Art with Impact Changes the Conversation on Mental Health through Short Films

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Cary McQueen, executive director, founded Art with Impact in 2011, a nonprofit showcasing short films on mental health and leading discussions about their contents at live events on college campuses.

“Mental health is the defining social justice issue of our time,” said McQueen.

Diagnosed with depression in college, McQueen sought to use her Bachelor’s degree in photography and master’s in arts management to showcase mental health issues in short films.
The films are submitted to the nonprofit for judging by filmmakers of diverse backgrounds along the lines of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender and non-binary persons. Winners receive $1000 and their film is archived on Art with Impact’s web site in their OLIVE Collection. The organization holds live events where three films are shown and then a discussion.

“Normalizing the conversation helps us feel less alone,” she said.

The film “Strange Fruit” shows us how racism affects a person’s mental health in a poignant way. The film “Little Elizabeth” is about a woman’s long walk to the beach in California dissecting her history of sexual abuse. There are films about sexual violence, gender violence, depression and almost every mental health issue one can think of. Only a few minutes longer than a PSA, the impact of the storytelling in each film reflects real people talking about their mental health or better yet showing it in images. There are over 70 films as filmmakers submit their work every month to the contest. They have nine different nationalities of filmmakers. Many are from indigenous communities.

McQueen said that on their site they include instructions on how to watch the films and what to do and where to go if one is triggered by them. The organization trains people who want to lead discussions with the films on how to help people who may get triggered from them.

The metrics of the power of these films are that 81 percent of the people attending the workshops are inspired afterward to seek support for themselves, said McQueen. “The magic happens when people experience art together, then talk about it.”

Since COVID, they offer online workshops for college students to discuss the films. When workshops are held live, they have gathered at least 80 people, sometimes 300.

This year they are premiering films about queer mental health and how mental health impacts masculinity in June.

The entire collection of films are archived on their web site.

The web site is funded through grants and is free. You can watch OLIVE Collection films or submit a five-minute film of your own over here at http://artwithimpact.org.

World Bipolar Day in Self-Isolation during a Pandemic

Today is World Bipolar Day, March 30. Last summer, I had an acute mania after years of not having one. I fell into a six month depression after that, which was why my blogging was sparse. Through therapy and a medication adjustment, I recovered once again. My story is over twenty years old and I’ve covered it on here a lot. I’m not going to rehash it here. The two most important lessons I learned was gratitude and being flexible in the face of tough circumstances.

The current Coronavirus pandemic is hard for us all. We all have to learn to adjust to new circumstances, perhaps uncomfortable, uncertain, and scary. For, us bipolars, flexibility and adjusting to a new way of life can be trying. I’ve compiled some tips for staying stable in uncertain times.

Research the facts with trusted news sources and web sites. There is a lot of information and misinformation out there. Some good ones are National Public Radio, The Mighty, the Guardian, National Institute of Health, National Institute of Medicine, the New York Times digital edition.

Pay attention to your body physically and emotionally. What do you need most? Eat good foods for you. There are a lot of cooking classes on the Great Courses (not a sponsor) and on Youtube where you can learn to cook during this time.

Most importantly, as my friend Glennon says, Do not feel you have to do/make things perfectly. Rest. Relax. Just enjoy what you are doing in the moment whether that be blogging, writing, cooking, playing guitar, binge watching etc…Too often, us bipolars feel we have to be perfect before we can share or get opportunities. We need to disuage ourselves of this notion and just be. Inspiration will come if we get quiet and go deep within ourselves.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many therapists, including my own, are holding sessions on Skype or by phone. While it isn’t a substitute, it works to be able to get stress out. There is also BetterHelp.com (not a sponsor).

Find appropriate ways to express your anxiety. Don’t blast someone in their email or yell into your phone at them. Instead, use your anxious moments to go within and find out why you really are anxious. Ask yourself questions in a journal. Writing helps ease the anxiety. And, remember you don’t have to have perfect writing and hand writing to journal. Write in an old notebook or on a cocktail napkin.

Get Deep. Write a poem about the metaphors you see in this current situation. Wax philosophical. Look up some philosophers on Google and quote them on your wall or in your journal.

