The word anxiety holds different meanings for us all. We all have things in our lives that can cause stress, but for some people, anxiety is something they deal with every single day and sometimes the cause might be more confusing than the feelings themselves.
For James Sebastiano Jr, anxiety caused a lot of discomfort in his life since the young age of 15. By the point of adulthood, the seemingly successful man with a great job and beautiful apartment in NYC seemed to have it all—but in reality, the 34 year old couldn’t even drive down the highway without having a panic attack. To combat this growing problem, Sebastiano teamed up with his filmmaker friend Mark Waters for a film project to go on a journey of self discovery, which he says changed his life. Now, audiences will go on that same journey as well as receive some well worded wisdom from in depth interviews with experts on the subject and some famous names who have suffered in their own way was as well.
Sebastiano Jr. sat down with Metro to discuss what went into making the documentary film ‘Chasing the Present.’
You’ve suffered from anxiety for most of your life, but what was it that drove you to want to document it in this way for people to see?
You know, it didn’t start with this intention, it actually started because I’m really good friends with Mark Waters, the director and cinematographer. At that time, I woke up and I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to make a film—I had no idea what it was going to be about, I just knew that I was really close with Mark and I could figure out the finances to do it. So we were brainstorming about making the film about fear and love or trying to find something that could help other people—but then, very soon, in the process my anxiety was getting even worse to the point of where I couldn’t drive my car on the highway without having a full-blown panic attack. I felt like, “why am I trying to make a film about other people when I’m going through so much stuff myself?” How about we start with what’s going on in our own lives and own selves and just share it with the hopes that it can inspire other people to make a change in their life as well.
Was the filming process organic? How did you figure out where you were going to go?
It was an organic process completely, we didn’t set out for the film saying let’s go do this or that. Basically, we wanted to immerse ourselves and go and do a yoga teacher training. So, we went to India and while we were there everyone was talking about ayahuasca and how it changed their lives— so then we decided to go to Peru and do ayahuasca. While we were there, a friend of mine was in Nepal and he was building schools for kids who lost their school in an earthquake, so he asked us to go there and then we went to help with that for a while. Then, we learned meditation with nuns and monks—so everything pretty much unraveled until the part in New York where you see us sitting down interviewing people. We had been reading books and watching Ted Talks, and we reached out to the people who inspired us the most to see if they would talk to us about how they’ve gotten through these things in their lives. So, it was kind of a hybrid of planned interviews of people who really inspired us, and doing things that people have said that they’ve done in their lives that helps them.
How about the celebs you interview? How did you get connected with Russell Brand?
We reached out to people who inspired us the most in this genre. Russell Brand is such an amazing guy—he’s so cool and funny and so articulate and intelligent. He turned his life around, he was an addict, so we just had so many overlapping things that it felt like yeah I really want to talk to this guy.
Throughout this whole process, was there some specific advice and wisdom that really helped you?
For sure. A lot of it may seem cliche because we hear it so much, but I don’t know that everyone truly understands what it means to be present. I think that was the overall message of the film: Presence really cures suffering and presence can really get us through these times. When I was struggling with anxiety and I would be driving down the highway feeling like I was going to have a panic attack, my heart would be racing and my mind would come in and be like oh my God what’s going on, you’re going to die—and I would participate in those thoughts which is what would lead to the panic attack. Through the practice of meditation, being able to be present, being able to watch my thoughts— it changed my life. So, I think that learning to be present and learning that practice of mediation where we can realize we are not our thoughts, but we are that thing that is able to watch our thoughts, that little piece of information for me completely changed my life.
Something interesting was the scenes with your dad who said he never has experienced anxiety. Are you hoping this film helps gives those who don’t understand a better grasp of what anxiety is for some people?
I definitely hope this brings more awareness for the topic. In that scene with my dad, that was the first time in my life that I ever told my dad that I had anxiety, and I’m 34. So, I think just bringing awareness to the topic and showing people to talk about things and to share how you feel. By doing so we are healing ourselves by sharing. I think people who don’t have it, I hope it helps them to be a bit more sensitive to the people who do and It can open this space for people to share.
Overall what do you hope people take away from the film?
I think really developing these mindfulness and meditation practices that really we’re not our thoughts, but we’re the part of ourselves that is aware— and that part can change our lives. If you’re anxious you can talk to a family member, or if you can’t talk to a family member talk to a school counselor or a friend. I think the more that we open up, and the more we connect with people and share in an honest and vulnerable way can confront that issue and help us overcome it.
‘Chasing the Present’ releases on VOD Oct. 6