FINDING BRAVE: THIS IS MY BRAVE
Phoebe has struggled with depression more than half her life.
“I’ve been on medication since I was 6 or 7,” the 15-year-old said. “Most people my age don’t think of someone having a disability unless you’re in a wheelchair. People will say ‘oh, I’m so depressed.’ In a way, it’s offensive.”
In This Is My Brave, Phoebe has found a platform to talk about her experiences, and a community of people who give her understanding, and even admiration.
Jennifer Marshall founded the organization in 2013, after writing a blog for What to Expect about being a mother living with bi-polar disorder. Though Jennifer had written a blog, Bi-polar Mom Life, for a number of years, she’d always done so anonymously, fearing the stigma that can accompany mental illness.
“A lot of the stories about mental illness tend to be tragedies,” she said. “You don't hear the success stories of people who have overcome it. It can be scary to hear stories of mental illnesses left untreated and a tragedy happened. We are bringing positive stories into the light."
LIVING BRAVE: THIS IS MY BRAVE
After Jennifer's piece appeared on a national website, people reached out to thank her for sharing her story. "I realized what a relief it was to open up about that part of my life."
Upon launching a Kickstarter to fund the first show, Jennifer and associate producer Anne-Marie Ames were stunned to see that support was plentiful.
“Everyone was so moved by the message we shared,” said Jennifer, who was diagnosed in 2006, after two hospitalizations for manic episodes the prior year. “We’ve all been so impacted by mental illness, and we’re able to lead full lives.”
Today, This Is My Brave puts on full-length shows in multiple cities, including DC and Boston, performs at schools, hosts yoga classes and more. All the cast members and producers volunteer their time. A team has formed to support cast member Annie as she runs a half-marathon for the cause. In June, This Is My Brave will open Mental Health America’s annual conference, in Alexandria.
Phoebe compared being a part of This Is My Brave to being on a sports team.
“On sports teams,” she said, “they say ‘I got your back.’ We kind of are a team. It’s having that gut feeling that these people have got my back and I’ve got theirs.”
"I'm so happy to have met Jennifer and This Is My Brave. I was writing the blog and I wanted to put it out there, but it wasn't until I was in a room with other people who were struggling, that I felt like I'd found people I wanted to reach. This is about not hiding, this is about accepting.” – Ev Reheard, singer/songwriter, speech pathologist
"There was a time in my life, when my child was three months old, that I thought about going to the top of my apartment building and jumping off. That doesn't make me a bad mother, it doesn't make me crazy. This Is My Brave is a beautiful idea. It’s so brave to stand up and say 'this is what I've been through and it doesn't make me weak.’ " - Lynne, clinical social worker, advocate for postpartum depression
“The response I have gotten since getting up on stage and telling the gist of my story and battles has been so rewarding. People I thought didn’t like me, strangers, and people I knew didn’t like me, all put away their opinions to congratulate me, and the most incredible thing of all time was they stopped to thank me. I was thanked for having the courage to speak about things they couldn’t. I was thanked for showing them that they shouldn’t be afraid of their disease, that it shouldn’t be what defines them and their moments in life.” – Gabbi, 17, cast member
“Being in the Brave cast is important to me because it is the first time I am admitting my struggles not only publicly but to myself and friends & loved ones. Being a part of this organization has given me the courage to admit and share my story in hopes that it might encourage someone else silently struggling to feel less alone and ask for help.” – Jessica, founder of Heart Marks Art Therapy
Photographs courtesy of This Is My Brave.