Method Acting, Sense Memory and Relaxation as key elements in the control of mood disorders and substance abuse.
Alfredo Zotti (2016)
Early next year, around April or May, my new book titled Got Bipolar? An Insider’s Guide to Living Life Effectively will be published and distributed by Loving Healing Press of Victor Volkman.
I feel that this will be a very important book in that it will argue that people with Bipolar Disorder (but also many other problems like substance abuse, anxiety and depression) can control their moods and symptoms simply by using a method that good actors know very well, and that they use frequently to play their characters to the best of their ability.
To practically demonstrate how this method works, I use examples from personal experience to show how my wife and I, and also many sufferers that are today friends, control Bipolar Disorder which is a disorder that has biological, environmental and psychological aspects that need be worked upon. In the case of my wife and I the psychological problems were far more marked than the biological ones (and this seems to be a common trend among sufferers), because we both suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that was triggered during our childhood, due to our biological predisposition to develop Bipolar Disorder. It was triggered by very abnormal and traumatic experiences.
My wife and I have been able to recover, using this method, and I have also seen many people with mental disorders, that I help online via computer, recover well. Method Acting and Sense Memory are indeed powerful mechanisms that can be used towards recovery. While not all actors use Method Acting (some use Classical Acting) they are nevertheless familiar with the basic elements of Method Acting. This is my favorite method when helping people with mental disorders because it employs mechanisms that work on emotions and emotional regulation. The main problem, for people with mental disorders, are emotions which can sometimes be undeveloped and/or erratic. Emotions are always affected in mental disorders.
What I want to make clear, at this stage, is that the idea that a depressed person can simply switch off and feel better is absolutely wrong. One cannot switch off when depressed. However, one can definitely learn to cope with one’s depression, no matter how deep and severe it is (it is not how serious our condition is but how we travel inside: towards hope; or towards despair.). One can feel extremely depressed and, using Method Acting and Sense Memory, learn to cope. In other words, and this is my case and that of my wife, we can function and even put on a smile when we are really sad inside and feel like the world is ending. It is all a matter of practice, perseverance, and study. Of course, knowledge is essential and being curious and inquisitive, and able to read widely, is necessary towards recovery.
Lets imagine that I am very depressed. I am in bed, unable to move. My mind is thinking circularly thoughts of hopelessness, despair, pain, sadness. All the memory of everything that went wrong in my life are all around my mind and each presents itself to my mind, to add to the anguish and sadness, and then moves on, followed by other negative thoughts. This is rumination* and the depression here is severe. What can I do? Two things I can do: continue to stay in bed and continue to ruminate; or fight to get out of bed and in front of a mirror in the bathroom. I chose the latter, to struggle to get out of bed and get in front of a mirror, my mirror which is quite large and which hangs over the bathroom basin. And then what? What do I do once in front of the mirror?
I look at myself. I am depressed and I ask myself: ‘is it possible for me to be really depressed but continue to live normally as if I was a normal person without a mental disorder?’ After all, what I suffer inside cannot be perceived by others unless I put on a sad face, or show depressed behavior. But can I still be depressed inside and act as if I was happy? Or at least reasonably content with my life? Absolutely, if actors do it, why can’t I do it?
Let’s imagine that an actor is currently experiencing problems with their partner. They feel really terrible and very stressed and they have been arguing for the past few days. In addition, other things in their family have gone wrong and they feel really stressed, sad and a bit depressed. What can they do? They have an acting role coming up tomorrow.
Using sense memory exercises, we can all train our senses to respond to new life situations and to new ways of perceiving and being. If we concentrate on the stimuli associated with a particularly sensory experience, a response that corresponds should follow. We are talking about using our past sensory perceptions to unlock a new imagined reality.
In this instance I am in front of a mirror, feeling extremely depressed and needing to find a way to be happy, or at least content. First of all I can stop the rumination about constant negative thoughts. This takes a lot of practice and is not going to happen at the first attempt, at least not successfully. This will need many attempts for it to become possible. What will make it easy for me to stop the rumination, however, is to think of pleasant events that made me happy in the past.
I remember when I was playing the piano in a piano bar, the day that my wife walked in and requested me to play Stormy Weather. She was a very beautiful woman, tall, reddish hair, white delicate skin, beautiful smile, beautiful shiny hair. She was gorgeous and we fell in love there and then. I remember her smile and how I felt. This certainly brought happiness in me, even if for a moment. I wonder if I could remember all of the pleasant things in my life and make sure that my memory can recall them easily whenever I feel the need to retrieve these sensory memories.
It is absolutely true that with lots of practice we can learn to tune into this happiness by using happy and pleasant memories and bring them back into the moment so that we can create an imaginary reality that nevertheless has a real impact on our moods.
For all of this to be possible, we need to develop certain skills. To begin, we need to develop concentration and observation. In order to learn how to concentrate and observe appropriately we need to learn to relax and indeed some daily relaxation is vitally important to this exercise.
Here I was in front of the mirror. I was feeling terribly depressed wanting to just go back to bed with my familiar negative thought and rumination. Negativity had become my safety blanket, the rumination I mean. Negativity and negative thoughts were my friends, comforting and yet destructive at once. But I am here now, in front of the mirror, and I am looking at my distorted face full of anguish and pain and sadness. I force myself to think of something pleasant. I remember! My days with my grandfather in the country. I remember visiting, with grandpa, Alberobello, a place in Italy where they grow fruits, olives and where there are so many trees and beautiful scents of flowers and fruit. I remember running in the little alleyways while the sunshine was caressing my face. I was happy, warm and full of beautiful thoughts. I can smell that place and I remember when my grandpa gave me a slice of watermelon that was so sweet and fresh and nice to eat that I still remember it. Juice of the melon running down my cheeks as I enjoyed that fruit. I remember the smells, the town, the friendly people. That period was all happy for me and by focusing on it I forgot about my negative thoughts. I feel better now and I am going to continue to think of that place while I have my coffee. I feel better now, I can stay up comfortably. The depression is lifted a bit, I am starting to feel much better.
In order to do this, it has taken me at least a couple of years of struggle and constant attempts and lots of knowledge about my disorder and about life. Today I can do it. Whenever I feel depressed I go to the mirror and think of pleasant things, I let my senses re-live the past and bring these sensations, feeling, memories and happiness into the present moment so that I can reconstruct a new reality of hope and contentment. The more I do this, the better I get at it. It is the same for my wife and hundreds of sufferers online that I help each day. Method Acting and Sensory Memory does work but only for those people that are prepared to work hard and to work towards recovery. After all, we can only help those who want to help themselves.
I am now thinking how important the acting profession is in terms of helping normal everyday people learn to cope with everyday problems. It is a pity that there is such divide between celebrities, movie stars and normal people. Unfortunately, it is by definition that a celebrity will want to keep a distance from the fans. That serves to reinforce their status as celebrities and to maintain the divide and, of course, it is also a necessary survival mechanism given all of the unstable people in the world. But I feel that it is also damaging in many ways. One important thing is that many famous and successful actors lack inside knowledge of the average Joe, they often lose touch with the everyday world, and they become self absorbed with their immediate needs and interests. True that they can play the part of the poor person or the disabled person, but they don’t really understand the culture of the average person, because to understand a culture one must live it in a way or at least have friends that belong to that culture. This is my observation, that the very nature of the famous actor position prevents her or him from acting completely to the fullest for lack of experiential knowledge.
Famous actors have a specific understanding of the world based on their circle of friends and life experiences and it matters little if they come from humble beginning for their life changes and once it changes it is not the same. This existence is also limited. If only we could be friends and communicate at a deeper level, rather than at a very superficial and plastic level, perhaps we could all help each other and learn so much more. Problem is that material possessions and money divide, along with the media and various other problems, make this almost impossible. Unfortunately, the world is divided along structural lines of conflict. I was always interested in communicating with celebrities and, while I have been able to communicate with a couple, I have found this all too difficult and stressful to the point that I have now changed my mind and come to the conclusion that communication with celebrities is not only counterproductive, for me, but highly stressful, essentially because the celebrity status is unnatural and one that leads to problems.
In any case, to those actors that are in a position to help people, I can say this: your knowledge of acting can truly help people. If there is any way that you can help, please do. People need all the help that they can get. Especially if you are a humanitarian actor, your ability to help is even greater.
I am not suggesting that people with disabilities, or other problems, become actors, because the profession has its problems and it is not at all what it seems from the outside. Many commentators argue about the problems with acting, particularly with celebrities. In many ways, it is not a good life, at least not as good as it looks from the outside. But we can learn certain skills of the actor and use these as therapy to help ourselves. For those that are willing to help themselves, it can be done, just like my wife and I have done it, and just like many of my friends have done.
I have provided some very basic ideas about how acting skills can help people. The idea of using Method Acting and Sensory Memory to fight depression, elevated moods, substance abuse, anxiety and many other problems, is new and it is the new idea of my oncoming book that should be out sometimes next year.
A final word about famous actors is that, in many instances, there is a price to pay for deep Method Acting when done long enough and deep enough, as in a career situation, because working with emotions intensely can lead the actor to bring up, and/or revisit, unresolved traumas. It is OK to bring up positive past emotions and try to relive these emotions; but it is quite another thing to bring up negative emotions and problems particularly if these are still unresolved in the subconscious mind. This can mean more traumatic experiences and negative psychological impact. Unfortunately, while Method Acting can be helpful for many people, it has its negative side as well. Using it appropriately is a balancing act.
There are other ways to act, but it is unclear what psychological and emotional impact these alternative ways of acting can have on the actor (Classical Acting Technique; the Chechov Acting Technique; Meisner Acting Technique; Practical Aesthetics Acting Technique; and Method Acting). More studies are needed with more input and feedback from actors. For example, there are opposing views about the best method to act: some claim that acting should be based on learning the lines, that acting is all words. I find problems with this view; others say that the actor must understand the feelings and emotions behind the words.
I feel that both methods are important and I would say that actors use both. More than that, I would say that actors use a variety of different methods to create their own way of acting. I suspect that method acting may be necessary, in some instances, for all actors. I cannot imagine an actor not being concerned with emotions behind facts or words at some stage. Emotions are important for any artist, be it a performing artist, a musician, or a visual artist. Indeed, the emotional content of a performance, or artwork, is what matters most to me. But this is my view and not necessarily that of other commentators.
When people ruminate, they over-think or obsess about situations or life events, such as work or relationships. Research has shown that rumination is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, binge-drinking and binge-eating.