I am so very excited today to introduce, Archived, a new ongoing feature here on My Invisible Camera. Years ago when I was oh so young and pregnant with Liam, I joined La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group, to help answer any new mama questions that I might have. A friend of mine shared a concept with us and it has stuck with me to this day. She explained that years ago families lived close to each other, often in the same town or even the same house. Mamas, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, all living, breathing, and sharing stories together every day. We had a shared history that was passed down and a part of our culture. As time has passed, families have moved farther away from each other, to new houses, new cities, and with that distance, we have lost that intimate connection to our shared history. That resonated with me so deeply. I’ve always love hearing stories from not just my mother and grandmother, but have always been drawn to uniquely personal stories filled with courage, sheer beauty, or triumph. So, it is in that spirit, of stories and the wondrous storytellers who share them, that this feature begins to share and record the stories.Our very first story comes from my friend, Dina, or as I know her, Carmen. Carm and I met when I joined a roller derby team that she skated for. She became the Captain of my team and is possibly the best roller girl I’ve ever had the pleasure of skating with. I was always so impressed by how driven and focused she was. Roller derby, being a culture steeped in hard work, surreal commitment, and talent, attracts a truly brilliant and diverse group of women to its ranks. Carmen Monoxide is one of those women. Last month I followed a link to her new documentary blog and was awed at her story. I think she’s incredibly courageous and I am honored that she let me interview her for this blog. 1. Tell me a little about your filmmaking.
I received my undergraduate degree in Television, Radio and Film from Syracuse University, and then went on to graduate film school at Columbia University. I lived in NYC for about eight years, working mostly in television post-production. A few years ago, I realized there was an unfulfilled aspect to my career and that I wanted to do something more meaningful and helpful to others, so I made the transition into academia (while still working on my personal film projects) and now teach film, video and screenwriting at Stevenson University in Baltimore, MD.
2. Tell me what made you want to make this documentary.
I remember having social anxiety as far back as 3rd or 4th grade. I tell a story in the film about my pencil breaking during a test, and how rather than getting up and crossing the classroom to sharpen my pencil, I finished the test with the tiny stub of lead in my finger, because I was terrified to cross the classroom. I started having panic attacks in college, and then my anxiety became full-blown in graduate school, where I was faced with an enormous amount of pressure to succeed as a filmmaker. From there, I went through a period of heavy psychotropic medication use, as well as drug abuse and recovery, and have been learning how to manage and deal with my anxiety on a much more positive and holistic level ever since.
A few years ago, my husband Gary and I began talking about having a child. We were approaching the “now or never” point (in terms of age), and realized that it couldn’t just be a “happy accident”, because the medication I was taking at the time could potentially cause harm to a baby. Being an OCD, control-freak planner (!), I began researching my options (which I saw as three things: wean off medication and risk not feeling well, stay on medication and risk harming the baby, or not have a biological child at all), planning consultation appointments with therapists, psychiatrists and high-risk OB-GYNs, and studying my calendar to make sure everything lined up with my work schedule, etc. Along the way, I discovered that there was a lot of scattered and conflicting information, and no clearly defined path or source of information for myself or other women dealing with these issues. I felt that making a documentary film that not only followed me on my journey, but also highlighted the experiences of other women, would be the best way to consolidate what I was learning and communicate it to others.
3. So far, how has motherhood/pregnancy changed your outlook on things?
The best personal decision for me was weaning off my medication, and I’ve been grateful and surprised that, at 6 months pregnant, I feel better than ever (certainly better than when I was taking medication). Of course, as an anxious person, there is always the thought in the back of my head that the other shoe will drop eventually, and that there will be a point where my anxiety becomes overwhelming again, but I try to remain positive and just take it a day at a time. Mental illness is a very self-centered disease; you’re constantly in your head, thinking or worrying about yourself and what’s happening to or around you, and I’m really looking forward to having a child to concentrate on, to take some of that self-centeredness away from me. I also find myself being less of a perfectionist, and kinder with myself in terms of work and accomplishments. I’m obsessive, a workaholic and extremely ambitious, which has often been detrimental to my mental and physical state, and I feel like I’m doing a good job of allowing myself to take a break and focus on the basics, like eating and sleeping well, and being as healthy and calm as I possibly can for my baby. Society leads women to believe that they need to sacrifice their career for family (or vice versa), but I’m feeling pretty confident that I can handle both. For me, the key to feeling well is all about balance, and I think that adding a family dynamic to my life will only help to balance things out even more.4. What is the one thing you really hope people could come away with after seeing your film?
I’m making the film to raise awareness and hopefully provide some guidance and useful information for other women and their families. I’m hoping that people walk away with a new found sensitivity to what women might be going through, especially since mental illness and reproductive issues are two topics people are very hesitant to talk about publicly. I would also like other women to know they are not alone – there are many of us going through this, and there is help out there. I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me with their personal stories, or stories of others close to them who are dealing with the same issue. Stigma and silence only hinder the process, and the more support from doctors, families and loved ones a woman has, the greater chance of a positive experience and outcome she’ll have.
**I’d like to thank Dina for sharing her story with us. Please support her as she creates this compelling film. You can help share her story by visiting and liking her Facebook page, visiting her blog, or signing up for her newsletter. She will be launching a Kickstarter campaign shortly and I will be sure to let you know then how you can help then.
Special thanks to Stephen Hendee (Dina’s infrared photo/top), Chris Chin (Carmen Monoxide jams-Gotham Girls), Brandi Grooms (wedding photo), and Brian Brooks (Women and Meds film stills) for their photographs.