How Movies Lit My Path To Recovery

September 25, 2023

Mariana O. (she/her) is a dreamer, fighter, and creator. Born in Mexico City in 1999, Mar has flourished in the creative industry. At just 22, her passion for film and television earned her the role of Festival Director for the International University Film Festival LANTERNA 2022. She currently works at the prestigious Morelia International Film Festival, a globally renowned event. As a recent graduate with a major in Communication Studies and a specialization in Film and Television Production, Mariana is making her mark in the entertainment industry through her narrative talents in screenwriting and directing. Mariana is also a dedicated advocate for destigmatizing mental illnesses and encouraging people to seek help. In April 2022, she shared her personal struggles with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and an eating disorder on social media. Earlier this year, Mariana co-founded the NGO FundaMental with her mother and best friend. The organization aims to foster open conversations about mental health, therapy, and medication across Mexico and provides treatment scholarships. Though FundaMental is in its early stages, Mariana and her team are determined to break the stigma and revolutionize mental health in Mexico. Mariana’s daily journey toward recovery is fueled by music, film, reading, yoga, and mindfulness sessions, embodying strength and resilience.

This story took place in Mexico

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(Courtesy of Mariana Ogarrio)

As I grew up, few experiences brought me as much joy as heading to the movie theater with my family on a warm Sunday morning, followed by another film at night before settling in for bedtime. The excitement of four young girls eagerly deliberating on which movie to watch remains vivid in my memory, those moments of decision-making stretching into hours. Amid countless trailers and debates, we’d finally pick a film, embarking on our cinematic adventure.

Little did I know that what began as a mere hobby would evolve into my all-encompassing passion, shaping my career path and providing me with a sanctuary and safe space. The dream of directing films and showcasing not just my creativity, but also the strength of those struggling with any kind of mental illness, fuels my aspirations. Yet, above all, my ultimate goal is to reciprocate to the world through cinema the very solace, security, validation, and affection it has unfailingly given me throughout the years.

Since I was 13 years old, I grappled with self-image issues, intense sadness, an unexplainable void, and a draining lack of energy. Amidst this, my mind raced with a multitude of thoughts, both overwhelming and euphoric. It felt like I had so much to express, yet my body and mind held me back. This marked the beginning of my journey with depression and anxiety, a journey that would persist and evolve over the years. As life underwent numerous changes—new schools, cities, friends, and family dynamics—one constant remained: my deep affection for film.

Often, we hear famous folks from the entertainment world sharing how their childhoods were woven with movies, creating a safe haven where they could escape reality for a little while. The magic of movies, offering solace and a sense of liberation, is truly undeniable. But my story took a different path, especially during my tumultuous teenage years. For me, the act of watching a movie never translated to evading reality; rather, it became a lifeline, a means to navigate and grapple with my own life journey.

My head was always a jumble, thoughts barging in uninvited, constantly entangling me in a web of overthinking and perpetual anticipation. That’s when movies swooped in and became my go-to escape, a cozy corner where I could confront these relentless musings in tranquility and security. Here are some of those masterpieces that aided me in understanding my emotions and guiding me through the darkest moments.

The 2008 classic, “Mamma Mia” swiftly claimed its throne as my go-to choice—a trusted confidant when I needed shelter from invasive, self-destructive thoughts. Every song was a purposeful release, casting aside burdens and embracing the uplifting lyrics. The enchantment of a musical movie like “Mamma Mia” lies in its power to ignite self-compassion and kindle joy, both challenging when you’re in the thick of battling depression.

With escalating anxiety and a destructive inner-dialogue, I yearned for inner peace and enhanced resilience. Eat Pray Love” became my cherished mindfulness sanctuary—a cinematic voyage that goes beyond sight, reaching deep into my soul. Every frame, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, carried me into India, Italy, and Indonesia’s streets alongside Julia Roberts. I wasn’t just a viewer; I was engaged, immersed in meditation and profound introspection. This movie is an emotional pilgrimage that continues to resonate with me, inviting me to explore the realms of my own spirituality and emotions.

During my first stay in residential treatment, I remembered watching “The Edge of Seventeen” repeatedly. I frequently felt like an outsider, misunderstood and overlooked. Hailee Steinfeld’s character, Nadine, resonated deeply, providing a comforting presence. Her journey mirrored mine, and I found my own fears and yearnings reflected in her thoughts. I discovered a profound connection, an intimate belonging in her decision-making process. In this synchrony, as I stood at the pinnacle of my recovery, a feeling of validation and security surged within. It’s incredible how a fictional journey intertwined so tenderly with my own, gently guiding me on my road to healing.

Cinema’s magic lies in hidden messages, where plots resonate uniquely with each viewer’s personal journey, weaving their own interpretations. It is because of that ability to immerse oneself in the film’s narrative, that the 2014 film, “Still Alice,” resonated profoundly within me. Despite its focus on early-onset Alzheimer’s, Moore’s performance struck a chord. Her confusion and vulnerability echoed my struggles, mirroring my battle with feeling disconnected from my own thoughts. Like her, I felt the frustration of being a stranger within my own mind and body, grappling with the inability to engage in activities I once cherished. Like her, I found strength in family support, sharing my inner struggles with them.

Amongst those same lines of having personal approaches and interpretations to every movie, I connected deeply with Colin Firth’s character in “The King’s Speech.” At a time when I struggled to find my voice and confidence, witnessing King George VI’s battle with a speech impediment hit close to home. It was a lightbulb moment—I wasn’t alone in my struggle to express myself. His journey, guided by therapist Lionel Logue, inspired a newfound confidence in me. Whenever I wrestled with the impulse to withdraw, to guard my wounds and conceal my scars, the movie surged through my mind, channeling the King’s resilience and compelling me towards raw, honest, and unfiltered conversations with my therapist.

I could talk endlessly about the movies that have genuinely transformed my life. Films like Brave (2012), Gravity (2013) and The Wife (2017) hold a special place in my heart. The impact of movies on my life is immeasurable, serving as anchors during challenging times and providing a voice to the complex emotions I grappled with. These narratives became my bridge, enabling me to seek support, break free from mental confinement. Through this shared language, I found my voice and the power it holds.

Today, I channel my struggles, triumphs, and feelings into the art of screenwriting. There’s a comforting release in putting my thoughts onto paper, with the hopeful intention that one day, my words might serve as a compass for others embarking on their own journey of healing. Whether they’re taking their first steps or nearing the end of the path, my aspiration remains unwavering. The brilliance of filmmakers who’ve woven their narratives into my life is a treasure, guiding my journey with wisdom and compassion. To these storytellers, I raise my glass, offering cheers to their transformative power.

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