Chloë Sando, creator of the 2017 Telus Storyhive round one finalist web series “It’s My Anxiety,” on film and mental illness

Interview by Holly Maller

It’s My Anxiety is a web series that has created a world in which mental illnesses manifest into living beings. The series was selected by the Telus Storyhive 2017 Web Series Competition to receive funding for its pilot episode. Local Drop reporter Holly Maller had a chance to interview It’s My Anxiety creator Chloë Sando.

Tell me a little bit about yourself . . . What is your education background? How did you get into production and the arts?

My name is Chloë Sando. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre and Performance at the University of Lethbridge. I graduated from there in 2014. 

Did you always know you wanted to get into theatre from a young age?

I always knew that I wanted to tell stories in some way but I didn’t know how I wanted to do that. When I was really young, I wanted to be a motivational speaker or a standup comedian. It wasn’t until after my second year of university that I wanted to get a degree in theatre and then, from theatre, only in the last year have I changed my focus to be more film based.

Do you have any other productions prior to It’s My Anxiety?

Film wise, no. It’s My Anxiety is the very first film project I have ever written and produced.

Tell me about how you got the idea for it?

It’s My Anxiety comes from my personal experience with mental health and anxiety. I have diagnosed GAD and I have always struggled with anxiety and mental health. It went undiagnosed for a long time until my first year of university, and I got that first diagnoses, and everything just started to make a little more sense. Theatre was always a way that I found to help me heal. From that, I had the idea maybe seven months ago because I have always talked about my anxiety as something outside of myself… it gives me a lot of power to see it as something that isn’t necessarily inherently me, but something that I can say “Oh its not me, that’s just my anxiety talking.” So from that I started to think about conversations that I’ve had with my anxiety and then it just spurred the idea of what if we lived in a world where mental illnesses are manifested into living beings and we could communicate with them, and what type of power would that give to an individual who is suffering with an invisible illness? So that’s where the idea came from. And from there, I pitched it to a couple of my friends and we got writing together.

Where do you hope to see the series go? Depression is introduced at the end of the first episode, so do you hope to go in a broader direction?

So it will always be anxiety and Kennedy’s story, at the core of it, because that’s the story that started the whole series. However, there’s definitely plans to broaden it and introduce more illnesses and more manifestations. The problem that I’m having with that is that I have very intimate experiences with anxiety and depression, so writing those voices are comfortable for me because I know them. However, if I start introducing other illnesses, I’m going to have to bring somebody else on with hands-on experience because I want it to be very real. 

Tell me a little bit more about your history with depression and anxiety?

So I was diagnosed with anxiety first at 19. I started going to a therapist in my first year of university. Since I was a very young child, I’ve been known as the worrywart, or the perfectionist, or high strung, or overly sensitive, or the person who always over-reacts. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I was like, “Oh, these were all symptoms of anxiety and what I was feeling wasn’t something to just write off as too sensitive or overreacting. What I was feeling was very valid.” So that’s overall really helped my find strength in myself and my voice.

And depression just sort of goes hand in hand, I assume?

Yeah depression is an asshole. A lot of the time anxiety and depression go hand in hand, but they don’t always go hand in hand. I always have anxiety, but I don’t always have depression. So I’m not diagnosed manic-depressive, but I have diagnosed anxiety and as a fun little sidekick depression comes with that.

So are the scenarios that happen in the first episode relatable to your own?

Yes, definitely. Obviously we have created a very high concept world that doesn’t exist, but at the heart of each experience in episode one is something that’s happened to myself, my cowriters, or the director. All of us suffer from anxiety as well. The cowriter and lead—the girl who plays Kennedy—she is also diagnosed with anxiety. So we sat down and wrote it together and made sure that it was true to an experience that has happened to either myself or one of them.

Tell me about the people who you worked on this with?

So basically, we are a trio. The idea came from me and then I pitched it to Maddy (the lead) and Andrew (the director). As soon as I pitched it to them, they were on board and we just started writing. We would each write a script, send them to each other, read them all, pick the things we really liked about them and then I would write them into a single script. For episode one, we probably had 15 scripts until we finally nailed the final one. There’s still so much content missing we had a time limit of 10 minutes for Storyhive. So there’s a bunch of stuff that you don’t actually get to see that we wrote and shot.

How long is the series?

So, because we didn’t get funding, we are kind of just waiting in the wings. We have a season arc of five episodes total. We know what happens to each character, we know whom we introduce, but we are waiting to see about funding. Funding, especially for film, can change what you can and can’t do in an episode. For example, locations cost a lot of money and getting actors cost a lot of money, so we kind of just have to hold off until we get funded.

Overall, what would you say is the main message your trying to get across with the series?

There’s so many. Overall, I would just say that I just want people to feel like and know that they’re not alone. That’s something that I really struggled with for a long time was just not seeing representation properly in the media, or seeing it represented as a joke, or as something that’s so horrible and end of world to have. I want people to look at It’s My Anxiety and be able to laugh with the characters and feel with the characters, and maybe, hopefully, be able to talk about their own mental health more openly.

Is there any inspiration you’ve seen from other productions that are good examples of media representation?

Have you seen This is Us?

It’s one of my favourite shows.

Well, Randall’s character. His anxiety attacks are a really good representation of anxiety. I’m sure there’s other ones, but that’s the first thing that comes to my head as an accurate representation of what an anxiety attack can look like.

What has been your favourite part overall about producing this?

Gosh, that’s a hard question. I think I’d have to say, because we started a little Instagram community, and I think my favorite part overall is the people who have messaged us and are so supportive of what we’re doing and so thankful of what we’re doing. We have followers from all over the world thanking us for what we’re doing and what we’re creating and it just keeps pushing us to create more.

Once the series has played out, where do you hope to go from here?

I hope to produce more content like this. More content that has a message and is able to make a small impact or change, but also while being fun and light-hearted.

Is there anything else you’d like me to know?

We also put a whole bunch of local brands in the episode. I was very adamant that I wanted it to be a very Alberta, homegrown show. I wanted to give local creators the opportunity to showcase their work, so we put a couple of clothing brands in. We put Local Laundry out of Calgary, Aurora Boutique, and two Calgary-based artists were featured in the episode. All the food is from Edmonton food places like Remedy Coffee and Northern Chicken and Tony’s Pizza Palace. I wanted it to be an opportunity for other local creators to have a platform. Everyone was super keen and excited to be a part of it as well.

Interview has been condensed/edited for clarity.