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Jamie Tworkowski

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To Write Love On Her Arms

We live a thousand different stories, you and I. We live so many different seasons and who can say when winter or victory or spring? Perhaps, all we can do is go together, win and lose together, because both are better that way, because we deserve a people, and a place and a colour and a team.’
Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the movement To Write Love On Her Arms, believes in this theory. TWLOHA exists to bring hope and help to people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and thoughts of suicide. Its inception dates back to 2006 when a story written by Jamie about his friend Renee Yohe, struggling with depression, addiction and self-injury, went viral on MySpace.
Jamie, who lives in Florida, and likes surfing and ‘being an uncle’ started selling T-shirts at first as a way to help pay for Renee’s treatment.

The movement has helped a large number of people fight their depression. One of the many stories would be of Daylee Hames. Daylee got to know about TWLOHA through a friend last year, and the circle of support she received while engaging with the group thanks to her mother Laura’s encouragement helped her get over her condition. Laura knew Daylee would need a peer group and others who had walked where she did in order to heal herself. On their blog on the TWLOHA website, Daylee and Laura wrote on how therapy sessions, long discussions about hope and most importantly unconditional love has helped her overcome her issues and turn into a strong person. Daylee, in turn, has since then helped many people hold on to hope and fight the stigma attached to mental health issues. TWLOHA hosts a large number of events and campaigns, such as Heavy and Light and Fear vs. Dreams, and has a blog section where people tell their stories to help other people overcome their conditions and to give them hope. Last year, Jamie wrote If You Feel Too Much, a memoir in the form of acollection of stories from his life and work. It includes 44 stories from the past 10 years, including some of his blog entries that he shared with the world in the form of a book. It’s the kind of book that will teach you to not pity yourself when you look at your scars but be proud that you’re still standing. He believes people need coffee shops, sunsets and road trips but most of all, they need people. People need other people. Excerpts from the interview.

The fact that a lot of people still don’t address mental health issues and slip such talks under the carpet is quite concerning, especially when we’re at an age where everyone is constantly on the go. What are your views on this?
I agree. There’s certainly a stigma that suggests we aren’t allowed to talk about our pain, but the good news is that stigma begins to go away when we choose to be honest and vulnerable. I get to see a lot of examples and evidence of this. Honesty is definitely contagious.

Tell us something about your campaigns, such as People Need Other People and Fear vs Dreams.
Every now and then, we come across a phrase or idea that feels like it can be more. Sometimes it’s as simple as printing it on a shirt. Other times, such as Fears vs Dreams, it becomes something more interactive. FVD is based on inviting people to answer two different questions: What’s your biggest fear? What’s your greatest dream? We’ve seen people around the world answer those two questions, and we’ve seen the answers help folks feel less alone.

How difficult was it to get recognition and donations in the beginning?
Our beginning was unique, basically backwards, in that we had money coming in from T-shirt sales. Essentially, the attempt to help one person went viral and that’s what led to the non-profit.

How did TWLOHA get involved in the music scene?
Music plays in the original TWLOHA story and friends in bands were some of the first people to wear TWLOHA shirts, which is what helped it spread quickly.

How did TWLOHA get to where it is today?
By being honest and doing our best to meet people where they are. In terms of strategy, we place a ton of emphasis on language and also design, and social media has been a huge part of our story. And then, the biggest reason is that we are supported by passionate people who are generous not only with their finances but with their influence as well.

In 2016, do you see TWLOHA where you planned it to be when it first started?
There was never a 10-year plan. So much of this has been a surprise. I approach it much more as a creative project. The primary thing we do is communicate, and we try to be creative at that.

How has TWLOHA reached out to people?
By using language that people relate to, on social media. We provide encouragement, information and resources online. And we try to do that in person at universities and music festivals.

What do you feel is the best way to talk about mental health, depression and anxiety and feel okay about it?
I think it simply starts by being honest. If you don’t know what to say or how to say it, start by saying that. There’s lots of great information online if people want to learn, but I really think it starts by knowing that it’s okay to have the conversation. And I think professional help is a huge piece to the puzzle. If someone is struggling, they deserve professional help. Sometimes we need more than what our friends can offer.

In the future, do you plan to come to India to spread awareness?
I’ve actually been to India! I visited Kolkata with my sister and a group of friends from America. We were there working with two different NGOs that help rescue and protect victims and those at risk of human trafficking. It was a trip I’ll never forget. I would love to return to India someday. 

Text Arunima Kaushik Sharma

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