2 Great New Movies about Mental Illness

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about mental illness.

I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. Both of these films show the journey from destructive madness to precarious sanity. The films show the impossible internal tide as Pat, Bradley Cooper, and Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix, descend (ascend) into their altered states and try to get back to life again.

The movies made me wonder about something I read a long time from Carl Jung. I am paraphrasing, but the idea from Jung, is that: Maybe it’s not these individuals who are mad, but their societies are insane.

Maybe madness is the only sane response to an insane society. Coping is hard enough in life, without the stigma and consequences of mental illness, brought on by intense stress or some biological deficiency.

Both lead actors in these films chew up the scenery. Oddly, during a few intense moments in Silver Linings, the director cuts away from the Bradley Cooper character, a manic-depressive, to get the reaction shots of Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games).

The title of Silver Linings refers to the benefits of positive thinking to overcome difficulties. I am fan of optimism. Here are my other take-aways from Silver Linings.

  • Dancing and running help heal obsessive minds
  • Beat craziness with more craziness
  • Two messed-up people can make a sane thing
  • Find the silver lining in every crazy moment
  • Mental illness runs in families

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are incredible in The Master. There is never a cutting away from their faces during intense scenes. If anything, the close-ups just get closer. Tormented minds reveal themselves through dialogue and action. Actions have consequences.

Here are my take-aways from The Master

  • Every one serves someone (the master?). (Did Bob Dylan say this too?)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, especially for wartime survivors
  • Communal living is healing (and destructive)
  • We may be better than we think we are
  • Don’t give up on love
  • Talk therapy works (hypnotherapy too?)

Overcoming mental illness is no joke, although, turns out, these two films depict the efforts to overcome mental illness as entertaining and compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

After the characters of Freddy and Pat slide into their dysfunctional moments, they seem always at war with themselves, trying to reign in their destructive sides and crawl back to lives with family or community. They look for a state of grace. Or at least, they seek connection with others and a state of normalcy. Balance eludes them.

Just in time for Christmas and New Year’s, you can see these movies and contemplate having more compassion for your family members who may have diseases or mental illnesses.

Even though I loved these films, I hope to see a mainstream movie about a woman with a mental illness, preferably depression, which is far more common in women than men.

In the newly-released Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln denies her depression. Her mental illness is only viewed as an impediment to her emotional closeness to her family. For women in films, like Mary played by Sally Field, relationships matter most. For men, it is the journey to wholeness. But surely, Mary’s depression could be a fascinating feature-length film, not just a subplot in Lincoln’s life.

Maybe I’ll write more about Lincoln later. I just saw it yesterday and am still reeling from those performances and the immersion in a time of history when men and women fought to knit the country together rather than to pull it apart. To unite us.

PS I modeled this blog post from my previous post on 2 great new movies about alcoholism

Want to Run Away?

One day last year I took out the garbage and wanted to just keep going. I thought I was not made for this mountain of housework and life with a chronically ill husband. How can a unicorn be expected to work like a mule? (to paraphrase a folk song.)

I wanted to run away, because my life was more than I bargained for. (Yes, I know, there are many people, perhaps the majority of the world, with problems far worse than mine, so if you’re thinking, why should she complain? You’re right. Most days I have gratitude up the wazoo. But this is my blog and others can chronicle their challenges and joys on their blogs. And I will read them and like them and understand. So, do not judge.)

What saves me from flying away and keeps me tethered to the homefront is my three awesome teen kids and my unbelievable network of friends. I don’t know how people have a chronically ill spouse without energetic kids and lovely friends to distract them from the loss and grief in this shifting sand marriage. Here are other things that keep me going:

  • Art: making art and appreciating art
  • Travel
  • Having parties
  • My biz, Boot Camp For Writers
  • My church community
  • Working out
Anne Tyler’s novels are so good!

I imagine every mother and wife has these days when she wants to run away. A while ago, I read this novel, Ladder of Years by the genius Anne Tyler. A middle-aged mom disappears from the beach and starts a new life in a little town as a secretary. I think of that character and how lonely (yet delicious) she found her life alone.

When my friend, J. and I went running this morning, we talked about this — how happiness requires work. It is not easy. It is not a given. But we are compelled to find happiness, despite life’s challenges. Among reasons to find joy, I find happiness in contemporary literature.

Novels save me. They allow me to escape. I can run away, but still be back in time to take out the garbage. Joy!

Working Out for Thanksgiving

Holidays are for fitness.

While we’re in Chicago for Thanksgiving, the kids and I have signed up, along with cousins and aunts and uncles, for a TurkeyDay-5K. A couple of years ago, we ran the Coogan’s Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks Run for another holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.

That was fun. That March morning was freezing, and no one wanted to get out of bed. But we ran any way. I was damned if I was going to go it alone. I was so proud of myself, because I ran (didn’t walk) the whole way. I aimed for a 13-minute mile.

I run slowly enough to snap pictures as I go. On today’s run, this sidewalk art made me smile. Big Bird Lives!

That’s right. I run in the slow lane. Every one passes me, 89-year olds and toddlers alike. I don’t care. As they say, I’m lapping every one who’s still sitting home on the couch.

Besides, I’m fixing to have a big dinner Thanksgiving night, which includes dessert. And I’m going to be eating my meal slowly too.

Family meals and family fitness should be savored.

When I work out the day before, of, or after a holiday, I feel I can eat or drink anything I want. Guilt-free and happy! That’s what I run for.

NaNoWriMo

All my online friends are doing it. Here it is November and that means National Novel Writing Month. I have won NaNoWriMo in two out of the last three years. That is, I’ve written 50,000 words and completed a novel in 30 days.

