While COVID-19 infection rates continue to drop and the world re-opens, the trauma of the past year’s many crises continues to linger—economically, politically and psychologically. Through an ongoing series of guest posts, we’ll be checking in to see how people in our creative community have been dealing with their mental health struggles, whether sparked by or merely exacerbated by the pandemic as well as other recent events. First up: screenwriter, producer and regular Film Independent blog contributor Cydney Fisher.
We all came into COVID with demons. Mine were gnawing at my flesh, consuming the remnants of a person I no longer remembered. It is hard to write this from a space where avoidance still reigns. As much as I want to believe I am healed—healing—the truth is I have only been in therapy for a year. So, how do I begin to heal decades of suppressed trauma?
I wish there were a pill or a shot I could take that would instantaneously process all of my unresolved [insert mental health word of the day.] However, that shit does not exist, despite the anti-depressants. So here I am, writing to you, about how angry I am that I have to unlearn all the bizarre ways my brain thought was best to cope.
June 12, 2020 was my first day of therapy in five years. To be fair, I was never a consistent practitioner to begin with. I’d been going off and on since 18.
Therapists scared me. I had a bad experience with one that led me to being involuntarily hospitalized for three days. Still I kept going back, wanting to be “fixed.”
I cried to this stranger on the screen. A black woman like me.
I don’t remember the last time I cried like that. I used to think crying was a sign of weakness unless you were watching a movie. It was all intimacy I craved but could only release to the screen.
Now I cry all the time…
My existence is an audacious act. This is what Spelman taught me. It is radical to be overly educated and black. Wading in the deeper pools outside of the societal confines of what I am supposed to be allowed for me to accept and transform into something new.
Yet, when I came back to the shallow end, it’s as if the water evaporated, making me forget who I could be and molding me back into who I was for a time.
As a child and still now, I am told I am loud. I am told I am mean. I am “alarming” in my demeanor and presentation. I allowed myself to become small. Constructing this person who went beyond codeswitching. A robot. Always on, while I was never there. Until some of the cracks became caverns. The shine turning to rust. I would peel my demon off. Letting myself out for a moment to uncontrollably sob and then pack myself away again. Pretty sustainable, huh?
I thought most of my coping mechanisms were normal until I moved to LA and everyone started talking about their feelings. It finally became clear to me that I might have feelings too. Which feels very silly to write, but it is based in truth. When you bury everything down for so long, it is a very strange thing to admit.
I wanted to hide, even from myself.
This is why I keep telling myself I am a writer. Hoping that the words will finally smear over my body and never leave me in a moment of doubt.
WritHer or FakHer.
I spent 10 years trying to let others see me. Clawing confessions out of people who no longer matter and possibly never did. Why is validation so important? Let’s see…
noun: validation; plural noun: validations
- the action of checking or proving the validity or accuracy of something.
“the technique requires validation in controlled trials”
- the action of making or declaring something legally or officially acceptable.
“new courses, subject to validation, include an MSc in Urban Forestry”
- recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.
I think the boiled down answer is: because it makes you feel good. As a human of course, I want to feel good. I want to be wanted. As a creative, I find we all have a certain sense of narcissism that if not coaxed, will turn you batshit crazy. The demon fueling all of us must be fed either by societal praise or by incessant self-hate. The constant spiral of up and down, up and down is exhausting. Never knowing if you truly are as good as you want to be, as good as they say you are.
I have danced with depression more than I would’ve liked to. I am trying to be more content in moments of sadness. The plus side of therapy. Ladies, Gentleman and Genderfluid individuals… I believe that is what we call growth.
When you graduate from one of the top film schools in the country you should feel accomplished. Instead, I felt like a fraud. A very in-debt fraud. Who was I to even claim that school? Yes, they took my money. Yes, I have a piece of sheepskin with my name on it. I just didn’t feel like I earned it.
I could barely write anything. I was depressed. My antidepressants gave me more heartburn than helped me form words.
In COVID, I started having stress dreams about somehow being one credit shy from my undergraduate degree. Which then discredits my graduate degree and disqualifies me for my current job OR I would dream about being fired from my job because someone finds out I am just. not. qualified. When in fact I am overqualified.
Long story short, grad school left me feeling like a anxious failure. It made me lose all sense of myself. Any belief I had in being a writer, eroded away by the time I graduated. Which was fine. I thought.
I could be someone else. Anyone else. I even thought about the possibility of forced happiness. I could make myself do something I didn’t 100% like until I became okay with it. My mom had done it for my brother and I. My brother was doing it for his family. Was this just something I also had to do?
Two Angry People.
In my darkest moment, I wrote something. A TV pilot I was proud of. In October of 2019 I shared it with two people—coworkers turned friends, then family—who have believed in me more than I believed in myself at the time.
On June 9, 2020, they Facetimed me.
It was the call I needed. At this point we had been quarantined for almost three months. They read the spec script from 2019. They wanted something else. They needed something else. I just couldn’t write.
Everytime I looked at the page, I wanted to cry. It was yelling all of the hateful words my graduate writing professor had yelled at me. Writing was no longer fun. It hadn’t been fun for years at this point.
Of course they didn’t know this, and I never learned how to share my feelings as a kid. So we were at an arduous impasse. It wasn’t until one finally gave up on me that I broke and started acknowledging the truth.
They both believed in me so much they told me I needed to seek additional help because my anxiety and depression was taking over my life. They were right. I had known for a decade.
Healing, Part Two.
I have been through four therapists in quarantine. I do not wish this on anyone.
I’ve been asked why I didn’t give up after the first therapist ended things. The answer is I was tired of being broken. So I kept trying like the sadist I am.
Honestly this therapy journey has been like a very long episode of The Bachelor, but I think I found the one. I am hoping this is the final rose for a while but we will see.
The pandemic has made me feel insane, but after I got over the lunacy and embraced the demons, I began to change.
A year into therapy, I am writing again. The pages are new and unrefined, but they are my creations, my words to do with what I please.
I can’t begin to speak on how I became this enigma. I only know I want to figure her out. It’s time for me to heal.
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