Ignacia Soto-Aguilar is a prominent Hollywood makeup artist (FX’s “The Bear” / TNT’s “Claws”) who grew up with a mother with severe and persistent mental illness. Join us as she shares what it was like to grow up in a household where the most important thing was protecting the secret of her mom’s illness and the trauma caused by not openly discussing the elephant in the room.
Soto-Aguilar also shares what happened to her mother and how she has made peace with her experiences now that she is an adult.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar is a Chilean makeup artist raised in the Bay Area of California. After acquiring a Political Science degree from UC Davis, her affinity for beauty and fine arts led her to put a pause on law school. She enrolled in the Paul Mitchell Academy in San Francisco where she discovered the world of makeup design. After her training, that “law school break” became permanent as Ignacia went on to take part in fashion and beauty teams for editorials, and high-profile fashion events for multiple years. Her work has been featured in the likes of Vogue Italy, as well as various national and international publications. Feeling the pull to take her creativity a bit further, Ignacia transitioned into the world of film and television makeup. As evolving filmmaking demanded versatility, it quickly led her to immersion in the art of special effects as well. Her onscreen resume now includes various department head credits alongside some of the most prestigious artists in the industry.
In addition to her work as an artist, Ignacia uses her voice and platform to advocate for various causes such as women’s rights, race equality, the Nation Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), as well as animal rescue foundations. She’s also an advocate for the Child Mind Institute Organization, which focus on direct care, education, community support, advocacy, and advancing scientific understanding of mental illness in children.
Recent work includes the hit TNT series “Claws” (starring Niecy Nash, Jenn Lyon, Carrie Preston, Karrueche Tran, and Judy Reyes), which has been defined by its aesthetic range from gritty realism to over-the-top glamour. She is currently working on FX’s “The Bear.”
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard and calling in to the show today. We have Ignacia Soto-Aguilar, a prominent Hollywood makeup artist who has worked on The Hunger Games and more recently, the hit TNT series Claws with Niecy Nash and Jen Lyon. In addition to her work as an artist, she’s also an advocate for the Child Mind Institute organization who focuses on direct care, community support and advancing scientific understanding of mental illness and children. Ignacia, welcome to the show.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Thank you for having me. Hi.
Gabe Howard: Welcome. First, I want to tell you that I live with bipolar disorder, because as we talk about your experience growing up with a mom with bipolar disorder, I’m sure that I’ll see things from her perspective because of my own lived experience. So I just wanted you to be aware of that. But starting at the beginning of your story, what age did you find out that your mother had bipolar disorder? And and how did you find out?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: That’s a tricky question because I think when I was a child, I definitely knew I had a loving, intelligent, caring, kind hearted mother. And I could never understand that disconnect between those positive parts and the behaviors that later on I found that were part of her illness. You know, this other side that was so debilitating to her.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: And I think as I got older and I began to understand what was happening more and more, when I begun to experience my own set of challenges with mental health, I think becoming educated about it, I started to understand what really went on with her, and there are a lot of complex emotions tied on to that because obviously when you’re a child, you’re like, Wait, why am I not being loved in the same way as my friends? Or Why can I bring my friends over to the house? Why is Dad telling me that I can’t, you know, we can’t do this this weekend because A, B or C. But the entire childhood and adolescence kind of revolved around knowing that something was wrong. But I had maybe an anger attached to it. But as an adult, I understood it for what it was.
Gabe Howard: It sounds like you just grew up knowing that your family and specifically your mom was different in some way. Is that a fair statement?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely did. At an early age, I learned that it was very important to protect your family. And what happened at home, stayed at home. It was our duty to never talk about what was going on in the house, because people will shame us and hurt us and they will reject us. And the problem was that we never really dealt with them in the house. We talked about it in the house, but it was sort of like everybody was hurting and burning alive, but holding on to each other. And I just could not make that feel right in my body. I tried to make that feel right, and I felt so guilty about the fact that it didn’t feel right to me to not talk about it. But I didn’t. And as I grew up and I started to educate myself and learning that, talking about it helped, not not that I would talk about it publicly, but maybe to them I would bring up the subject at home. There was a little lash back from my family, you know, And there was this shame attached to this thing that we all learn to normalize.
