least consciously. I just am crazy enough to be a magnet for people who need help and seem to have a natural ease to understanding their dilemma.

Berkey jumps through so many hoops and has so much energy it unnerves the audience, puts us on edge as he sits on the ledge ready to hedge through the next interlude minus the quaaludes that used to be so popular in the 60's. He leads us through his life showing us what it's like to hear voices and drink to suppress the voices but instead in Berkey's head - alcohol only serves to make the voices more rambunctious. I sat on the edge of my seat as Berkey announced he "would touch" us which he clearly intended to do physically mentally and emotionally. I longed for his touch and dreaded it in the same breath just as he predicted I would.

He exposes his childhood calamities and what appears to be a childhood rape but it's unclear as to whether the rape is real or imagined. He lies on the ground humping the floor and speaking to someone asking them to stop then threatening to tell mommy. The other voice threatens back and his resistance to tell is quelled. In my head I'll go for this is real and the culprit is obviously someone very close - family or close friend. How do I know this? Because I've spoken to over a hundred abused kids, many of them sexually abused by their step dads, uncles, or mom's trusted boyfriend. This particular issue is enough to make me cram my fingers down my throat. While working I got so I could just meet a teen and know she'd been sexually abused. Eventually this work became too painful for me and to make it through my last five years at the Department of Education I had to switch to pre-k - 3 to 5 year olds. Not that they aren't abused but not to the same extent as older children nor are they as verbal as their teen counterparts.

Why did I want to see this play? Because all my life I've worked with and helped people with problems. Forget about the diagnosis - Diagnosis -shmiagnosis. I can talk about that too but that is never what interested me. What always did interest me was motivation and introspection. I find the I in others and examine myself there and there's the rub and fascination. If we can find the whys of our behavior we have a chance of understanding the whys of others.

We were brought full circle as Berkey finally let his pain go along with his medication and alcohol abuse. He chose to be alive be healthy and to be in remission. If he had kept drinking he would've been dead by now. Not only was his liver fucked but he had pancreatitis too and we can't live without those two organs.

Does that mean one chooses to be ill or chooses to be schizophrenic? I think not but I think Dan Berkey has a point about it being in the best interest of the medical profession to keep the ill ill because that is what maintains them - not recovery. I asked Dan if he thought stress had anything to do with his remission and as far as he is concerned it's a mystery where recovery comes from and where illness goes, but his healthy lifestyle combined with clean intent with meditation and yoga practice are certainly factors that help reduce stress. Another factor that influenced his remission is his attitude of letting the pain go, letting the illness go, letting the voices go ... well if you let go of things - those things can no longer influence or control you.

Riveted to Berkey's voice as he took us through his adventures, his sex addiction his alcoholism his bike messengering job and through his successful acting career, I watched him fly through the air, do somersaults, share his inner tumult, and swing right back into the rhythm of himself as naturally as a dog shakes off snow from the winter storm and curls up by a warm fire inside himself. His props are quite creative and strangely believable, especially the bike I imagine I saw him riding, but it's actually strapped to his head and chest as he runs around the stage - showing us another page in the life of ... whoever is running inside my or your head, please make them stop - it's getting sore from being trampled on. His message is loud and clear. We do need to be our brother's keeper.

I know, I'll go do some yoga eat a double nut fudge sundae and watch the fringe while contemplating on the me in me and the me in you and the you in me and us together in society.

Seriously folks, there's only one show left this coming Tuesday and if you're in New York or plan to be and have any interest in the subject matter - go see Dan Berkey in Remission at PS 122. When you're through you can visit Enchantments across the street and pick up some candles and incense like I did.