Four days into my junior year of high school, my first boyfriend, Andy, took his own life.
We were sixteen years old.
With the most recent anniversary of his passing, I realized that this is the last year he will have been alive longer than he’s been gone. This film is an imagining of my first encounter with him since his passing, inspired by dreams I had both in the time following his death, and more recently, since starting work on the film itself.
Of primary importance to me is the honesty inherent in every aspect of the production. It is a raw, real look into the unfortunate and increasingly societally-relevant effects of survivor’s guilt and the complicated emotions involved in the grieving process. As such, I’m pushing myself to include as much of my own unadulterated thoughts and feelings towards Andy, his decision, and what I’ve experienced in the aftermath as possible.
To this end, it is crucial that Danse Macabre stand on its own merits as a work of art, first and foremost, and second, as an educational tool. That’s not to say that the educational aspect of the project is secondary in importance, but that the artistic integrity of the piece is paramount in its potential educational value. No one likes to be “taught at”, “educated at”. I know, from my own personal experiences, that those who have no interest in educational media such as documentaries or educational films may indeed respond significantly better to media that is engaging, entertaining, and powerful—media that leaves its viewers to find conclusions for themselves. Danse Macabre has the potential to help SO many people struggling with any of these issues who may not tend to respond to more outwardly “educational” resources, in addition to standing on its own as a beautiful and poignant film.
My own mental health journey, and my ability to create this film itself, are prime examples of this—because I am one of those people . I found myself at a crossroads just a few months ago. I was feeling the familiar hopelessness tangled with a desire for things to be better and to enjoy my life. Not knowing what would help me, as has been my default state of existence for the past nearly two full decades. But wouldn’t you know—it was exactly then that an episode of Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired that featured the musical number, “Antidepressants Are So Not A Big Deal”—and for whatever reason, that did it for me. I’d tried a number of treatments (including antidepressants) over the years and was skeptical as to the efficacy of yet another. But not even two weeks later I was already feeling my body and brain respond to the combination of medication and therapy in ways they hadn’t before, and within a few days of that I began to work on this film. I finally found the specific treatment that *I* needed. Would I have gotten the treatment I needed without this show? Maybe. But maybe not. And I can’t discount its role in allowing me to finally enjoy my life again.
I am in communication with Andy’s family, as well as with some of our other friends and classmates, and they are on board and enthusiastic about the idea. There is a good amount of potential interest and support from local and national mental health advocacy and suicide prevention/awareness organizations, and we will be taking full advantage of potential community support by filming on Long Island, where we both grew up.
While I am conscious of not wanting to glorify one of the most painful experiences a person can create for those around them, I also don’t want to hush it away and pretend it doesn’t exist. I felt extremely alone in the aftermath of Andy’s suicide and felt like I wouldn’t be able to find anyone who could really relate to what I, specifically, was going through. But even through simply telling people about the film I’m working on, I’ve already found people with similar experiences to my own—people who have, more often than not, expressed that they’ve never shared their full story with anyone else before.
With the visible rise of massacres in the U.S. involving young people with most of their lives ahead of them—as both perpetrators AND victims—grief, shock from sudden loss, and survivor’s guilt are all things that NEED to be addressed more visibly. I don’t want anyone to feel as isolated as I did, and I know not everyone responds to tragedy with the same resolve to not succumb to their pain themselves as I did, as did THREE survivors of school shootings within the span of ONE WEEK this past March—the same week I decided to make this film. I want to normalize this experience so we can minimize it—if we can’t eradicate it, we can at least validate the experiences of those who have lived it.
Thank you for taking this journey with me, and for helping create, from darkness and tragedy, beauty and hope.
Creator / Writer / Executive Producer, Danse Macabre