Mental Health Month and OCD

It’s been a while since I’ve written an entry but it’s because I’ve been facing my fears hardcore in a multitude of ways and it’s been a little overwhelming. It’s intense to face your fear and push through obstacles. I started to see a therapist and earlier this year she asked me how I felt about her assessment that I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I told her it made sense. I started seeing her late last year because I realized I had gotten into certain unhealthy mental patterns that were getting stronger as my stress levels increased. She recognized these patterns as signs of OCD.

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Photo Credit: Unique Spirit Photography

Thankfully over the past few months, she’s introduced me to various cognitive therapy techniques to help me break these mental patterns. It’s been working wonders. I’m not taking any medications to assist in this transformation (doc doesn’t find it necessary) and breaking mental patterns is a stressful endeavor. Luckily a lot of the therapy techniques she’s been working on with me are relaxation techniques as well.

It’s challenging for people with mental health issues to be open with their friends, family, and colleagues about it. Mental health is heavily stigmatized, maybe because so many people are repressing their own mental health issues and feel a need to disassociate from people who are naming and working through their shit. Who knows. Thing is it’s not easy for people working on their mental health issues to admit it to themselves either because of that same stigma. Yet self-acceptance and love are essential to recovery.

I have a mild level of OCD and I’m pretty sure it’s added to my ability to be a more highly functional human in certain areas of my life. Which is why it took me so darn long to seek help for it. I was kind of in denial about the negative impact it was having on my life, even as I was able to observe it happening.

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Photo Credit: Dan Corbett

Since I’ve started using the cognitive exercises my therapist recommended I’ve noticed I’m able to focus more on the present moment and release an obsessive need to control it. It’s an ongoing process but I’m deeply grateful for her assistance and it is 100% changing my life. I cannot recommend cognitive therapy enough.

Mental health is such an important part of our lives and it frequently gets swept under a rug of shame. Lets air out our collective psyche and let the healing begin. I highly recommend following @MensHealthMag for more on the importance of men talking about mental health and their #HowIGotHelp campaign for #MentalHealthMonth.

Also, there’s a beautiful organization called Art with Impact that brings screenings of short films about mental illness to college campuses around the world that is worth keeping an eye on.

Alright, until next time. Maybe next week. We’ll see…

http://www.lillianisabella.com

#TimesUp and Time to LOVE

Sunday night we witnessed Oprah begin her candidacy for President of the United States – I mean, I hope – at her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. It was a fantastic way to herald in the New Year. A rallying cry for women and men everywhere. This is my favorite part:

So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.

I loved her speech. Particularly how she talks about all of us fighting hard, men and women together, to eradicate abuses of power. The #TimesUp movement is pretty phenomenal. It’s a rallying cry from many powerful women in Hollywood that reaches across a huge socio-economic gap and offers a helping hand to less financially privileged women so they too can fight sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. They’ve set up a Legal Defense Fund to subsidize legal support for people who have experienced sexual harassment. More on their website.

The whole #MeToo movement has highlighted how disturbingly pervasive sexual assault and abuse are across all industries. I know women who have suffered from it, and I doubt there’s a single one of us who doesn’t. It’s energizing to see how making our voices heard prompts real change – firing perpetrators, mobilizing the elite, and intensifying a sense of solidarity.

I haven’t been sexually abused or assaulted, thank the universe. I have had men, boyfriends, friends, and strangers, say the most disturbing things to me and haven’t been able to process them. I remember one day lying out in the sun with a group of friends near our high school campus. I felt divinely happy, surrounded by people I cared about, feeling the sun soaking into my skin, and completely relaxed. It was a mixed group of men and women friends. One of the guys, whom I considered a friend, said to me, ‘I don’t understand, do you want to be raped?’

