‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
A little over a week ago, America’s Best Friend Jennifer Lawrence won an Academy Award. She said everything we hoped she’d say, and as if we couldn’t love her any more, she tripped on her way up the stairs. She got off the floor before Hugh Jackman could rush to her rescue–her loss. This is a valuable life lesson, J.Law. Girl, if handsome men in tuxedos are running to pick you up, stay down.
But when all was said and done, she won an Oscar at 22 years old. For a movie called Silver Linings Playbook.
I only saw Silver Linings Playbook because it kept winning stuff. But from the trailer, I wasn’t sure why it was so great. The movie appeared to be a bunch of awkward scenes put together. You know how when you see a trailer for a movie that looks really funny, and then you see the movie and realize all of the best jokes (or the only jokes) were in the trailer? I had a feeling that Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t like that. I had a feeling that this movie had plenty of awkward to go around.
Well, it certainly did. But that’s what made it beautiful.
Gosh, I don’t know about your life but mine is chock full of awkward. Dumb things I say, stupid things I do, stilted conversations, that awkward back-and-forth dodging you do when you’re trying to avoid someone who is walking at you straight on, and you both keep moving to the same side. Life is super awkward.
Sometimes that awkward is funny, and sometimes it’s tragic. And sometimes it just is.
Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t awkward for the sake of being awkward. It’s not just a story about two awkward people having awkward conversations that reek of honesty and discomfort. It’s about more than that: mental illness, hope, fresh starts, and taking chances. Oh, and manipulation, lying, and enabling. But isn’t good comedy about all of those things?
Our two main characters are broken people. Not just broken as in they made bad choices and are dealing with the consequences. Their brains are actually wired poorly in certain ways. Pat is bipolar. Tiffany is depressed and maybe she has a sex addiction or is just extremely insecure. Somehow, as Pat struggles to rebuild his life and his marriage and Tiffany tries to find a relationship built on stable ground, we the audience are brought into the reality of life with mental illness…the pitfalls, the triggers, the pills.
As much as we pretend our culture is tolerant and accepting, we still have a major stigma around mental illness, even with brave celebrities coming out and admitting depression or bipolarity or obsessive-compulsive disorder. We like to see people overcome things, to manage life well. It’s okay to be broken in this culture, as long as you’re going to fix it as soon as possible, be that through therapy or drugs or scotch tape and string.
But as I watched Silver Linings Playbook, I noticed something. The people around Pat and Tiffany? Their parents, friends, therapists, neighbors? The healthy ones with jobs and houses and brains that supposedly functioned well?
They had their own mental illnesses. Gambling addictions, rage, passive-aggression, enabling, narcissism. And they were supposed to be the normal ones?
I looked at other movies and TV shows that are popular now, and many of them have characters who deal with different types of mental illness. Les Miserables is all about obsession. Lincoln and Mary deal with the worst and fullest forms of grief. The Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with the effects of abuse and depression. Many other movies are about fear and its crippling effects.
I was struck. Wait a minute. We see ourselves in these characters. Are we…are we all mentally ill?
Of course we are.
Our brains don’t work right. We create habits and have tendencies. Our experiences, both the things we’ve done and the things done to us, have shaped our brains to value irrationally or act illogically. Things happened to us before we were old enough to make sense of things, and these events can make our brains do crazy things. Some of us haven’t had enough love; others have had far too much.
We’re all broken in so many ways: no matter our supposed mental stability, no matter our ability to mask it, no matter the self-medication we take. It’s a broken world full of broken people that we live in.
It’s the brave ones who get help. It’s the brave ones who admit their flawed brains. It’s the brave ones who admit they have problems, big or small, and work to remedy them.
They don’t do the work because if they don’t fix themselves they won’t be worth anything. They will always be worth more than diamonds and rubies because they are human beings with the capacity—however limited—for wisdom, love and joy.
But by asking for help, they admit they are not perfect. They are admitting all of life is a journey that must be undertaken. To be stagnant is to be lost. To stand still is to be held captive by these brains that work against us…if we don’t ask them to work with us. And we’re not meant to do this alone.
My mental illness is fear. It’s insecurity. It’s reticence. It’s indecision. My brain tells me that I’m not smart enough, strong enough, skinny enough, sweet enough.
But my heart, when I let it beat loudly and I listen, it says, You are worth more than diamonds and rubies. You are both perfectly who God has created you to be and capable of becoming who God has created you to become. It sounds crazy but it’s true. Life is a journey of both now and to be, regardless of your mental illnesses, diagnosed or undiagnosed.
We’re all mad here. And that’s just fine.