Saturday 29 August 2015

michigan, by Mickey Solis

Fran and I are proud to be partners with the fantastic team behind michigan, and invited screenwriter Mickey Solis to talk about the film. For more information check out the michigan website, blog, twitter and instagram.

My name is Mickey Solis. I’m an actor and screenwriter. I’ve been invited to write a guest blog in support of my forthcoming film titled michigan. The film is about (among other things) suicide, depression, addiction, and the difficult path toward self-realization. This film was inspired by the small town in Michigan where I grew up, by tragic events that took place there, and by some of the thoughts and feelings I became obsessed with later in life about that time and place. Around age 30 I began addressing parts of my emotional life in more creative and healthy ways. That is when I started to conceive this film. It is meant to be a curative journey through the traumatized psyche of a fictional character.

As a graduate student at the drama institute at Harvard University, I met and became close friends with the Hungarian film and theater director János Szász. We have since collaborated on many theatrical productions dealing with “dark” subjects. He is also the author of several acclaimed hard-hitting foreign films. He was the one who encouraged me to write my first screenplay and has guided me throughout the process.

I try to avoid describing my film. Writing in black and white about a film is difficult. I wrote what I imagined would become sounds and images inside a frame that others would watch and hear. Films can also be highly subjective experiences; individual people can have wildly different views and attitudes when watching the same film. For example, I don’t experience most modern “comedy” as being funny. In fact, I find a lot of humor in theater, film, and television frightening. I also tend to laugh my way through most genre “horror” movies. Thus, I’m different from the average audience member.

This is not to say that my film will only be for weirdos like me, or is impossible to comprehend. I’m just saying up front that I’ve never thought that the general audience would have an easy time digesting a film about teenage suicide in the way I’m presenting it, or that any perceived “message” of the film would be universal. The topics and events depicted in my script are polarizing and so the margin for misinterpretation is wide. However, if a spectator sees my film and walks away with a feeling of wonder, or a sense that this story touches him or her, that they feel known somehow by the filmmakers, or that they relate to the spiritual, emotional, or psychological circumstances of the story in a way that helps them feel less alone — these would all be terrifically ideal. Nonetheless, my suspicion is that reactions to the film will vary substantially.

The result of a successful drama, in Aristotle’s definition, is catharsis; the feeling that the weight of existence has been lifted and emotional burdens released. It is a charitable goal aimed at relieving the audience of ignorance and therefore of pain. Catharsis necessitates a journey through hardship, and I don’t believe a film must have by definition a “happy” ending to be cathartic, which is maybe the biggest disparity in tastes between the majority and myself. Tragedy actually makes comedy possible; there is no light without darkness.

Catharsis, for me, may also come in the form of a rewarding mystification. It occurs when a filmmaker acknowledges human depth and complexity, observes the most unspeakable aspects of the human character, and as a result I experience a profound relationship to the film on frighteningly intimate levels. Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman were masters of this. Their films confront me with psychological paradoxes and confound me with existential challenges. The result of which is that I experience greater awareness, awe, and a relief from unconscious and self-imposed limitations.

This is a completely different approach from that of sentimentalizing the subject, or, worse, denying tragedy altogether. Denial in extreme is neurosis, and most popular media is in deep denial. Hence, the popular culture itself is suffering from a form of collective mental illness. As a result, contemporary art in this country has become frustratingly passive, repressive, and mournfully insignificant.

Not merely entertainment, film can also inspire huge emotional and personal growth. In its most sophisticated forms, film art promotes and expands consciousness — that is the goal of the advanced artist. The quality that links the greatest and most sublime films is intelligent compassion.

The story in the michigan film is motivated by heavy topics, and its imagery is quite lush and sometimes violent. These aspects of the film are necessary to communicate truth, verify passions, and validate the main character’s triumph over suffering. I cannot imagine a war film that does not strive to depict a valid threat to human life. Likewise, a film about mental illness must attempt to illustrate a legitimate threat to sanity.

