Last week we met my cousins Larry and Janine for lunch in Carlsbad. Janine is consistently my biggest blogging cheerleader. For so many years, I blogged every Monday and the words became a story she followed with the ever encouraging text of “I just love you.” I just love you, too, Janine. This one’s for you…and also Larry since he hooked us up with the Southwest pea-netzel extravaganza. (Fly, cousins, fly–and come and pick us up!)
If you know me at all, you know my world changed when my oldest child started showing signs he was in great pain during elementary school, the same school in Manhattan Beach where I was teaching second grade. We drove to school together every day, but somehow he was able to hide just how much pain he was experiencing and I missed it. I still don’t understand how, exactly, except that I was quite distracted and overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I felt at the time.
Eventually the walls gave way, and a tsunami of symptoms flooded our world. It was in that riptide I made a choice: I would do all that I could to encourage all other parents, and especially single parents, going through this journey that there is hope and that they are not alone. I would attempt to let any young person I intuited was struggling know how important and unique they were. I would dive deep into my creative self during my time on this planet to find a new conversation that was different than the one I was being told. It wasn’t to Pollyanna the Truth. God knows, the teen years were a challenge and we wrote about that in horrific detail in our side-by-side accounting of that gut-wrenching time in Voices of Bipolar Disorder. The story I was being told then was, “You really need to adjust your expectations. Recovery isn’t really a thing. There’s really nothing you can do for your child.”
Just so you know, that’s a bold-faced lie. And it’s not helpful. It discourages both parents and young people who are facing a mental health hurdle that they are likely not going to be able to jump over it. People blame the system (which admittedly is like the monster in the upside down in Stranger Things–except for less connected), they see the lack (of doctors, of support, of psych ERS, of money, of allies, of etc. etc. etc.)…and, yes, all those things are true. Nearly every California sheriff will tell you his prison is a psych facility. Twin Towers, in Downtown Los Angeles, is the largest mental health facility in the country at last check, with one tower being solely dedicated to yellow shirts, the ones they give out when they determine an inmate has a brain illness.
I don’t deny any of that. I’m painfully aware, and in fact, it breaks my heart. The reason it breaks my heart is because it doesn’t have to be like this, and there is another Truth out there.
As a culture, we need to have more compassion and less name calling. I so frequently hear very educated people use hurtful, discriminating terms to refer to people with mental health issues as if this is an us vs. them situation. It’s not. Given the right trigger, we can each fall down. I had this talk with our family doctor about 3 years ago. That doctor (who was a very good doctor many thought and had so much going for him) now sits in jail, his life turned upside down. I often wonder if that will be his trigger, but 3 years ago, I’d never have seen it and I’m sure he didn’t either. Mental illness does not discriminate and nobody is immune.
Still, we are so careless with our language. This is how the Merriam’s dictionary currently defines the term “crazy”:
“Stella went crazy and assaulted a visitor”
synonyms: mad, insane, out of one’s mind, deranged, demented, not in one’s right mind, crazed, lunatic, non compos mentis, unhinged, mad as a hatter, mad as a March hare; More2.extremely enthusiastic.“I’m crazy about Cindy” synonyms: passionate about, (very) keen on, enamored of, infatuated with, smitten with, devoted to; More
This is not okay with me. My vision is that the second definition will become the first definition and that the first definition will fall off the face of the Earth. All it does is perpetuate separation (an illusion anyway), diffuse compassion and empathy, and quite frankly, push a genocide agenda that serves no one, and hurts everyone whether they’re aware of that or not.
Language is important. It defines who we are as a society. Just making decisions as to what to call mental illness for this Docuseries has been flooded with “feedback.” The most accurate term to describe the biology of mental illness to me is “brain illness,” but a local activist recently told me people with mental illness hate that term. Teens no longer use “crazy,” but mental, and that’s just this week.
The part that confuses me is when someone has cancer, we wouldn’t call them names for it. And the names to describe it don’t change: lung cancer is lung cancer is lung cancer. Instead, we give them a casserole, send them a card, embrace them publicly. Yet when it’s a brain illness (instead of a breast, lung, or ovarian illness), suddenly it’s stigmatized with language and discrimination in such a cruel and unbearable way. The fact that both cancer and AIDS started out in a similar attack zone as mental illness gives me hope that with a rewrite of language, and some consciousness about what comes out of our mouths and hearts, we will soon collectively be having a whole new conversation about what it is and how to best navigate it.
