Live Ravenously with Dr. Marina Kostina

 Mental Illness: Can This Horror Story Have a Happy Ending?

An Interview with Maria Brenda, Director and Producer of MAYA

“If you shield the mountain from the windstorms, you never see the beauty of the carvings.”

On Death and Dying author, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Ravenous living assumes both physical and mental wellness, but can a person with mental illness enjoy life, relish it, and succeed in it? This question has always interested me as a professional healer, coach and hypnotherapist, but in the last few years I became more and more involved in this topic because of the increasing number of clients suffering from mental illness, yet feeling shameful and guilty about it.

Unfortunately, there is still a prevalent stigma in our society when it comes to mental illness, which creates problems for those who have it. It can diminish a person’s self-esteem, decrease opportunities for socializing, create obstacles for employment or accommodation, and increase suicide rates. In fact, research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide in the U.S. had a known mental health condition. Because of the stigma, people are less likely to seek professional help, which, in turn, creates problems in diagnosing the illness, and finding appropriate remedies. In the United States alone, almost half of adults (46%) will experience mental illness during their lifetime. According to Mental Health First Aid, only 41% of the people who had a mental disorder in the past year received professional health care or other services.

The mental health field is filled with heroes, from researchers, doctors, and coaches to mental health advocates and parents of children with mental illnesses. One such brave woman is Maria Brenda, an actress, writer, producer, director, and founder of Zatori Films and the leader of MAYA—a mental health awareness movement. Three years ago, Maria’s daughter was diagnosed with auditory hallucinations with major depression and anxiety. Instead of losing hope, Maria created a movie, MAYA, that shows the experiences of those who live with mental illness. She also started a movement that aims to spread awareness about this problem. Please enjoy my interview with this talented and brave woman:


  1. KOSTINA: Maria, your movie is based on your personal story. Can you share it with our audience?

BRENDA: Three years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with auditory hallucinations with major depression and anxiety. She’s been in and out of the hospital, and as a single parent, it’s hard enough to deal with it, along with everything else going on. As a caretaker for my child, going through this is very, very tough. She’s going through her own things; I’m going through my things. I wish I could take the pain away from her because she’s still young and I feel like I can handle it better than she does, but all I can do is write it. That’s why this became a movie, became a crusade for us.

So we want to bring it out there and bring awareness. The title for this movie is Maya: The Sacrifice. It is a dark fantasy horror film, based on my story and my daughter’s story. It’s a story of a mother and daughter fighting evil, a story of love, courage, strength, determination, bravery and triumph.

  1. KOSTINA: The genre is horror fantasy, right? There are incredible characters that are based on the folklore from your country of origin, the Philippines, right? There is a witch that flies as a bat and a shape shifting monster. Could you please explain why you chose these characters for this topic and why you chose this genre?

BRENDA: A lot of people ask me this question. I chose the horror genre because of what that person is going through. It’s my daughter’s experience and what she’s feeling inside. It’s horrifying for her, and as a parent it’s horrifying for me that that’s what she’s feeling, that these monsters are trying to get her and she’s very fearful for her life. So that’s what became a horror film. It’s a metaphor for what people are going through.

  1. KOSTINA: And I think what really gave me goosebumps is that the main character is faced with the choice of who to sacrifice, to give her daughter, right? And I think that probably reflects the feelings that any parent of a child with mental illnesses has. Can you explain why you chose it and how?

BRENDA: Let me explain about the creature that I used for this project, the manananggal. If you Google it, it’s really a scary creature. It’s like a woman, but they sever half of their body and became a bat, and the other half is still human. They live amongst us, and of the Aswang, are the biggest in the Philippines. I use the mythical creatures from the Philippines because I came from there and I wanted to incorporate them in this film because they’ve been using a lot of different creatures, which is people that know them already. So I want to use something different and that’s why I came up with those two different monsters, but they also symbolize mental health and mental illness, because they do attack at any given time, like vulnerable people, people that can’t help themselves.

That’s basically what the monsters tell us. They live amongst us, but then they do attack when you least expect them.

  1. KOSTINA: This is really interesting.

BRENDA: Thank you.

  1. KOSTINA: The movie is incredible, and you created a movement around it. And the movement is about building awareness about the topic so now I wanted to ask you, you know I work in the hypnotherapy profession, right? And I look at how this illness is treated in the United States. The common treatment is drugs.  And you know, I’m not against drugs completely because I believe that there is precedence for it, especially when there are suicidal tendencies, but when we give drugs left and right, the drugs kill not only the depression, right, they kill all of the feelings. What is your opinion about that and your experience?

