Zombie On Set! Don’t Lose Your Mind

    Not too long ago it was filming week on our school. All the students were busy running around making their short films. They ran on little sleep and a lot of coffee and tea. At 4 am they staggered through the dark on their way to get the equipment to load up the van. They looked like zombies.

    What better time to talk about feeling like a zombie than Halloween. Especially as today I feel like one. I probably look like one as well. Early morning driving to set, all the running around and arranging schedules and meetings. I love it more than anything (ok, as far as DOING things is concerned), but it does catch up with me as it does with everyone.

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    World Mental Health Day was on October 10. Millions of people suffer some form of a mental illness. Entertainment Assist, an Australian based non-profit organization which provides mental health assistance to people in the entertainment industry, did a study that shows how dire the mental health situation is for entertainers in Australia. The study breaks it down by position, but here are some general numbers.

    • 63% of performers earn less than the National Minimum Wage in Australia.
    • 44% suffer from moderate to severe anxiety. That is TEN times higher than the general population.
    • Depression symptoms levels are FIVE times higher than general population.
    • 59.5% of industry workers have sought professional help for their mental health problems.
    • Suicide attempts are more than DOUBLE the general population
    • Suicidal thoughts and ideas are between FIVE times higher and NINE times higher than the general population, depending on the industry jobs being done. Road crews have the highest rate.
    • Suicide planning is between FOUR and FIVE times higher.

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    Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, sometimes even more so. Yet people always discuss physical health and strength, not the mental health. It’s a hard topic to nail specifics to help people cope as everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t work for another.

    I personally fight clinical depression and anxiety; which can lead to panic attacks, physical pain from forcing myself to do anything, low energy, and a host of other symptoms. I have to take care of my mental health or those things will affect my ability to do my job and my relationships with people. In other words, I’ll be a zombie on set.

    That will in turn let my team down and I’ll feel worse for it, but filming and the schedule will suffer as well.

    Quite frankly, that sucks.

    Every day I question why I want to be in such an intense field of work.  If I can’t even shower one day, how can I type up 30 emails to potential extras for a feature film or motivate others to keep going during long shoots?

    This is where I need to make certain I’m using whatever tools I can to make sure I can do my job and not let my illness get the better of me; especially with the speed and intensity of filmmaking, which can make getting overwhelmed happen easier.

    There are many tools a person can use to keep themselves mentally healthy, or to relax and let go of stress. I like to think of them as my zombie fighting weapons. Here are some ideas tools that I tend to fall back on.

    Break It Up

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    When I start to feel overwhelmed I need to get away for a moment (not a long one, because that is unprofessional and I don’t want to get fired). I need to get my bearings again and regroup mentally.

    I do this when I need to go 10-1 or refill my water bottle. I just need those few seconds, or minutes depending on the schedule, to quiet my mind then continue. I’ll look in the mirror and pep talk myself, then get back out there and do my job.

    I also remind myself that I’m not the only one on set that feels that way. It is so easy to forget that, but it’s an important point to remember.

    If I’m getting a lot of information at one time, I may need a moment to sort out the important bits from the superfluous pieces. I may say “Let me think.” or “Just a second.” Then I will direct my attention to the individuals one at a time in short order and get the important information or give instructions, then move on.

    Just Breathe

    Breathe in and out deeply, from your stomach not your chest. It helps calm your body, and by calming your body it helps calm your mind.

    This doesn’t even require stopping what I’m doing. If you practice it enough it becomes second nature.

    I tend to do it when people are talking, or a shot is being filmed. It isn’t even noticeable to others so it doesn’t draw attention to myself if I’m uncomfortable sharing, or not in a place to share with people.

    What’s In A Name?

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    What I am feeling:  I label it and define it.

    What is causing it? Am I overwhelmed by my tasks? I opt to deal with the most pressing task, then I continue down the list.

    If I can’t identify the feeling then I can’t deal with it. If I can’t deal with it then the crew will pick up on something being wrong and not know why. As I said before, it will affect everyone.

