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Meet Ciena Nelson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ciena Nelson.

Ciena, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in the Valley in Woodland Hills and starting acting when I was 14, although I have headshots from when I was three years old. My parents put us into acting when we were very young but we stopped pretty early on. My family was always into movies going as far back as I can remember. We’d all watch them together and discuss what we saw, a tradition that carried over into my friend’s group as well. Most of my close friends in high school were actors who had their own TV shows or were filmmakers, writers, directors, or musicians so I was always surrounded by creatives.

When I first started auditioning, I booked the first pilot I ever auditioned for and it got picked up to series. The series ran for two seasons before it was canceled. When this happened, I went to college because I knew that getting a degree was something that was really important to me at the time, and if I didn’t go then, I wasn’t sure I would ever go. I went to Mills College in Oakland and graduated with honors with a BA in Art and Technology and a minor in Philosophy. During college, my health really started to decline due to poor lifestyle choices and stress. I started having flareups of an autoimmune disease I had my entire life called Psoriasis. Because of all of the difficulties I was facing with a chronic illness, I started advocating for myself and for others who were also experiencing chronic illness. I always knew I wanted to advocate for Psoriasis, I just thought I’d need to gain a bit of a platform with acting first in order to do so. Turns out my platform from advocacy now helps secure acting roles and vice versa.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has definitely not always been a smooth road getting to where I’m currently at. In some ways, I thought I’d be further along in my career than I am now, but in some ways, with college and my advocacy work, I have excelled beyond anything I ever thought possible. As someone who lives with a chronic illness, I deal with daily health setbacks, but I’ve learned to manage. I have struggled as an actor, not always knowing when my next job will be, and having to manage three jobs to maintain financial stability and schedule flexibility, but I’ve learned to manage. When your goals and aspirations look different than those of most of the people around you, you learn to do things your own way, stop asking for advice from people who have never done it, and in the end if you want it bad enough you always learn to manage and keep pushing the needle forward.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am an actor living with Psoriasis and Eczema who advocates for chronic illness and mental health. I am sometimes known as the girl who played Robyn on “that MTV show” forever ago but these days I am mostly known for being outspoken and blunt on my social media pages about the ways in which people with chronic illness struggle. I sometimes post photos of my skin condition that make people feel uncomfortable, for the sake of raising awareness that Psoriasis is not just a skin condition, it in fact affects every aspect of life and has a huge impact on overall quality of life. I am most proud of the community I’ve built around Psoriasis and creating a safe space for people to come together to stay informed and relate to one another to feel less alone in their struggle. What sets me apart in both my advocacy and my acting is that I am unafraid to be vulnerable. I will always push my own limits and go beyond my comfort zone in order to shed light on truth and connection.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I personally define success as contentedness with where you’re at when you’re your most present and doing the things that you love. I believe that we all look for markers of success in people we’ve already seen achieve what we think it is we’re going after, but have found that success is more about carving out your own path and getting there when and how is most fitting to your individual circumstances. We don’t all start at the same starting line. Life and chronic illness have both taught me that we are each dealt a specific hand in life. And the most successful people are the ones who are both aware of and make the most of the cards they’ve been dealt, rather than wishing their circumstances were different or attempting to will their way to some arbitrary finish line by emulating someone else’s path.

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Image Credit:
Duan Mackenzie Nelson, Lou Noble

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