Gabe Howard: It sounds like you really had a scenario where wherever you looked, there was a reason not to talk about it. You know, don’t don’t talk about it outside or you’ll hurt the family. Don’t talk about it inside or you’ll upset the apple cart. So it was sort of the elephant in the room where everybody kind of just ignored it and hoped it would get better.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Oh, absolutely. So my mother grew up in a French family, Catholic family, and she was her family’s pride. My mother was just objectively beautiful and whenever they started to notice, my grandparents start to notice that something maybe was off instead of getting her the proper help, they just gave her the palatable excuse of why she was that way. Oh, she, she has a learning disability or. Oh, she’s just, you know, she’s pretty and she doesn’t need to learn school. You know, like, they didn’t really take her to a psychiatrist and diagnosed her. And then when she grew up, they gave her the more glamorized, you know, oh, you have anxiety or you have depression. Here’s this anti-anxiety medication that will help you sleep. And that accumulated for so many years not knowing what was wrong with her, just. Numbing out with different medications. So that was very difficult, I think, for her to live a life where she wasn’t experiencing life because she was so numb with all of the medication that she was getting given
Gabe Howard: Now you mention misdiagnosis. Now we have the advantage of hindsight is 20/20. And we know that your mother has a bipolar diagnosis, but it sounds like that wasn’t always the case. She went through a different diagnosis first and got, well, not the right care. Is there a story there?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yeah. So my mother during the postpartum depression period, it that period just magnified everything that she had been feeling all of these years, her illness. And that’s when she went to a psychiatrist. It actually led to a schizophrenia diagnosis when in reality, we know now in the past five years, she was diagnosed with with being on the spectrum, as well as her bipolar disorder, which was also something that. Was already told to her that she had it, but it wasn’t really what they were treating. Once they said the schizophrenia word, they immediately went into, Here’s all this medication and here’s electroshock therapy for your brain. And that’s what was addressed for so many years instead of giving her the proper care.
Gabe Howard: When your mother and you and the rest of your family discovered that she had the wrong diagnosis, like you said approximately five years ago, did things get better rapidly? Did that. Was this the missing link? Did everything fall into place? What was that journey like?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Well, whenever she found out what the actual illness that she had was, I think at this point of her life, in her fifties, she was already so dependent on the treatment that she had exercised her entire life, that it wasn’t really relevant anymore. What actually was wrong. The medication didn’t stop. And when we did try to assess it into a different path of medication, she would always go back to the the one that she was comfortable being, being in. And we all just kind of learn to. Accept her. I accept what her choice was. It was hard not to see it as. Dependance on addiction and dependance. Because because we knew that that wasn’t what she needed. And there were times where she was hospitalized and they would give her all new medication or cleanse her from the old medication. And she would look so much better for a month or two, but she would always go back to the old medication because that’s just, I think, what she got used to and. That was difficult to navigate and witness, but there’s so much that you can do as a daughter. So that was difficult. Yes.
Gabe Howard: How is she doing now?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: So my mother did pass away in 2020 due to mixing the wrong medication. She was 59 years old, had a heart attack due to the medication mix. And obviously there’s guilt attached to that because it came a point where we all decided that we would just let her decide her own medication plan and her own treatment plan. And obviously, there was guilt that we didn’t push her away from that and. It’s a difficult.
Gabe Howard: I am so sorry for your loss. In in these moments, when you think about it, you became a mental health advocate because you want to get word out there about diagnosis, treatment and things that other people can do. Are you doing this on on behalf of your mother’s memory and legacy? What’s your motivation?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Well, this is something that’s very hard to talk about. There are people in my life that have been in my life, my whole life, that don’t know about this. They know a light version of it, but they don’t necessarily know everything that. Happened or all the things that my mother went through and that I witnessed. But I think the first step to my own healing is talking about it. And that’s something that I’m just now recently doing, because It’s not ever going to be different. The past is the past. I can’t change anything about the past. None of us can. So forgiveness for me and healing for me is just not sitting here dreaming about some version of a conversation that my mother and I are going to have where we embrace each other and everything is different. And she decides to get the right treatment for the rest of forever. That’s never going to happen. I’m never going to get the chance to be a 14 year old who’s close to her mother like other. Girls elsewhere. I’m never going to get the chance to be a person whose parents dropped them off in college with smiles and well wishes. That’s just not my reality. But I don’t feel like that’s some core memory that I’m missing out on anymore. I used to maybe feel that way where I felt sad for younger me. That didn’t get to experience those things. I now find value in my experience with my mother, even if it didn’t end well, just because now I have something that maybe can help other people. And this is actually my first time talking about it. So maybe there is a little bit of an awkwardness to the way that I’m phrasing things, because I don’t think I’ve ever said these things out loud before.
