'OC87' A 'Painful And Encouraging' Self-Portrait

Robert Siegel talks with Bud Clayman — director of the documentary OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive Major Depression Bipolar Asperger's Movie. Clayman always wanted to be a filmmaker, but a mental breakdown years ago interrupted that dream. Now, nearly 30 years later, Clayman has produced and directed a chronicle of what living with mental illness is really like.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. "OC87" is the name of Bud Clayman's feature-length documentary about himself. The subtitle of the film pretty well describes the diagnoses that have filled Clayman's adult life since he entered college in the 1980s. The subtitle is "The Obsessive Compulsive" - that's the OC - "Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie."

Bud Clayman's self-portrait is both painful and encouraging. It shows how debilitating mental illness can be. It also shows how people with mental illness can learn to cope. OC87 was the name that Clayman's therapist came up with for his state of mind as it developed in one terrible year.

BUD CLAYMAN: OC87 stands for the year 1987, when I decided to literally control the whole universe - or at least, attempt to try and control the whole universe. I wouldn't allow any spontaneity with people. I wouldn't small-talk with people. Basically, it was just something that totally existed inside of my head, that I created.

SIEGEL: I want to play a little bit from "OC87," where we hear - this is an example; this is your rendering of being a passenger on a bus, and the internal monologue that you're having while you're riding on the bus and you happened to be looking at a female passenger. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE FROM DOCUMENTARY "OC87")

CLAYMAN: Oh, she's cute. Now, put your glasses down. Look away. She's pretty. You may hurt her. Look away. Probably don't let her hear you. Oh, wait - she can't hear you. She can't hear your voice. People can't read your thoughts. Now, she's in front of you, but just look away. Just keep looking away. Shouldn't have done that. It's just a cough. Just let it be there. Live with the risk of the cough. You influence people, but you don't cause them to do things. Keep looking away. Stare ahead. Glad to be off this damn bus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Little bit of bus ride.

CLAYMAN: Can't stand it. Can't stand it.

SIEGEL: Can't stand it. It's - I mean, on the one hand, it's funny and charming to listen to; it's an ordeal you're going through on that little bus ride.

CLAYMAN: Yeah, it's - the day I did that - well, not when we filmed it, but what it was based on - I hadn't slept the entire night. I got on the bus. I was in such an angry mood. And we're working on this in Asperger's treatment - Asperger's people sometimes stare directly at other people in the eye. And I stared at somebody on the bus and, at least in my mind, it created aggression in that person and they took it out on somebody else on the bus, and a fight broke out. And I had to go to the driver and tell them, you know, I'm sorry about this and everything. And I wanted to go into the hospital that day, I really did. I was on the phone with my therapist seven times that day. It was a pretty wild day.

SIEGEL: The job of making a documentary, which is a collaborative act - I mean, you're managing something, you're working with lots of other people. It sounds like quite a challenge for you.

CLAYMAN: It was quite a challenge, which was why it was good for me, the therapists say. Sometimes, I disagree with them but yeah. I mean, it loosened whatever began in 1987, where I rigidly controlled my world; where I like, owned everything. A lot of that filtered out and was let go during the process of making this movie.

SIEGEL: Well, I want to play another bit from "OC87," and you and your father are talking. He's now seen a rough cut of the documentary and in this clip, we hear him saying what he thinks about it, and you talking with him. And we also hear your colleague, who asks him a question. Here, first, it's your dad.

(SOUNDBITE FROM "OC87")

CLAYMAN'S FATHER: You know I don't understand all of that.

CLAYMAN: You understand, I think...

CLAYMAN'S FATHER: No, but I...

CLAYMAN: No, you don't?

CLAYMAN'S FATHER: No. Well, I understand, but I don't...

CLAYMAN: That's all right.

CLAYMAN'S FATHER: I'm from the old school. It's hard for me to believe certain things, I guess.

CLAYMAN: That's all right.

