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Mental Health Survivor Helps Others To Speak Up About Living With Mental Illness Through Art

Jennifer Marshall from Virginia helps people with mental illnesses overcome their fear.

She created a nonprofit that gives them a platform to express themselves through music and poetry.

Photo: Facebook / This Is My Brave

At 26, Jennifer Marshall had a perfect life. She worked as a top-grossing recruiter in a company, was newly married and planning to move to a new house. It all changed when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

She was afraid people would turn away from her

Things started to fall apart when her husband was away on a business trip. He returned home to find her in the middle of a psychotic break. “When I told him I could hear Jesus speaking to me through the TV, he knew he needed to call for help,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer Marshall with her husband and children / Photo: Jennifer Marshall

She was hospitalized twice that month. After her second manic episode, Jennifer was forced to quit her job. “During the lowest point in my struggle with bipolar we weren’t sure I’d even work again,” she wrote.

People need to hear other people’s stories

It was writing that helped her cope. In 2011 she started a blog. Jennifer began to share her internal battle with the world but did it anonymously. She was afraid people she knew would turn away from her.

When she finally mustered up the courage and wrote a piece under her own name, readers supported her and told her their own stories.

The feedback made her realize people need to hear other people’s stories, especially if they are going through the same thing. This way they are able to deal with their own problems.

She said, ‘Hi, I’m Susan. Your writing saved my life.

So, in 2013 she started This Is My Brave, a platform for people with mental health issues to share their stories in front of a live audience using poetry, essays or original music as a medium.

The very first This Is My Brave show in Arlington, VA, sold out. They went on to have more events across the States and last year expanded to Australia.

The project has produced over 30 shows and given a voice to more than 500 people suffering from a range of disorders.

“At the end of our first show I was walking out to the lobby and one woman waited patiently to speak with me,” Jennifer shared.

“She said, ‘Hi, I’m Susan. I’ve drove all the way from Philadelphia to see your show. I found your blog in my darkest moment, and your writing saved my life.”

‘Storytelling saves lives’ is now a motto of the organization.

Leigha Krivacek shared her emotional story during the show in Jacksonville. Struggling with bipolar depressive disorder she went from an honours graduate to a suicide attempt survivor. At one point she couldn’t move properly and suffered seizures.

“I was living an actual nightmare. I learned who my true support group was. My friends, my family, the guy who was physically carrying me around.” She reached full recovery in 2016 and married that guy a year later.

Gabby Sulzer was one of the first participants of This Is My Brave. Only 16 at the time, she shared her experience in a poem. Later she wrote to This Is My Brave thanking them for the chance ease the burden.

“After I performed I felt such a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders, as if I was finally set free of the mental illness that was pulling me down constantly and making me feel inferior to others. I am a survivor, I am a fighter. I found a peace I have never found before.”

Source: Jennifer Marshall, This Is My Brave, TEDx Talks

Featured Image: This Is My Brave

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