Documentary explores challenges of living with mental illness

    A new documentary film produced in Philadelphia shows what it’s like to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

    Many blockbuster movies have illustrated what it’s like to live with a mental illness – “The Soloist”, “A Beautiful Mind”, or “As Good As It Gets” to name just a few. A documentary film produced in Philadelphia not only shows what it’s like – it was actually made by a man living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. [audio:100716msoc87.mp3]

    Bud Clayman hates taking the bus with a passion. But for his film, “OC87” , he challenged himself with a bus ride to work. He narrates his thought process, giving viewers the experience of riding along, in his head.

    Sound from movie: “Don’t stare, you are okay, don’t look at her, don’t look, she can’t see what you are thinking, nobody can see you thoughts.”

    The endless tape playing in Clayman’s head is in part caused by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD. Philadelphia therapist Jon Grayson, who works with Clayman, explains that at the core of OCD is wanting absolute certainty:

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    Bud Clayman
    Bud Clayman
    Grayson: “Am I clean, how do I know I won’t get sick from this. Have a thought maybe I want to kill you – is that a real thought, I don’t think I want to kill you, but how can I be sure, or if it’s not a real thought why am I having this thought?”

    Clayman also has Aspergers’ – a mild form of Autism. Aspergers makes it hard for him to read social clues, facial expressions, gestures. Jon Grayson likens it to living in a completely foreign country:

    “You don’t speak the language and you don’t know the customs you know, you reach out to shake hands, and people don’t do that in that country, and they look at you strangely and you don’t understand why they are doing that, you are not even supposed to make eye contact, so everything you are doing is wrong, and you don’t know what you are doing is wrong, so it’s pretty scary.”

    The two disorders, says Clayman, make an explosive mix:

    Clayman: “With the Aspergers I am constantly worrying did I do the right thing, did I do that right, and that’s a form of obsessing, and I’ll think about my thoughts instead of just having the thoughts, so it becomes a whole cycle, and that is very nerve-wracking and irritating.”

    In the 1980s, Bud Clayman was an aspiring journalist and filmmaker, studying at Temple University. But his dreams were derailed by a nervous breakdown, and bouts of severe depression. Then came the OCD diagnosis, and much later Aspergers. Despite hospitalizations and long periods of unemployment, Bud stubbornly kept trying to pursue the career of his dreams. Funny thing is, he doesn’t even really like filmmaking:

    Dr. Grayson describes the connection -- and distinctions -- of Buddy's OCD and Asperger's
    Dr. Grayson describes the connection -- and distinctions -- of Buddy's OCD and Asperger's
    Clayman: “I like to do a lot of things alone and film making is a collaborative medium so that makes it difficult to do.”

    For OC87, Clayman teamed up with local filmmakers Glenn Holsten and Scott Johnston. The team spent a year re-visiting important places in Clayman’s past, and speaking to other people affected by mental illness. Holsten says they also filmed Clayman confronting everyday challenges.

    Holsten: “Simple things, elevators, bus rides, going down the street and getting lunch at a diner – being in the diner! And how much work that took for Buddy.”
    Director and writer Scott Johnston hopes that the intimate look at these endless struggles will change viewers’ minds about mental illness:

    “One of our broader objectives with the film is to address stigma, which is fierce in mental illness, and I also felt like this was a process in many ways of Buddy reclaiming his voice, as a filmmaker.”

    Making the film was not without its challenges. For example, Johnston and Holsten went through extensive preparations to film Clayman’s high school reunion:

    Scott: “We were in the car and driving toward the reunion and …
    Glenn: “Had all the clearances…”

    And then Clayman was overcome with anxiety, decided not to go.

    Clayman: “I think I was embarrassed that I hadn’t moved on in life. And, one of my big problems is people making fun of me, and we’re working on that in my Apsberger’s treatment right now, letting people in again, and a lot of people made fun of me in high school, and I didn’t want to go through that again.”

    The team says the finished project premiering this weekend at an OCD conference in Washington DC is much different from what they had envisioned at first – but they are happy with the outcome.

    Bud Clayman says in making the film, he has reconnected with old friends, and become a more social person. He has also learned that his recovery will take time, and require hard work:

    Clayman: “It’s been a process, I mean things just evolve, and it’s very slow, and you grow and hopefully you’ll get better. But you gotta take your meds, gotta go to therapy and have to learn some discipline and you gotta stick to it.”

    Clayman next project is a documentary about a baseball league for disabled children.

    What does it feel like to have Obsessive Compusive Disorder?

    Maiken Scott got a little taste when she tried one of Dr. Grayson’s exercises.

    Dr. Jonathon Grayson is the director of the The Anxiety & OCD Treatment Center in Philadelphia [audio:OCD exercise.mp3]

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