Meet Lansing Cast Member Joanna White

Tell us a little bit about yourself. (where are you from, family, hobbies)

Joanna White 2.jpg

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but have lived in Michigan, where I am a music professor, for decades. I am a musician, performing as principal flutist in two orchestras, in a woodwind quintet, and in a duo with my clarinetist husband. Our daughter lives in Chicago and our son in Grand Rapids. I am drawn, not only to music, but to fine arts and creative writing as well, all vehicles for expression.

How has mental illness affected your life?

A number of years ago, it became apparent that my childhood medical experiences left me with a medical terror so great that it was difficult for me to deal with adult medical events. I had very little understanding of the logically-triggered fears until I began to get help in order to follow through with medical procedures. Aside from that, I recently (successfully) dealt with a music career-threatening malady which engendered in me not only questions of identity, but a prodigious amount of performance anxiety at a level I had not experienced before, and I found it useful to get help for that as well. I have learned a great deal about myself and thus about others.

Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?

I am a very private person and did not use to share my feelings often or let myself be vulnerable. About nine years ago, my duo performed a piece based on poetry and we enlisted a poet to perform the spoken words with our music, and I was so inspired I returned to a childhood love of writing poetry. Seven years ago I took a university class with this poet and was hooked, each semester thereafter taking a class until I had taken all the ones at the graduate level.

One of my early poetry topics was medical terror but it was not until I had a poem about childhood surgery accepted for publication in a medical humanities journal, that I realized other people have had similar experiences. Each time I read my work, people share with me as well. I did readings two years in a row at the Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa medical school, where I learned that people, teller and listener alike, benefit from the sharing of stories. Despite my quiet nature, I wanted to be a part of This is My Brave because if more people learn about cast members’ courage to seek help, they may be encouraged to do so themselves.

What inspires you to get or stay mentally healthy?

I have found that life is fuller when I have tackled its fears rather than succumbing to them.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

My poetry often falls under the purview of medical humanities, as does my piece for this show: “The Girl Without a Voice: A Story in Seven Poems.” I explore themes of medical terror, anxiety, the need to be heard, finding a voice to connect with people, resilience, and the importance of seeking help in dealing with it all. I want people to know that having the courage to ask for help can be life changing.

Other

Poems in my piece for this show appeared in The Examined Life Journal, Ars Medica, Hospital Drive, Grey Sparrow Journal, Hummingbird, and Healing Muse. 

Website: joannawhitepoet.com

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Please share this post with friends and family in the Lansing 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.