Thursday, January 23, 2014

Running From Crazy

Last week, one film at the Irvine International Film Festival really captured my interest. The film is "Running From Crazy," and it is about actress/author/model Mariel Hemingway. She is the granddaughter of famed American writer Ernest Hemingway. Her grandfather fought depression, chronic pain following a near-death plane crash, alcohol abuse and finally committed suicide in 1961. There are 6 other suicides in the family history, including Ernest's father, two of his brothers, and Mariel's sister Margaux. That's quite a gene pool to inherit.

This film is beautifully made by Oscar winning director Barbara Kopple. It also showed at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It is an honest film about inheriting genes that carry mental illness and a tendency for substance abuse, and using your own personal power to keep ahead of it through education, openness, awareness, exercise, diet, counseling, being outside in nature, and getting good medical coaching. She is concerned not only for herself, but for her two daughters.

Mariel is interviewed informally in the film, sharing her own journey. She was born the same year her grandfather killed himself, but no one in the family told her the truth about it. Growing up in Ketchum, Idaho, she had two sisters. The girls were very competitive with each other. Her mother, who she was closer to, was very ill with cancer during her childhood. Her two sisters were closer to her dad, who Mariel suspects may have molested her sisters, but not herself.

Mariel had early success as an actress, starting at age 16 with a Golden Globe nomination for Lipstick, and later starring in Woody Allen's Manhattan, as well as other films. She is involved in the fitness industry, along with her current partner.

The film explores the "Hemingway Curse" of the legacy of the Hemingway family. Despite Ernest Hemingway being one of the most respected American writers, with a larger-than-life machismo persona, he was actually a very troubled soul. He had multiple marriages, estranged relationships with his children, and deep depression that he self-medicated with alcohol. Mariel says that her grandfather's wife at the time of his death in Idaho explained the death as an accident to the family. It was not.

In the film, Mariel is shown in the activist role she plays for a large suicide prevention organization, where she gives speeches about the need for awareness of the symptoms that a friend or loved one may be considering suicide. In 2009, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US. It is more common in men than in women. Other risk factors include previous attempts, family history of suicide, physical or sexual abuse, guns in the home, chronic pain, family history of substance abuse or mental illness, and family violence.

"Running From Crazy" is an excellent film that helps us consider using our own power to manage our lifestyle and minimize the stresses that might turn risk factors into risk. Whether there is a history of anxiety, depression, suicide, or alcohol/substance abuse in your family, you still have the opportunity to be aware of the history, but do everything in your power not to succumb to it. You can't choose your family or the genetic predisposition, but you absolutely reduce the risk through awareness, education, avoiding alcohol and drug use, exercise, counseling, strong relationships, and good medical advice. Running from crazy? Aren't we all?

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