I am NOT joining the writing frenzy this year. Even though I feel a tug to start. When a crowd takes off running near you, you feel like taking off too. My problem is I love to start stuff.

As Beth in writing class said the other night, “You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner.” (That’s a bad analogy since there are no NYC marathoners this year. And that’s a lot of disappointment from my fitness friends here in NYC!)

I love starting stuff so much more than I love finishing stuff. I love creating new characters in NaNoWriMo. I love running out of words and then writing up crazy, surreal dreams for my characters. I love weaving their dreams into plot points.

As Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWrMo, said, “No Plot? No Problem!”

I am using the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program curriculum for teaching my middle school creative writers. Kids love conflict. They love creative characters. They need to know the arc, or plot, of a story.

The national novel writing month curriculum for my middle schoolers is fun and gets kids talking about the best way to tell stories. I feel so lucky to have this resource (for free, no less)!

No, I am not running the marathon known as NaNoWriMo this year, but I plan to start it and win it every other year for the rest of my life! I am cheering those nano marathon runners from the sidelines.

Wait! I feel lonely and eager to join from the sidelines. So I plan to join another online competition or campaign. I am going to join NaBloPoMo. (National Blog Post Month).

So far, I’m on track. I have posted on this blog every day of November. And the theme is: blogging for blogging sake.

Now, team, get out there and write!

Before Title IX

My son and I are lazing around, watching the Olympics, dreaming of glory days.

The Olympics got me thinking. How do I compare with most women my age in terms of fitness? Could I take them? I would have to say, honestly, that I can bike, play tennis, swim and dance slightly better than most women my age. A contest that involves running, softball or bowling? Not so much.

But why do I have to compare? I usually blame my three brothers for making me so competitive. And I blame society for not offering me more girls’ team sport opportunities. I came of age just when Title IX was introduced. The requirements had not yet trickled down to suburban Chicago. So I didn’t get to benefit. This is Title IX’s 40th anniversary. So YAY! Lucky for my girls. Unlucky for me.

Still, sports were essential. I played in a Saturday night high school volleyball league at Mary Seat of Wisdom church and I loved it. I loved volleyball again years later when I was in the cast of The King & I at the Depot Theatre (the alpha and the omega of my summerstock career!). We had games right before the matinee. I loved the sting on my wrists when I landed a bump. I think that is the technical term — a bump!

I loved the camaraderie of sports and the room for showboating (Hello, Usain Bolt!)

In high school we had gym every day. I was chosen to be the demo girl when we had gymnastics. I was proud. But then, in front of everyone, on the unevens, I could not kick myself up from the low bar to the high bar. The very next day, Ms. Sellers picked another girl to demo. That stung. Worse than a sore wrist from volleyball.

While I do not have to be the best, I prefer it. And I prefer that no one see me as I slip from my pinnacle — an inevitable decline from my Numero Uno standing in my own mind. (I’m not sure, but it is possible, that this post is about the downside of aging.)

Need for Speed

Am writing this while watching the Olympic hopefuls sail along rainy London streets on their bikes. The women are so fast. I love sports where you go fast, like skiing and biking.

The other day I was riding my bike to work and there was a woman running faster than I was riding on my bike. That was one fast runner.

There’s used to be a myth that only men liked the adrenaline rush of the high-speed chase. But women (and kids) do too. It’s a human instinct to push our physical limits and thrill with the ride. We were born to run.

And now that I’ve admitted my own need for speed, let me post a couple of pictures from my long walk in the Adirondacks.

While I love to run and ride and go fast, it’s easier to snap a pic when you walk and amble and go slow. It’s easier to savor the moment when you slow it all down.

To catch a good photo, you have to pause to frame it. To enjoy a moment, you have to stop and savor it. And any sport that you do outdoors, reminds you to love nature.

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Runner from Botswana

I have found my Olympic athlete to watch!

On the shuttle bus ride in Portland on June 3, I met this future Olympian, Amantle Montsho from Botswana. Ms. Montsho was very sweet; she had just competed in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon the day before and came in second. She was departing our van and looking for Delta; I think she was heading to Europe. I was looking for my rental car as I was heading for Eugene to meet my college roommate and spend the day. (So much fun!)

I learned about this runner on the New York Times cover sports story about Amantle Montsho. I am usally ticked off that every story in the sports section (of every newspaper) is dedicated to men’s sports so I was surprised and happy when I saw this article about a woman Olympic hopeful. I thought, “Way to go, NYTimes! Way to go Botswana!”

The kids and I love Botswana, ever since we hosted two young women for a week in New York from Botswana a month or so ago. Lolo and Rati were beautiful, smart, talented! We became fans of this land-locked country, north of South Africa. And especially the people there. I wrote about our awesome experience hosting these high school musicians at Our High School Students from Botswana.

Lolo told us that the whole country of Botswana is rooting for Amantle. They all know her personally as Botswana is small country (almost as big as Texas, according to Google).

When Amantle walked away from me at the airport, she seemed hardly to touch the ground as she walked. It may be cliche to say, but she was extremely light on her feet. Like a ballet dancer in New York City coming from class, you can tell by the way she walks, she is a special kind of person who really lives in her body. She is lithe and strong. She also seemed quite young and innocent.

And I’m rooting for her!

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Official Results – Women – 400 Metres

Pos

Athlete

Nat

Mark

1 Sanya Richards-Ross USA 49.39
2 Amantle Montsho BOT 49.62
3 Novlene Williams-Mills JAM 49.78
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