When Melissa Bangs signed up for motherhood, the last place she expected it to take her was a psych ward.
And, it’s probably safe to say that she sure didn’t think her crisis would be fodder for her own one-woman show, “Playing Monopoly With God & Other True Stories.”
It’s been described as both searingly honest and uproariously funny.
After four sold-out and two packed-house shows in Missoula, Bangs is bringing it on the road to the Myrna Loy Center for one night only at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. Tickets are $20 at www.playingmonopolywithgod.com.
If the title has you puzzled, all the more reason to see it, according to Bangs. She’s not about to give away any surprises.
“I describe it as a one-woman show that is live, nonfiction storytelling. It’s one-third comedy, one-third tragedy and one-third everything in between -- it’s a lot like life,” she said in a phone interview from her art studio in Missoula.
Bangs, who studied with Upright Citizens Brigade, the training ground for some of today’s biggest names in comedy, brings a unique set of storytelling skills to the stage.
The story begins in September 2012, when Bangs, a Missoula artist, at age 40, gave birth to her daughter Adelaide.
A month later, she was admitted to the Providence Psychological Inpatient Unit.
Within a few weeks, she returned home with a bipolar diagnosis and orders to sleep a lot and take her lithium prescription -- neither of which she could do.
With the help of a naturopathic doctor, she learned she was suffering from postpartum psychosis, brought on by severe hormone depletion and sleep deprivation.
Why talk about the crisis? And why turn to comedy to tell such a deeply personal and hair-raising life experience?
“I just realized I needed to heal," she said. "And that taking my story to the stage would be healing for me, but I also hoped it would be incredibly healing for many others.”
She had told her story in many shapes and forms to a number of friends, but for the first time added a comic element to a short performance of it at a kickoff for the Festival of the Book last fall.
“The crowd’s response was unbelievable,” Bangs said. “Having some 300-plus people roar with laughter at my most painful experience was really transformative for me.
“For me, as a human being, as a storyteller and artist, I know that comedy has this incredible ability to transform experience,” said Bangs. “In writing of this show, I spent a lot of time playing with and thinking about the balance of comedy and tragedy within the story.”
One of the bits of magic about laughter, she said, is “it just opens us up wide. In this moment of laughter it exposes our tender underbellies, our guards are down. There are many moments in the show where I deliver a shocking truth, while the audience is laughing before you have a chance of putting your guard up."
“If I just told a sad tale, people would hear much less of it," she added.
In February and May of this year in Missoula, she performed the full version of her story for six shows. More than 700 people saw it, and Bangs earned a standing ovation each night.
“I’ve been really delighted with the response,” Bangs said.
“This is a story about the resilience of the human spirit,” she said. “And it’s a story of finding one’s truth in the midst of bewildering layers -- in my case -- expert opinions, psychotropic drugs, incredible risk and a real sense of shame and loss.
“It’s a story about forgiveness of myself and others. It’s wildly funny and it’s deeply sad.”
“Part of my journey was getting off lithium, rejecting that bipolar diagnosis and finding the diagnosis of postpartum psychosis,” she said. She found her way by way of naturopathic medicine.
A reported 15 percent of women who give birth report a postpartum mood disorder of some kind, said Bangs.
Postpartum Support International suggests the true number is much larger. Because of the stigma and fear women feel about sharing these experiences, they remain silent, said Bangs.
People who’ve particularly connected with the threads of her story aren’t just parents, but others who’ve experienced the bottom dropping out of their lives because of a death, or a divorce or a bout with cancer.
A number of Helenans saw the show in Missoula, among them artist Suzy Holt and gallery owner Mary Lee Larison.
“I was just so stunned,” said Holt. “It was so beautifully presented and it’s such a difficult topic. She had the audience in the palm of her hand. We were laughing and crying and in wonder at her ability to talk about a really painful experience.
“I absolutely recommend it -- especially for anyone who experienced it (postpartum mood disorder) or knows someone who’s experienced it.”
Larison, whose training is in theater, liked it so much, she urged Bangs to bring it to Helena. “She exceeded my expectations,” Larison said. “She put together a really compelling event and performance. It wasn’t self-indulgent. She expresses her experience with finesse and real passion … and with enough distance that there’s real humor. I found myself laughing and crying and at times furious -- thinking I hope this never happens to anyone I know.”
She told Bangs she would help her bring it to Helena “because it’s an important story and it needs to be told.”
There’s also some recent additions to the story to share, as well.
Bangs and her naturopath, Dr. Christine White, are working to expand and diversify the medical model for treating women with postpartum mood disorders, Bangs said. They traveled to the Postpartum Support International Conference in Detroit this June to talk with some of the leading experts on new emerging treatments.
And along with Missoula social worker Melinda Cline they are working with the Community Medical Center’s chief medical officer to develop new programs at the center for women suffering from postpartum mood dysfunction.
Helena’s performance is presented by Helena’s Naturopathic Physicians Bergkamp, Cavin, Dove, Homer and Roush.