What could Mariel Hemingway—an insanely beautiful actress/activist/health advocate extraordinaire and descendent of American royalty—and I possibly have in common?
Turns out quite a bit. Watching her documentary, “Running from Crazy,” I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my own life.
Mariel grew up knowing very little about her grandfather Ernest Hemingway’s tragic suicide. Not only was his struggle with mental illness and the bottle not discussed, his literature was totally absent from her family’s home.
My own grandfather, nicknamed “Smiler,” voluntarily left this planet before I arrived by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide in his garage (my mom, 19 at the time, was still living at home). My grandmother instructed my mom and her four siblings to tell people he died of a heart attack and to never speak of it again.
How could a man with the nickname “Smiler” end up taking his own life? Apparently he was a gambler and poor money manager; he lost half his smile to Bell’s Palsy when my mom was four; at one point he had a nervous breakdown, ending up in bed for days on end unable to face impending financial ruin. My mom thinks he may have been bipolar. I don’t remember when I learned of his suicide, but my mom and aunts have always spoken fondly of him.
My other grandfather was enough of a raging, abusive alcoholic that my grandmother divorced him—something that was not done back in the day. My dad didn’t talk about him much when I was young, but stories have surfaced over the years.
Mariel’s older sister, Margeaux, was in and out of rehab and eventually committed suicide. Her other older sister continues to suffer from mental illness. Mariel’s parents had their own issues with alcohol, fighting and abusive behavior. And Mariel intuitively ran from it all, looking over her shoulder every step of the way, worried that she would wake up crazy one day.
I have an older brother who ended up in prison after a fight with some guy he owed money to (an alleged “loan shark”). He has served seven years with five to go and told me in a letter once that he has always suffered from melancholy. Other family members have alluded to depression and anxiety, but none have fully committed to making the “mental illness” leap.
The documentary dips a toe into Mariel’s past depression and food/exercise addictions, but mostly focuses on Ernest and her sisters’ suffering, exploring the suicides and her family’s overall dysfunction.
Mariel strives for a greater understanding of her family history of suicide and mental illness. As tragedies are explored and deeply hidden secrets are revealed, Mariel searches for a way to overcome a similar fate.
The film, which is both raw and inspiring, highlights Mariel’s path away from crazy to happiness and mental health via her healthy lifestyle choices. And play, which she only recently discovered.
I’m constantly dodging my own depression/anxiety with healthy foods (and eating disorders along the way), running, yoga… but I still do not play nearly enough. I’m always striving for a better understanding of why I sometimes don’t feel so great and how I can be my best self.
“Running From Crazy” left me wanting to know more about Mariel Hemingway, the woman she is today and how she got there.
Despite her busy schedule and appearances on major networks, including Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday (Oprah is the Executive Producer of the film), Mariel took some time out of her day to answer a few of my questions:
You didn’t really address when or exactly how you started healthy living. Was it gradual? Or did you reach a breaking point?
I started on what I thought was a healthy path when I was in my teens… starting with many diets and over-exercising all extremes in that I thought were healthy regimes… but I have been trying to find balance and good health for 35 years. I am a slow learner and finding moderation balance and good health has been a life long journey which lead me to the books I have written—Mariel’s kitchen, Mariel Hemingway’s Healthy Living from the Inside Out and my latest with Bobby Williams Running With Nature—and a lifestyle company Williams Hemingway Institute that encourages everyone to know that the answers to your good health lies within you and that with the right lifestyle tools you can find your individual life path that suits your best happiest self… and we are here to help you find that.
You mentioned experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts in your life. Is this still a struggle? How do you manage it?
If you look closely at the film, I am happy and super healthy based on the lifestyle choices that I make on a daily basis… I am not depressed or suicidal at all ever anymore and that is because of my lifestyle along with something called brain wave optimization which balances the brain hemispheres through sound…it mirrors the brain in real time and when the brain hears itself it autocorrects and finds it’s desired allostasis which is balance through movement.
It is important to realize that mental health is everything you do from drinking water to meditating to your food and exercise to balancing the brain. You have to look at your health as everything not just one modality, a pill or a diet.. it is all the things you do put together creating a wonderful and unique lifestyle combination suited to you as the individual.
Have you been able to avoid medication completely with your healthy living?
I take no medication. I have never taken medication but that is my path. I am not going to say that others don’t need medication but I truly believe that we all need to look at how we lead our lives, meaning lifestyle (i.e., food, water, meditation, exercise, adventure and play)—[it's] all part of the mental health equation. It is largely ignored and hugely important.
What’s next for you?
I am creating a foundation for mental health that focuses on lifestyle. Also, I am acting again and producing. I have a TV show in development and I am writing more books and producing my grandfather’s book, A Moveable Feast, into a film.
The truth is my lifestyle business with my partner Bobby Williams, the co author of Running With Nature, is our life’s passion…we have a radio show now on Podcast one focused on [the] Running with Nature philosophy and we both continue to talk about health and wellness around the country. I alone am also continuing to speak on mental health and wellness around the country promoting the great work that prop63.org is doing along with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) and the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) among other focused mental health organizations in concert with our film “Running From Crazy.”
Watch the “Running from Crazy” Trailer:
“Mental illness is overwhelmingly misunderstood and creates fear for so many. I’m hoping “Running From Crazy” gives people permission to share their stories and know that they are not alone. Perhaps by sharing my life with others they will feel supported in speaking out and getting help.”
~ Mariel Hemingway
Originally published on elephantjournal.com.