I haven’t ever been able to fully process that question. I went from being in a state of natural bliss and relaxation to being horribly self-conscious and shy and honestly repressed. If you’re wondering what I was wearing shame on you, and it doesn’t matter, but it was definitely not revealing. I tended to subdue whatever about me was attractive in high school. I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t wear heels (still don’t really if I can help it), I would hide my hair when I walked home from school because my mom told me it would attract too much attention. Which leads me to another story…

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photo credit: Dan Corbett

One day on the way home from work, post-college, I did have my hair out. It was long and thick and luxurious and I wanted it to be free. I stepped out onto the platform to wait for my transfer. As I stood there I suddenly felt someone’s fingers run through the length of my long hair as they walked by. I felt every other hair on my body stand up and a kind of sick feeling churn in the pit of my stomach. I turned to look and a man I didn’t know lumbered away from me quickly walking to the exit. Two girls sitting to my left looked at me horrified and then looked at each other and whispered about what had just happened. I looked at them and tried to connect but they looked away from me as if I was somehow tainted by the incident. Or maybe they were just embarrassed for me.

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photo credit: Dan Corbett

Here’s the thing, femininity is not actually a commodity. Although people might try to commodify it. It is not something that can be used and abused, at a moments notice for a moment’s pleasure, and then cease to exist. Although people will try to pretend that’s the case. It exists whether or not you’re there to look at it, touch it, or enjoy it. If you must engage with the feminine and/or with the female body please do so with respect and with permission.

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The real truth of it is, we’re all irrevocably connected to one another. The #MeToo movement and the resulting #TimesUp movement highlight how much good we can do when we stand together and shout enough is enough. I hope we see more men join in the fight, really join in, as this moves forward. Not a one of the men who gave their Golden Globe speeches mentioned the TimesUp campaign and that was disappointing. We’re all in this together, and it’s going to take both men and women to make a lasting change.

Moving forward, let’s all try to be a little less afraid. Face our fears of whatever the hell it is that holds us back from being as brave, and brilliant, and divinely feminine as we can be.

Now is the time to embrace love. L.O.V.E.

Read more Facing Fear posts here.

Facing Fear in 2018: Releasing ‘Self-ing’

I recently finished reading this fantastic book called ‘Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, & Wisdom.’ Its a guide to help you understand how you can control your brain and have a more joyous, loving, and healthy life.

The author has a self-guided exercise you can do where you exist in the moment without an attachment to the idea of ‘a self’. You sit and relax and observe whats happening around you without assigning it meaning according to your point of view. If those kinds of thoughts arise that’s fine, you just acknowledge them and don’t attach importance to them and let them drop away. Easier said than done, but it’s a fun challenge.

You know how a movie is actually many different still frames going by one after the other in quick succession creating the illusion of a moving image? The author says our idea of self is made up of many little sequential moments in time that give us the illusion of having a unique ongoing personhood. In reality we only exist in the moment and in relationship to what’s around us. Woah.

Photo credit: Michael Bambuch

We’ve all heard that refrain ‘live in the moment’ before, right? I always figured that meant we had the option to choose to live in the moment. It seems though that the moment is all there is, and if we’re not in it, we’re walking around with our heads in a dream.

When was the last time you walked down the street absorbing each moment of that walk? Paying attention to the sensations but not attaching any particular importance to the way they affected ‘you’? When I tried the author’s exercise I was relieved to exist even for just a few moments without making it about my experience. It reminded me of the way I feel after a good yoga class.

Photo credit: Michael Bambuch

Having a sense of self is healthy and helps you form relationships and understand important boundaries. However the author says if you practice releasing ‘self-ing’ it can help you feel more relaxed and peaceful, less stuck in the illusion of selfhood, and more connected with what’s really around you.

This past year I’ve been on a mission to face my fears and nurture self love. I’ve realized that fear comes from a strong identification with ‘self’. An attachment to the idea of a personal narrative I need to protect, or a strong connection to my ego. In some circumstances that fear is healthy, I don’t want to put myself or anyone else in physical danger. In other circumstances, particularly creative ones, that fear is harmful and restricting.

If ‘self-ing’ is the cause of my fear, and it is an illusion, then my fear is based on an illusion. Maybe if I continue to work on releasing my ‘self-ing’ I’ll find fear loosens it’s grip as well.

