The Repair Man Playwright’s Note

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, and then, some time that week, he created peoplesome of whom are tall, some of whom like to dance, some of whom can only sleep at night if their thermostat is turned to exactly 71.3 degrees, some of whom have been eating mayonnaise and relish sandwiches their whole lives without anybody ever telling them that’s gross. Some of these people live and work and breathe pretty easily, while others need to take lots of little pills and spill their guts to a therapist once a week just to get out of bed in the morning.

My great grandmother, Ida Gomer Abrams, was the only of her five siblings to be born in America. The family came over from the Russian Pale of Settlement to escape anti-semitic pogroms and to start over in a space where there was more opportunity. Bubby Ida grew up in Philadelphia and married my great grandfather, Manuel Abrams, a business owner. She raised two beautiful children, my Zayda Marvin and my Aunt Eydie, and lived into her 90s. I never knew her before she got sick, but, by all accounts, she cared fiercely about her family, loved to help out, and was an amazing storyteller. Her life was long and rich, and she was loved by many, many people.

Bubby Ida also suffered from depression and anxietyblanket diagnoses that, we suspect, would have been more accurately pinpointed as bipolar disorder in 2018. Bipolar is categorized by periods of low emotional lows and high emotional highs, lasting weeks and months at a time, leaving you without a middle ground. You’re up, you’re down, and, regardless of where you’re at, you feel a whole lot. Bubby Ida was given the best care available at the timewhich happened to be dangerous, now-defunct methods of treatmentand then sent home. Although she wasn’t treated until late in her life (her treatment started in the late 1980s), my great grandmother was the product of an era of closed doors and whispers, of women being admitted to hospitals for “hysteria,” of locking away people whose brains showed signs of missed connection. True mental health care was virtually nonexistent.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the winter of 2016. My mom was diagnosed about 30 years earlier than that. Our grandmother was a survivor, and so are we. We make our way through life cognizant of the women who have come before, who have suffered with irregular emotions and brain chemistries and still managed to hold on to families and friends and people who love them. We are lucky that, in 2018, bipolar is named and treatable. We are lucky to have access to medication and therapy that helps to create the emotional baseline we’re not good at maintaining. And, just like Bubby Ida, we’re lucky to be loved and supported by brilliant people who see us for so much more than our disorder.

A few months after my diagnosis, I went to Israel. The trip was challenging for me, ethically and emotionally, but I came back with a lot of new, Jewish perspective. I’d always known about “Chai,” the Hebrew symbol for “life,” but I never knew its larger connotation. My tour guide talked about how, in Hebrew, “life” encompasses “the will to live.” It acknowledges your struggle and raises you loveChai means you are good and honest and kind despite how you may be hurting. I thought a lot about Bubby Ida, and my mom, and the other strong, kind, mentally ill, Jewish women in my family, and I thought about how well we embrace life and love despite living with brains that often want us to do the exact opposite.

This play came out of that generational self-love that I work at every day of my life, out of the acknowledgement that, yes, I have this thing with my brain, and, yes, people love me anyway, and I can love me anyway. I hope you enjoy it.



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