Be clean. This one is a no brainer but I have to say it. Wash your hands often and don’t touch your face. Clean counters and surfaces frequently.

Since we are all self-isolating, try your hand at self-portrait photography, even if it is just with your phone.

Stay away from binging on sugar and caffeine. Sure, a little is ok as a treat. But us bipolars must watch what we put into our bodies. Snacking is ok on good foods but make sure you don’t eat everything in your home in one day.

Limit social media and screen time. Get out and get some exercise using social distancing guidelines.

Binge on podcasts. Some faves of mine are Unlocking Us, Brene Brown’s new one, Dear Young Rocker, On Being, Self-care Sunday, Mental Illness Happy Hour, the Moth. If you would like to recommend one, please share in the comments.

Happy World Bipolar Day!

Covid-19 and Your Mental Health

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We, here, at A Mile a Minute want to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy from the pandemic we are now in. The key is to isolate from others and if you do go out practice social distancing remaining 6 feet away. Isolation can lead to loneliness. Here’s a few ideas to break up the day.

Meditate. There are many free meditation apps to assist you. Look up Susan Piver. She has a great online class in meditation.

Finances. If finances are your worry, or you lost your job because of this, call your Dept. of Labor. File for unemployment and see what resources they offer.

Limit Social Media and News. Now, would be a good time to do a digital detox and limit media you consume. Check in with your friends but don’t stay on social too long per day.

Entertainment. Binge on Netflix or streaming services. Journal. Start a blog. Do creative writing activities. Read. Cook. Make a video.

Exercise. There are a lot of Youtube exercise videos out there. Take a walk or jog, just remember to stay 6 feet away from people.

And, if you need to talk through stress and anxiety, click on BetterHelp.com or talkspace.com.
They have licensed professional counselors available when you need it most.
For more information on Covid-19, go to CDC.gov.

Activist Melody Moezzi’s The Rumi Prescription a timely tour de force

I interviewed Melody Moezzi a few years ago after I finished her first and second books War on Error and Haldol and Hyacinths. Melody, who is Iranian-American, is an activist, lawyer, writer. She also happens to be diagnosed bipolar 1. As I read her newest book The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life, I couldn’t help but feel this book is timely both personally and collectively.

Melody explores Rumi guided by her father. She was trying to overcome writers block. The book is broken down into different diagnoses: wanting, isolation, haste, depression, distraction, anxiety, anger, fear, disappointment and pride. Through the use of narrative storytelling and Rumi’s poetry weaved throughout each chapter, Melody guides us on a tour de force journey into our collective ailments. The book is a roadmap to getting through dark times with spiritual grace. It is something readers will treasure and refer to again and again in these times we find ourselves in now.

She writes about her bipolar recovery, race, class and gender, the current political administration, teaching writing on a locked psych unit, getting her first teaching job, her families’ trip to Istambul. Melody likes her books to become obsolete after awhile—proving that society has learned the lessons they teach. It will take years for this timely book to do that. Hopefully, we can all learn a lot from Rumi’s wisdom.

Like Dani Shapiro’s Devotion and Kay Redfield Jamison’s span of volumes, Melody’s journey with Rumi goes beyond diagnosis to show us how to be human and to really live.

***
I emailed Melody a few questions about The Rumi Prescription. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

This book is a sort of journey into who you are beyond your diagnosis of bipolar. You use Rumi’s poetry as a way to understand your life, as an answer. Tell me what is this answer you sought through exploring Rumi with your father?

MM: More than a specific answer, I sought a cure for all the more mundane forms of insanity that we don’t recognize as clinical mental illness. Each chapter is broken down into a different diagnosis and series of poetic prescriptions. While it’s a narrative memoir, it’s also an ode to self-care that includes new original translations of Rumi’s poetry presented as prescriptions for some of the most annoying forms of everyday madness. These include fear, distraction, anger, isolation, and more. The world often labels those of us living with mental health conditions “crazy,” but I’ve encountered a lot more insanity (and in some ways, a lot more intractable insanity) within the so-called “sane” world than outside of it. This book is my effort to address that kind of insanity for myself, for my readers, and for the crazy world we all happen to be living in right now.

