I was diagnosed with depression at 11 years old. I was pissed. I thought my parents were trying to medicate me as much as possible, even if that meant sacrificing my own personality. My personality at the time, of course, was contemplating what the world would be like without me, telling me I had no friends and that I was worthless and that no one would miss me. So they were right. I needed to be medicated.
As the anti-depressants kicked in, I found myself not hating every single thing in the universe, I began to realize that perhaps life was not so helpless and tomorrow might be worth sticking around for. I still thought my parents were wrong.
It took several years for me to come around to the idea that my parents were right to have me medicated and treated for depression. I heard so much about moody teenagers, I thought I was just like everyone else. It was much later that I discovered that not everyone thought about falling off the face of the earth on an hourly basis. Not everyone felt so low everyday that sitting up in bed was a victory. That was not part of being a teenager. That was part of a mental illness.
Getting treatment saved my life in the long run. It helped me turn the negative voices down and turn my creative capacity up. I was no longer constantly trapped in my mind with no way to let anything out.
Overtime I learned to turn my thoughts into characters and comedy, then writing, then directing, then editing. My creativity took me to New York for college and by all accounts I was victorious over depression. I was the ‘goal’ patient. I had overcome this beast that paralyzed me and made it to the other side. The successful side.
But those voices– the paralyzing negative voices, they didn’t go away. They were still there, just under the surface waiting for a vulnerable moment to rear their ugly head. And I figured out how to deal with them. I developed strategies. But the more strategies I developed, the smarter the voices became. The more destructive.
Those first years in New York, I faced some of my toughest episodes alone, unable to speak. Unable to tell anyone. And this city, this amazing city, with millions of people is the perfect place to hide away and not see anyone. It is the perfect place to fall into that void and disappear. When episodes hit, it took everything I had to get out of them.
One of the strategies I developed was drawing the maze. I had begun the maze in 8th grade, after a final, I started doodling on the side of a paper. Drawing line after line. I had no idea that this would become a part of my own artistry, and more importantly a coping mechanism to get through episodes.
I have pages and pages of the maze. In every notebook. There are several pages of it in the back of every notebook I own. The maze is this zen place I can enter that takes all of my creative focus and requires no thought. It is my meditation. It is my compulsion. It is my zen.
I wrote A Mind Devoid of Happiness in the midst of an awful episode. I searched my mind for any project I could focus on, any project I could develop further. Nothing clicked. Nothing spoke to me. So I started thinking, what am I feeling right now. Numb. Nothing. Empty. Devoid of… anything. Thought. Feeling. Happiness.
It occurred to me that my depression was not something that filled me up. It wasn’t all encompassing sadness. It was being hollow. It was being devoid of happiness. I thought about how to get out. How to push through, to start feeling something again. And the words of the maze started to flow from me.
I wrote A Mind Devoid in about 5 minutes. It was raw. It was real. It was everything I was thinking.
One of my closest collaborators, and the director of The Maze, Simone read the script and was immediately drawn to it. We have both struggled with depression. We both understand the story and symptoms of this young woman.
I hope this film speaks to you whether or not you have depression. If you have depression, I hope it shows you another way out. Another way to fight through this. If you don’t have depression, I hope it helps you understand what we go through during an episode.
I hope it helps you see that it is not about perking up. It is not about putting on a happy face. This is a mental disorder that millions of people live with every day. A disorder that is impossible to represent on-screen.
But this is my representation. This is me taking a crack at it. This is me trying to end one more fraction of the stigma against mental illness. This is my story.