In 2018 I’m also going to focus on noticing and holding onto moments of joy. I’m going to take action in the moment and I’m going to practice loving gratitude. Also, I might just read this book ‘Buddha’s Brain’ again.

So, goodbye fear. Here we go, 2018. 💛🙏🏼

On Jonas Mekas and Publishing My Performance Piece, That’s How Angels Arranged

Two years ago I wrote my first solo performance—a documentary theatre piece about Jonas Mekas, aka the Godfather of avant-garde cinema. I interviewed Jonas, transcribed the interview, and then arranged his words into a dramatic narrative which I performed at The Metropolitan Playhouse in the East Village, NYC. Meeting Jonas Mekas and channeling his words on stage, changed my life. He showed me how powerful it is to live life to the fullest and create art from a place of love and honesty.

Today I’m so excited because I’ve faced my fear and finally published this piece, That’s How Angels Arranged, and it’s available for anyone to buy and read via Amazon, just in time for Christmas. 😉That's (6)Jonas Mekas is an incredible human being, filmmaker, poet, and artist. He escaped from a forced-labor camp during World War II and came to live in NYC during the 60s. He became a giant in the avant-garde film world and founded Anthology Film Archives, one of the largest repositories of avant-garde cinema in the world and a screening venue, which still exists to this day.

In That’s How Angels Arranged, Jonas talks about happiness, how he gets inspired to create art, and whether he’d change anything that’s happened in his life. He answered all my questions with passion and gusto and with more exuberance for life than I’ve witnessed in many people my own age. Jonas, by the way, was 92 when I interviewed him and is now 94. He just got back from Europe this past weekend where he visited several cities to promote a new book he just published. #Goals

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When I saw That’s How Angels Arranged was live on Amazon, I started tearing up. Here’s the thing, I had to majorly face my fear to get this out there. Now that I have, I’m not sure what I was so nervous about. Yes, I had to figure out how to format correctly for self-publishing, design a cover, create an Amazon author page, check and recheck digital and hard-copy proofs of the book before getting it live, etc. Yet these different things are just steps towards an end goal and don’t have to be faced with fear.

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Jonas Mekas and Lillian Isabella in the East Village, March 2017.

Sometimes it just feels safer to hold onto something as a ‘to do’ rather than take action and transform it into an offering ‘for you’. Now that it’s out there, it’s not about me and my next steps anymore, it’s about whatever a reader gets out of it. It’s going to have a life that stretches out beyond my own. Fear is, in many ways, a selfish emotion. It keeps me stuck in a limited scenario or thought and when I take action and push through that fear I’m taking ownership of the responsibility I have as a human to create and connect with others. It feels temporarily easier to shut out that calling, but in the long run it’s devastating. After finally publishing this book I feel relief, connection, love, and overwhelmingly energized.

Jonas Mekas is all about taking action, connecting with others, and celebrating life. Since I’ve met him, I’ve wanted to be more like him every day. Jonas arrived in NYC at 27 years old, and he says that’s when his life really begins. He made a promise to himself that he will remain 27, and he has. I hope whoever reads That’s How Angels Arranged (all 24 pages or so) gets inspired and enjoys learning about this incredible human. I know I did.

It’s available in paperback and as an ebook.

How Facing My Fear led to a New Acting Job

If there’s anything I’ve learned from facing my fears it’s that once I do I effectively change my life. I create and share new work to inspire people, get a new job to work hard on, or meet new friends to enjoy life with. In this case, facing fear led to a new acting job as a standardized patient (SP), but I almost didn’t even make it to my interview for it. If you don’t know what an SP is, more on that in a bit.

My interview was out in Long Island and I’m based in Queens so I didn’t think it’d be too challenging to get out there. The directions told me the fastest route was to travel into Manhattan first and then take an express bus out. I hopped on the subway and zipped out to Manhattan. Then things started to not go so smoothly.