Gabe Howard: I can hear in your voice that it that it’s difficult for you. But I’m just curious is the difficulty because you aren’t just sharing your story. You’re sort of sharing, as you mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, family secrets.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Right. Right, I struggled with speaking about it for so long because of the pushback that I received from my family. Because there is some shame attached to it for my family. I don’t think anybody ever said we’re ashamed. It was just this unspoken understanding of this stays at home. We don’t talk about it because people will judge us and we have this image to uphold. As I grew up and understood more and more what was happening, I think our lives and even the relationship with my mother improved. I learned that if these crucial ingredients are present, awareness, caring and proper intervention. Lives can be restored. And if anything I ever do or say ever encourages someone to seek out their own understanding and thus finding healing from something or someone that may be debilitating to their lives in any capacity. Then what better way to honor my mother?
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with prominent Hollywood makeup artist Ignacia Soto-Aguilar. You’ve talked a lot about the challenges that you had in your family and with your mom, you know, growing up and and in your adult life. But let’s look at some of the positive stuff. We always have a tendency on shows like this, you know, like let’s let’s rehash the trauma, let’s talk about all the bad things. What do you wish you would have done? But there there’s a whole childhood there. I know you touched on some of the things that you missed out on, but were there happy moments? Do you have positive memories of your mom and your childhood?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Oh, gosh, yeah. Of course. So obviously it’s a little bit difficult to make that journey sound like it was a happy journey. I can, in retrospect now look back at it and be grateful for parts of it. As a mother, my mother was amazing. She was so sweet and loving and I learned so much from her. And resilience and being a good person and being forgiving and giving second chances. My mother was. Oh, she was amazing. But I think. You know, you just have to let it all be true at the same time. It’s the thing that nobody ever really talks about or shows us how to do, which is processing complex emotions. We can’t just have Sesame Street or the movie Inside Out talk to us about complex emotions.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: There has to be a deeper conversation that happens. It’s just that I have accepted who my parents are, who my mom was. I’ve accepted how she loved me and how she raised me. Today I know that my mom was an ill person who did her best and she loved me and my siblings so, so, so much more than anything in the world. And due to her illness, she couldn’t do some areas of parenting great. And both of those things are true and they don’t cancel each other out. So. I’m really grateful for all the positive as I am the negative because the negatives weren’t really her fault. But she did the best she could, you know?
Gabe Howard: I can relate to that so much. We have a saying in the Howard household that it can be two things, that you can both love somebody and be really angry at them, for example. It’s not either/or. You don’t drop one in order to embrace the other. Are you a proponent of therapy to talk about these things? Do do you go to therapy? I know that’s a really, really personal question, but I feel that we’re friends now.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yeah, absolutely. For a long time, I didn’t reject therapy, but I would start therapy and session one, I’d be like, Oh, this isn’t going to be helpful. Like, how is this person going to learn everything there is to know and help me? You know, I would look at their socks and if they had donuts on their socks, I’d be like, I can’t trust this guy. Like, I would always find a reason not to go to therapy. And for probably about, about six months to a year, I’ve been very consistent, and I cannot stress enough the importance, the benefits of finding a therapist. So, yes, definitely a big supporter of therapy.
Gabe Howard: I sort of hear the I call them the stigma crowd or the pushback crowd. They’re like, okay, so so wait a minute, this woman’s mother has a mental illness and you want her to go to therapy? Isn’t isn’t this a bit like, you know, your car won’t start, so you take your motorcycle to the mechanic? And what do you have to say to that? Because there is a real disconnect and a misunderstanding of why therapy is valuable for the friends, family members, loved ones of people who live with serious and persistent mental illness.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Um. Yeah, I mean, I think regardless of what your childhood was, if you had amazing parents or didn’t. I think that every parent did the best they could and. We are all a product of of what helped us survive. What drives us is that currency that we receive from the world that makes us feel loved and makes us feel valued. And I think that you have a better understanding of what that is if you go to therapy and find out what was it in your childhood or in your adolescence that programed that currency into you. I think that’s how human beings are wired. We seek pleasure, avoid pain. And it is helpful to know where that wiring comes from or who did it. I think that you can take the power away from that if you learn where it came from.
