Depression is without a doubt one of the hardest subjects to tackle as a writer / artist. Possibly even more so when you’re actually going through a bad bout of it as forcing yourself to get up and do anything at all is like climbing Mount Everest. I was trawling the internet and found out that Jared Padalecki (from Supernatural) was a sufferer too and that he has his own campaign to help raise funds and bring awareness – Always Keep Fighting. And I thought that if he can have the courage to do it – and open himself up to the trolling and criticism he is bound to get having the following he does – then I can too. I stand in awe of that bravery. Read about his story here.
It was a bit difficult to find a title for this piece too, but To Write Love on Her Arms – Always Keep Fighting – Cope With Depression seems to sum it all right up.
I contacted the organisation that is benefiting from his campaign – To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) and I’m very grateful to Becky Kovach from Big Picture Media for facilitating and to Chad Moses from TWLOHA for taking the trouble to provide the answers. You can sense their passion and commitment and care.
Your website gives the following as your mission: To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. How do you go about doing this and how can people access the resources you have available?
That looks different on different days, but most generally it means meeting people where they are, whether that is online, on campus, or at music festivals. Wherever we go, we carry a message of “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help.” We are not the destination for help, nor are we counselors, but we exist to be a bridge. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel of Mental Health, but mainly people aren’t aware that a wheel even exists. So at our events and on our website, we do our best to highlight resources that can be useful in your journey towards hope and help.
Where does the name To Write Love on Her Arms come from?
The name was originally the title of a story. It was a 2-page blog written by Jamie Tworkowski about our friend Renee and her first 5 days in recovery from cocaine addition and finding help with self-injury. The story was written without an ending in sight. It was really an invitation, an attempt to move people. In Renee’s mind, she was open to her story being told in the hopes that someone else could relate. Jamie posted the story on MySpace and made a couple hundred shirts that said “To Write Love On Her Arms” to sell and offset some of Renee’s medical costs. We had some musician friends who decided to wear the shirt as they traveled, and as they toured their fans who get curious. They would look up the name online and read the story and many people would post about how they could relate in some way; how Renee sounded like their parents, their friends, or themselves. So To Write Love on Her Arms, as an organization, emerged as a response to people responding to the story. You can still read the original story here (https://twloha.com/learn/story/)
If someone is in need of help right now what should they do?
If ever your life (or anyone else’s) is in danger, please do not hesitate to call 911 or your local emergency response line (In South Africa – 10111, cellular 112 ) . That may be scary, or lead to hurt feelings, but what matters the most is making sure that we all wake up to
That being said, you are allowed to ask for help even and especially when it doesn’t feel like an emergency. The nature of these issues is that slowly, they make us forget our worth. They make us forget the fact that we are loved in ways that don’t depend on us. They make us forget the sound of our own voice or the voices of people who love us. And it can take some time to remember how to listen again. At the end of the day, nothing will ever replace the value of consistent and intentional face-to-face interaction, but we know that sometimes it takes time to work up to that. As I mentioned before, our website (most specifically twloha.com/find-help) is a great place to start looking for help. There you will find resources organized by topic and by location. You’re allowed to start small and anonymous, but we believe that you were created to be known and to know other people. We hope that in time you could grow to trust a friend, family member, clergy, or a counselor with your story. You are not alone.
How can people get involved with supporting your work?
We are what we are in large part due to people flying our banner in unexpected places. Our biggest fight, as an organization and a society, is against stigma. Stigma is whenever silence is the loudest voice in a conversation, so we encourage people to find creative and kind ways to challenge that silence. If you visit twloha.com/get-involved/ you will find a bunch of ways to help out. Maybe that means volunteering with a mental health resource in your community, or planning a benefit event. Maybe it means participating alongside of us for one of our annual campaigns, or distributing information across your social media channels. If you have any additional questions then you are always welcome to send us an email too at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With my own experience, I’ve spoken about my depression, self harming and suicidal thoughts before and have been rejected and lost people because of it, which really made me feel even worse. How should people start this conversation and how can they prepare themselves for the possibility that they may face even further rejection?
First off, thank you for sharing and I am sorry that your pain wasn’t met with compassion. What you have shared isn’t uncommon, but it is also not the only response or the end to the story. There is no shortage of reasons as to why people respond in unhelpful ways, and that doesn’t undo the hurt, but it does highlight some important points. So many times people trip over diagnoses and buzz words, and in their stumbling find excuses to not absolve themselves of being a factor for help.
If you are the one being asked to help: it’s OK to start small. You are likewise encouraged to be patient and gracious.
If words like depression, suicide, or addiction are too scary to digest, then let’s keep this basic — If my friend is in pain, alone, and scared then I ought to do my part to soothe, be present, and scream the darkness away with them. You aren’t expected to have all the answers, but know that there are people and resources in place that can be of service. Don’t confuse “not being able to fix this” with “not being able to help.“ Sometimes help simply looks like being a shoulder, answering the phone, walking into a counselor’s office hand-in-hand, or walking through a self-care plan.
