My name is Gabby Villalpando. I’m originally from central Texas but have been raised in Northwest Arkansas for the past eighteen years. I’m twenty-two, I study Psychology at the University of Arkansas. I’m a writer, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a food enthusiast, a thrift junkie, a proud mother of a three-year-old shelter dog, and the most optimistically anxious human you’ll ever know. I can tie a cherry stem in my mouth, I don’t know why but I have a great sense of direction, and I will kiss any dog that will let me.
Because I am so intensely sensitive, it’s easy for me to be overwhelmed by negativity and even easier to deny help. I want to take care of others, to make sure the people around me are equipped, happy, and loved. Those wants have often left me feeling drained and lonely. In the past when I’ve felt that way I turned to self-harm and other toxic coping skills. I began to self-harm at twelve and the habit followed me to my adult years. Honestly, it’s a struggle to this day, but I haven’t hurt myself in close to a year and that is a huge accomplishment. After being admitted into a mental health hospital a week before my twentieth birthday, I was diagnosed with Major Depression and Panic Disorder. My family has a history of anxiety and depression so it just seems right that I have both. Being diagnosed with two complicated mental disorders felt terrifying, but also like a starting line for recovery. I finally felt seen and validated and delved deep into understanding and educating myself on what those disorders mean. Shortly after my hospitalization, I started to see a therapist, I was prescribed medications and I found healthy ways to ease my pain. I learned how to ask for help, how to communicate my feelings without feeling embarrassed or weak, and gained the confidence to stand my ground and be my own best friend.
I wanted to be a part of This Is My Brave because this is exactly what I believe in: being open and honest about mental illness, being able to show the ugly, miserable parts that live inside of ourselves, and owning them. The more that we talk about how we’ve felt, and how we feel, the less lonely we are, and the less power mental illness has over us. After I began to understand my diagnoses I began to acknowledge my bravery and strength. I still have bad days, I still feel scared and lonely sometimes, but I also feel capable and deserving of happiness and love from myself now. And that feeling is so powerful. I don’t know what triggers, and tragedies await me – although I worry about them constantly - but I do know that I have myself, my voice, my own company and friendship to make it less painful.
I want to stay healthy for myself most importantly. I know now what I love about myself and I know now that I have something important for this world. I don’t know what exactly that means right now, but that’s beside the point. My family is so important to me, and so supportive of me getting and sustaining mental stability. I think a lot about what they have done for me, and what they continue to do for me and I know that they deserve the best me that I can offer. My boyfriend of close to four years is my greatest motivator. He reminds me everyday how strong and worthy I am. Just like how he drove me to the ER on the day I felt like surrendering, he stands by me still, his love and confidence in me is one of the greatest gifts I’ve every been given. My best friends are radiant, powerful, and the most beautiful fountains of love. They are the first friends that I have ever been completely transparent about my mental health history with and they still choose to love and care for me. That is such a fulfilling feeling that I thank the universe for constantly. And honestly, my dog is who literally gets me out of bed. She’s a constant light.
I hope for the audience to leave This Is My Brave with a better understanding of mental illness, but even more than that, I want people to feel connected and validated by our stories. I know, we know what isolation and depression and all the other gory bits mental illness gifts us with. That shared experience is what ties us together, and that’s what life and living is about: human connection. I’ve searched my whole life to be truly seen and I guess that’s another reason that I’m doing this. I want so badly for the stigma of mental illness to ease. So I, and everyone else that chose to be a part of this want so badly for you as the audience to not only see us, but see themselves or someone they know in us. We don’t know what people are dealing with in their heads and homes, so leaving this performance with empathy, with kind curiosity, and with a sprinkle of sensitivity is so important in creating and maintaining a society in which suicide and isolation are less accessible. There are so many horrors to face every day, the least we can do as decent human beings is to be kind (and empathetic, compassionate, open-minded, able to listen and coexist with those different than you, but kindness is a start).
Tickets are on sale NOW! Click the button below to order your tickets to meet Gabby and more brave storytellers. This is one mental health performance you won't want to miss!
Please share this post with friends and family in the Bentonville area. We're all affected by mental health and addiction issues, and the more we can support each other, the easier it will be for people to seek help. This Is My Brave is proof that Storytelling Saves Lives.