Filmmaker Explores Happy Ending for Sister Who Overdosed
William Dickerson wanted to write a happy ending for the life story of his sister, Briana, who died of a drug overdose after years of feeling completely misunderstood.
What Dickerson, a novelist and filmmaker, couldn’t understand was that people did like his sister. No doubt, she was one of a kind. But people developed a taste for her. Yet, as soon as people began to draw near her, Briana grew suspicious and ultimately pushed them away.
That’s because she suffered from many symptoms of a mental illness that even baffles (and frustrates) many mental health professionals – borderline personality disorder. Moodiness, poor self-image, impaired relationships and compulsive behavior all are symptoms of borderline personality disorder, or BPD. While Briana was never diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Dickerson says that she often experienced similar symptoms, such as extreme lows and highs in mood.
Now Dickerson is making a movie based on the novel he wrote about his and his sister’s childhoods called No Alternative. Dickerson recently completed an Indiegogo campaign to get started on the film and raised just over $50,000. Now, Dickerson has launched another crowdsourcing campaign to help fund post-production of the film. You can contribute by clicking here.
Not only does he hope the film entertains its audiences, but that it also destigmatizes mental illness and the mystery of BPD in the process.
“Men and women of all ages suffer silently, struggling with mental illness, addiction and suicidal tendencies on a daily basis,” Dickerson writes on his fundraising page.1 “Strides have been made, but as a culture and a society, we aren’t open enough to talk about it in an effective way.”
Dickerson granted MentalHealthTreatment.net an interview about his film, just as new research about BPD was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal in early September.
Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Inspires Girl with BPD to Rap
The film is set in the early 1990s. The main characters, Thomas and Bridget Harrison, are based on the true life stories of Dickerson and his sister, Briana.
In the film, Thomas Harrison becomes obsessed with starting his own band after the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. The death of the musical artist had a tremendous impact on an entire generation of teenagers coming of age at that time.
But Briana rejected all of those Cobain idolizers. In protest, as her brother started a Nirvana-like band, Briana tried her hand at gangsta rap – explicit lyrics and all. The milky white suburbanite caught audiences off guard, often leaving them in awkward silence after her performances.
To cope with the pain of her mental illness, Briana ultimately turned to drugs and alcohol, overdosing. At that time, William wrote a letter to his sister, and the letter became the basis for his novel.
“People on the brink often think they have no alternative,” Dickerson told MentalHealthTreatment.net.
Of course, the musical genre at the time also was considered “alternative.”
Dickerson, whose last film, Don’t Look Back, premiered on the Lifetime network, calls No Alternative “by far the most passionate project I ever have been involved with.”
Briana Becomes Gangsta Rapper ‘Bri Da B,’ Develops Following
Bridget, the character based on Dickerson’s sister, was able to escape the pain of her own life by creating the persona of gangsta rapper Bri Da B. For someone living with BPD, the shocking responses she received from her audiences were uplifting and affirming. Ultimately, she developed a growing following.
“She also was bipolar, had highs and lows,” Dickerson told MentalHealthTreatment.net. “Her biggest hurdle was that she was just real intense and had extreme social anxiety disorder. She would be outgoing and friendly, make a lot of friends, but almost as quickly she would make enemies out of them.
“It was like, ‘Now I have all these friends, people adore me, they must want something.’ So she would start self-sabotaging, push them away and start to hate them. They would naturally move away from her, and she would be devastated.”
Dickerson said Briana’s mental illness was hard on the entire family. “We had to stick by her. But for so many years she was misdiagnosed. She was given antidepressants, sedatives, tranquilizers…she had suboxone prescribed to her.”
All those drugs mixed together, combined with illegal drugs and alcohol, ultimately took its toll on Briana. “She wanted to numb herself so bad. She would say ‘I just don’t want to be here.'”
Borderline personality disorder is not uncommon, and may be even more common than previously thought. “It’s estimated that 1.6 percent of the adult U.S. population has BPD but it may be as high as 5.9 percent,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.2 “Nearly 75 percent of people diagnosed with BPD are women, but recent research suggests that men may be almost as frequently affected by BPD. In the past, men with BPD were often misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression.”
No Alternative will appeal to adults who came of age in the Kurt Cobain era as well as modern-day teens, Dickerson said. “The film is very universal in how it demonstrates the way teens feel and what they go through,” Dickerson said.
Bridget Tries Selling Her Psych Meds at an AA Meeting
The book is explicit. The way it deals with teenage coming-of-age issues and BPD is not sanitized. It captures the essence of mental illness with a certain degree of humor.
In the following excerpt, Bridget is attending her first AA meeting. She has just stood up to speak and emptied all of the prescription bottles from her purse onto a table.
“For today and today only, I’m offering you the chance of a lifetime, a chance to take a variety of legal medicine that will rock your world harder than any stuff you’ve ever been on. This is the real deal, the pure stuff, both uppers and downers, and you are the target demographic for such stimulants, sedatives and mood enhancers; you’re the reason the pharmaceutical companies have spent millions, maybe even billions, of dollars making these fantastic pills and I’m willing to offer you these outrageous deals because you’re friends of my friend, Stewart.”3 Stewart was the man who brought Bridget to the AA meeting.
Dickerson said he felt his parents truly did all they could to help Briana. “My parents’ lives were focused around her,” he said. “She could not be trusted to take her own pills. If she had a whole bottle, she would take them all.”
Dickerson said she constantly changed therapists because clinicians would get to the point where they would not agree to see her any longer. “They would try this, try that. At an early age she learned the idea that there was always an answer in a pill.”
Harvard Review of Psychiatry Dedicates September/October Issue to BPD
Recently, new hope has emerged for people with BPD. In a special September/October edition of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, several doctors and scientists lay out new scientific explanations and proposed treatments for the disorder.
“We hope these articles will help clinicians understand their BPD patients, encourage more optimism about their treatability, and help set a stage from which the next generation of mental health professionals will be more willing to address the clinical and public health challenges they present,” doctors from the Adult Borderline Center and Training Institute at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass., wrote in an editorial.4 “For clinicians, educators and researchers, we hope this issue clarifies and emerging basis for earlier intervention, generalist approaches to care for the widest population, and a more organized approach to allocating care for individuals with BPD.”
But ultimately, stigma killed his sister, Dickerson said. “I wish Briana would have been honest about the illness and talked to us about it. She never would have, because she was so scared of people knowing about her illness. Maybe if mental illness were not so stigmatized, she could have been helped.”
1. From the Heart Productions.NetworkForGood.com. “No Alternative.” Retrieved Sept. 10, 2016, from https://fromtheheartproductions.networkforgood.com/projects/14034-feature-films-no-alternative-a-feature-film
2. Borderline Personality Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Retrieved Sept. 10, 2016, from http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder
3. Dickerson, William. No Alternative. Los Angeles, 2012: Kettle of Letters Press.
4. Choi-Kain, L. et al. (2016, Sept-Oct.) “Evidence Based Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder: Implementation, Integration, and Stepped Care.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2016, from http://journals.lww.com/hrpjournal/Fulltext/2016/09000/Evidence_Based_Treatments_for_Borderline.4.aspx
Written by David Heitz