“It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety”

by Natalie Jacobs April 26, 2017
 

 

screen-shotThe opening scene of “It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” is a dizzying display of what it’s like to have a panic attack.  Thoughts shift from bad to worse, the room spins, and it’s hard to tell up from down. In the film, you can get through it because you know it will end soon (the simulation lasts a few seconds longer than this viewer thought was necessary, but maybe that’s the point). In real life, if you suffer from anxiety, there’s no telling when normalcy will prevail.

“It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” was directed and produced by Susan Polis Schutz who has been sporting blue hair since emerging from a deep “blue” depression in the late 90s. The film is a collaboration between local public broadcasting affiliate KPBS and American Public Television and premieres in May for Mental Health Awareness Month. This is Polis Schutz’s second documentary from KPBS, her first “Anyone and Everyone” explores how different families from various cultural and religious backgrounds deal with the news when a child comes out as gay.

Similarly, “It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” asks a wide cross section of people who experience different aspects of this vast disorder to talk about their struggles and successes with the daily task of living with a mental illness. As “Anyone and Everyone” was precipitated by Polis Schutz’s own experinece as a mother when her son came out as gay, “It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” may also come from the filmmaker’s desire to explore how other people handle something that she herself has experienced. As the intro scene suggests, the film focuses mostly on what it feels like to have anxiety, rather than the causes in any given person or any extensive history of the disorder as a whole.

“As an anxiety sufferer you are always thinking ahead to what’s next,” says Terri Jury the first time we meet her in the film.
A former Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, Terri talks about her fear of death and how that has caused her to request many unnecessary and, in some cases, potentially dangerous, procedures to test for everything from M.S. to stroke to cancer.

Terri is one of several San Diegans who are featured in the film. A mix between reality television and self-help manual, “It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” focuses on the often painful first-person memories of anxiety sufferers and offers some ways that they’ve been able to overcome the most debilitating aspects of their illness.

“OCD forces you to focus on the one-percent possibility that your world will be destroyed,” says Lori Daniels about her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which includes an anxiety component. Schutz follows Daniels over a five-year period, from a peak point in her OCD where she wears latex gloves to the point when her illness is so under control that she’s able to give the filmmaker a hug.

Daniels hints that she didn’t always have OCD, but what caused her to develop the mental illness as an adult is left unmentioned, a disappointing omission.

In the opening scene, Schutz points out that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. While the film won’t answer all of your questions about what anxiety is and how it can manifest, “It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” offers a deeply personal look into the lives of people you may never think suffered from a mental illness. In turn, mental illness may become a slightly less taboo topic.

“It’s ‘Just’ Anxiety” will run on Public Broadcasting Stations throughout the month. Check local listings for showtimes.

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