One of the transcendentalists, Emerson or Thoreau (I don’t remember which), wrote “A man doesn't fully appreciate the beauty of the moon until it is needed to light his path in the darkness” (or something like that). But the sentiment is clear: beautiful things are more beautiful when our need for them is increased. Films that articulate disorder with intricacy and elegance are attractive to me because I need them to guide me through the dark, not around it.

Films can be therapeutic, but what moves people can be very esoteric. Artists and filmmakers should always question their relationship to formulas and dogma of any kind and be skeptical of anything that promises a specific result — that is how we advance. Every major movement in film history stood for this philosophy.

I’m not advocating rebellion so much as I am saying that, in the realm of the soul, it behooves us all to maintain a genuine dedication to open-mindedness. When filmmakers attempt a novel approach to making personal dramas about taboo subjects, their greatest opponent will be the lack of open-mindedness. The strongest impulse of public opinion will be to suppress the thing it finds unpleasant rather than confront it. There are stigmas attached to dramas about depression, addiction, and suicide in the film industry, mainly that they are not appealing (commercial) enough to be supported.

The michigan film has been very lucky. We have a committed team of producers, artists, and administrators who recognize the value of tackling difficult material and the importance of art with deeper-than-average goals. In particular, producer Jordan Levine has been instrumental in taking the issues of the film out into the public as part of our mission, and I admire his dedication.

Several large organizations have also voiced their support. We hope the partnerships will be mutually beneficial in raising awareness for our causes. The production and publicity team is composed of young people and adults who have personal experiences with suicide, or have friends and loved ones dealing with depression and mental illness.

Witnessing something you created having a positive effect on people feels good. Knowing that others resonate with your work in a way they find valuable and encouraging is a gift. The most rewarding part of this project so far has been the worldwide support we’ve received and the encouragement to continue on a journey full of challenges.


Monday 17 August 2015

Proving There’s Hope For Us All, by Stewart Bint

My Father died when I was 11, and my relationship with my Mother was strained.

I worked successfully as a broadcaster, and then moved into Public Relations. As I moved up the corporate ladder each role brought more stress and pressure. My work ethos had always been to not only succeed in everything I did, but to do it perfectly. I would always beat myself up even if I succeeded with a project even beyond everyone’s expectations if just one aspect of it didn’t work out perfectly. I realised I was a driven perfectionist, but to me, at that time, that was just normal.

In the run-up to my illness I had an extremely high-powered, high-pressured job with an unsympathetic boss in a corporate culture that heaped a massive workload on everyone and expected long hours to achieve it. For around a year I had no idea what was happening to me, why I felt depressed, why panic attacks were a regular occurrence, why I wasn’t sleeping. I regarded my wife’s parents very much as my main family, especially her Father, and it was during this stressful time at work that my Grandmother died, and my Mother-in-Law died after a long and unpleasant battle with cancer. Within weeks my Father-in-Law was also diagnosed with cancer. Then, on Friday June 13th 1997, while I was away on a business trip, my mind reached overload point, and alone in my hotel room I was on the verge of suicide. I rang the Samaritans, and without being dramatic, I can safely say that phone call saved my life that night.

I was diagnosed with severe depression and placed on long-term sick leave. There followed the inevitable counselling, but nothing seemed to do the trick. If anything my depression deepened, as I couldn’t really believe the diagnosis. Even though nothing made sense I suppose I fought against the diagnosis, feeling that I needed to be stronger, and that I should simply be able to snap out of it.

My wife is particularly strong and loving, and was extremely supportive, even though she couldn’t understand what was happening to me, or why my work and her Mother’s death were affecting me this way. My children were too young to understand what was going on. My friends appeared sympathetic and were quick to offer advice about taking a less stressful job, if I couldn’t cope.

As it turned out, that decision was taken out of my hands. My company decided that as I had a mental health issue they were no longer prepared to employ me. At my next counselling session a few days later, Wednesday September 10th, the experts decided I needed to be admitted to hospital, and I became a voluntary patient at a private psychiatric clinic. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t able to cope with the situation, and that I was “going crazy.” And the stigma heaped on me by the company I had served loyally upset me considerably. It made me feel that everyone was staring at me and talking about me behind my back, pointing at the “crazy guy.”

