Today is Tuesday.
I have a call with a client today. He’s going to see right through me. He will know that I’m a fraud. That I have no business in this business.
I’m three days away from that editing deadline and I’m nowhere near finished. What excuse can I use to buy myself some more time?
That script isn’t going to finish itself. It’s been what, two years? You don’t know how it ends, do you?
My last movie sucked. I came nowhere close to that pristine vision of it in my head. I am not good enough to make movies.
Why did I think I could do this? Film school was a waste of money.
That spark, that inspiration is gone. It’s nowhere in sight and I may never find it again.
I should accept my thoroughly average position in life because that’s all I will ever be–unimpressive.
I was delusional to chase this impossible dream.
I wasted mine and everyone else’s time and energy in thinking I could make it in this industry. I’m so sorry to everyone who was ever foolish enough to believe in me.
My mind is muddy with these thoughts before I’m even able to get out of bed. I’m a writer and a filmmaker and I battle depression.
Today is Tuesday.
I was first diagnosed with depression nearly 18 years ago when I made the difficult decision to leave my one-stoplight hometown to pursue film school in Chicago. The culture shock was too much for me and my mind began rejecting all the new stimuli I was forcing upon it. I was hundreds of miles from everything I had ever known and felt very literally like a fish out of water. I couldn’t breathe and I started to think that maybe I didn’t want to breathe anymore. This was obviously a scary time—a turning point in my life.
It took a while to find the right medication but eventually, I did and I have been on and off some form of medication(s) ever since. I found that a lot of the medications, while they did curb the lows, they also curbed the highs, which left me feeling very flat and vanilla about most things in my day-to-day life. Sure, I wasn’t necessarily getting as sad anymore. But I also wasn’t able to fully enjoy the really happy moments in my life. I also felt, whether true or not, that it dulled my creativity and I couldn’t help but think how frustrating and ironic it was that one of the major outlets I have in life is now being suppressed by a little pill that is supposed to make me happier.
IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY
This is something I don’t tell myself enough and one of the slogans of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. AFSP is a non-profit organization my girlfriend and I got involved with shortly after her brother tragically died by suicide. We’ve taken part in numerous walks, including an overnight walk in San Francisco, to raise money, hope, and awareness for those affected by suicide. AFSP is a great organization and it’s always inspiring to meet others who share in our triumph over grief and the struggles we face as survivors—to know that we’re not alone and find hope in each other’s perseverance.
I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m trying to practice self-care and be more kind to myself. It’s something that Layne Marie Williams preached in our recent article on Chicago Women in Film. “Take good care of yourselves, especially in these times…in whatever way that means to you. Burn out is very real and it’s so okay to prioritize your own well-being.”
When depression steals away my inspiration leaving me feeling worthless and unaccomplished, it’s okay. Sometimes I just need to say that out loud to myself and be sympathetic to my situation. It’s okay. I’ll try again tomorrow.
FOCUS ON JUST ONE SMALL ACTION
Creativity is my outlet. Making stuff makes me happy. Bringing an idea from my head and out, into the world is the ultimate high. But a depressive episode makes this feel completely overwhelming and all but impossible. It’s an impenetrable brick wall between me and that seed of an idea I was so excited about only yesterday.
So forget finishing that rewrite of the second act of my script when I can’t even muster the inspiration to get out of bed. But maybe, just maybe if I force myself to work on it for ten minutes, I’ll find my flow. And if not, I’ll try again tomorrow. It occasionally helps me to take these overwhelming goals and break them into smaller, more manageable pieces. It can trick my brain into feeling accomplished.
It doesn’t help my case that both writing and editing (two crucial aspects of the filmmaking process) are extremely isolating experiences. While I’ve come to enjoy this time to focus, especially now after having a child, I can still feel myself slipping into a funk after too much time spent in either one of these caves. Music can help and often having sports on in the background helps me feel like I’m not so alone. I just have to find a way to outsmart my brain with these little tricks.
TURN PAIN INTO PROSE
When all else fails, pain serves as a great story. Most of the films I’ve written have dealt with my own pain in some way. Sid Penrose is a short film that deals with depression and thoughts of suicide. Today is the world premiere of the trailer. This is not an accident. I wanted the premiere to coincide with the release of this article because it took me almost two years to finish and I probably don’t need to tell you, that is an extremely long time to complete a short film. The relief I feel at having finally finished it is outweighed only by the embarrassment I feel that it took so long. However, the fact that the trailer is being released today is a reminder of the spirit and perseverance of not only the film but within myself.
I am also making a feature film in 2021 that centers around so-called “influencers” and the dangers they can represent in our daily lives when we are constantly comparing ourselves to their perceived luxuries on social media. It’s my hope to show them as the normal people they are, with problems of their own hiding just outside of the frame they present to the world. We only see the filtered images that they want us to see.
DON’T COMPARE YOUR B-ROLL TO SOMEONE ELSE’S HIGHLIGHT REEL
This little nugget of wisdom comes from Justin Strandlund. I fall into this trap as much as anyone. I see someone’s success and automatically feel bitter and resentful. When in truth, I should celebrate their success. Success is not a limited resource after all. And it takes just as much energy to feel bitter towards someone as it does to celebrate them. But celebrating is a much more enjoyable experience and better for your psyche.
“Our social media feeds become filled with people we follow only because they’re beautiful or because we’re envious of their lives. And without realizing it, your feed turns into this torture device, an assault of beauty and perfection, designed to make you feel inadequate.”– Soman Chainani on the Tim Ferriss Show, Episode #220
SPEAK UP ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS
I’ve tried therapy a few times. I’m not good at it. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right therapist. It’s hard for me to open up and talk about what I’m feeling. It always has been. But that doesn’t mean I can’t open up to those closest to me. Instead of making excuses about my moods or lack of productivity, I should let them know what is going on. It’s difficult for those who have never experienced depression to fully understand and appreciate the obstacles I’m having to deal with. I should not take that for granted and do my best to explain it to them. This is easier said than done though and I’ll let you know when I’m finally able to master this facet of communication.
FIND PRIDE IN YOUR PERSISTENCE
These are tricks that I’ve discovered work for me. They may or may not work for you too. But if you take nothing else from this article, be kind to yourself and try to take action, right now, however small towards that something that makes you creatively fulfilled. Action builds confidence and confidence helps to keep fear and self-criticism at bay. I plan to explore this topic more in-depth in the future as part of a series about how film imitates life. So stay tuned!
There’s no question that there is a stigma surrounding mental health and depression. But if I can be open, honest, and vulnerable about my experiences, maybe you can too. We can take a small step towards reducing that stigma because we are not our depression.
Finally, if you are someone who struggles with depression, be proud of your perseverance. You’re still here battling and that inspires me. Know that you’re not alone and that it’s okay not to be okay. Have hope!
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. Because your story’s not finished yet. And we need you here to tell it.