What, then, is the new story? It’s called A Crazy Thought , with “crazy” taking on the meaning of extremely enthusiastic! I’m extremely enthusiastic about what I’ve experienced personally with my children and students, what I’m seeing in the world of brain illness research, recovery stories of young people, new techniques being used to manage stress, meaningful peer mentoring, community service as healer, emphasis on early intervention–all of it! I’m extremely enthusiastic about Heartmath’s work showing how the heart just may be on the evolution of overshadowing the brain. I see a beautiful marriage there in the healing process. I’m extremely enthusiastic about a whole new paradigm forming as we equip and educate our young people to understand brain health just as we do all other types of health.
Recent studies have shown what metaphysicians have known for centuries: a group of people as small as ten can affect an entire city, country, world. I believe this to my core. My vision for this project came in the form of a calling just before attending a retreat last year at the Esalen Institute. The calling was to start a new conversation around youth mental health to give people hope, inspiration, and stories that lift their spirits. I answered that calling and the Universe has conspired to help ever since. Emerson, you are just always so right on. Betsy Chasse, our Award-winning director most notable for What the Bleep Do We Know?, has told me from the beginning: it’s like magic, these things. Who is supposed to be in it, is in it. They just show up. It’s an intuitive connection we share, and I believe her. I hired her in our first meeting and she’s been my teacher ever since. Later, when Katheryne (KTEE) Thomas joined our team as co-producer, I knew we were nothing short of invincible.
The 2017 year was dedicated to assembling a team of female filmmakers and kicking around the vision like a hacky sack. A solid female team was important for two reasons: (1) many parents out there raising mentally ill children are single parents, often moms. The last post on a closed Facebook group I read an hour ago was a desperate single mom who just lost her job because of all the appointments she needed to get her child to for mental health issues. If you can’t work, and you have no funds for treatment, then what? (2) I noticed women, especially in Director/Producer roles, were very low in various types of film. I didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating that nonsense. That time has passed. I incorporated Balsamic Moon Productions, LLC with the vision of telling stories in a new way. (Finally, the mermaid, who has already led the way to my next production. Stand by. Thank you to the amazingly talented Jen Street for her graphic art genius which is really other-worldly. And she’s just an all-around beautiful being, just like Olivia here.)
The year of pre-production interviews and structural organization turned to production this Fall in September in Napa, California at The 23rd Festival for Brain Health at the Staglin Family Vineyard. We captured amazing footage from the best and brightest research scientists from the Eastern Ivies to the Pacific Northwest.We have been invited to further explore at their labs and locations which opens up fantastic opportunities for us to gather more inspiration. (Here’s us tasting at Cakebread at the shoot wrap. I mean, when in Napa, right?)
In the footage, we have amazing recovery stories, and parents speaking to what has most helped their children through the journey. We are excited to show new ways of doing things, as well as to show traditional routes people have taken successfully. The point of this series is not to demonize any one way. Instead, it’s to show what’s helping people who are as individual as snowflakes. The intention is also to make this accessible to all initially and quarterly so that anyone can access from the privacy of their home or library. In this way, people can understand the macro picture better, understand they’re not alone, and start getting help right away, no matter the socio-economical level.
The next step is to create the sizzle reel/trailer and fundraise $350,000 in increments so that we can begin shifting the culture in youth mental health as early as 2019. This coming 2018 will be the year of production, moving into post-production by next summer.
We want you on our team! In my five years of blogging, I have steered clear of Google Ads on this blog and kept the content pure. I have never needed your support more than right now. Your donations are tax-deductible through our fiscal partner, From the Heart Productions. I wanted to get this out before the tax reform as we’re not sure how charitable donations will be handled then. Here’s knowing you are as extremely enthusiastic as I am about A Crazy Thought , and that we can shift the landscape of mental health for future generations.
Come, like us here: https://www.facebook.com/ACrazyThought/