Today we get to know Donna Lewis, DC-area attorney and cartoonist, and member of our This Is My Brave cast!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I live and work in Washington, DC. During the day I work as a lawyer - doing work that's fascinating to me and boring to everyone else. At night, I write and draw a comic strip and a cartoon, both of which are syndicated by the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate. The rest of the time I spend running, hiking, biking, painting, drawing, writing and seeing the people I love. And drinking coffee. And thinking about drinking coffee.
How has mental illness affected your life?
Mental illness is my life. I don't mean that in the bad way it sounds. I just mean that I've been so affected by mental illness and that my passion truly lies in finding new ways to make living with mental illness easier, making resources more accessible, and making treatment more effective. I've seen the toll mental illness takes on a family, a workplace, a community - and on my own ability to live effectively. And I just don't think it should be this hard.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
I want to be a part of This is my Brave. so that I can give back a gift I got years ago. Twenty years ago, when I found myself at one of my lower points - without hope and desperate for a sign that life could be better - I found the books of Kay Redfield Jamison. And Dr. Jamison reminded me of me. Dr. Jamison was smart, disciplined and dedicated. She had not only made a career for herself, but she had become successful in her field. Dr. Jamison was widely reputed to be competent and capable - despite her having been open about her experiences with mental illness. Reading her honest writing gave me that little bit of hope I needed to keep moving forward. She was the one person whose story said to me "If she can do it, you can do it." And now I want to pass that hope along to somebody else who needs it. Hopeful is not something I feel often because of my hardwired brain, but I can share hope by example.
What inspires you to get or stay mentally healthy?
I hate this question because my brain is really messed up and keeps telling me bad things. I wish I could say I stay healthy for God, my family, my friends, my animals or for the possibility of a wonderful future, but that's just not something my brain would ever agree with. My brain is unreliable in terms of messaging so I've given up on needing inspiration. Basically, I just rely on having a really good schedule. And a great routine. And lots of deadlines. I have projects and passions and people I love. And I make sure to keep promising things to them because I tend to get along better when I have promises to keep. Every day, I do the things that keep me healthy.
I eat healthy. I get good sleep. I get outside. I get my heart rate up. I move around. I bend a lot. I sit. I breathe. I keep my machine well-oiled. I also do things for other people. And I avoid stressors as much as I can given the fact that you can't avoid stress completely. I do everything possible to make sure I can work and create as long as possible - because I love working and creating beautiful things. And, despite a brain that just keeps producing really awful thoughts, I think I can help to make this world a little bit better.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
Learn how to listen effectively. Learn how to help someone effectively. We cannot avoid many of the conditions we live with, but nobody should live in greater pain than is absolutely necessary. Help others lessen the pain.