Monday, April 11, 2011

Coming Out of the (Lyme) Closet

By Ozone Amanda, Spirochicks Contributor

Jessica Ingersoll-Cope always kept her illness “closeted”, known only to her close friends and family. As a professional dancer, who had to stop working when an undiagnosed lyme infection disabled her, she felt confused, upset, and lost when her body stopped keeping up with her. Since so much of her life had been defined by “doing” and movement, her mysterious illness caused her to suffer a crisis of identity. (Most lyme sufferers will probably find this relatable.)

Jessica's new, fourteen-minute film, Forms of Identification, began as a conversation with a filmmaker best friend, and as a way for her to hold onto her dancer and performer self. But, as the three-year production process stretched along, the film became more about conveying the universality of loss and emphasizing the connection of her personal journey to a larger, communal struggle.

“There are so many definitions of loss,” Jessica says, “whether it be due to death, divorce, retirement, illness…At some point, everyone will experience profound loss.” In Forms of Identification, she uses her body to convey lethargy, exhaustion, and the disjointed feeling of self that loss leaves in its void. Jessica’s dancing is overlain with medical lyme definitions, footage of her pre-sickness art, and somewhat-eerie treatment scenes.

While the theme of the video is relatable to a broad spectrum of society, Forms of Identification is also a highly personal story. Jessica was originally very reticent about sharing details of her personal life with such a public audience. Having “closeted” her illness for years, she not only didn’t want to share personal details, she wasn’t sure she wanted the film to specify illness as the cause of her despair. But, for the viewer, the film’s poignancy of feeling and the power of Jessica’s filmed movement stem from this personalization.

Kristin Tieche, her co-producer and filmmaker friend, eventually convinced her to share personal details, as well as her dancing. The result has been surprising and moving for Jessica. As the two began screening the film, audience members and fellow lyme sufferers began to tell Jessica what her dancing and film had meant to them and their own stories. Jessica says these connections made her realize that this experience and film was not just about her—that they were part of something larger.

Kristin and Jessica have entered Forms of Identification into a number of festivals—including Dance Camera West (LA), Marbella International Film Fest (Spain), and Chicago Reel Shorts—and have plans to submit to many more. But, for Jessica, the journey has mostly been about learning. Working with Kristin, she learned a great deal about filmmaking. Now, she says she has also gained from a sense of solidarity that the act of sharing her story with others has fostered—“It has been a very healing experience,” she adds. Jessica may still have a long way to go, but she is glad to know she has company.

To learn more about Jessica and the film, check out the Forms of Identification blogpage at: Healing thoughts to all!


Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of Jessica for persevering in creativity, and having something so beautiful emerge from such a huge change in her life! Congratulations Jess & Kristin, love, Mom

Renee said...

Wonderful! What a special gift for the rest of us...

Keith Smith (themadchemist) said...

From a teacher without a classroom - I sadly understand what happens when you're no longer who you're meant to be.

I often refer to handing my classroom keys to my principal as being reminiscent of what dropping a handful of dirt on the grave of my wife would be like.

We are both ravaged by Lyme, although she is still able to work.

I think the toll on our spirit is the most devastation part of Lyme for many. The Loss of our Identity is like witnessing the death of ourselves.

This can only truly be understood by living it sadly.


nancygenova said...

My life --our lives are defined thru our careers. I feel like
A loser.....disabled? I am no longer
Me. I struggle to accept my new
definition of 'normal' . I was my career.
Nancy: educator, nurturer, totally devoted to
5 and 6 year olds and constantly learning
how children perceive the world!
Gone. Void. Sinking into the four
walls that surround me. Loss.

Alix said...

Nancy, we are all so there with you. I feel like a big loser most of the time, especially on my bad days. I had a big career ahead of me and was on a fantastic trajectory when I was downed by Lyme. I am learning things I'd have never learned, however, and have found my passion in natural medicine and in helping others prevent acquired illness. It is my life's work and I will do more with it some day.

Kristin Tieche said...

If any of you live in the Bay Area, you are cordially invited to attend our VIP screening on April 30, at 5 pm at the Hotel Rex near Union Square. We would love to have you there, and share your stories with us! Making this film was revitalizing for Jessica in many ways, and for me, well, I suppose I walked the journey with her!