The language of film is well-suited to explore the journeys of the mind. I have been so very lucky to work with men and women who agree about the potential of this kind of storytelling; who are also invested in sharing journeys of recovery that inform and inspire. My colleagues have enthusiastically embarked with me to tap into the extremely vulnerable, but ultimately triumphant, adventure of translating these stories for the screen.
My personal history with the powerful combination of mental health and film started with OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, a feature film that I directed with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston. OC87 is a moving, insightful, and often funny film that tells the story of Bud Clayman’s own mental health recovery journey, in which filmmaking plays a significant role. We learn about Bud’s personal history as well as his hopes to pursue a career in filmmaking. Throughout the film, everyday activities are depicted that, for Bud, (and for many others, in fact) can be quite challenging — riding a bus, walking down the street, or ordering at a restaurant. Sound design, slow motion, and other cinematic techniques are employed to recreate Bud’s lived experience for viewers. It was a risky undertaking, but it worked. Audience members strongly identified with Bud’s heroic internal struggle as he battled the everyday. “You gave my story the red carpet treatment,” said one beaming viewer to me after a screening. At that moment, I was moved to continue using my skills as a filmmaker to give more people’s stories the “red carpet treatment.”
Bud Clayman & Glenn Holsten during the filming of OC87
OC87 screenings around the country were followed by Q&A’s, where men and women would get up and share their own inspiring journeys of recovery. Each was a moving and valuable contribution to the understanding of mental health struggle, and most were filled with hope for positive and fulfilling lives. We wanted to find a home for these stories, and OC87 Recovery Diaries, the website, was born.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to create short documentaries for the website that are inspired by the tradition started with the feature film OC87. For the past few years, Bud Clayman and I have directed stories that bring to light the lived experiences of recovery from mental illness, and show how people who live with mental health challenges create paths to meaningful lives. The rewards of crafting and sharing these short films are immense, and I’m very happy to share the news that a new, one-hour special for public television has been created, and will begin to be shared with public television stations this month. On May 18th at 10:00pm, viewers in the WHYY (Philadelphia) area can watch the film on WHYY TV 12. A wider PBS distribution will occur in October.
OC87 Recovery Diaries is a film about people, not diagnoses. The film is a collection of beautifully told short stories that inspire and empower, stories that generate discussion and awareness in an effort to dismantle stigma — all told by people moving through their own recovery journeys.
Here is a promo for the film that presents our players and their stories.
Video portraits include:
Stephanie Sikora, who uses equine therapy to help with her bipolar disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. Working with horses helps her control anger, frustration, and anxiety. Her trust in horses has allowed her to trust people.
Robert “Cozmo” Consulmagno, aka “Crazy Cozmo,” is a Marine Corps. veteran who lives with PTSD and bipolar disorder. Extreme physical exercise is his way of coping with the challenges of the trauma he experienced as a child at the hands of an abusive stepfather.
Mike Veny attempted suicide at age ten. He was expelled from three schools for behavior problems and was hospitalized repeatedly for psychiatric issues as a child. Today, he is an outspoken mental health advocate and drummer who is searching for a definition of healthy masculinity as he deals with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety. Watch Mike Veny do the (near) impossible: interview his depression.
Sheri Heller is a powerful trauma survivor who now helps others who have experienced trauma. This short animated film artfully details her journey with a mother who had schizophrenia. Sifting through the wreckage of her childhood, she uses her creativity to help her channel the hurt and the pain. As a therapist, Sheri looks for beauty in the ugliness of the world and helps others to heal.
The staff members at Montgomery County Emergency Service (MCES), a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania, rush through busy, stressful days helping people in mental health crisis. But do they ever have time to look at one another? In 2014, they stepped way out of their comfort zones to slow down, and learn, and grow by rehearsing, producing, and performing Thornton Wilder’s timeless play, Our Town as a benefit for their patients, and themselves.
Hyacinth King traveled from private school to private hell as she wrestled with the toxic combination of schizophrenia, drug abuse, and homelessness. Eighteen years ago, she discovered Project HOME, and her life as an advocate for those who have experienced homelessness began.
Monica Rose, a young transwoman, talks about her experience with mental health challenges, homelessness, and finding her chosen family at The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia.
Danielle Hark is a passionate mental health advocate and wellness warrior. She created the website Broken Light Collective to bring together images from photographers all over the world who live with mental health challenges. Although Danielle wrestles with many of her own mental health issues, she is also a stunning photographer who explores our delicate world with her camera.
On a personal note, I am indebted to all the wonderful people who help us craft these videos, including talented producers, directors of photography, assistant directors, sound recordists, editors, composers, animators, graphic designers, production assistants. The quality of the work reflects the respect the creative team has for the storytellers. Everyone who is touched by these stories is affected by these stories.
We will continue to promote screenings of the one-hour film throughout the year on this site and our various social media platforms. I hope you enjoy meeting these men and women as much as I have. Their brave and passionate journeys of recovery continue to inspire me, long after the filming and editing is over.
Those in the WHYY viewing area can watch the one-hour film live on Thursday, May 18 at 10:00pm or via Apple TV, Roku, or On Demand via the Local Tab on your PBS On Demand section.
For those outside the WHYY viewing area, stay tuned for updates on other screenings!
I lost my hearing in a psych ward.
