Friday, July 17, 2015

Inside Out taught me about my brain and even mental illness

Another Pixar movie, another episode of crying in the movie theater.  That's me, the forty-one year old mom asking her husband for a kleenex and being comforted by her almost seven-year old.  "Don't look, mommy," Juliette said.  No doubt it was a little embarassing for her with her best friend being there as part of J's pre-birthday gift.  Oh, well, she'd better get used to it.  She's got a sensitive mom.

But to be fair, it was also a sweet and slightly emotional movie about, well, emotions.  If you're not familiar with this film, it's about the five vying emotions in a young girl's head: joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger.  Most of the time joy wins out, especially when the character is a very young child.  But her family has moved across the country, she has no friends and even their furniture is stuck in transit.  And she's also 11, an age where things get more complicated.

In the movie we go on a journey into the girl's brain and see just how hard it can be to let the joy come out on top.  And also that we are a complex mix of feelings that are not as compartmentalized as it might seem.  We also get a glimpse of how adolescence is making the heroine a little less pleasant with her parents.  And maybe it was those moments where I could see the girl changing and evolving away from the little child she used to be that made the tears flow.

However I also found it an enlightening movie that could help me understand my own brain.  The way they personify the emotions, especially Joy, makes you want to root for her.  She is slightly fuzzy around the edges, perpetually glowing with a pixie hair cut and green dress.  It makes you think about how there are times we've got to work hard to find the silver lining and get the happy back on track.  But the other emotions all have their important role, like Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling in the English version.  Without her, we'd eat any old thing that fell on the floor, as this clip shows.

In the end (and I'm not spoiling it for you!) we see that all the emotions are important and work together.  Joy is probably the driving factor in the film and the one we also need to focus on, but moments of sadness are normal and have their purpose, too.  Sometimes they bring us together as a family and then we move on, stronger than before. 

But I also took away some more serious lessons from the film.  It made me think about depression and anxiety, and how these can be caused by an excess of those emotions of Fear and Sadness.   I knew this already, having had some moments in my life where these emotions got the better of me despite my efforts to turn things around.  I know that there are clinical causes to these conditions and that there is absolutely no shame in talking about them and especially getting treatment for them.  But seeing the emotions portrayed in the film, each thought or memory having a color corresponding to its emotional state, brought this message home to me.  I hope it will make children and adults alike see that the brain is a complex structure and that some people are struggling with a tidal wave of emotions.  And that it's nothing to be embarassed about and shouldn't be mocked.

Robin William's recent death brought serious depression into the spotlight.  I hope films like Inside Out will keep the dialogue open with kids and adults on these subjects.  And that we will help Joy to find her place in our days!

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