    Your ability to define what you are feeling gives you power over it. Is it hard to define? Think of what it feels similar to and then maybe from there you will be able to pin it down.

    Your feelings are always valid, but they don’t control you. You need to control them. While that is good in theory, in practice it is even harder. Having depression or anxiety isn’t always about your feelings, although those are affected by the illnesses.

    Sometimes the only thing I can do is choose to put my feelings aside and not let them interfere with my job. The key part is to deal with them later in a healthy way, allow myself to feel them and then work through them. No drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self medicating or trying to feel good.

    The Bigger Picture

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    There are so many times the thing that stresses you out or makes you upset is something relatively trivial, or taking a tone of voice personally when it’s nothing to do with you.

    Anxiety makes me think I did something wrong when someone’s brief in a reply or something (yes, irrational but that is just what happens). I need to remember they have as little time as I do, or less, and are just being brief because it doesn’t require more information than I’m being told.

    They say don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s so hard when my body thinks the small stuff is actually big stuff and turns on the fight or flight; or doesn’t have the energy to do small stuff, that’s when I feel like a zombie.

    I try to remember to look beyond the little moment/small stuff to see what’s beyond. The person who may have been short when giving me an answer needs to set up for a shot in 30 seconds; they’re paying attention to five things at once. It’s not about me, they just don’t have the time to tell me the detailed answer I may want. That is on me to not sweat the tone of voice.

    One day I may have to be at the pick up location in an hour, completely ready to go. The feeling of painful no energy I have gets 30 seconds to protest and then I’m getting out of bed and getting ready. I have no choice. The bigger picture of the project dictates what I have to do it.

    Self Care Away From Set

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    This encompasses a lot:

    – do hobbies to relax

    – exercise regularly

    – eat properly and regularly

    – get outside

    – have alone time if you need it

    – take a bath

    – sleep properly

    – take true days off when you can (aka do nothing!! Binge watch tv!)

    – take vitamins

    – take your prescriptions as needed

    – be playful (it’s so much fun, really)

    Just do things that you know you enjoy, whether you enjoy them at the time or not. Your body will remember you enjoy it even if your feelings don’t.

    I bring a ball of yarn with me whenever I go anywhere. I usually work on it on the drive to wherever I am going (like set) and back. It’s for me to work on a random square for a blanket or I make a hat. It keeps my hands busy, but in a constructive way. It’s also small enough to make me feel accomplished at something when I feel like I’m failing at my job (which I may not be but it feels like I am).

    Some of the self care seems like it’s basic common sense, but in the business of film it can be forgotten as time is at a premium and days are long.

    Talk It Out

    Talk to someone you trust. It’s so important. They can see things that you might not and they’ll also be able to help you know if you’re overreacting, or to see things clearly.

    For me it’s so hard to separate how I feel from what I’m doing. My body and mind see the thing I’m doing as causing me to feel terrible.

    That is when I need to talk to someone, be it my sister, or one of my close friends and co-workers. I also need them to let me know if I’m off and I don’t notice so I can do what I need to do to stay healthy.

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    If you like more practical useful things: Get Self Help is a website with tools for cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT.  CBT is a term used to help you train your brain to not automatically go into crisis mode and help you get some measure of control.

    Most importantly, if you have symptoms that are interfering with your life, go to a doctor. Talk to a counselor.

    Remember there is always hope and a way through, you just have to do what is needed (positive ways, not negative) to keep living strong and not end up a zombie.

    If you are in a crisis call the hotlines in your country.

    Lifeline (Australia): 13 11 14

    Kids Helpline (Australia): 1800 55 1800

    Beyond Blue (Australia): 1300 224 636

    USA: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

    Canada: 911 No national hotline, however CASP has all the numbers by province and region.

    Kids Help Phone (Canada): 1-800-668-6868

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    • Hilary Dorst is a writer, director, and teacher living in British Columbia, Canada. When she’s not working on movies she is trying to get to the nearest beach and being crafty. She thinks life is about all the small stuff that people forget to look at and enjoy.


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