Nicole is excited to have filmmaker and educator Lindy Boustedt takeover her blog this week!
It was early February 2020 and I was waiting to see a neurologist for the very first time. Migraines were happening at an ever-increasing rate – sometimes three a week – and it worried me enough to see a doctor.
My husband took me that day, which meant my father-in-law would be tasked with taking care of my mother-in-law on his own. We had moved in with them in the Spring of 2019 to help Dad get Mom through bladder cancer treatment. After five years of various illnesses, we knew they needed help that could only come from living together.
The plan was, after six months we’d be through the treatment and building an illness-free future. A sudden advanced Alzheimer’s diagnosis had different plans. Mom was now in hospice and all of us were struggling to stay on top of her increasing daily needs. On top of this, my grandmother, who was more a mother to me, spent most of 2019 in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers, which had me traveling back and forth across Washington State to help her recover.
Needless to say, it was very unusual to be at a doctor’s appointment focused on me.
“Any unusual amounts of stress lately?”
How is it that those of us who strive to be in tune with the feelings and needs of those around us are the most clueless when it comes to signs our own bodies are giving us? I remember thinking at the time that I wasn’t under any level of stress that was more than what I’ve handled in the past.
Mom passed away later that month. Grandma passed three weeks later. One week after that, our state went into lockdown for COVID.
A big part of my identity is being a caregiver for my family, the other big part is being a filmmaker who loves to teach. In the span of a month, everything I did that made me feel like myself was ripped away. All I could do is sit at home, trapped by complex layers of grief and the anxiety that a virus could wipe out the rest of my family – or possibly me.
For a long time, I didn’t know what to do. While I’ve dealt with trauma, grief, depression and anxiety in the past, it had never been this much all at once. And the outlet I usually used to help me process my feelings – my creative film endeavors – were completely shut down. I needed new tools, but I didn’t know exactly what they were.
I tried a lot of things: therapy, watching movies focused on grief, rewatching movies I love for a sense of comfort and familiarity, taking long drives listening to music, moving my body, getting outside, growing a garden, baking and eating all the food. And all these things worked – but only in little bits, and only as symptom-management.
Then, on her podcast Unlocking Us, Brene Brown interviewed the Nagoski Sisters about their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. I finally had the words to quantify what I was trying to do: I was, indeed, in total emotional burnout.
Unfortunately, what I needed to do wasn’t going to be easy. My focus before was to get past hard emotions, check them off a list and be done with them. But grief and trauma don’t work that way – and a long-lasting, anxiety-inducing pandemic certainly isn’t something you can just check off a list either.
Luckily, being a filmmaker prepared me for such work. Producing a film can take years. From the initial idea through the marketing and releasing your film, there are many stages – and all of them need a varied approach, just like every film itself.
I knew I needed to write about the grief of losing my grandmother. I knew I needed to put the experience, the pain down on paper. But it wasn’t going to be something I could schedule, or force myself to do. And it wasn’t going to be something I could do quickly. I needed to think about it, visualize it, cry about it at random moments for weeks. Sometimes thoughts came while I was driving, sometimes while watching TV, sometimes while cooking and a lot of times while taking a shower. But I was determined to show up and give myself opportunities to feel it all.
And one night, it was time to put it all on the page. It was the first time I had written a script since moving in 2019. I didn’t realize how much I needed to go through that creative process until I finished it – it helped me “complete the stress cycle” as the Nagoski sisters put it. I now have plans to make the short film later this year. Another step in the continuing grief process.
The migraines haven’t completely gone away, but they are less frequent. Now, instead of looking at them as a symptom I need to treat and move on, I’m learning to pay attention to the larger issues they’re a symptom of. And while the world won’t be getting any easier to navigate for some time, I know now that naming the issues and finding the right tools to treat them makes all the difference.
Go Deeper: Nicole offers individual coaching that can include trauma-informed yoga and meditation practices. Learn to better complete the stress cycle so that you can be the best leader you can be. She is offering three sessions of coaching for $250 (a $50 savings) for new and returning clients in February. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn how mindful leadership coaching can help you.
Lindy Boustedt is an award-winning writer, director, and producer who specializes in character-driven stories. As co-owner of First Sight Productions, she’s spent the past 16 years working on everything from shorts and features, to serialized production and branded content, to podcasts and VR/AR media. Her narrative work has over 15M views on YouTube. In addition to her current film work, she runs the screenwriting program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Nothing sparks her creativity like a long shower or solo drive, both while listening to music. She also loves helping other people find ways to tell their stories, which in turn helps ignite the creativity sparks.