Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Traci Barr. I’m turning 53 in May. I currently live in Greenville, South Carolina. But, I was born and (mostly) raised in New Jersey. I graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in 1985. I majored in both history and English. I have also lived in: New England, Philadelphia, Hoboken, New York City, Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland.
I had an almost-25-year career in publishing, advertising and marketing. However, from about the age of 5, I have been a very passionate cook. In 2004, I took almost two years off from working in marketing in order to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. I completed my culinary school externship in the Food and Wine Department of the San Francisco Chronicle. I moved to Greenville from Oakland several years ago in order to be close to my aging parents. They relocated to South Carolina from New Jersey when my father retired in 2003.
I currently work as a freelance chef and educator. My job is to teach people how to make healthier food choices and become better home cooks. I do quite a lot of public speaking about healthy eating – including at NAMI’s National Convention last summer.
I’ve never been married or had children. Aside from cooking and teaching, I am very involved in advocating for the mentally ill and for social justice. My term on the Board of Directors of NAMI in Greenville just ended in January. I currently serve on the board of Speaking Down Barriers, a non-profit whose mission is to bring more awareness to the extensive problems of institutionalized racism.
How has mental illness affected your life?
I was first diagnosed with “manic depression” in 1977 when I was 14 years old. I have struggled with eating disorders, serious anxiety, major depression and mixed-state bipolar illness. Several years ago, I became severely addicted to a number of my prescription medications. I have undergone numerous rounds of ECT and have been hospitalized several times.
In January of 2012 I made a very serious suicide attempt. A full five days of my life surrounding that event are missing from my memory banks – including the 24 hours I spent in jail for driving under the influence. I don’t remember any of it. I eventually woke up in a psychiatric facility where I was able to slowly start to build some forward momentum.
While I would not say my mental illness is the sum total of my identity, it has certainly been a defining feature of my life and has had a significant impact on the lives of my family members.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
I want to be part of “This Is My Brave” because I think it is a very powerful and creative way to approach shame and stigma. Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely focused on the possible ways we can reduce the stigma that haunts people who have mental illness. I view it as a distinct failure on behalf of the mental health community that public attitudes about mental illness have really not changed in 50 years.
As someone with a marketing background, I have some specific ideas about how to overcome shame “in the marketplace.” I think an out-of-the-box approach like “This Is My Brave” is a great step towards “re-branding” the concept of what it means to be mentally ill.
What inspires you to get or stay mentally healthy?
Every day of my life is a miracle. My failed suicide attempt put that into sharp relief for me. I will do whatever it takes to stay physically and mentally strong. If I don’t, I won’t be able to help other people who struggle, too.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
My hope for the Greenville audience of “This Is My Brave” is for it to leave being inspired by people who are NOT afraid to confront mental illness head-on. My theory is that if we can all stop feeling ashamed of being mentally ill, the concept of “stigma” will cease to exist.
Join us in Greenville, SC on May 5th @ 8pm at the Kroc Center as we shine a light on true stories told by brave individuals who are overcoming mental illness to end stigma. Tickets on sale now!