Settling into the routine of meals, medication, gentle activities, and consultation with psychiatrists, I appeared to be progressing. I made new friends, and we swapped stories of how we came to be there, and I felt a great sense of camaraderie with fellow patients. If anything, the support we gave to each other was equally as effective, but in different ways, as the professional medical support we were getting. The empathy we had with each other was like an unbreakable bond, and is something I had never experienced before, but can recognise instantly when I’m talking mental health issues with sufferers today.

My wife helped me through those days, and brought my children to see once a week. We all thought I was progressing, but my time in hospital then took a very dark turn.

By now my wife’s father was seriously ill, so she not only had to contend with me being in hospital, looking after our children who were then aged 6 and 4, but she was travelling a round trip of 240 miles each weekend to be with her Dad. Having seen my wife’s Mother suffer so much with cancer I was hoping he would not suffer the same way. He suddenly took a turn for the worse and died. This knocked my already broken mind further into the abyss as I blamed myself for his death. I explained to my doctors that I had killed him, as I had wished for him not to suffer. Voices were telling me that the only way to atone for my sin were to cut my throat and kill someone else so their spirit could accompany me to hell. It was at this point that I was diagnosed as being psychotic, and sectioned for 28 days.

My life was at rock bottom. I never thought I’d work again. In fact at one point I never thought I’d leave hospital. Being sectioned under the UK Mental Health Act meant I no longer had a choice about being in hospital. I was detained there against my will. I have no memory of the first two weeks of being sectioned -- according to the psychiatrists it was my mind’s way of blocking out the demons that had sent me over the edge, and apparently I managed to run away from the hospital twice in that first fortnight. I appealed against the section order, but lost the case. During the whole time I was sectioned, and for a couple of weeks afterwards, I was “specialed,” meaning a nurse was assigned to never be more than six feet away from me. I was heavily medicated all the time, one of the drugs being lithium.

While the treatment initially involved breaking down my conviction that I was responsible for my Father-in-Law’s death and that I needed to kill myself to atone for it, the psychiatrists discovered I had suppressed memories from my childhood which became repressed (or was it the other way round...I can’t remember now?) It had all begun when my Dad died just days before we heard I had passed the 11+ examination to go to Grammar School. Also, it had been decided at that time that I was too young to go to his funeral, so I never had the chance to say goodbye to him.

With everything in the open I was on my way to recovery, both from the psychosis and depression.

As mentioned above, my boss and my company were totally unsympathetic. It was through them that I experienced the worst stigma. When I was first admitted to hospital, my company’s medical insurance paid their bills, which were £2,000 a week, but my boss and Human Resources Director insisted those payments would stop a month after I was dismissed for my illness. However, when the Group MD learned of the severity of my illness, he arranged for the company’s private medical insurance to take care of the private clinic’s bill for the entire duration of my stay.

When I was discharged, the community care was terrific – I had round-the-clock access to mental health professionals, and a weekly visit from a mental health social worker. As a result of my experience I have supported this cause for 18 years...indeed, I am currently working with my local branch of the Mind charity on creating a new fund-raising event with them. And I have recently started to promote mental health awareness on the internet, in particular on Twitter, which is a terrific way of raising awareness.

Recognising the signs of a developing mental illness is vital. So is doing something about them. Accepting that you need help is the first step towards fighting the battle. In my case I struggled on with depression without telling anyone, for far too long. And by then it was too late for a simple recovery. My mind wasn’t simply damaged before I accepted something was wrong and rang the Samaritans, it was broken. Support is equally vital, both from health professionals and family.

Awareness and education is an ongoing process, and must focus on the fact that mental health is no different to physical health. Both have symptoms, both can be treated. Mental health charities, local government and national government should work together to end the stigma. It’s not going to be accomplished overnight. In the dim and distant past, people with mental illness were locked away in asylums, out of sight of “normal” people. This is where stigma surrounding mental illness began. The way to eradicate that stigma is for everyone at every level of both mental illness suffering and treatment to be more open and honest. Psychiatric hospitals need to open their doors to the media, in the same way that those suffering from mental illnesses are now becoming more open by sharing our stories.

