Editor's note: Anyone in need of support can contact Crisis Support Services of Alameda County's 24-hour confidential crisis line at 800-309-2131 or CrisisSupport.org, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, via text at 800-799-4889, chat or at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
Anxiety is part of being human, a knot that affects people at different levels, in different scenarios. We accept it, and brush it off; often we're encouraged to bury it deep within us so as not to burden others.
But just over a month ago, anxiety led to Amador Valley High School freshman Zachary Nimmo's death. And so in his memory, and as part of their new mission to spur more conversations surrounding mental health, his parents Mannie and Steve Nimmo are hosting a screening and panel discussion of the documentary "Angst" on Monday at a Livermore church.
"We saw this film two days before he passed," Steve said. "It really spoke well, it spoke about all the signs, all the symptoms. When we saw it, we were like, 'That's Zachary.' It really described him well. But we only had a few days to really react to it.
"So that's why we're dedicated to preventing anyone from going through this. It's excruciating pain."
Zachary was a 14-year-old who loved fishing, his friends, soccer, lacrosse and gaming, his parents said.
"His friends called him a hybrid because he was half athlete, and then he was a self-proclaimed geek," Steve said.
He added, "You always knew who Zachary was, he didn't have a fake face. But what he did have was severe anxiety." Anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association, is "an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure."
Zachary was diagnosed with anxiety last summer, though the Nimmos say that he had been struggling for a while. He started withdrawing from his friends, stopped participating in team sports and spent more time alone.
"The symptoms were there, but we weren't educated," Mannie said.
"They blamed it on his thyroid, they blamed it on being a teen," Steve said. "They just thought he was shy. And all along it was a mask of anxiety."
He started seeing a psychiatrist over the summer, and seemed to be making progress. But he still struggled, and on Oct. 26, he died by suicide.
"You never know what's going on in someone's mind...The day he passed, which was a Friday, that day he actually stood up for a friend who was being bullied," Steve said. "A friend who's got some issues of his own, others were picking on him and then Zachary sought him out. That's more who Zachary was, right? If more people could live like that, we'd be in a much better place."
The ensuing weeks have been hard; they're just taking it day by day, Mannie said. Neighbors have rallied, though -- the community arranged everything for his Celebration of Life, which was attended by around 550 people. And so many friends have just been there to listen, to be a stalwart support for whatever they need, be it talking or crying.
A few days before Zachary's death, the Nimmos had seen "Angst" -- the parents during the city of Pleasanton's community screening and Zachary in his health class. The film is produced by IndieFlix, a company that produces and globally screens films that aim to create a positive social impact.
When she saw the film, Mannie said, she recognized the symptoms in herself as well. "But he was much, much worse," she said of her son.
The hour-long film was specifically made by Scilla Andreen, CEO and co-founder of IndieFlix. A friend of hers had approached her about creating a film about mental health, but Andreen had said no -- it was too heavy of a topic, and she didn't want to touch it.
"She ended up dying by suicide," Andreen said. "She had been asking for about a year to make a movie about mental health, and I didn't. I kind of pride myself on being able to read people, and am super empathetic. And I realized how mental health is invisible and silent. So I decided I would make a movie about mental health."
The documentary features interviews with teens, parents and celebrities, who share personal stories of how anxiety has touched their lives. A key component of the IndieFlix film screenings is the discussion afterwards, Andreen said.
"I think film is actually one of the most powerful mediums on the planet," she said. "Especially when you watch in a group. The reason we take it into schools and communities, and we don't just put it online on IndieFlix, is because watching in an existing community where you witness each other watching it and then have an open conversation -- you've just identified a community and a network and your people that you could go to."
This idea of having more conversations surrounding mental health and anxiety, and "being OK not being OK," is at the crux of what the Nimmos hope to do moving forward, in the next chapter of their lives.
Steve, Mannie and their daughter Samantha, a senior at Amador, are all spending time talking to therapists and pastors right now, they said.
"We want others to know that it's OK to go do that," Steve said. "There's nothing wrong with seeking someone to listen. And it doesn't have to be a doctor." Making this their mission going forward keeps them closer to their son, he said.
In addition to hosting screenings of "Angst," they are in the process of setting up a foundation in Zachary's name to work with schools and youth organizations to continue the conversations on mental health and anxiety.
Monday's event will begin at 6:30 p.m. at CrossWinds Church, 1660 Freisman Road in Livermore, and will include a screening of the film followed by a panel discussion involving Andreen, the Nimmos, a PUSD school counselor and some mental health professionals. This screening is sold-out, but another one is planned for February.