My favorite poem of Rumi is the Guest House. I am sure it is most beautiful and poignant in the native tongue. What is your favorite lines/poem from RumiI? and Why?

MM: A few of my favorites: You went out in search of gold far and wide, but all along, you were gold on the inside. Also: You already own all the sustenance you seek. If only you’d wake up and take a peek. Also: Why seek pilgrimage at some distant shore when the Beloved is right next door. These poems serve as reminders that divinity rests within each of us and that we don’t need to hop a flight or catch a train to find it. We simply need to connect with the Beloved within ourselves and those around us.

Each one of your books is different yet carries some underlying themes to how Muslims are treated in society, in the mental health system. War on Error is a group of profiles of young Muslims written to change minds. Haldol and Hyacinths is a memoir of your experience with bipolar disorder. How has your writing grown from book to book?

MM: I’m an activist. I write to change hearts and minds, because I believe in the power of personal narratives to do that in ways that statistics and dry reporting just can’t. I wrote Haldol and Hyacinths to fight the stigma and discrimination around mental health conditions; I wrote War on Error to fight Islamophobia, and I wrote The Rumi Prescription to fight both. I also wrote The Rumi Prescription as a kind of call to recognize self-care as a revolutionary act. As an activist, I’ve experienced burnout, and I know I’m not alone. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective in our battles against injustice, and part of that is recognizing that love is a much stronger weapon in our arsenal against injustice than anger.

You teach at University. What advice would you give people about writing creative nonfiction?

MM: Quit wasting time seeking advice from other writers and just do the work.

If you could describe your new book in three words, what would they be?

MM: Love. Hope. Surrender.

Dear Young Rocker, a binge worthy break from the Coronavirus

 

Chelsea Ursin, of Boston, saw her younger self as wild but fragile. She’s the creator of the Dear Young Rocker podcast a memoir about her adolescent rage and angst and how she channeled these feelings through music—rock music. Her fave band as a teen Smashing Pumpkins. Ursin, when asked, said three words to describe her podcast would be “fierce,” “deep,” and “loving.” The podcast was first written as a memoir for her graduate creative writing thesis at Emerson College. But when it came time to find a publisher for it, she discovered she needed a platform. So being a musician who played in the her own band Banana, she decided to produce a podcast of her story.

Dear Young Rocker is the story of how Ursin self-healed her traumatic teen years through music. “Boys are given outlets for their anger, “ said Ursin. “Girls who present aggression are seen as abnormal.” Ursin, now 31, grew up in the early part of the 21st century.

Ursin picked up bass at 12-years-old and had few friends in junior high and high school so she gave music her all.

Ursin admits to being ADHD and has social anxiety, which is apparant throughout her memoir podcast.

This is the best podcast loaded with high doses of adolescent angst, anger, questioning how one should act as one’s gender, and self-insight. Ursin’s writing is relatable to not just teens and young adults but those of other generations seeking to understand their own teendoms. Not just a memoir, Ursin also interviews other adult rockers and asks them to write a short letter to their younger selves.
She hopes that along with the podcast, the book version will be published—now that her podcast is her platform.

She’s had a lot of response from fathers who understood their daughters better

To manage her own mental health, by exercising to a morning Youtube video, sees a therapist every other week, practices mindfulness meditation training among other things that keep her anxiety in control.

Hear her podcast on iHeartRadio or Apple podcasts. BTW She wrote the theme music too.

Social Media Entrepreneur and Advocate Hannah Blum Publishes New Book

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UPDATE: I interviewed Hannah Blum for this blog in 2018. I’m delighted to say her new book The Truth about Broken: the Unfixed Version of Self-Love is for sale on Amazon. A combination of memoir and the quotes and poetry that went viral on her Instagram account, Blum’s writing is raw and beautiful. She does not flinch when describing the pain and the beauty of life, of her experience with bipolar disorder 2. Her short essays are insightful and wise portraying a young woman who is light years ahead of her generation yet at the same time so in touch with them. Blum is a social media expert and is always engaging on new platforms to help spread the word about mental health and “slay stigma” as she calls it.

On the dark days she screamed.
On her bright days, she laughed.
There was no in between,
but every day she felt

This line is an example of her writing style. Blum is a Creative Director in Los Angeles, California. You can purchase her new book at http://halfway2hannah.com.

