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If anyone knows we’re not alone in our struggles, it’s Jamie Tworkowski. As the founder of nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms, an advocacy group which connects individuals with and funds mental health resources and treatment, he’s spent the past fifteen years reading and hearing thousands of stories from people across the world about their mental health journeys and recoveries.
His book, the New York Times bestseller If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For, could also function as the tagline of 2020, as people are being tasked to carry so many emotions at once in the midst of a pandemic, an election and civil unrest.
“I think the silver lining to the pandemic is that we realize that everyone all over the world is having a challenging year,” Tworkowski said on Ten Minute Talks with Meagan Lynn. “I think it pushes back at that idea that, ‘Oh, I’m the only one who feels this way,’ because whether someone’s dealing with a mental health issue or not, we’re all dealing with our world and our lives looking radically different than they did a year ago.”
Though Tworkowski’s message is one of hope and healing, he understands the feeling of hopelessness as he’s struggled with depression for several years.
“There’s a little bit of irony to my life or my work, because I don’t even think my friends would describe me as super hopeful,” he said. “I think a lot of times I’m communicating or sharing out of my own need; I’m saying things that I want and need to be true.”
Tworkowski practices what he preaches, going to counseling every week and taking a prescribed antidepressant. Though asking for help can be intimidating, he says it’s worth it.
“I think like a lot of things that we might be afraid of it when we’ve never experienced it,” he said. “And it might be really scary to make that first appointment or to walk into that office or even take that first phone call, but my experience has been that it’s worth it; that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
“And you can find a sense of healing and progress,” he continued. “For me, it’s also just a way to kind of practice being honest for an hour a week; to have a place to be vulnerable and to talk about the hardest things in my life.”
Compassion and empathy have been at the forefront of calls-to-action of what the world needs right now–two things which are also required in discussions around mental health. In the original story which sparked the birth of To Write Love on Her Arms, Tworkowski quotes Don Miller: “We’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding.”
This quote has taken on new meaning for Tworkowski in the context of 2020.
“I think I’m trying to wrestle with, what does compassion look like?” he said. “Maybe 10 years ago, I was really comfortable thinking and talking about mental health. But today I think about what you would describe as intersections: how does immigration, how does the refugee crisis intersect with mental health? How does gun violence, equal rights, the LGBTQ community? Just the reality that mental health is connected to so many other aspects of life.”
“I’ve kind of come back to this idea that caring about people has to mean caring about things that affect people,” he continued. “And so I think a lot about that: what does it mean to show up and respond to people’s pain?”
Tworkowski says he’s working on being more willing to leave his comfort zone in order to sit with others’ in their pain.
“To not just pick and choose the kinds of pain that I’m comfortable with or the kinds of pain that aren’t controversial,” he explained. “But really, I think being willing to wrestle with what hurts people, what causes pain and suffering to people– especially people whose lives and backgrounds look different from my own.”
Why we should have hope
Conversations will not be cancelled.
Relationships will not be cancelled.
Love will not be cancelled.
Songs will not be cancelled.
Reading will not be cancelled.
Self-care will not be cancelled.
Hope will not be cancelled.
In the midst of what Don Miller calls a broken world, Tworkowski says he’s learning to live in the tension of hope and heartache while continuing to believe in better days ahead.
“I read recently that hope is a commitment to the future and I really liked that; that hope is not just a feeling,” he said. “I like the idea of a commitment to the future; that for as long as I’m here and I’m breathing, I want to believe that good things are possible, and ultimately that life is worth living.”
Tworkowski says there are still reasons to hold onto hope, whether it’s for an activity you’re passionate about, a person you love or a dream that’s yet to come true.
“I think a lot about surprises, how if I leave this life too early, I’m going to miss out on so many good surprises,” he said. “When it comes to a lot of the best things I’ve ever experienced, they came as surprises. Each time I fell in love, I didn’t orchestrate that. It didn’t come from a whiteboard or a five-year plan. It’s like, I was at a concert and I met someone, and it came as a surprise.”
“Stay for those surprises; those moments that make life worth living and those moments when our life can really change in a positive way.”
To get connected with mental health resources near you or to apply for funding for treatment, visit twloha.com/find-help/. If you need immediate help, you can text “TWLOHA” to Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Meagan Lynn is a host at AfterBuzz TV and Elon University graduate with a degree in journalism. She loves singing, listening to inspirational podcasts and watching reality TV.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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