Social media is proving to be an absolute godsend for this. It’s giving us all a platform to share our story and offer support to others. It is a positive, empowering tool, connecting us with others who can support us through the difficult times, by our first hand knowledge and experience. Yes, social media also has a darker side with people posting unhelpful comments. I used to care what people thought about me and what they said. But no longer. Simply ignoring negative comments works for me. And I believe that’s the secret, not only of handling how stigma is perpetrated by the darker side of social media, but coping with the stigma in the “real” world, too. You can’t make everyone see the truth. You can’t make everyone be kind. You can’t turn everyone into a decent human being. So don’t try too hard. Enjoy the successes you have, and your family, friends and online supporters. And ignore the ignorant.

In my opinion, once diagnosed with a mental illness, the best way to progress along the road to recovery, is through coping strategies. A good coping strategy means we can all better manage our day-to-day struggles without constant input from mental health professionals who play a major role at the beginning of our illness.

Once I was discharged from hospital my coping strategy became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and now work as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and I have my own fortnightly magazine column.

To me, coping strategies are highly personal, and you need one for every situation that can cause difficulty. For example, I realised that if I were to continue seeking perfection in my work and myself, I was destined to fail, and would likely face an even longer spell as a hospital in-patient. So my coping strategy for that was to accept compromise, both from myself and other people.

Whenever a deadline approaches I ask myself what is the worst that can happen if I don’t meet it? Occasionally I need to burn the midnight oil, but in the olden days it was a daily occurrence. For several years I have got on with my life and not consciously employed coping strategies, because they have become second nature to me. I’m actually using them all the’s just that I’m no longer aware of them.

I hope my story will inspire and give confidence that there is hope. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve managed to build a successful new life from the ruins of my old one.

Stewart Bint MCIPR


Proud partners with michigan the movie

Fran and I are excited and proud to join the fantastic group of partners for the film michigan.

Directed by János Szász with screenplay by Mickey Solis and set for production in 2016 by Yale Productions, michigan is a new independent drama addressing teenage suicide, depression, and addiction in an isolated and desperate town of the American Midwest.

As the team state on the film’s website:

By bringing michigan to life we hope to not only promote awareness of teenage suicide, but also encourage suicide prevention, and explore its various causes.

For more information on the film and the great folks behind it, check out their website, blog, twitter and instagram.


Thursday 13 August 2015

On invisible vulnerabilities and writing about self-harm, by Anne Goodwin

Fran and I are delighted to host the final stop in Anne Goodwin’s five week blog tour for her debut novel Sugar and Snails (Inspired Quill, 2015).

When I first met Anne at her book launch in Newcastle’s Jesmond library she was icing cupcakes. We’d connected only a few weeks previously, on Twitter, but I was greeted with a huge smile, a hug and a “Thank you for coming!”

It was Anne’s second launch event for her novel, and the first I’d ever attended. The little library soon filled with locals, friends and family, some of whom had travelled considerable distances to be there and celebrate Anne’s achievement.

As I listened to Anne read from her novel and talk about the years she lived and worked in the area (much of Sugar and Snails is set in and around Jesmond), I found myself thinking ahead to the day when Fran and I (one of us likely present via webcam!) will host a launch event for our book. If it’s half as warm, welcoming and successful as Anne’s I will count it a success. Note to self: don’t forget the cupcakes.


On invisible vulnerabilities and writing about self-harm, by Anne Goodwin

Seven years ago, I read a newspaper report about a distinguished academic, a professor with a PhD in psychology, who had died of anorexia. Two things were shocking about the case: firstly, the stark contrast between the confidence and competence she showed to the outside world and the depth of vulnerability hidden inside her; secondly, that she had managed to keep it secret for so long from colleagues, friends and family. And yet, on another level, although saddened, I wasn’t shocked by the story at all. I knew lots of people who were highly successful professionals on the outside and a morass of neuroses underneath. Let’s face it, I was a bit like that myself.

