Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm from Palmyra, PA, where my interests in writing, music and theater were encouraged in and out of school. My mental health recovery journey spans 40 years, three hospitalizations, lots of hard work and loads of hope. A proud Penn State alum, I work part-time as a freelance writer, communications skills teacher and mental health recovery educator. I love to read, garden, sing, perform in plays and spend time at my friend's Arabian horse farm. I serve as a lay leader in my church, and I volunteer for Animal House Rescue. I am living proof that recovery is possible!
How has mental illness affected your life?
It stole a lot of moments and years, and replaced them with frustratingly difficult memories. Made them even more difficult because people just didn't understand. They were afraid. I was afraid. But I wasn't someone to be afraid of.
I've learned I'm so much more than all my diagnoses. I've found strength I didn't know I had. Because of my mental illness, I have a depth of compassion I might never have gained otherwise. I've learned resilience, and the value of forgiving people. I've learned that I don't have to keep trying so hard to fit in, because being different makes me stand out in a positive way.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
My healing has been helped immeasurably by the arts and its influence on me -- body and soul. To be able to share my story, through music and my written words, is humbling and empowering at the same time.
People keep saying, "We have to start a dialogue about mental health." Or, "Somebody should do something." Well, I am somebody! And so is everyone with whom I share this stage. I'm grateful for this opportunity, and for an audience that cares and can do something, too.
Who or what inspires you to stay mentally healthy?
My life is grounded in my faith in God and His plans for me. Advocating for change in mental health education, practices, budgets, decreased institutionalization and increased community-based, peer-supported programs feels like part of my personal "mission field."
So many people suffer in silence with this disease. They inspire me to do more, to be better, and to work harder to stay well. It's daunting sometimes. But I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to extended family and friends who believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself. I want them to know that belief wasn't in vain.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
Hope. Light. Positivity. A desire to understand. To be brave for us, and with us. To want to keep making a difference Every day.
To realize that the vast majority of individuals with mental illness are not dangerous. The danger sneaks in when people believe "it's all in our heads," relying on media sensationalism rather than educated rationale. We want, need and deserve inclusion and acceptance, not exclusion and fear-based stigma. We can be brave together. We can be each others' light.