Allié: As an actor, you understand and perform the art of improvisation. You’ve used your talent to address mental illness. At the end of the day, what do you want people to understand about mental illness?
Olivia: That it’s normal. It’s totally normal. It’s nothing to be scared of or ashamed of. The brain is an incredibly silly and finicky thing. Mental illness can be a totally natural chemical imbalance or an incredible adaptation to traumatic events or environments. That’s what it is. It’s incredible. Our brains think they’re trying to help us with these maladaptive thoughts and coping mechanisms. And it’s funny because we get older and realize “oh hey, that actually isn’t helping me anymore brain, could you chill?” And it takes a lot of practice and sometimes medication, but it’s normal. If you heard people’s stories, understood their traumas, you’d see that their behavior, coping mechanisms, and mental illness is completely rational and understable. Our brains are amazing, they just want to keep us alive and they sometimes (often times in my case) get it wrong. And life ends up just finding ways to redirect, readapt and work with our scared brains.
Allié: I love how you flip the stigma of mental illness upside down by sensationalizing it. Using your art to address the issue, you make it easier for the subject to be addressed. Have you always dealt with your personal mental illness this way? How much has it helped you?
Olivia: ‘Funny' has saved my life more times than I can count. It’s the only way for me to cope at times. It’s the way I communicate. It’s the way I understand what’s happening inside my head. It’s the way I get others to listen and laugh with me. Trauma sucks. Talking about trauma sucks. A lot of the time I hate talking about mental illness seriously because you see that look of pity in people’s eyes and it’s horrible. Because I don’t pity myself. I can’t. It would take up so much space in my life. I have to laugh. Because life is so hilariously horrible sometimes and you need that release or it’ll crush you. The content I’m making does that for me and for the people watching it. Mental illness isn’t just the sad girl in the movie who can’t get out of bed or cook a meal or needs vodka in the morning to get through the day. Of course, that is what it is sometimes. But it’s also drinking 12 shots of espresso and laugh crying in a Target over the price of sheets. It’s realizing you haven’t brushed your teeth or hair in a week. It’s tripping over months worth of laundry and laughing about the fact you can’t clean your room at 25. It’s the absurdity of how incredibly horrible some days are and how absolutely hysterical other days are. The extremes are funny to me. They have to be. The inability to form sentences: funny.
I’ve spent a lot of my life moving out of shame. A lot of my teens and early 20’s were spent hating my brain and hating myself, hating that I couldn’t be like other people no matter how hard I tried. That I was always somehow “lacking”. And now, with the help of lots of therapy and medication, I can look at myself and my life and say “this is just who I am and it’s tragic and miserable, but it’s absolutely hilarious”. And that’s what keeps me alive. ∎ Follow Olivia on Instagram: @oliviaaacade
12 AWARENOW / THE OUTSIDE EDITION