Being There: What Friendship and Connection Can Teach Us about Life

Being present and in the moment when family and friends need you means a lot to people. I learned this from my grandfather who showed up with cards and chocolates on Valentine’s Day during my childhood. He visited me when I was alone and on my own cross-country in Chicago. He was the only one in the room when my mother miscarried twins before I was born. He attended my cousins sports games and ballet recitals. Showing up is that extra thing you do to let people know someone cares.

Maybe, that’s why I married my husband. He embodies this sacred quality of being there for others. In this world, we are too often self-interested in our own pursuits, in screens, in enacting out the ideas in our heads. Conversations become quick as we half-listen and respond usually with an ulterior motive.

My husband owns a landscaping service. He shows up doing odd tasks and lawns for clients he has known for years. He’s built up friendships with them and is always quick to respond when they call. He helps friends out of crises. He’s shown up for me at my best and worst, as I do for him.

He’s never thinking only for himself. He just shows up and lives in the present tense. He’s never studied Buddhist meditation or taken mindfulness classes, yet he embodies this rhythm of life. He’s already here.

Learning to show up for others has helped me learn to show up to the page. Writing is a solitary activity, but it is the world of others which we write about. Only when we show up in our life and do for others can we truly understand the rhythms of life. Only when we show up can we absorb what the stories of others can teach us. We don’t write in a vacuum, if we do it probably isn’t very good. We write to show stories and we find them by being there as life unfolds.

Steve Hartman, a CBS Evening News reporter, does a segment every Friday night called On the Road where he searches for the simple, heart-warming stories that show American life and its struggles and triumphs over odds sometimes so great it brings tears to my eyes. He’s covered 10-year-old activists, veterans, the disabled, people whose voices you might not ordinarily hear. He just shows up with his camera crew and let’s people tell their stories. Some people say this isn’t real news; I beg to differ.

Sometimes in yoga practice, the instructor has us get into a complicated twist and turn of the body. I’ve always had trouble disciplining my mind to stay focused and present. I have to repeat the mantra to myself Stay in the Moment, Stay in Today. I slice backward and forward through the scenes in my mind and it leaves me depleted and off kilter emotionally and physically.

After college, I met a figure skater named Nicole. Nicole had down syndrome and had won gold in the Special Olympics. We went to a silly movie and after it was over I asked her something that was on my mind. “How did you achieve your goals?” I asked. She answered with three words. “Focus, Focus, Focus,” she said. It’s hard to focus when this world tells you exactly the opposite. It broadcasts from television, radio, the internet, the cell phone, the voices in our heads messages of distraction. Whether it be writing or listening deeply or doing yoga, I simply remember that word “Focus.”

It’s a simple word that brings me back to the present that forces me to be there in all I do. I can get lost excavating the craters of my past. But if I stay to long there, I’ll miss out on what is here in front of me, the delicious present.

There’s an old adage professed by writing instructors “Show Don’t Tell.” If when we write we tell the story, what we tell is from the past perspective. To write in the present, we must show the scene. Every writing instructor I’ve had has taught me to think in scene as if I were a movie director, to describe it using the six senses of see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and know. Perhaps, it is this last one, to know, that helps us get inside the moment to what we really feel.

Knowing who we are is not about existing in the moment; it’s about mindfully being in it. It’s learning from the past, whether idyllic or painful, coming to terms with the grief and the happiness embodying our beings.

When I was a child, I used to smile all the time. The other kids called me smiley. While we can’t smile all the time, the lesson here is about showing up in all we do with a smile. It’s one of attitude, staying positive, dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”

Sometimes during the day, I sit with feelings of emptiness and anxiety. In the quiet moment, I can feel the being of all things in the universe. It makes me uneasy, and a bit queasy. I have learned to let these feelings move past me like an ocean’s waves. Once the wave of insecurity passes I move myself into the present with three deep breaths.

My husband has the most amazing, indescribable laugh. He works with the earth and he never takes life too seriously. He has a joke for everyone about everything. It’s not about joining the rat race but about helping people in the moments when they need help.

Show up. Listen. Lean in.