BRENDA: I have the same feelings about drugs. I don’t like any medications, you know, I’m not saying I like giving that to my children, but I’m fifty-fifty on this, in her case she needed the medication for that auditory part of what she’s going through. In some cases, medications are necessary and in other cases there’s a pitfall for medications. A lot of people abuse it and obviously you’re not supposed to abuse medications. It’s not something that all people need to be taking. I’m not judging anyone, but my take on it is, I’m fifty-fifty on it because it does help my daughter. Even though it took her a little while to adjust to those medications, now she’s kind of in the subtle mode, but I’m hoping that she will not rely on those medications for the rest of her life.

  1. KOSTINA: I believe that every pain and sickness is unique because the roots of the sickness are very hard to find sometimes. The more tools we have for treatment, the better it is. For instance, I come from the energy healing field, and in the energy healing field we see it as a disturbance between a different energy that layers around our body, chakra systems and things like that. From hypnotherapy point of view, there is a certain trauma that generates that so we can really enter the subconscious mind and maybe reassemble those traumatic experiences. Often in shamanic cultures, we see that mental illness is actually seen as a gift. Something special that is given to people who are messengers to this physical world from the world of the spirits. What is your take, and do you really see any gift in this difficult experience?

BRENDA: I believe in that. I came from a country where we all believe in it and a lot of people said they exist. In my daughter’s case, I know there are many people out there going through different stages of mental illness, but she is a very talented person. I think it’s a gift that she is embracing it now and I’m super-duper proud of her, and I do believe that there is something unknown out there that we can’t explain, that nobody can explain. I don’t know if they call it a gift, there’s a lot of names for it, but I do believe in that. It might be the science; I believe that part of it as well. If you combine those two, I think there’s a connection between the scientific and the shamanistic part of it, a confirmation that they’re one, they’re not separate.

  1. KOSTINA: This message coming from you, where you as a mother can still see the gift in this, is very powerful. I think that if you share that message with other parents, you can bring a lot of inspiration to them, and you actually are doing something really incredible. Can you please share with our audience?

BRENDA: We have the MAYA movement, which is a doc-series. It is actually a “reach out and listen” project. Me and my team would go to towns and cities, like a road trip to reach out to people, to human connections, which we don’t have nowadays. Most of the time we’re living behind our phones or a computer and we need to get out there and go back to basics, get out there and say hi to everyone. That’s all we’re doing. We’re not changing anything. We just wanted to end the stigma, step forward and talk about it, because basically when we have problems, we talk. When we talk about it, it makes us feel better.

  1. KOSTINA: And we no longer feel alone…

BRENDA: You feel like you’re not alone and we’re just sharing stories and laughter, sometimes sad stories, but are here. We’re trying to give you what we think of this whole thing. We don’t want to judge anyone and trust me guys, mental illness is real. It’s not something…

  1. KOSTINA: Yeah…That you’re faking, or it’s a mood.


  1. KOSTINA: There’s a lot of that and I also believe that, thanks to you and your movement, people will understand how many people are affected by that. I also think that one of the harshest realities is that mental illness is often accompanied by shame, and shame is one of the lowest vibrating emotions. It’s also one of the causes of suicide. So I think that as long as we can all come together and discuss the different types of treatments available, share stories, and understand that it is a part of this reality and there is nothing shameful about it, I think you can make a big difference. So thank you so much for being so brave.

BRENDA: No, thank you for having me. Thank you to the listeners out there to help you guys pay attention to that. Especially with the parents whose kids are going through this. We just need to listen to our children, because a lot of times we forget that they are humans, they need our love. They need somebody there for them to talk to, somebody to listen to.




Instagram: mayamovementproject

Twitter: mayamovement

Thank you so much guys. Please follow us on all of the social media that is listed here. Share, comment. You never know whose life you’re saving because we want this fantasy story to have a happy ending where we all come together and find the best solutions. And we might be in your town, say hi and share your stories and laughter.

We would like to give special thanks to those people who made this interview possible:

  • Eileen Camba, who connected the two of us
  • The Zatori Film team:
    • Israel
    • Ben
    • Joe

And of course, McKayla, Maria’s daughter, a hero behind the movement and the movie.

Can this horror story of mental illness stigma have a happy ending? What do you think?

Please leave your comments below and share this article.

You never know whose life you could be saving at this moment.



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