Introducing our Arlington Production Team!

Susie Burklew

I’m a native Washingtonian and I live in Reston, Virginia.  I am recently divorced after being married for over 22 years. I have a beautiful 24 year old daughter that is living out her dreams, as a scuba dive instructor, on a beautiful Nicaraguan Caribbean island. I am a Substance Abuse Counselor and Behavior Specialist at a Government Residential Adult Treatment/Rehabilitation Program. We specialize in treating Substance Abuse and Co-occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders.

Susie.jpg

Growing up I felt different and I was raised in a family that didn’t talk about their feelings.  Before I had any sense of self, at age 25, I got married and had my daughter. It was an amazing experience but eventually I found myself in a co-dependent marriage. In my early 30’s I starting using alcohol to cope with just about everything.  I never understood why I was so depressed. I felt like I was in a dark hole with no way out which left me at a point of complete surrender. 7 years ago I sat in my therapist’s office and, for the first time, admitted I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.  That was my first day in sobriety and I haven’t had a drink since. It was a few months after I started going to AA that my mental illness was uncovered. Following a nine-day stay in a psych ward I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. That was when my true recovery began.

Sharing my story, at the Arlington show earlier this year, was an amazingly powerful journey.  It changed my life, and enriched my recovery, in ways that I find hard to articulate. Prior to being a cast member of This Is My Brave I hadn’t spoken openly about my Bi-Polar disorder.  Since getting sober I’ve shared my experience, strength and hope in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous but never publicly. I drew strength and courage from the other cast members, producers (Kate and Kat), and superhero co-founder Jennifer Marshall.  The feedback and support I received, after the show, was extraordinary. I like to think my story helped lift the stigma associated with mental illness by demystifying and normalizing what it’s like to live with Addiction and Bi-Polar Disorder. 

I am so excited to be co-producing the Fall Arlington show, with fellow alumni, on the same stage I shared my story.  I can’t wait to meet and support the cast!  It’s so special to be a part of expanding the “This Is My Brave” family I’m so humbled and grateful to be a part of.

T-Kea Blackman

T-Kea.jpg

T-Kea Blackman is a mental health advocate, speaker and writer who lives by the Toni Payne quote, "I rather be living my truth happily than living a lie miserably.” She is the creator and host of the Fireflies Unite Podcast , a weekly podcast dedicated to bringing light into darkness (just like the fireflies) by sharing the stories of individuals thriving with mental illness within communities of color despite the disadvantages and racism that negatively impact their mental health. T-Kea’s articles have been published on The Mighty, Urban Faith, Blavity, and 21 Ninety. Making a digital footprint, her articles have garnered over 50,000 views and encouraged individuals to seek treatment.

She is currently pursuing her certification through the Maryland and Behavioral Health Professional Certification Board to become a recovery coach and peer specialist to use her experience with mental illness to assist those in recovery. She earned a master's degree in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University, and a bachelor's degree in radio, television and film production from Howard University.

To follow T-Kea's journey and listen to her podcast, visit www.firefliesunite.com and connect with her @firefliespod on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Karen Kaiser

Karen.jpg

I’m so excited to be a producer for the fall This Is My Brave show in Arlington, VA! As an alumnus of the Spring Arlington show, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue sharing the message that storytelling saves lives. Telling my own story has indeed saved my life and given me a sense of purpose. And it has allowed me to offer hope and insight to others living with mental illness, and their families.

I was first diagnosed in 2006 and have recently become disabled. However, I’ve been navigating my mental health issues since early childhood. I currently volunteer as an advocate, blogger and writer. I split my time between my duties as a Crisis Counselor for Crisis Text Line, managing the blog page for Depression Army and advocating on various social media platforms. Writing about my experiences has helped me gain insight and start important conversations in my local communities. I’m honored to join my fellow cast mates in bringing such a vital event to the NOVA area, and I look forward to a fantastic show!