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Finding A Sanctuary

Losing Sleep Over My Dreams

Casting calls me at three
in the afternoon. 

“Just a heads up! Be prepared for an early
morning call time tomorrow!”

 It’s standard practice in this
industry and I am crossing my fingers, hoping for a four or five AM
start. By 7PM that evening, I get my details and am asked to report
to an obscure location in Brooklyn at 1:00AM with five sexy wardrobe options. Heels required. Early morning? I do
the math and realize I need to pack my suitcase, skip dinner, pop
half an Ambien and darken the apartment immediately. This
routine is too familiar and made easier by the fact I now share a
one-bedroom apartment with my significant other and not the
225-square-foot studio that that made this regimen nearly impossible
a year prior. The boyfriend is equally relieved that our new
apartment means he can breathe, get a glass of water, and walk the
dog without me launching into a sedative-frenzied tirade.

My
doctor is affiliated with an actor’s clinic and is hesitant to
prescribe Ambien until I promise I will only use it for last-minute
bookings when I need to radically change my sleep schedule for a
shoot. He gives me a script for twenty pills and sympathizes. He
wouldn’t want my career to be hindered by lack of sleep and wishes me
much success. I’m not sure he realizes success in this business will
equal even less sleep.

It’s
6AM and I’m on another commercial shoot, standing in for an
international fashion model while she is getting prettied up. This job
entails the less glamorous (if there even is any glamour at all)
aspect of standing in heels for hours while the crew works on
lighting setups, finishing touches on the set, and camera moves. My
job also requires me to be the guinea pig for any preliminary shot
that could be dangerous or “artistic” and commonly has included a
speeding camera on a crane that spins towards me from a hundred feet
away, traveling from the soundstage ceiling diagonally towards my
closed eyelids within inches of my face. But on this specific
morning, I’m standing on a slick black skinny plexiglass stage that
is mounted six feet in the air as a camera zooms around. My
lack-of-sleep-induced nausea and imbalance is not mixing well with
the trifecta of a hot studio, blinding lights, and my incredible fear
of heights. I bite my lip to the point of nearly drawing blood,
willing away the feeling that I am about to faint, and do what I am
told for the next hour. My work has spared the hero (the name given
to the “star” of a commercial) any of this experience as the ad
agency decides to scrap the entire setup because it’s not right for
the campaign. But with adrenaline coursing through my veins, I no
longer need to worry about ingesting caffeine this morning. I’m fully
awake.

The director of production on this shoot will run into me on a night shoot in a few years and tease me in front of the entire crew, claiming “Hey! You’re that girl that fainted on the cosmetic shoot!” I am humiliated that he keeps saying this because I am not that girl but at the same time I am relieved that my honed skills of fighting off unconsciousness worked and feel a kinship suddenly with all the other women in my shoes who struggled with these demands. I thought I was the only one.

A
few weeks later it’s my first twenty-one hour nonstop day for a shoot
on a high-profile film with an Academy Award-winning director and we
are finally wrapped. The night before (day before?) I heard one of
the stars (you’d recognize him) ask if we will have an early wrap since there is no
dialogue on the page and most of the scenes are going to be a montage. This would
typically mean that all shots could be captured in a few hours- tops.
But this blockbuster-making director smirks and with dramatic effect
sings out, “We’re gonna go aaaaaaalhlllll
night!” Easy for him to say, since every few hours the director retreats to
his trailer for a nap while the crew and actors continue to work. A
makeup artist reveals to me how she misses the 80’s, when they would
all do lines of coke off the Panavision to keep fresh. On the way
home from this marathon of a shoot, the same casting office who got me this gig attempts to
pressure me into another shoot that will begin in two hours. I’m
warned about being blacklisted for refusing. I can’t keep up with
this life and actually welcome being shunned.

At this point in my life, anxiety
has become like my own shadow, we are so tight. My circadian rhythm
is out of sorts and I turn to yoga and meditation. I attend the
Ignite Conference in New York, organized by Hayhouse and the late
Wayne Dyer, and I suddenly sense a big shift must come. And this
shift is going to require some sleep. My dreams of success over the
years have led me to a remarkably dissatisfying and unhealthy life.
Every free chance I get, I spread across the hardwood floor of my
apartment and listen to guided meditations on YouTube for
manifesting, speaking with my spiritual guide, insomnia, anxiety,
stress– you name it. My boyfriend teases me after a three hour
session one night, absolutely shocked that anyone can meditate for
that long! But I think
back to the breathing exercises. The waking meditations while
standing still for hours on a set being scrutinized by the eyes of
fifty strangers. I recall the techniques I have used to stay calm in
the most perilous of situations where even greater than the peril is
this self-sabotaging idea that I have no voice

This re-connection with my inner self takes me back to the creative
artist within. To that little spark of talent and the inherent love
for storytelling and music that propelled me from being a poor kid in
upstate New York to a teen who moved to Manhattan and put
herself through college to graduate at the age of nineteen. I feel empowered and suddenly find myself
saying “no” a lot. I put my health and happiness first and commit
to volunteering and helping others. I need money, as I always do, but
I find I need sanity a lot more. And suddenly things start to come
easier to me- financially, personally, and professionally. The terror
of turning down work and of changing my path dissipates the moment I
change my intentions to living a healthy, fulfilling life. If I make
it sound easy, it isn’t. I grapple with my love of creation and ideas
of success juxtaposed to the entertainment business and the toxicity
that comes with it.

Last
year, I fully launched my own YouTube meditation and hypnosis
channel, www.michellessanctuary.com,
creating recordings with messages I needed to hear throughout the
sleepless years of a struggling artist. At first, nurturing it in
secret and not even telling my closest family and friends, I sought
to just connect with the viewers who happened to find me. After years
of self-promotion and the exhaustive judgment from decision makers, I
wanted a safe place where I could use my voice. A sanctuary. A place
where sleep is celebrated and I can offer a drug-free alternative to
people, who like me, may have a hard time quelling their racing minds
and unplugging after a long day. It’s amazing how much better we can
be as contributors to our loved ones, our jobs, and society when we
put sleep, self-care, and mental health as a priority. Perspective becomes clearer and new doors begin to open when given a sanctuary and the time to retreat there and just listen. 

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