We have conversations every day. We talk to our parents, our co-workers, our classmates, our roommates, our significant others, even ourselves. But how often do we have the difficult conversations? How often do we look directly into someone else’s eyes and ask, “Are you ok?” Or alternatively, when was the last time you looked directly into someone else’s eyes and said, “No, I’m not okay.”
Because I’ve been there too many times before, I can assume that it’s a rare occurrence for us to do so. To ask the hard questions. To have the hard conversations. That’s exactly what To Write Love On Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski invites anyone of all ages to do. To start a conversation, to have a conversation.
Jamie wrote a blog post for his friend, Renee Yohe, who entered a rehab facility for mental illness and addiction and it rapidly went viral. He made T-shirts with the logo printed on them and sold them to help pay for her treatment. And then? A movement was born. Fast forward eleven years and Tworkowski has established a successful non-profit and became a number one New York Times Bestseller for ‘If You Feel Too Much.”
“It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.”- Jamie Tworkowski
I found out about To Write Love On Her Arms when I was fourteen and a freshman in high school, through a celebrity, probably. It was 2010. As a little girl, I remember always straddling high tides of depression; these waves of sadness and despair that I didn’t know exactly how to place my finger on. Or how do deal with it constructively. It was normal for me. It still is. It used to leave scars.
Stumbling across To Write Love On Her Arms was finding light and hope. It was finding out what my passions were. It is what inspired me to write. By putting pen to paper, I was able to to have these honest and difficult conversations with myself. I discovered how I felt and things began to clear up for me for the first time. It gave me the confidence to share those things with the world and the world responded. The world gave back.
You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things. -Jamie Tworkowski, Happy Birthday
Now here I am, seven years later. I was somehow blessed to have the opportunity to interview Jamie Tworkowski himself:
Affinity: Can you give Affinity a brief description of To Write Love On Her Arms’ mission for our readers? What do you think makes the movement so special?
Jamie: TWLOHA works to bring a message of hope and help to people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and thoughts of suicide. We exist to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. What makes TWLOHA special is that we hear from people who are choosing to get help and choosing to stay alive.
Affinity: Eradicating the stigma of mental illnesses and addiction is vital to progress in our daily society. What do you think millennials can do to help?
Jamie: The stigma begins to go away when we speak openly and honestly about our pain. The stigma suggests that things like depression and addiction are meant to stay secrets, but that’s simply false. When we break the silence, we break the stigma. Practically speaking, we’re all for people being open and honest in all sorts of settings; in relationships, at school, at work, online. Talking about mental health shouldn’t be different from talking about physical health.
Affinity: In the midst of Donald Trump’s campaign and election, the essence and meaning of community has been disrupted. What measures do you think we can take to strengthen said communities in spite of all this negativity?
Jamie: i wish i had that answer. It’s a confusing difficult time for a lot of people. America is certainly divided at the moment. i just think people have to keep being honest and keep standing up to bad ideas. Lots of families and friendships are fractured because of the election, because it’s such a difficult thing to find common ground on. i think we have to try to find common ground and we have to treat each other with respect, but i think that even more than that, we have to keep telling the truth and talking about things that are important to us. i think a lot of people felt a sense of community on the day after the inauguration, when three million people marched. Because people who felt alone suddenly realized they were not alone.
Affinity: One common theme in TWLOHA is that people need other people. What kind of advice do you have for teens who may be afraid to reach out and make connections?
Jamie: Our advice is that it’s worth it. We aren’t saying it’s easy, but we’ve come to believe it’s worth it. i’ve experienced this in my own life. Pain tells us to isolate, to hide out, to keep secrets. But we find healing in the context of other people. We find healing in friendships and in sitting across from a counselor. Those might be scary steps to take but i’ve met so many people who will tell you their lives are better because they made that choice to let people in.
Affinity: Who are some of your favorite role models in entertainment who you believe can instill strength and confidence into today’s teens?
Jamie: For me, it’s Bono. i’m a student of Bono and U2. Switchfoot’s music means a lot to me as well. In terms of role models for younger people: i love the way Macklemore talks openly about addiction. i know Selena Gomez has encouraged a lot of people by being honest about struggling with depression. Demi Lovato has talked about anxiety and eating disorders. Mary Lambert was part of a significant cultural moment because of the song “Same Love.” She is a significant voice to the LGBT community. Christina Perri comes to mind. And Sophia Bush is definitely a force for good.
Affinity: In recent years, we’ve watched as the public outcry for mental healthcare has increased and some milestones were made. How do you think TWLOHA has impacted mental health reform? What are some additional steps you think we need to make as a society?
Jamie: Hopefully, we’ve played some small part in normalizing the conversation, in making it okay to talk about mental health and addiction. In terms of impact, i just know we get to meet people who tell us they’re getting help because of TWLOHA. That’s what keeps us going. Again, i just think everything begins to change when people talk openly and honestly about their struggles. That has a way of inviting other people to do the same.
Affinity: This movement talks about ‘unconditional love’ a lot. How would you define the word in TWLOHA terms?
Jamie: Showing up when it’s hard. When it’s awkward or uncomfortable, when it’s late at night, when it’s outside your comfort zone. It’s easy to love when it’s easy, when it doesn’t cost as much. What does it look like to love someone who doesn’t want your help? What does it look like to love someone who lives in circumstances you don’t fully understand? That’s the kind of love we’re interested in.
Affinity: TWLOHA has been running for over ten years now. Why do you think the movement has had such strong staying power over the years?
Jamie: Because the need is great. Of course i would like to think we’ve done some things well and that we’ve evolved over the years, but beyond that, TWLOHA is still here because the need is still here. There will always be a need for hope and help, for the idea that it’s okay to be honest and people need other people. We’re thankful and i’m thankful to be able to keep doing this work, for nearly 11 years now.
Affinity: TWLOHA focuses a lot on the healing of music and has historically had ties with various musicians over the years- from Switchfoot to Miley Cyrus. Are there any songs that currently hold a strong meaning to you and have helped you through tough times that you’d recommend?
are my 50 favorite songs of last year. Last year was a tough year for me personally, so a lot of these were like friends to me during a hard season.
Affinity: Lastly, TWLOHA has a daily impact on people’s lives (I personally have Love tattooed on my own wrist.) Some would even say TWLOHA has helped save their lives. How does it make you feel knowing that people have responded that strongly to this movement?
Jamie: It means a lot. To get to be part of something so much bigger than me. To get to bring my heart to work and to get to a job that feels meaningful. i get to work with people i love and i get to think and talk and write about things that are important to me. i don’t take that for granted.
To Write Love on Her Arms is essentially a friend to us all. The movement speaks to us, at every volume, all around the globe. Jamie’s right. We need it. We need it for ourselves and our best friends and our little brothers and sisters and moms and dads. We need it because we all deserve hope and a place to call home when our minds try to convince us that nobody is there.