My name is Jessica Bernstein and as a Doctor of Psychology I’ve dedicated my life’s work to understanding and supporting people with chronic illness. Diagnosed with diabetes during childhood, I was given a laundry list of changes to make. Yet patients like me are given little guidance in dealing with the psychological issues at the heart of making and sustaining such changes.
I’ve spent my life learning to live with the condition and began questioning conventional ideas about illness as I got older. As I progressed on this journey, I read the works of psychologists and philosophers. I realized that the struggle to create meaning from suffering is universal. I therefore began investigating the ways various cultures deal with illness.
I discovered that ongoing training in the art of living with suffering is considered a sacred experience in other cultures. It is only through confronting this kind of adversity that one becomes what is referred to as an “elder.” Every person, whether dealing with chronic illness or other life challenges, is believed to benefit from the hard-earned wisdom of the elders, who are seen as a vital part of the community.
Although we’ve lost touch with the notion of elders in the West, any individual with this level of wisdom and maturity is capable of providing this kind of guidance. This film is the first step in a movement to foster a community in which people with and without chronic illness have access to “diabetes elders”—people of all ages who have acquired a wealth of knowledge and experience which can be passed on to others.
In order to continue nurturing more diabetes elders, I have made a commitment to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). If the film generates more revenue than it costs to produce, I will donate the majority of the funds to starting diabetes support groups. The first of these groups will be launched in the San Francisco Bay Area, after which we will expand support groups to other JDRF branches across the country as funds permit.
This film is a labor of love. I look forward to sharing it with you.
Jessica Bernstein, Psy.D.
The illness had its shadow on me; it was there to drag me to its painful territory, pushing me into the realm of disappearance. But suddenly, in the midst of this crisis, came the lightening of a beginning. A lightening that opened up some new territory to me. I learned to become its friend, its ally. I no longer saw illness as foreign particles attacking my body. Suddenly, there it was, me, Jessica Bernstein, finding the other side of myself. The side of me that lives with illness. The illness which is totally alien to me, strangely “other.” Now, through this meditation with myself, the illness opened me up to new worlds that I never experienced before. This is where I started to keep a secret dialogue with this other me, a secret that I thought is my medicine to the people outside, to let them know what an unbelievable tunneling I go through. To help people see the unseeable, the unsayable, and recognize the link to the ancient cultures. To be on the side of the ones like Malidoma, who speaks of this tribal encounter with a crisis of the body. Through the medium of cinema, I could tell the story of becoming a community of others, a community of sacred others.