After a fight with a metro card machine, it wouldn’t read my metro card because there was a little dent in it, I finally refilled my card with the funds for the express bus. Having conquered that machine I walked over to the bus stop in Midtown. I was right on time for a bus that wound up being 45 minutes late. At this point I was an hour away from an interview that was supposed to happen in 15 minutes.

I was freaking out. I very nearly walked away from the bus stop and went home. I told myself the job is too far away, they’ll never want to hire someone so late to an interview, and why do I even want to be an actor maybe this was a sign, yeah I was spiraling into that negative self talk zone. I realize now I was trying to rationalize my fear of disappointing people I’d never met and who might actually be understanding.

I forced myself to keep waiting and got on the very late bus when it arrived. I then charged straight to the back of the bus and just let the tears roll, interview makeup be damned. I was mad at myself for not being in control of the bus, for not finagling the situation perfectly and mostly for being late.

Yet even as I was having a moment I found the courage to email the guy who had set up my interview and tell him I was running late. Then I realized he might not get that in time and I called him and told him I was running late, forcing my voice to sound calm. He thanked me for calling and said he got my email as well and wished me good luck on my interview. I took positive action and got a little positive energy sent back my way. I started to calm myself and prepare for my interview. I reviewed my notes, fixed my makeup and took in the trees rolling by my window.

I finally arrived at the office and checked in for my interview and agreed to let someone else go in before me who had waited longer. During the hour I waited I continued to prepare for my interview/ audition. When I finally got in the room I was completely honest with them about my morning, told them about the emotional bits, how I recovered and how I’d plan better next time. They were understanding, maybe even a little amused, and told me about their amazing SP program.

SP actors take on the personal history, physical symptoms, and emotional characteristics of actual patients and then improvise with student doctors to help them train for optimal patient interactions. This hospital goes all out with their doctor/patient simulations. Cases I might play as an SP include a pregnant woman in labor, a homeless person sitting in an entryway (for this one they shut down the whole office building and put makeup on us to help us look more bedraggled), or a victim of sexual assault where they’d actually pick us up in an ambulance and drive around doing an entire intake scenario with an EMT in training. Those are just some examples of over 50 different training cases they have.

They interviewed me for an hour and then they offered me the SP job on the spot!! Flash forward to today, one month later, I’ve just had my first orientation for the job. The President of the hospital came and spoke to us, about 100 new hires across all departments of the hospital, and said something that really resonated with me: ‘You don’t fail when you lose, you fail when you quit.’

I would say the inverse is also true: you don’t succeed when you win, you succeed when you keep going. My success on that interview day was in getting on the damn bus, even though it wasn’t perfect, even though I felt embarrassed and emotional. If I hadn’t persevered I wouldn’t have won later in the day and booked the job. My success was in taking action and facing my fear of disappointing someone.

Today at the orientation they asked us to fill in the blank, ‘I am made to…’ My answer? ‘I am made to inspire people.’ I can’t predict when I’ll have an opportunity to do so, but often times I just have to show up and be present for whatever the Universe sends my way and it gives me that opportunity.

At one of the break out sessions during the orientation today we had to share personal stories about what we wanted to be as a kid and how it connects to our job at the hospital now. My answer? I’m doing what I wanted to do when I was younger, as a standardized patient I get to use my acting chops to help train doctors in patient care. My table mates told me that inspired them. See what I mean? Thank you, Universe.

Facing Fears: Solitude & Self Love

I recently separated from my boyfriend of many years. We’re still friends and didn’t break it off because of drama or anything like that, but after several years of being romantically attached I’m now single. I’m taking advantage of my newfound solitude to strengthen my inner core, not my abs (yet), but my will and drive and focus.

