In the mid-2000s, film director and film score composer Nicole Russin-McFarland could not understand why she felt so bad going to university.
‘People told me these are supposed to be the best years of your life. I had the worst anxiety because my every feeling was, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t fit in.” Wasn’t I following the route everyone says guarantees success?’ she says.
‘My peers all treated me like Legally Blonde where Elle Woods wasn’t allowed to join the Harvard study groups. Boys wouldn’t befriend me because they worried it looked bad if people thought we were dating when we were not. Girls were paranoid imagining I liked their boyfriends, and the other girls never thought I was one of them before I had a chance. I had my fair share of sexist professors who put me down any chance they had, one in the journalism department alleging me of plagiarism when I wrote about music. He couldn’t believe someone like ‘me’ would know about music! I went from having an active teen social life to feeling the most isolated I had ever been.’
For many, therapy and a change of self-perception treat anxiety. For others like Russin-McFarland, anxiety is environmental, a warning sign to make positive lifestyle changes.
‘Anxiety has only ever happened to me when my body was warning me: Stay away, or, That person is a predator. I can’t begin telling you the number of people back when I was job seeking for journalism jobs in a pre-#metoo, Roger Ailes media world how many people I felt physically afraid of who turned out to be predators. Some of them, I couldn’t stomach knowing they were going to call me on the phone or meet me, I actually cancelled on a few of the people because I thought they were scary causing me to panic, and people insisted because they were powerful men, I was just imagining things.
‘I always felt I had to have cell phone numbers I only used for job hunting, and e-mail addresses and pen names I never used when I was being the real me. That should have all been a warning sign to get out and start sooner on my entertainment career goals. If I can tell young people anything about anxiety, it is to study where it is coming from because maybe it isn’t about masking the problem but sourcing it to fix the matter.’
She says her anxiety has dissipated entirely from being in the welcoming community of performing arts.
‘When I deal with actors and musicians of every age, I can be myself, speaking my mind or having fun. Nobody locks me out of their socialising. They are the first ones inviting me to lunch or a quick chat, and hopefully, we’ll get back to that after COVID-19.’
Working with actors abroad is a second milestone contributing to her positive mental health.
‘As a Midwesterner who only ever went back and forth to New York City, a very culturally similar place, I have always been startled by people outside of those bubbles in America who are big on ghosting, rudeness, a refusal to do business in a friendly way like how we do business over golf and lunch up in the North, people being out for themselves without hiding it, two-faced people who mistreat you when the more influential stars aren’t around to protect you, and so much my heart can’t believe.’
‘Thanks to working with others for us expanding Lucky Pineapple Films into Britain, and for that matter me networking with Kiwis down in New Zealand as we also hope to open there, I feel so happy meeting people who share the same core values of working together and laughing together. For the first time in my professional life thanks to meeting people from everywhere who aren’t tainted by that Hollywood out for myself DNA, I know in the future when we get to live-action sets and not only animation, we can be workmates who hit Denny’s together for a meal, who care about each other as humans.’