Incredible. We’ve received over $2,500 in pledges since we announced that each contribution would be matched until we met our goal. And you got us there. THANK YOU. But we haven’t turned out the lights just yet. Any contributions between now and our Friday, May 13, 8 PM deadline will go directly towards producing our next animated short, Knit Together. We'll be able to jump right in and get to work! Here's a rough cut of Knit Together with sample images created by the visual activist FRANCO.
Storytelling as a Source of Healing
I have lived with depression and either ADD or Bipolar II (depending on which psychiatrist you ask) for over two decades. I spent a lot of that time afraid of what other people would think if they knew how much I struggled to get out of bed each morning. Looking back, I can’t draw a line between the suffering caused by the symptoms of my mental illness and my shame about having a mental illness.
I was fortunate to have the love and support of my family, a couple of close friends who understood the seriousness of my illness, and access to treatment. But I felt incredibly alone.
As a writer, and as a documentary maker, making this film made sense as a way for me to start taking some small steps outward, to connect with others. I know now that when I allow shame to keep me from asking for help, I falter. When I choose connection, I create a space for healing: not only my own, but for others.
What Does Healing Look Like for Me?
- It's messy! Definitely not a straightforward process. But most days, I feel like I'm heading in the right direction. My work with Bipolar Girl Rules the World and Other Stories challenges and nurtures me. Here's what I've discovered works for me:
- Telling my own story. Hundreds of times.
- Listening to hundreds of stories from people who also live with mental illness.
- Being part of a team dedicated to my well being. My therapist, psychiatrist, and I approach my treatment collaboratively. We each bring different perspectives and types of knowledge into the decisions we make regarding my care. I want to emphasize that the quality care I receive is exceptionally rare and I do not take it for granted.
- Letting go of perfectionism. It makes forward progress incredibly difficult. (I’m still working on this one — see the 80% Manifesto, below!)
- Learning to take small steps.
- Finding community — a place to show up most days, whether I’m feeling fabulous or discouraged, on-top-of-the-world or completely overwhelmed.
- Connecting with people (with or without mental illness) committed to living with vulnerability and compassion.
- Reaching out and asking for help when I need it.
Now, with this Kickstarter campaign, I’m reaching out in a big way! I invite you to connect with us, and to support Bipolar Girl Rules the World and Other Stories.
Bipolar Girl + Company
Ever since I was a kid reading Ramona the Pest and Pippi Longstocking, stories have helped me to understand myself in the world. The people who wrote books or made films that described their experiences of living with a mental illness made it possible for me to begin to understand and articulate my own story. And helped me to feel much less alone.
The visual artist Emily Ensminger took my personal narrative essays, and ideas suggested by my drawings of Bipolar Girl, Kacey the Wonder Dog, and the Creature, and created a whole visual frame of reference — characters, themes, metaphors — that resonated deeply with me. Emily’s drawings were both deeply personal and separate from me at the same time. Her illustrations helped me feel connected to the wider world.
The "Other Stories"
The "Other Stories" are first-person narratives, assembled from my conversations with people from across spectrum of gender, age, culture, income, education, professions, and diagnoses.
I’ve collaborated with Andrea Love on Fear, featuring Dr. Zenglo Chen. Zenglo was four when his parents disappeared, victims of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Showcasing Andrea’s exquisitely crafted hand drawn and stop motion animation, Fear considers the tensions between fear and safety; faith and psychology; Chinese and American identity; and acceptance and healing.
Fear is first of the "Other Stories" we’ve completed, and it’s incredibly exciting that it will making its premiere (as stand alone short film) as part of a program curated by Whoopi Goldberg at Tribeca Film Festival!
Each of the "Other Stories" will be animated by a different artist, in a distinct visual style:
- Hei-Yesh, a young African American woman from New Orleans, details her circumscribed life caring for her grandmother, her ambivalence about taking medication, and her creative outlets: knitting, writing, and music.
- elin, a white woman and professor in her forties, explores the relevance of her political art and what it means to be a mother contemplating suicide.
- Iona Pearl, a multiracial student at Hampshire College, has dealt with depression since being bullied in middle school. Weighed down by her own debilitating high performance expectations, Iona speaks very much from the midst of her suffering.
Stories Save Lives
I have come to believe, based my work on Bipolar Girl Rules the World and Other Stories, and on my own experiences with mental illness, that stories possess the power to save lives. By contributing to this project, you will create more chances for people with the lived experience of mental illness — and their loved ones — to connect with one another. Which means more people breaking through cultural stigma and personal shame to seek out the treatment they need to heal.
I invite you to join us!
Nurture your creativity. Push back against the tyranny of perfectionism! Join us in the Land of 80%, right down the road from the Kingdom of Good Enough. Fight the stigma around mental illness. Surround yourself with powerful images from the visual artists working on the film. Feature your very own Wonder Dog (or cat, or gerbil, or fish) in the credits of the film! The cape is included.
Risks and challenges
When I first saw Andrea Love’s work, I knew that she was the right person to animate Dr. Zenglo Chen’s story. I recently went back through the early emails between Andrea and me. She did not exactly leap at the opportunity to work on Fear. She wasn't being coy. To produce approximately 7 minutes of animation, Andrea worked practically full-time between September and January. So to take on any project is a significant commitment.
I tell you this story to illustrate two points:
Animation is wildly labor intensive, averaging about 100 hours of work per finished minute. When completed, Bipolar Girl Rules the World and Other Stories will be an hour-long film. Take away the seven minutes Andrea’s already completed, we still have 53 minutes to go. Those 53 minutes represent a significant amount of money we still have to raise, and of course, animation isn’t the only expense associated with making a film. Production delays are the most likely risk.
Fear isn’t just 7 completed minutes of a 60-minute film. All on it’s own, it’s an animated documentary short film that’s making it’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. And if the invitations to submit to film festivals in Portugal and Stockholm mean anything, Fear will soon be traveling the globe.
Similarly, Emily Ensminger and I started working together on what we thought of as storyboards — the initial drawings that artists make to test out ideas before starting work on the actual animation. But when we set Emily’s storyboards to music and my voice, audiences clearly connected to the work in its current form. Now I use these short “animated comics” as part of a talk called “Listen/Speak.”
Call me impatient. I’m not willing to wait to make an impact. The stigma around mental illness isn’t going to go away by itself. Every voice matters. I’m asking you to fund a project, to fund a team, who are right now, making a difference. Not six months from now, or a year from now.
As the producer/director of Bipolar Girl Rules the World and Other Stories, as well as one of the characters in the film, I’m deeply invested in completing this film. And I’m not the only one. I work with an amazing team of people. We take small steps. We keep moving forward.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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