Solitude is a really marvelous thing. It’s kind of uncomfortable to acknowledge you’re a solitary being on your own journey because it doesn’t feel safe. Embracing that requires you step up to the plate, pick up the bat, and swing for what you want. It requires you to do that again and again and again and if you don’t you will yourself to sit on the sidelines and watch an empty field that could be filled with home runs.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I’ve recently discovered the only way to enjoy solitude is to love yourself and that I have not loved myself in a while. I love other people, I love the feeling of sunshine on my skin, I love the ocean, I love laughing with friends and family and I love home cooked meals. I love a lot but I’ve neglected loving myself for a long time.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

A lack of self love is hard to recognize when you’re being loved by another human being because they help to fill that void. On the other hand when you’re in a relationship with someone else you still need some solitude and a ton of self love, and I believe it’s vital to learn to embrace self love whether or not you’re in a romantic relationship. Also, although Hollywood routinely shows us accomplished men as solitary figures and women as partners to them, it’s a journey worth taking no matter what your gender.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I’ve been practicing self love, in the past four months or so, by bringing things I loved to do when I was a kid back into my life: martial arts, writing poetry, and traveling. I’ve been spending more time with my friends, specifically female friends and that feels so good and safe and fun. I’m completing projects I’ve had in limbo for years. I’m noticing that by allowing myself to do things I love I’m more eager to connect with people I love and actively engage with the world.

I believe the path of solitude and self love, over time, leads you through the hero’s journey. If I’m honest, I’ve been afraid to actively love myself. I’ve been afraid of how powerful that is and how radically I’ll change my surroundings. That fear of self love undoubtedly has held me back in my creative career as well. However I’m now determined to love myself into a vibrantly creative life and hopefully I’ll give back and inspire people along the way. I’m in the midst of my own hero’s journey. 💛

I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

Overcoming Fear: Flying to London

This summer I got on an airplane and flew to London all by myself. It’s actually the second transatlantic flight I’ve gone on solo and for someone who has been afraid of flying since 9/11 thats not bad. Well it was stressful for sure, but I’m going to take a moment to appreciate how cool it is that I did it anyway. 🤔😏😉

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I went to London to partake in a documentary from filmmaker Jack Everitt about having Phenylketonuria, my metabolic disorder. He initially reached out to me on Twitter because I was the ‘second most famous’ person with PKU according to the internet. I’m coming for you #1, just kidding whoever you are you rock. Can I interview you? Anyway, Jack wanted to interview me for his documentary and I excitedly said yes! And then I flew across the pond.

Jack was an incredible sweetheart and met me at the airport along with fellow PKU advocate Mark Edwards, who is based in Wales. Thank God because by the time I landed, 12am local time, I was hungry and dehydrated and was incredibly grateful to absorb the friendly advice – get your train ticket here, we’ll take the train here and then a taxi there – while downing a bottled water. Then our train broke down at around 1:30am and we waited for a new train for around 45 minutes or so, but I didn’t care because I had company! Alone, I would’ve been freaked. I also took the opportunity to have a little photoshoot.

While in London I was determined to interview three fellow PKU’ers about their experience with PKU. Lucky for me Jack, Mark, and Sarah all sat and chatted with me for the better part of an hour each and I’ve been releasing those conversations as part of my #PKUChat series on YouTube. Below watch a sneak peek of my interview with Sarah, an American lawyer with PKU, living in London. She’s also a PKU advocate with an Instagram page dedicated to PKU friendly food.

It was a lot of fun to talk with Jack about PKU for his documentary and I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished. We both realized our ultimate goal is for more people to know what PKU is. You know how when someone tells you they have diabetes you don’t feel confused? We’d like for PKU to be similarly understood. It would help us feel more at ease whenever we go out to eat with someone new. While I love educating people about what it means to have Phenylketonuria it’d be such a pleasure to sit down to eat with someone and feel accepted right off the bat no matter what’s on my plate.

(Photo still from documentary, credit Jack Everitt)

Getting over my fear of flying was well worth this exciting and productive trip to London! It was my first time there and I wanted to have a visual record of it so I collaborated with London-based photographer Dan Corbett for a photoshoot all along the South Bank and a little bit of Shoreditch too. I managed to get a bunch of sightseeing in as well hitting up some brilliant Tate Modern exhibits, the Tower Bridge, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, a couple of West End shows, and lots of walking including a haunted tour of London!

