Comments on ‘Out of the Shadow’ Documentary by the Filmmaker, Susan Smiley

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pic of mother and two daughtersNearly 6 years in the making, ‘Out of the Shadow’ is a deeply personal film that was truly a labor of love, as well as a mission.

Many years ago, before I started making documentaries for a living, I knew there was one story I had to tell, a story I had no choice but to tell. It was happening in my own life, to my own mother. Her life seemed too strange and disturbing to be true.

‘Out of the Shadow’ was born out of my anger about the stigma and vast code of silence surrounding people with schizophrenia and their families. When I learned about how pervasive this illness is, I realized that it’s not just my mother’s story, it’s millions of people’s story. People with severe mental disorders are all around us, and I am deeply troubled by our society’s profound misunderstanding of what schizophrenia is, and of the people who are afflicted with it.

In my family no one talked about my mother’s “odd” behavior, but we all wondered why she couldn’t “pull her life together.” After decades of repeated apartment evictions and involuntary hospitalizations kept my mother on a constant cycle of unfamiliar living arrangements, psychiatric wards, doctors, social workers and medications, we finally realized that she actually was so ill that she wasn’t able to help herself.

As a filmmaker, I knew that the intimacy I had with my mother would offer unprecedented insight into the life of someone who suffers from schizophrenia, as well as their families who also have to cope with the pain and confusion of the illness. I hoped that by showing my family’s insights, I could illuminate realities and clarify misconceptions. In filming my mother, I also wanted to expose the travesties of our public health system inability to offer continuum of care, so fractured is it that decades of her life were simply lost by missed opportunities. In some small way, I hope this film will educate people who have had to care for a loved one who suffers from schizophrenia. I also hope that it will help educate those people who are not directly affected by the illness, but simply desire to better understand it.

In addition, it’s my sincere wish that this film will offer families a renewed sense of hope. It took decades for my family to learn how to take care of our mother, and help her realize some degree of potential. I have learned that some recovery IS possible if the proper supports such as housing, job training and placement and medication management are in place. Cooperation between mental health professionals and family caregivers has given our family a sense of empowerment and hope that we never before experienced. It’s also allowed Millie to realize goals she never before thought were possible.

I would like to thank SARDAA and Linda Stalters for including Out of the Shadow in their film festival. I am sorry I could not be with you at the screening but please feel free to email your comments to us at info@outoftheshadow.com, and check out our website www.outoftheshadow.com, for more information and educational materials.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Susan Smiley

WHY SA?

Margery WakefieldBy Margery Wakefield (and friends)

Tonight I am getting together with my friends – my friends being a dozen or so schizophrenics from the Denver, Colorado area. We get together every Monday night from 7:00 to 8:00pm to share our experiences, strength and hope with one another. In other words, to have an SA group.

We are like family–extended family. We have been meeting like this for 8 ½ years, at least, some of us. We have celebrated birthdays together, deaths of parents, triumphs in life, losses, and the joys in overcoming obstacles that only schizophrenics can truly appreciate.

We are the forgotten minority–the last group of people in the world to experience stigma. Cancer, divorce, gay marriage, and even AIDS are now more accepted. But say the word “schizophrenia,” and people still wince. Shootings come to mind, violent acts of the tiny percentage of us who are off our meds. Most schizophrenics are far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.

What is apparent in our group is that we schizophrenics have enormous talent! I am a frustrated concert pianist, a writer of six books. P. is a wonderful portrait artist. L. is also an extremely talented artist, as well as being a lawyer. G. sings like an angel, even a capella. C. plays a mean Chopin Prelude and has a phenomenal memory for Bach. T. teaches art, even to us. M. does crochet, unusual for a guy! M. writes stories. Etc. Etc.

In our meetings, we have the serious business of SA. We have a structured meeting. First we have a minute of silence, then an affirmation from the affirmation book. Then some varied readings from the Blue Book – we vary them from week to week. Then we turn to the 6 Steps and read them. Then we go around the circle, and each person takes a step that applies to his or her day or week, and we discuss them. Then, it is time for the weekly check in. Everyone comments on how the week went, problems with symptoms, problems with medications, victories, outings, work related events, etc. During the check-in, we make sure that everyone is doing OK, and if they aren’t, we deal with it as a group. Are they on their meds? Are the meds not working? Do they need an emergency appointment with their doctor? Do they need to go to the hospital? Do they need a ride to the hospital? Etc.

In SA meetings, as opposed to 12-Step meetings, we encourage crosstalk, feedback, and advice giving. It is a more relaxed and informal meeting than say, AA. That is the charm of SA.

Tonight we had two new members, younger members, ages 19 and 20. They are the future of SA. They promised to come back, and I think they will. They seemed to enjoy the meeting, even though the rest of us are older. We made them feel welcome.

SA is a social educational group. In our group, we have fun! There are talent nights, in which each person brings a creative offering. We have potlucks and pizza nights. We have art nights, and an annual swap meet in which members clean out their closets and bring their “trash” and put it on the boardroom table, then – on the count of three – the members pick out what they want from the table. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It is true. We have a coffee group on Saturdays, and a walking group when the weather is nice. We go to concerts together, and museums and movies. We socialize with each other. We ARE like a family, although new family members are always welcome.

Now I want you to hear what some of the members wrote tonight about what the group means to them:

“Being in SA for the past 8 years has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I have made many good friends who accept me in spite of my illness. I feel a true sense of camaraderie and closeness which I did not experience in the 12-step groups I have attended. I am truly grateful that SA has come into my life.”   R.

“SA shows me that I am not alone in dealing with my mental illness and it helps break down the stigma of mental illness. SA gives me inspiration to “get over” my mental illness and gives me examples to shoot for.” S.

“This group meeting helps me realize that I have a mental illness. It also keeps me connected.” B.

“SA keeps tabs on us, and if you’re falling through the cracks, they tell you to talk to your doctor, and the buck stops here and you check with your doctor.” G.

“SA means to me that I am not alone and there are people out in the community who understand what I go through.” C.

“SA has provided me with a wonderful circle of friends. Without them, I don’t know what I’d do – except feel very alone. I’d like to keep these friends for life. They keep me sane – and alive!” C.

“SA keeps me out of the hospital. We’re a small group, and I get enough attention about my illness.” M.

“SA provides me with a social network and support.” G.

“SA is a place where I can set goals, and receive emotional support.” C.

Why SA??? Because it works! Please don’t change a thing…. MW