Most of what I listed here is addressed to those who can help. That is because if you are asking for help, then you are doing your part. Keep asking until you are heard, you are worth it. You won’t be able to control how people will respond, but do not stop your search. There are people who have dedicated their lives to making sure you feel heard, significant, cared for, and safe. People not reacting well to your pain is in no way an indicator of your worth.
My site is about giving exposure to people who like to tweak the golden thread of humanity as I call it – to mean something to people, make people think and feel – and basically to matter so I’m very happy to get the chance to give exposure to your work. I almost get the feeling that TWLOHA is something similar – that you help give exposure to things that matter in the realm of depression / anxiety. Would this be correct?
I certainly think we are coming from the same family, and I think the emphasis on PEOPLE is what is important. The reality behind our work is that people matter, that individuals matter. The only way to affect the massive statistics is to account for individual stories. Depression, addiction, self-injury, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders – all of these things and all things like them – have a common driving and dominating lie that suggests you are unrelatable, alone, and flawed. Every person on this planet knows what it feels like to be alone or betrayed or isolated. From there we are talking simply about degrees of severity and frequency. The hope is more people connecting to more people, which starts when we acknowledge that we are all in this together.
I was in a particularly dark spot when I found out that Jared Padalecki had suffered depression and that he had started a campaign. I had conflicting emotions when finding out about his struggle – firstly very sad that he should have to suffer it – as no one should – but also that maybe I wasn’t quite so alone and unusual – and how brave he was considering the amount of flak he may get from the public knowing how much I got in my own personal life. How did the collaboration with Jared come about and how much difference does it make to an organisation such as yours when someone as famous as him lends his support to it?
What you just mentioned is hugely important, through vulnerability we learn that we are not alone. There was a poet named Rumi who said “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” To me, that says we are more alike than we are different, which is to say we are less alone than we realize. Having vocal and visible friends is super humbling, and one amazing thing about Jared is he has been open not only about his depression, but also about the steps he has taken to find help. Jared got linked up with us through a charitable fashion line called Represent, which connects celebrities to causes that they relate to. Fortunately, our name had been bouncing around social media and the Represent camp for a little while, so when Jared mentioned that he was interested in launching a campaign, it all unfolded rather organically.
I do have a number of readers in South Africa as well as America and was wondering if there are any organisations you work with in South Africa where people could get help if they need it (if not no worries, I can link to some local ones).
We are fans of Befrienders and here is what they have listed for South Africa – http://minotaur.marques.co.za/befrienders-sa/main.htm. Also the website for the SA LifeLine is http://lifelinesa.co.za/. To my knowledge, those are free and open to the public.
What should parents / friends / colleagues etc look out for in people that may indicate that they’re depressed or that there’s a problem?
Asking questions in the context of relationship will be you best tool. Often times, people equate “depression” with intense sadness, but sometimes of sign of depression is lack of emotional sensitivity altogether, a sort of blanket numbness. Appealing to interpersonal history is useful to establish what someone’s baseline disposition is and comparing that to their recent moods. If something feels off, simply ask, and leave space for an honest reply. Taking note of physical cues is also important: things like chronic fatigue, insomnia, aches, and being reclusive can be symptomatic of depression. I would also recommend chatting with a mental health professional in your community for more advice on what to look for on behalf of loved ones.
What is the best way to be a friend to a person with depression?
As I mentioned above, be patient. You don’t need to fix your friend. It’s not on you to diagnose or to treat them. But you can:
– be hopeful on their behalf
– remind them of truths that they’ve forgotten along the way,
– gently correct their perspective.
– make them aware of options in their treatment/recovery and validate their decisions.
I would encourage you to ask questions. “I haven’t seen you smile in forever, you know I’m here for you. How can I help, and know that leaving you alone in this place is not an option for me.” You can research local mental health resources or read a book together. Basically, focus on the “Friend” part more so than the “with depression (or any other issue)” part. But be realistic with your limits and practice good self-care. If you feel overwhelmed or confused then you are also allowed to ask for help; counselors options being great options.
What advice would you give to a person who is feeling depressed and feels like they need to get help, but for various reasons (financial, personal, etc.) needs to continue working or carrying on? In other words, they are broken down but there is no option but to continue – often without any form of support.
Unfortunately I am not up to date with the financial state of affairs in South African mental health. But I can tell you that often avenues for treatment do exist on some level. This will clearly vary case by case but some options to consider include:
- Asking counselors if there are Mental Health Interns or Professionals working towards licensure that they could recommend.
- Asking foundations or communities of faith if scholarships are available.
- The two websites I sent above are free of charge.
- 12-Step/Peer recovery groups.
The truth is that globally, mental health care is underfunded and sometimes understaffed, but things are progressing. Creating, or joining, conversations with community leaders and politicians on Mental Health policies is also encouraged.
Whatever you decide to do, we hope that it is done with the guidance of wise voices. We hope that whatever steps you take, that you don’t take them alone. That has really been the theme of this whole interview – if you feel like you need help, you are allowed to ask for it…we can figure out the details later, but what matters most is you getting the help that you deserve.