I remember so clearly the first film I ever made. I spent days pouring over old photos, scanning them into the computer, clunkily arranging them all in Window’s Movie Maker and timing them perfectly to whatever pop-anthem tweenage me was obsessing over at the moment.
I also remember what it felt like when people started commenting on some of my first videos. For a very emotional tween who was navigating a spectrum from the complexities of life with chronic illness to the seemingly ordinary struggles of trying to fit in, seeing people respond to things I made and put out in the world gave me a purpose. It made me feel like I — in all of my sensitive, over-emotional drama — was not alone in this world.
Over a decade later, I’ve had the great privilege of making and promoting a film about my life. At festivals, I’ve been able to talk to audiences about my creative process. And, more recently, I’ve had the opportunity to share the project in corporate settings as part of diversity and inclusion training at some of the world’s most powerful companies.
The energy in the room is always palpable. I can feel people take a deep breath when it begins and let out a sigh of relief when it’s over. I see and feel and hear people hold back or wipe away tears. And, I often wonder why this story resonates with so many people. What I’ve realized over the last few months is that this story resonates because it’s about chronic illness — and really about humanity. Chronic illness is a foundational pillar of a complex story about adolescence, womanhood, societal pressures, being a daughter, a sister or a friend.
Every time I screen this film, at least one person ushers me into a corner to tell me that for one of the first times in their lives they feel validated; that the film has helped them understand their daughters, sisters, friends or even themselves. The more I do this, I realize that it is less about the specifics of my story that make people feel this way. Instead, it’s about being radically vulnerable and exposing the trauma in my life that gives people permission to externalize their own.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit like a fraud. Perhaps it’s because I’m promoting a film about the ups and downs of chronic illness when actuality I’m really freakin’ healthy right now (literally everyone please knock on wood). Or, perhaps it’s because I’m a maker. Making things feeds my soul and I’m not hustling on projects the way I want to be at the moment. Or, maybe it’s because, in a world so fraught, I sometimes question the power of art to actually change anything.
But, today, after seeing my very short 3-minute and 27-second film, a young woman came up to me and shared something with me that she has not shared with many other people in her life. I’m so honored that she felt safe enough to be brave with me. I also realized that in all of my questioning of my place in this work, 3 minutes and 27 seconds helped her feel validated, and seen, and heard in a new way for the first time. And, maybe, if we stop to check in with each other, if we say “I see this armor you’re putting on every single day to navigate this world,” if we give people space to be honest and if we lead by example, we can start to change the world.
So, I’m asking: How are you? How are you doing? What’s making you happy? And, also, what’s making you sad? Let’s talk about it.
To view the 3-minute and 27-second summary of my life (aka my film), please hop on over to The Mighty.