A few years before, a complicated bereavement had led to me taking a few weeks off work. But not before I endured a couple of weeks of dragging myself out of bed in the mornings and pushing my sadness down to my toes so that I could answer the call of duty. It was striking that, at the point when I was most desperately struggling to hold it together, I received feedback on separate occasions from two unconnected individuals commending me on my positive outlook. I knew from my work and my studies that people don’t always show their true selves to the world. Yet I hadn’t realised how easy it can be to hide the truth.

These experiences fed into the creation of my character, Diana Dodsworth, the narrator of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Diana is also a psychology lecturer – although less eminent than the woman in a newspaper report that had bugged me – whose academic understanding is of little help to her in managing her own life. The source of her vulnerability is a secret that is gradually revealed in the course of the novel, but its effects are apparent from chapter 1. Diana has self-harmed since childhood and, when in middle age a relationship crisis threatens her fragile sense of self, she slices through the scars in her forearm.

I found this one of the most difficult scenes to write, not because I couldn’t imagine myself in that situation, but because I could. While I’m fortunate in never having taken it as far as Diana does, I can identify with the emotions that might evoke such a self-destructive act. I have a very vivid memory of sitting with a Stanley knife, massaging my inner forearm to make the veins stand out. As I imagined myself into my character’s experience, I really wondered how far I’d take it (and used this as the springboard for a piece of flash fiction on my blog about how fiction can invade one’s life).

I think that sometimes we fail to empathise with people’s mental distress for fear of similar vulnerabilities within ourselves. We mask them behind a wall of competence, as if ability and disability can’t coexist. As if achievement in one area cancels out neediness in another. As if an elevated status in the family or the workplace denies us the right to help for ourselves.

One possible reading of my novel is that Diana becomes stronger as she embraces the source of her vulnerability. In fact, once she stops denying it, it ceases to be the threat she once perceived it to be. One of the lessons of psychotherapy is that it’s in using our whole selves, not only the apparently “good” parts, that we are strong.

Through my fiction I’m learning to integrate the vulnerable and capable aspects of my own personality. The themes arise out of my fears, disappointments and despair, but it’s the drive, discipline and doggedness that enables me to work at them to produce a story that people will actually want to read. And I’m finding, on launching my first novel, that for me that’s a pretty good place to be.

About the author

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

Sugar and Snails is available at Inspired Quill, the author’s website,,


An actress of a different sort..

Most times when I am out in the world I wear my mask. The one that insures the best possibility of relating. What goes on behind the scenes is a different story.

It’s not because I’m lying, it’s because I work very hard at presenting well and being acceptable. Presenting in ways that are unacceptable to others costs me far more.

I am an actress in my own life. Few know the inside scoop. I am fortunate to have friends who not only know me but also love me whether my mask is on or off.


Saturday 1 August 2015

Grandma’s Biscuits, by Jen Jenasaurus Wake

Readers of Marty and Fran’s excellent blog will already know about how they negate the geographical distance between them. But how can that be done when one of the people involved experiences anxiety about using the phone? With a little imagination, decent wifi and a mobile phone or tablet anything is possible.

I tweeted the other day that I had all the ingredients to make Grandma’s Biscuits but that my thirteen year old daughter didn’t want to bake. (I have no idea what the biscuits are actually called, but I used to make them with my grandma when I was a little girl and that is what they have always been known as.)

My friend, who blogs as mentalhound, tweeted back that she would love to bake with me — except she lives nearly two hundred miles away. Well, if she wanted to bake with me, I wasn’t about to let distance get in the way!

I tweeted her a picture of all the ingredients, and told her to wash her hands and put a pinny (apron) on. There then followed a series of tweets with me taking a photo of each step and asking her to stir, or mix, or roll the batter into balls before putting them in the oven — she did an excellent, if virtual, job.

Finally, we had finished biscuits. It didn't matter that only I baked, only I washed up and only I could eat them, we had fun doing it.

It isn’t about being in the same physical space — either geographically or via a medium such as Skype or FaceTime — it’s about being in the same place mentally. And, for that hour, we were. It made no difference that it was all done through pictures and tweets: we baked biscuits together. And, if I may say so myself, they were very yummy indeed!

Thanks for reading along. You can find me at: