Behind the Scenes | CandleX’s Documentary on Depression
In 2015, CandleX produced our own short documentary on depression. Ever since then we’ve been screening it around Beijing at The Bookworm, Beijing Mindfulness Center, and Culture Yard, just to name a few.
Although we were not nominated for an Oscar (what?!), we have accomplished a lot in Beijing: raising awareness of depression in our community. This short film helped us break the ice and brought people together to start meaningful conversations around depression.
As some of you already know, the whole thing – planning, filming, editing - was done by Xiaojie, founder of CandleX. surprisingly, she had no prior experience at all. She went to Thailand with her iPhone (no, it’s not an ad here!), stayed at the New Life Foundation for a week in 2015, and then came back with all of the footage. After three months of struggling to learn how to use editing software, the documentary came to life.
“When resources are scarce, work with what you have!” Xiaojie said. “My journey of recovery started there in Thailand in 2014. I want to bring the same light to other places, starting with my own community here, in Beijing. I am sure the audience will forgive the rough execution”.
You can read Xiaojie’s story on our other post: My Story with Depression, New CandleX Column Launch
The documentary is called “The Tiny Little Box”, to reflect the feeling Xiaojie had going through major depression episode herself. “Have you ever wondered how does it feel to walk among people, work and talk with people, but at the same time being apart from them? Curled up in a tiny little transparent box, you are in the world, but you are not really present?” Xiaojie said.
Watch this full documentary (33 mins) here
To understand the stories and intentions that bring the documentary forward, we conducted an interview with Xiaojie:
1) Xiaojie, what was it that drove you to make this documentary?
I think my own experience was the main drive of this documentary. The first time I went to Thailand was for myself, to deal with my post-depression healing and what I learned there made me go back to film this short documentary. During my stay in Thailand at the New Life Foundation Center in 2014, I felt first had the power of sharing one’s own story – myself I have never shared anything about my depression before.
(to read about her reflections, “Bad Things Happen, But Why Me?-Xiaojie's Story with Depression”)
I think social pressure, shame and guilt made me want to keep the whole thing for myself. However, during “Life Story” evening session in center in Thailand, I finally chose to share my story with the group and that moment for me was life-changing. I have never believed that sharing could be so powerful and empowering. Sharing helps you put your story into perspective and even see it in a positive light.
Sharing my story was a big push for me, and it made me take the first step towards recovery. This is the simple idea that insipired my documentary: I wanted to help people share their stories and join me in this awareness-raising project. Yes, back then. CandleX was just 3 months old. I had no idea how it would go. But I knew if I keep doing the right thing, eventually, it’d come together. So this documentary is an endeavor to also explore ways for CandleX to provide meaning change in Beijing.
Now, we’ve been on this road for 2 years!
2) Why do you feel is important to share stories about depression? As I mentioned before, sharing your story is a powerful moment, one may say that is an ice-breaking moment for a lot of people. In my experience, a lot of people affected by depression never get to share their story with their closest friends, family or partner (to learn about the art of telling, visit our Classroom that gives you the guidance ).
During my offline awareness-raising events in Beijing, I am frequently asked: “How to deal with depression? Is there anything I can do about it?” Well, I think that sharing is the first step. You can’t go around it! The dirt is really just under your rug! Talking about it is like sweeping it out.
It’s scary and uncomfortable at first, but hey, your room will be clean. When your mind is clean, it will better analyze factors in your life make you vulnerable to depression. It helps you face depression and open up. Without this step, people do not learn, they misunderstand and discriminate instead.
Does talking heal depression? No, but it gets you on that road.
The healing process is long and difficult. But we have to walk towards that. Psychosocial education is essential to healing, which is why we created a CandleX Classroom. Our articles give you the information you need on depression: why it happens, how do you tell others, how do to deal with it, and how you help your friends or family to deal with it, etc.
3) How was your time in Thailand? What do you think was the most valuable thing you gained?
Looking back on my time in Thailand, I think it was a time of self-discovery. For the first time in my life, I was able to talk about my own story with depression in a comfortable, confidential and safe environment. That was literally the first step towards healing for me.
Then, I used what I discovered about myself and tried to give it back to the community. Self-realization was the gateway for making this documentary about self-consciousness and the power of mindfulness and communication. I used this video to reach a many people as possible. I believe that media brings people together and that stories are important because they can make a difference in life on someone else.
For instance, after talking about the benefits of the center in one of our support groups, two of the participants went and reported that if was a life-changing experience. I believe that this shows the power of the simple thing: talking about depression.
4)How would you describe your experience as a documentary producer? I don’t see myself as a producer. it is too big of a word for me. I would describe my work as a collection of interviews, which I organized logically. Nothing more. However, I realized that, even for the realization of such a short documentary there were challenges – time and money for instance.
As I had no funding for the project, I shot the whole thing with my phone, in just one week. There’s no light equipment, sound equipment. That’s why you see the whole documentary is in the day time, and it’s close up shots only so my phone can record the voice.
Also, I realized how important it is to put one’s ideas first, execution must come second. In a product like mine, I think is important to let go of some of the control, because the end is more important. Even without being perfect, ideas can still make a difference in the challenges we face. So far (May 2017), the documentary has had six screenings so far: two in Thailand in the New Life Foundation, and one in an international high school, Regent’s, in Bangkok, and the rest in prominent cultural centers in Beijing.
It has also been used in various awareness-raising campaigns; it was very useful to spark spontaneous questions about depression, but also it was essential in answering some of the most common doubts on the issue. I am just thrilled to be able to share this documentary with the community.
5) How many people, do you think, are affected by depression but refuse to talk about it?
We do a lot of awareness-raising events, we host a peer support group as well, and we do a lot preemptive work. From my experience, not many people are comfortable sharing their story about depression. This is especially true in China. Society discriminate people with depression. People still don’t understand the issue enough to deal with it properly.
Many believe that is too shameful to talk about depression and deny having it or dealing with people that are depressed. Thus, they do not talk about it and it is almost impossible to convince them to join a support group or even consider therapy. However, those are the people that could really benefit from out help. Skepticism is often present in the first stages of the process; however, as you are exposed to depression campaign events multiple times, it will get to you!
Nobody can really predict the effects of support and acceptance. One of our (CandleX) brightest committee members started out as just a participant in our support group, and now he’s giving back by working with CandleX as a community outreach officer. Of course, in China, we have a long way to go; but this should not discourage us.
6) What, would you say, is the most important thing to do to break free from this tiny little box?
People with depression feel isolated and cornered into a tiny box that separates them from society. They feel like they are disconnected with other peoples’ reality. It is important that they accept their situation instead of fighting it. Also, as I said before, knowing what you are dealing with is extremely important. Knowledge gives you the strength to eat well, keep up a routine, exercise and all the other “essentials”.
For me, having a routine, practicing yoga, taking a break for my life by going to Thailand and reaching out for support were essential in my journey through depression. However, I think that people should keep in mind that is also important to seek professional help. Ultimately, everyone deals with depression differently.
Maybe this is why it is so important to hear other peoples’ stories, because you realize that there are different ways to healing and each and every one is perfectly fine. We just need to accept the cruel fact: healing takes a long time. longer than you think you can do.
But once you’ve taking on this journey. You don’t just heal. You upgrade to You 2.0! You become more in touch with yourself, happier, and more in control with life. Medicine can’t do that. You have to approach it holistically, with patience, and consistency.
For people who are still going through depression, or a difficult time. Here’s a quote from Chopra Center Meditation. I know you probably can not connect with it if you are in a major depression episode, but I still want you to know that you can get through it. I have, and you can too.
“Where this is no struggle, there is no strength
Inner strength comes from having been challenged, having adversities
And the pain that makes you want to throw your hands up and shout I gave in can also build your courage and determination
We all have the ability and stand up, face resistance, and walk through it
If you feel you are walking into fear, know that you already have the enduring power that you are asking for
Then say thank you
Because you know your truest core
That your deepest struggle would produce your deepest strength"