'WillingWay' is Mariel Hemingway's winning way to cope

| Monday, April 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Mariel Hemingway says her healthy lifestyle has been key to getting through “years of depression” and “bringing balance to my life.”

Along the way, she's followed “every guru, woo-woo, chant and this and that,” but she says she's now in a place of health, happiness and joy.

Hemingway, 51, is a longtime advocate and spokeswoman for mental-health awareness. Her grandfather, literary icon Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide in 1961, just months before she was born, and her sister, Margaux, a model and actress, died of a drug overdose in 1996.

In her new book, “The WillingWay: Stepping Into the Life You Were Meant to Live,” Hemingway (author of three previous books on cooking, yoga and healthy living) offers a new guide “to living healthfully and mindfully.”

Written with romantic and business partner Bobby Williams, the book, out April 2, offers tips and strategies for “living more fully — inside and out” by embracing the choices you make not only in the areas of healthy eating, fitness and holistic health care, but adventure, fun and appreciating silence.

“These choices, I think, are a big piece of people's health and well-being that are too often missing in the bigger dialogue,” she says. “I'm not trying to say this is the only answer, but it's worked for me.”

Active and outdoorsy, Hemingway, an Oscar-nominated actress and the mother of two daughters (Dree, 25, and Langley, 23) says The WillingWay is a way of thinking and living that emphasizes laughter and play. It “has added an element of joy” to her life that she says had been missing.

When she's not running, doing yoga, rock climbing or paddle-surfing, you can find her playing wiffle ball or tumbling on a trampoline at the ranch home outside of Los Angeles that she shares with Williams, 49, an adventure athlete, stuntman and actor. They met four years ago through a mutual friend.

Ultimately, “The WillingWay's” goal is to “raise consciousness and awareness that we as human beings are self-healing, self-sufficient and self-sustaining,” Williams says. “We just need to reconnect to nature in order to reconnect with ourselves.”

It's a coincidence, Hemingway says, that the book is coming out at the same time as a new documentary, “Running From Crazy,” about her family's history of mental illness and suicide. In addition to Ernest and Margaux, five other family members have killed themselves.

Hemingway's oldest sister, Joan, has a mental illness, and her parents, both deceased, abused alcohol, she says. “Since I was 16, I was always searching for something to bring balance to my life, bring health,” she says. She spent much of her youth caring for her mother, who had cancer, and, as an adult, spent years caring for her husband, Stephen Crisman, when he battled cancer, she says. They divorced in 2008.

“I was so worried about going crazy, so worried about cancer. I was worried about all of these things, having grown up in an atmosphere where addiction and all of these things caused a lot of problems.”

The film includes 43 hours of archival footage that Margaux had filmed for a documentary she planned to make. Hemingway says she was unaware of it until she was approached about the documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Barbara Kopple directed; Oprah Winfrey is an executive producer.

Although initially reticent, “the journey has been an opening for me,” she says. “I realize that the more I speak about my family's illness, the more permission not only do I give myself to heal, but I give other people permission to speak about it.

“We all come from some sort of dysfunction or mental illness, just because we're all human. ... Everyone has similar stories.”

Much of her life was spent “dodging” her genetic history and being afraid that she might be the next victim, Hemingway says, but that's no longer true.

“I can honestly say I don't feel it's a part of my life at all,” she says. “I really feel I've turned the key and opened the door to a healthier lifestyle that brought me out of being afraid.”

Michelle Healy is a staff writer for USA Today.

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