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East Bay scholar uses acting as a tool for self-therapy

East Bay scholar uses acting as a tool to heal mentally
East Bay scholar uses acting as a tool to heal mentally 02:45

OAKLAND -- This week's Students Rising Above scholar knows how devastating it can be when someone you love is struggling with their mental health and the importance of also taking care of yourself.

The National Alliance on Mental Health says about 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental health concerns each year. 

When Danise Kuang wants to be artistic, it's usually not chalk she goes for. But on a recent sunny afternoon, she and her partner drew some fun pictures of the cat they were taking care of during a house-sitting gig in Alameda.

The 21-year-old Cal Poly Pomona English Lit major and theater buff  is back in the Bay Area for the summer, surfing industry websites like Backstage for local acting jobs

"I'm trying to look for more film gigs, 'cause I've mostly been in theater. And I booked a gig for next Friday, It's a commercial," said Kuang. "It's just exciting to be able to kind of put myself out there, kind of be a different person, when I am performing, I am a lot more confident than my normal self, because I am not really thinking about who I am."

Performing has always been a confidence boost, and an escape for Kuang. Growing up in Oakland, youth choir and dreams of being a ballet dancer helped Kuang cope with instability at home.

Kuang's father worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week as a cook to keep his family housed and fed, while another close family member struggled daily with a diagnosed mental health condition.

"Paranoia around a lot of things, including anything that is scented," she explained. "I had to like always hide things like lip balms, deodorants."

When Kuang went to college, she made the difficult choice to move out for good.

"I visit home, but I just can't be in that type of environment anymore," Kuang said. "When you are away from it for a long time, you realize that you have all these freedoms that you never had before. I can't go back to not having those freedoms."

Letting go of other's expectations came next. Kuang's acting has taken center stage in her life. It's also her safe space, future career, and opportunity to heal.

It's been a tough journey, but Kuang remains resilient and committed.

"I felt like I always had to do things a certain way in order to make people feel comfortable and safe," said Kuang. "[Now] I use these characters to find out more about myself in a way. That's how I am reclaiming experiences that I didn't get to experience.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health website.

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