CLAYMAN'S COLLEAGUE: What's the hardest thing to understand about Buddy's mental illness?

CLAYMAN'S FATHER: I don't know. I just believe how - when you - I went through a lot of the - you know, in business, you go - you get disappointments, you get this, and you feel lousy for a couple days. You don't sleep for one or two days. But then all at once, you're back to where you started, and you start all over. But he got worse as he went along.

SIEGEL: This is a really old-fashioned view of...

CLAYMAN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...mental illness. You go through rough patches so you pick yourself up, dust yourself off - and start all over again.

CLAYMAN: It doesn't work like that.

SIEGEL: Doesn't work like that.

CLAYMAN: Doesn't work like that, unfortunately. It was - I don't know. It was tough with my dad. I'm very fortunate that we got along in the last couple years of the film. He's not around anymore. He passed away about three years ago. But he did come from the old school. He didn't understand it. I don't know if because he felt that, you know, maybe he caused it or something, or that he raised a defective son. But he just - he had trouble understanding it.

SIEGEL: There's something you do when you're in - it looks like a luncheonette, and there's a young woman across the way. And you're looking at her, and you're getting very...

CLAYMAN: Nervous.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: ...nervous about this. And at some point, you reach into your pocket, or your wallet, and you dig out notes on what to do in a situation like this.

CLAYMAN: Right, right. Yeah, that was in my coping cards that Cathy Grayson, my good Asperger's and social life coach, gave me. Yeah, in that scene - a lot of times, when I see a pretty gal, I'll stare at them, which is kind of inappropriate. Guys usually have a way - I haven't learned how to look the right way at a woman yet, basically. I stare, which isn't good. And so I take out these cards. And one of the cards says public staring, you can do two, quick looks up and down. And then, you know, you avert your gaze.

SIEGEL: Yeah, it sounds like one alternative name for Asperger's would have been coolness deficiency syndrome.

CLAYMAN: Yes. Don't have it. Don't have it, Robert.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: You just can't be cool, no matter what.

CLAYMAN: I can't be cool. I want to be cool. Believe me, I want to be cool. But it's tough, it's tough.

SIEGEL: It is interesting that when you render that - one of those internal monologues, when we hear what you're thinking, it's not as if other people don't have these thoughts. At least, I think other people have these thoughts. It's the level with which one can control them, I think, in which they take you over at the moment.

CLAYMAN: Yeah. Well, the person without OCD, the thoughts just - they come and go. But the person with OCD kind of latches onto the thoughts. And for me - there's a term called over-ideation, where I'll latch onto a thought.And I'll just grab onto it, and I'll just have trouble letting go of things. It's tough.

SIEGEL: Yeah. It becomes a kind of hyper self-consciousness, where you...

CLAYMAN: Yeah. It becomes a religious experience for me sometimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Do you find...

CLAYMAN: A little thought as a religious experience, isn't that crazy?

SIEGEL: There you are. Because you can describe all this quite well and have gotten it on film, some people hear that explanation, that ability to conceptualize what's happening and assume - like, perhaps like your late father - that therefore, it must be easy to get over and be done with.

CLAYMAN: No, no. The conceptualizing came, actually, from therapy because I learned how to talk about my experience. So I'm very grateful for that. Just because you can talk about something - I mean, to me, talking is just basically intellectual process, and I feel that I really want to get more in touch with my emotions and my emotional process. And that's where I think the healing will take place for me, you know? I mean, everything's - I'm going with the flow right now, and just taking it one day at a time.

SIEGEL: Going with the flow sounds like quite a far cry from where you were in 1987.

CLAYMAN: Yes. There was no flow at all. There - the - I always called myself a clogged drain, you know? I was just - the dam was there, and the water wasn't flowing. And now, it's moving.

SIEGEL: Well, Bud Clayman, thanks for talking with us, and congratulations on the film.

CLAYMAN: Thank you so much, Robert. It's been an honor to be with you here today.

SIEGEL: Bud Clayman's documentary is called "OC87."

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