Let me explain. It was not so much that I lost my hearing; it was that I could not hear well. I suffered from a terrible earache. I used to get earaches all the time as a small child. This one was the worst, or perhaps my capacity for dealing with such pain had simply decreased over time. I had not experienced an earache in over ten years when this particular earache occurred. When I was in the psych ward.
This earache affected the way I could hear, meaning I couldn’t really hear much at all. I was in the psych ward for a number of reasons, some of which I still don’t understand. The doctors explained the reasons for me being in the psych ward with precise, medical terms. I recognize that that wasn’t all of it, though. Those medical, clinical words could not explain the sum total of why I was there. I did eventually recognize, however, that that is how you get out of a place like that: voicing an understanding of why they say you are there, in their terms, and complying with the way in which the doctors believe you can safely live outside of the hospital. They did not want to hear my side of the story. This was not about justice; it was about compliance, as are so many other things in life.
The doctors thought that my mental illness was clear. They did not want to know what could lead a person to this mental state. They just wanted to diagnose it, and give me pills. The earache, on the other hand, confused the doctors. They could not figure out how to help me hear well again. They could not figure out the best way for my ears to heal. They could not determine exactly what the issue was, although they recognized that an issue existed. The insides of my ears were red and irritated.
I was red and irritated. I wanted the doctors to see that. I wanted the doctors to stop looking in my ears because they were not helping my hearing and because there were much more pressing matters at hand. I knocked on their doors to say, to scream, “I don’t belong here!” I only screamed because I couldn’t hear properly. I did not realize I was screaming. Believe me; I wanted my ears to be fixed as well. I’d have been happy to take medicine for my ears but I didn’t want the medicine they were telling me I had to take for my brain. I wanted to address that medicine, the pills that they wanted me to take, before addressing the issue of my ears. So, I said, “Listen doc, I’ll take a flu shot, I’ll take all the vitamins you have, please give me any antibiotics I need for my ears, but that is all!”
And the doctor asked, “Why are you screaming? Your mood seems elevated. There are pills for that you must take.”
And I said some mean words; I said some paranoid words, but only because I was mad and it felt like he was out to get me, not to help me. The conversation was irritating on several levels, one being that I could not hear very well. I had to listen so closely and I had to keep saying, “Please speak up.” I also had to keep repeating myself with phrases like, “no,” and “that is not true.” There was a lot of explaining. There was a lot of repeating.
Perhaps it is important to talk about how I ended up in a psych ward. Perhaps it is important to talk about how I ended up having an earache. I can explain pieces of the first thing. I still do not know why and how I suffered from the earache. I will never understand that earache. I will never understand why I could not hear. I like to think my ears were protecting me from all the medical language, the words from the doctors and nurses about what they thought was wrong with me; I did not want to hear. I like to think they knew, my ears, that is. My ears knew that I did not want to hear those words. Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if I had not lost my hearing, if I had sense of everything going on around me. I think my experience would have been altered completely. But my ears seemed to know that I did not want to be there. I wish my throat had known too. I wish I had lost my voice, so I would not have to comply, again.
There were many senses I wish had been altered while I was in the hospital. The starchiness of the bed sheets against my skin. Clothes worn days in a row, beginning to smell. The hospital food; the heavy feeling that it left in my stomach. The pill I’d let dissolve in my mouth, the pill I did not want to take, day after day—sliding roughly against my dry throat when I finally swallowed, as instructed. The constant over-stimulation of the television, forever on in the community room. People coming and going. The dampness of tears on my cheeks and the cries from others in rooms and hallways and bathrooms. It was too much at times. But I continued to be a part of it, in a way that felt against what I wanted, needed.
I feel like I am always complying. It makes me so sad; compliance is a complicated thing. That complication may be one reason I ended up in a psych ward. There are a lot of reasons I was there, but compliance is a recurring theme in my life, or maybe just in life, not only mine. Maybe I’m just bad at dealing with it. Maybe I’m bad at not being heard. Maybe I’m bad at those times when “no” is not an accepted answer. I had been in such situations, several times. I’m angry about them and so sick about them, mentally ill, some may say. I am not only mad (could be read as “angry” or as “crazy/insane”) about those moments but mad (the same thing goes for this “mad”) about the way in which they are dealt.
I wanted justice, not compliance. I wanted justice; I did not want to prove myself. I did not want to always fight for my case. I did not want to always explain the ways in which I was not crazy, the ways in which I was just in fucked situations, the ways in which I was fucked, literally fucked. I did not want to explain. I did not want to need medical proof. But they wanted it, the justice folk; the folk who served the justice. They wanted all of the proof and paperwork. They talked about it in a dramatic, legal way. Again, I didn’t want to comply. I was done dealing with all of it, with all of them. I was going to deal on my own, I decided. So I ended up in a psych ward with an earache. It was painful in so many ways.
When I found the way out of the psych ward, (that way, of course, being compliance), I put some ear drops in my ears. I could hear again, but it sounded too loud. So I cried. I cried for all the loudness. I cried for the lack of understanding. I cried for having to interact with the noise constantly. I was confused and the volume was suddenly so loud. I adjusted though. We adapt; we comply. Sometimes we can hear the things and sometimes we choose not to hear. I’m trying to figure out how to do this and remain thoughtful and aware. I consciously check out a lot these days; I make a decision to choose not to hear. I think it’s what I have to do, for now. I hope it is not what I have to do forever.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITORS: Bud Clayman and Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
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