How’s that for facing fear?

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

Overcoming Fear: Speaking on my First Panel

This week I spoke on my first ever panel at the SAG Foundation on ‘Growing Your Social Media Following’. I was absolutely terrified before going out there, but let me just say it went really well. Except for the moment I set off an alarm and locked myself and all the other badass panelists in the elevator right before the panel began… more on that later. The other panelists were: Arda @ardaocaltv (our talented moderator), Heidi @marketing4actors (social media pro), Tony @tonyhowell (digital guru), and Jessy @socialmediaagent (next level brand partnership leader).

Lillian Isabella at SAG Foundation

I was asked to be on this panel because I’m an actor, writer, model, and social media expert. After graduating NYU Tisch with a BFA in Theatre I dove right into social media and built a large following including 45,000+ on Facebook and 22,000+ on Twitter. Then I took on clients including Tribeca Film Institute, I increased their Instagram following by over 300%, their Twitter following by over 50%, and their Instagram following by over 25%. Needless to say I love social media and the power it has to connect people.

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Okay back to the panel – this was my first time ever speaking on a panel but I have spoken in front of large crowds before. The thing I love most about public speaking is it’s a chance to genuinely connect with a roomful of other humans and get them excited. In this case we were talking about something I’m usually pretty jazzed about anyway.

The panel was all about looking at social media from an actor/brand perspective. How can you best utilize social media to amplify your brands reach and message? It became clear pretty quickly that all of us panelists agree social media is about genuinely connecting with people more than being a sounding board for your artistic endeavors. Social Media Pro Tip: Use your storytelling abilities to create an engaging narrative about who you are and what you’re about then connect with the people you want to work with.

You can watch the panel in its entirety here:

I want to work with everyone who spoke on the panel on Monday and I’m thrilled I got to meet them. Also although my nerve wracked brain fantasized about suddenly not being able to attend the panel (safety!) I’m so happy I was in fact able to go. It was a life changing experience and I can’t wait to speak on a panel again. Making people laugh is really addicting. Not so funny was when the amazing NY Program Director of the SAG Foundation Melissa Zakri Zareh, the other 3 panelists and I got stuck in the elevator because I accidentally leaned on the emergency button with my butt. Luckily Melissa used her staff badge to whisk us out of that situation and get the elevator doors to open. Sorry team! Haha. Okay maybe it was a tiny bit funny, but only because it didn’t last long.

On a more serious note, I’m noticing those moments where I do something in spite of my fear often wind up being life changing for me. I’m reminded of that Kafka story where the man stands in front of a gate waiting for permission from the gatekeeper to go through. He waits for many years until he’s on the verge of death but then finds out the door was only meant for him to go through this whole time and now it’s too late and it’s closed to him forever. Yikes! In reality we are both that eager striving man and that gatekeeper. Our fear often keeps us from walking through a gate of opportunity, growth, and new expansion. However we also hold the power to change that and push through. Take that, fear.

Facing Fear: Starbucks and Senators Oh My!

This week I drank my first cup of fancy Starbucks coffee ever. I have the metabolic disorder #Phenylketonuria (PKU), which makes it so that I can’t break down the amino acid Phenylalanine found in food high in protein, more on that here. This includes cow’s milk and is why I hadn’t tried any of those macchiato confections – because let’s be real they’re straight up sugar.

Besides, I’m not a big coffee drinker and wouldn’t want to drink straight black coffee. However a couple years ago Starbucks added Almond Milk and Coconut Milk as substitute options, both are MUCH lower in protein than cows milk and are PKU friendly.

Once I could try one of Starbucks’ fancy coffees I delayed it because on some level I was scared to. I had thought of Starbucks as something I couldn’t enjoy for so long I was in denial that it wasn’t so anymore. Now I understand what all the fuss is about.

