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Exploring Bipolar Disorder

Plainview residents were recently offered a window into a mysterious disease.

When filmmaker Kathy Leichter moved back into her childhood home after her mother’s unexpected and tragic suicide, she discovered a hidden box of audiotapes. Contained within those tapes were the remnants of her mother’s verbal diary. 

It took Leichter 16 years before she was able to summon the courage to actually delve into the tapes’ contents, but once she finally did she discovered that she had unearthed a gateway into her mother’s innermost thoughts and feelings on a variety of personal subjects, such as the marriage to her father, a New York State Senator; the estrangement from her son; and the ups and down of living every day of her life with the mental illness that eventually drove her to take her own life by leaping from the window of her apartment — bipolar disorder.

It was that traumatic incident that shaped Leichter’s life going forward. She sought a solace of sorts — both for herself and her family — by tackling the issue head-on in the form a brutally personal documentary entitled Here One Day, a gripping movie made up of interviews with family and friends, intertwined with poignant clips from her own mother’s audio diaries.

“The film is about my family’s relationship with my mother, what it was like to live with her, what it was like for her to live with that diagnosis, and what it was like for my family to lose her, recover and survive in the aftermath of that tragedy,” she said. “It’s an intense topic, but a very common one, unfortunately for many people and many families...one in four Americans will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness in their lifetimes, so families everywhere have these issues.”

Here One Day was screened recently at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library in conjunction with the Nassau County Office of Mental Health. The film is intense and emotional, Leichter said, but also about life, love, and family.

“My mother was an amazing person,” she said. “This film is very much about who she was — an artist, mother, teacher. You really get to know her by the end of the movie. It’s really about getting people to talk and overcoming the shame most people feel when it comes to mental illness. It’s a hard subject for many people to talk about, but if they do, they can heal and even recover.”

Felecia Schneberg of the Nassau County Office of Mental Health, said that her organization thought Here One Day was an emotive and memorable way to get their message across regarding overcoming the stigma normally associated with mental illness.  

“When Kathy Leichter was able to put this documentary together, it was something that I thought people could relate to,” said Schneberg Those of us that work in the field wanted to be able to open it up to the community, so we’re showing it here at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library so that people see it and get informed.”

Leichter, a Manhattan resident, has been a documentary filmmaker for more than 25 years. She said that she makes films that tackle important social issues in an effort to create change in people’s lives.

“I really use my work to get people to feel something,” she said. “And out of that feeling, I hope to produce some kind of social change that’s going to improve the world, so if it’s about welfare reform, poverty, economic justice, or like in this film, mental illness and suicide prevention...I’m making a piece of art so that people will open up and feel something inside, and then change their thinking.”

One of the groups who helped put together this one-time screening of Here One Day was the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , a national organization founded in 1980 and dedicated to making lives better for all of those affected by mental illness through support, education, and advocacy, according to Queens/Nassau Director Janet Susin.

Susin noted that she had previously seen Here One Day about two years prior. The impression it made upon her, she said, has lasted until this very day.

“I think that, every family that experiences mental illness, it was a life-altering experience...for every family it’s different, and this film captures that,” she said. “I think that’s its fascinating and wonderful that Kathy was willing to do this, and I’m sure it helped her to deal with the trauma as well.”

James Fitzgibbons of Plainview was one of the many people who attended the movie screening and the Q&A session with Leichter and members of various Nassau County mental health organizations afterwards; he said, the experience was a profound one to say the least.

“I’ve had members of my own family who have had to deal with these sort of issues in their lifetimes, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there who understand and can help,” he said. “The film was wonderful and touching, and made all the more so by the fact that the director — the woman who actually went through the suicide of her own mother — was sitting in the theater with me.”

If you’re interested in getting more information about Kathy Leichter’s Here One Day, you can visit the film’s website at www.hereoneday.com.