Gabe Howard: With all of the knowledge that you have now, all of the therapy, everything you’ve learned, everything you’ve experienced, if you could reach back in time, back to your 15-year-old self, what would you tell yourself? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: I would tell myself that thoughts are so powerful. Like the other day I was washing my face, doing the nightly scare regimen. And out of nowhere, I look in the mirror and I just started being so mean to myself, you know? And sometimes I just can’t believe how awful and unforgiving and cruel we can all be to ourselves. Like when we speak about ourselves, even if it’s in a jokey way, or we’re trying to make make a joke about our looks or our lives. I started to think after that experience, I was like, what if I were anyone else in my life that I loved? Like how infuriated I would be if anyone treated people I love in the way that my brain treats me sometimes. It’s amazing how many times I myself have to turn those thoughts around. But I think we really have to start truly cultivating space for that.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: And that’s where a therapist would come in. They would help you apply it because it is not comfortable or fun to do this work, but it is so important and complex and some of the most important work actually, it’s probably the most important work a human can do in their life. I mean, maybe if we can think about it that way, it won’t be as painful or sad or annoying that we have to spend time and effort searching for that internal tone and attitude and deprogramming ourselves. But it is so hard to take your own advice, even if you know the answer, because there always seems to be this logical reason why it doesn’t apply to you. Why my circumstances or your circumstances weren’t something different, but they don’t. Your body and your internal monologue deserve to be full of love and peace and acceptance as you or I advocate in other people. There can be a focus on disconnecting from, for example, a standard of beauty and focusing on health instead.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: But I actually think that even being content with not meeting some standard of beauty is still allowing ourselves to center that standard. If we reject it for ourselves or for our friends to still to compare it and accept it as the pinnacle for the world. And I would tell my 15-year-old self that it is just impossible or unhealthy to keep that up, you know, not even it’s not even those two things. It is irrelevant. It should be irrelevant to keep that up. I think maybe what’s most helpful when that happens is to remember that this old dusty button that gets triggered when you look in a mirror. It’s not some hidden shame or truth that we are trying to pretend isn’t real, that we then have to contend with or face. It is this mechanism that was actually installed by other people, by people outside of ourselves. It was not installed by our spiritual teachers or the artists that we most admire or the friends who would go to war for us.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: It was actually installed by a complicated mash up of people who they ultimately don’t have our best interests at heart. And who have built this cultural and social fabric entirely for their own accumulation of wealth and power. I wish my 15-year-old self understood that, but I don’t think that she would have. I think even if I would show up right now and say that to her, she’d be like, Yeah, no, I have to go watch TRL now.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: But that would that would be great. That would be great. If I can go back and just install that in her brain and actually install it fully in my brain. I mean, this is a daily practice. It’s a meditation, you know? There’s a deep resistance. And maybe I can try to remember. It is not an old center that belongs or should be considered seriously. It is an old joke, an old lie and old attempt to clip a wing that just hasn’t completely healed and maybe will never heal. But if I know what it is and recognize it as such, when I encounter it, its power goes away. So that’s something that I’m working on myself still.
Gabe Howard: Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much. That’s great I think it’s really powerful. Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s so tough to be vulnerable,
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Especially as you said, we live in this world where we’re encouraged not to be vulnerable about certain things, and that’s problematic.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: I thought you said it well.
Ignacia Soto-Aguilar: Yeah. And thank you, Gabe, so much. Thank you for having me.
Gabe Howard: The pleasure was all mine; Do you have a website to share?
Gabe Howard: Wonderful, thank you again for being here, I really appreciate you. And a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award winning public speaker who may be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because, well, everything is. Or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and can you do me a favor? Recommend the show to your friends and loved ones, whether it’s on social media, email, text message or good old fashioned word of mouth. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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