The holidays are a difficult time of year for a lot of people. There’s the endless expectations, jingling bells screaming in your face from Thanksgiving morning until New Year’s Eve, family whom you’ve lost who are too painful to think about, and family still here who are too painful to deal with. Oh, the holidays. Ready to go shopping yet?
Instead, you could cozy up and cry with a Lifetime movie. Insert magic scenario here: An elfin ghost appears and poof, suddenly your dead husband is back, and your life is changed forever. Not exactly a healthy hope to cling onto, but hey, there’s something for everyone. I would like to offer an alternative.
Without Grace is a thought-provoking, poignant family drama that centers on Kira, played by the incomparable Ann Dowd (Emmy Winner, The Handmaid’s Tale), and her struggle to save her daughter from mental illness. When Grace returns home at Christmas, Kira’s delighted to get back to how things were when she was a child. Spoiler alert: she’s all grown up. It’s based on a story that many of us know well – caring for someone suffering while slowly struggling to maintain your own sanity along the way. That is the element which is often unaddressed. How does the caregiver go for help when the focus needs to be on the life or death situation at hand? How can you possibly lead by example when you feel the most important thing to you is slipping away?
Self-care is one of the most ignored and stigmatized elements of our society. Much like mental illness, it’s regarded as self-centered, narcissistic, and indulgent. The problem is, how can you be expected to give the best of yourself to someone else if there’s nothing left to give? When you aren’t whole, you can’t lead by example, your fuse runs short, and ultimately, you burn out. Now we’re two down, and everyone else is left with embers. This becomes Joel’s fear, played by tv and film staple John Doman (The Wire, Gotham, Blue Valentine). Will I lose them both?
“Them” includes Grace, whom I embody in the film, a woman who struggles with bipolar depression in addition to a storied past of self-harm and body dysmorphia. Insurance won’t pay for another mental health facility and she’s desperate to get better. Much like a terrified swimmer in a strong undertow, she grasps onto the people who love her the most and relies upon them to keep her afloat. Thank goodness for them! The problem lies within the age-old adage – do you teach someone to swim or act as a life preserver and risk drowning the both of you? It’s often impossible to find this perspective when you’re immersed in the situation, thus a cycle of love becomes enabling and ultimately dysfunction. The story is told with moments of air and levity provided by the adorable Charley the Chihuahua. Thank goodness for him! Everyone needs an adorable pup to love and laugh with, right? (See self-care tip #1 below)
Without Grace offers the viewer a much-needed look at the realities of mental illness and its effect on family. You visit the love, the grief, the tension, and the relief as the filmmakers allow you to sit quietly amongst this family as their story unfolds. As Hannah Gadsby says in Nanette, “hindsight is a gift”. My hope is that in watching this film, you can learn, relate, and feel a little less alone in the world. If you or a loved one is experiencing similar issues, there’s help available and I’ve listed some options below. Please visit them and cherish this holiday season as your own, making it uniquely yours. It will be the best gift you give yourself.
Join me, actress/writer/producer Angela Cohen, director Deborah Kampmeier, and special guests from NAMI and Each Mind Matters for a private screening of Without Grace (run time 18 min.) and panel discussion on Self-Care during the Holidays on December 13th at 6:30 pm in Los Angeles.
Tickets are available here and net proceeds benefit NAMI Westside LA. This event is generously sponsored by our friends at The Riveter, Ms. in the Biz, Women in Film LA, Emory University Alumni, Charley Bear Productions, and Breckenridge Whiskey. Without Grace releases on Amazon Friday, December 14th.