Written by Malin Evita
*This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to our full conversation on Spotify: Community Highlights Vol. 2 (timestamp: 2:00)
“I started dancing at age five. I’m twenty-two now, so seventeen years ago. And then, at age, uh, around ten is when I kind of knew I wanted to pursue something professionally,” Jaimi McPeek, a dancer, actress, model, and soon-enough director from Florida, tells me. From then on off, she began attending workshops, competitions, and really increased her practice. In her early teens she branched out into musical theatre, and thus the dancer – stage acting – film acting – director pipeline ensued. She found all of these paths, and fell in love them equally. “When I was around seventeen or eighteen, it was a really hard choice because I felt like I had to make a choice; is it gonna be pursuing a dancing company, a dancing route, Broadway… or is it gonna be actress, film actress? And then as I kind of got older I realised I didn’t really have to make a choice. I could still do everything,” she tells me.
What does film mean to you?
“They are a way of escaping and going to another reality,” she says, “I think it’s such a cool, like, parallel universe that you can kind of enter for a few hours.”
Top 3 Films: 1408 (2007, dir. Mikael Håfström), Shutter Island (2010, dir. Martin Scorsese), and The Greatest Showman (2017, dir. Michael Gracey)
Top 3 Filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and M. Night Shyamalan
Throughout recent years, she has been in a number of TV shows and performed across stages and amusement parks like Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, and Zootampa. As for right now, she is working on the development of her directorial debut: Flip of a Coin, a film determined to change the way mental illness and the people who live with them are portrayed on screen and dedicated to let those who share the experiences know that they are not alone.
When Jaimi was four years old, she began to display symptoms of the highly misunderstood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and was officially diagnosed at age seven. “Like I said, I started dancing at around five, so it kind of always went hand in hand with me growing up,” she tells me, “it just kind of became whenever I felt the overwhelmingness of my thoughts, or the stress or anxiety of my thoughts – I just kind of realised that dancing was a way to relieve [those thoughts].” Performing grew with her as did her brain, and those two aspects of her have always been intertwined, creating a profoundly deep relationship.
About her childhood experience with her “internal bully,” as she refers to her OCD as, she writes: The thoughts became more intense, and it was harder to distinguish what was real and what wasn’t. From 7-10, the breakdowns would get more frequent. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Why was I thinking these thoughts that I didn’t believe? Why was I thinking these thoughts that didn’t make any sort of sense? Why was I forced to do things I didn’t want to do? Why was I miserable all the time when I had such a loving, happy home with loving parents, and great friends? I had everything, yet I was miserable. (Read more and donate to her GoFundMe here.)
“I’m a very down to earth person, I’m a very bubbly person, and no one ever really- I’m the kind of person who always has a smile on my face so no one ever really thinks, you know, beyond that,” she says. The misrepresentation and ridicule of OCD in the media harms everyone – from perception of others to perception of oneself. Flip of a Coin is here to change those perceptions and shine a light on the real lived challenges those with OCD face in a way that does not stigmatize them or the disorder, but rather encourages awareness, compassion, and support.
“I have definitely dealt with my fair share of inner demons and still do, and that’s why I want to make this film.” – Jaimi McPeek
The film is split into two perspectives of a young girl’s (portrayed by McPeek herself) life while battling her inner demons. The first half, from an exterior, societal, point of view, shows a bubbly, happy girl with hopes for the future and lots of love. But then, at the midway point, she takes her own life. That’s when the P.O.V. changes, and we see her life through her eyes – or as Jaimi describes it, “through a broken lens.”
“64% of people that are diagnosed with a mental illness don’t get help just because of the stigma, and to me that is devastating,” she says, “[the movie] really promotes reaching out, talking about it, suicide prevention, and it is helping those who do suffer realise that they are not alone, but it is also helping those who, say, don’t have a mental health problem but either relate to it or want to know more. They can kind of get a sense of what it’s like as well as maybe what signs and symptoms to look out for.”
Listen to Jaimi’s story in full, available now on Spotify (“Destigmatising Mental Health with Jaimi McPeek & Ellie Davies | Community Highlights Vol. 2”) and keep up to date with her and her film on Instagram under @JaimiXOXOXO and @FlipOfACoinFilm. Check out her website and donate to the film’s GoFundMe. Jaimi also created a support group for people with mental illnesses which you can learn more about here.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.