I met Janet Berkowitz back in the mid 1980′s through our mutual friend; author and speaker Alan Cohen. A group of us had been invited to her home to watch the classic Franco Zeffirelli film Brother Sun, Sister Moon. I was drawn to her laughter and welcoming presence. What I didn’t know at the time, was that facade hid a frightening secret. For much of her life, Janet faced sometimes paralyzing depression that in the interceding years would have her hospitalized on numerous occasions and send her plummeting into addiction in an effort to manage her symptoms. By the grace of God and through deep personal practice, Janet has been clean and sober since 1987. What I admire most about this amazing woman is that she is much more than a survivor. She is a thriver who has taken her own lessons and turned them into workshops and performance pieces that she, along with her husband, Phil Garber, offers through their organization called Creative Communication Builders.
How do you live your bliss?
Lately, it’s been my bliss to be with people and share open dialogue with them when they are ready to be vulnerable.
How did you become a mime and performance artist?
I was performing in shows in high school. I’d caught the bug from my mother who’d studied acting and did local theater. I became a mime, in 11th grade, when I quickly needed an idea for a class project, which I’d fashionably left to the last minute. I had read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about mime becoming popular in the U.S. I created a Charlie Chaplin type of character based on the pictures in that article. My mother would direct my self-designed skits. Then I started seeing Marcel Marceau (world famous mime) when he toured America and I mimicked his work. Eventually my own ideas for skits came through.
I know that A Course In Miracles has been a pivotal part of your life. How do you feel it guides you?
I have been keeping it very simple with A Course In Miracles these days: constantly checking to see if what I’m up to is love or fear.
You have the ability to take the devastating subject of suicide and transform it into something profound and perhaps even lifesaving for others. How did that come to be?
My work in the field of suicide awareness and prevention came strictly out of desperation. I called all over the country and could find only one group that supported people who were experiencing suicidal ideation or behavior: Suicide Anonymous, unfortunately only in Tennessee. I kept hearing God’s voice saying “Start your own groups.” It was the closest thing to His guidance that I’d heard in the many years since suffering with crippling depression. I started a Suicide Anonymous meeting in N.J. and co-designed a workshop addressing the topic using the arts.
What keeps you going when you face the challenges of your own mental health experiences?
What keeps me going when faced with challenges is to keep busy, especially with art projects….mostly with ones I give as gifts.
What would you suggest for others when they are feeling despair?
When people are feeling despair I suggest they immediately reach out of themselves and relate to someone else: first by phone, then in person. Get to some sort of meeting. If no other 12 step group works there’s Emotions Anonymous.
Do you have a favorite performance piece?
My most favorite recent performance piece is a dance collage, where I dance to all kinds of different snippets of music (everything from the Monkees to ACDC). I do it just for fun! But I guess my all time fave is ‘Global Unity’, in which I’m reaching out to all kinds of different people in need of help and in the end learning to love myself.
http://youtu.be/_nAM1GU_Ps4 is a video of Phil and Janet performing Dance Collage at Phil’s recent birthday party.