Lillian Isabella

I’ve been wanting to take my advocacy for PKU to the next level for a while but the idea of reaching out to a politician was a bit scary. What would I say? Would they even take me seriously?

Last week I emailed one of my Senators to ask if I could speak with her about sponsoring the Medical Nutrition Equity Act. The Act would provide public and private insurance coverage for physician prescribed medical foods – medical formulas (my PKU shake) and low protein modified foods for children and adults with PKU and other inborn errors of metabolism.

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I love drinking my shake. It’s called Phenyl Ade Essential

This is incredibly important because the medical formulas and foods ensure people with PKU, such as myself, are able to function at their full capacity instead of becoming mentally disabled. Without insurance the cost of these medical formulas and foods runs approximately $12,000- $15,000 per year.

Right now coverage differs state to state and many families with a loved one with PKU find it incredibly challenging to get the help they need.

Yesterday afternoon I got an email from a senior advisor to Senator Gillibrand and I will be speaking with the advisor about the act soon. I’m excited and a little intimidated but I’ll let you know how it goes!

Overcoming Fear – Directing My 1st Film

I’ve wanted to try my hand at directing for a couple years, been curious about it, daydreamed about it, and even imagined accepting an Academy Award for doing it, but until two weeks ago I hadn’t made one yet. I came up with all the excuses for why not, but mainly it was because I was scared to get started.

Well, last month I was invited to take part in a film challenge called Film Force Five an independent project led by Jose Rodriguez (Director Documentary Programs at Tribeca Film Institute) and Timothy Noble. It was just the push I needed. Psyched the Universe threw this opportunity my way, I accepted and on May 2nd, 2017 I produced and directed my first short film, Working It Out!

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Jose and Timothy sent five filmmakers (including me!) a short skeleton script containing only dialogue and asked us to interpret the genre, setting, character details, action and scene directions, etc. They requested we approach the script with unexpected direction and to feel free to be weird and original. We had one month to interpret the script, go through the pre-production process, and shoot and edit the film. It was intense, exactly what I needed to push through the fear, throw myself into action, and finally make a film.

IMG_4075Since we weren’t able to add any dialogue it forced me to concentrate on telling the story visually – which is what filmmaking is all about! Also, being weird in my interpretation of the script was fun. The script originally only had two characters in it, but I split one of the characters into two without changing the order of the dialogue. I’m grateful to the talented actors Anna Fikhman, Laura Riveros, and Andrew James Gordon who dove into the unusual script and had fun with it.

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My DP/ Editor Benny Krown was also a great asset to have on set. Due to the tight pre-production and shooting schedule, we had to think fast and make changes on the fly. Benny knew what he was doing with the camera and that made ALL the difference. I was happily able to focus on rehearsing with the actors when I needed to.

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The experienced Sound Mixer Ruben Morales was also invaluable to have on set! We had a spectacularly noisy park location with airplanes flying overhead and a drill going on somewhere nearby. Without Ruben, we would’ve been in trouble. Ryan Pattison was on board to help with sound and Sophia Rodriguez (my sister) wound up with a 1st AD credit because of how much she contributed on the day of. I originally just asked her to be the photographer so I’m grateful for her willingness to help.

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I had always found it funny how Academy Award winners seem so shocked to be winning one. Don’t we all imagine winning one at some point and practice speeches in our heads? Yet to actually put our dreams into motion requires a shift of mentality that pushes the award-winning daydreams out of mind.

By the time I had finished shooting the film I was just so grateful it happened. That by some miracle, the actors came to set safely, the equipment worked, it didn’t rain, we finished filming in under eight hours, we got enough shots to make a film, we all got along, we made it happen.

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Directing is fun beyond my wildest dreams. On set I literally jumped up and down with excitement when we got a great take. I loved balancing all the different elements of the production – sound, shot list, actors, scheduling, feeding everyone. I was in my element. That’s where the joy of creating lies – in taking action, making it happen, and teamwork. Take that, fear.

I learned a lot, gained experience, and created a fun short film that passes the Bechdel test (of course).