From a MySpace post in 2008 to a website helping more people than ever expected in 2018, To Write Love On Her Arms provides the help and hope needed in the world today. During their official “Heavy & Light” concert, writer Kristyn Shannon sat down with founder Jamie Tworkowski to talk about the concert itself, how to help someone in need, and how he has never seen Harry Potter. Read on, music lovers!
How did you create this Heavy and Light event and why bring it to Orlando?
Well, everything we do started in Orlando, so the organization got its start here in Orlando, in Central Florida and has been home for us ever since. Heavy & Light has become an annual event, kinda our flagship event, that originally – the first one – was held at a different venue, a smaller venue downtown called The Social and that was done in response to the death of a musician friend who supported the organization. I wrote something that we ended up putting on a shirt and the phrase “heavy and light” was within that quote, so we ended up calling the night “Heavy & Light.” Some of his bandmates came and performed for the first time after his death. It was just the idea of a night of music that could be more intentional so that it was also speaking and over the years, we’ve added spoken word poetry. We’ve always done our best to use it to serve as a bridge to where people can connect with professional help.
That first year we were at The Social and every year since we’ve been here at House of Blues. One year, we won a $1 million grant and we were able to take it on the road. There’s been a couple other years where we did Orlando and Los Angeles, but we’ve always done it here in Orlando.
This is my home venue, I loved photographing here. So I can appreciate that little slice of my new home.
Yeah, it’s a great spot!
Do people from all over the country come to this single show?
Yes, definitely. Obviously, a lot of folks from Florida come, but we see tweets and comments and sometimes I’ll do a moment where we kind of ask people; but, yeah, there’s definitely people that took long road trips and got on airplanes to be here. So, that’s really special for us to know that it means so much to people. Then we do a livestream, so there’s people watching from all over as well.
I didn’t know it was livestreamed. That’s really cool. What is the first thing that you tell someone when they open up to you about their illness?
I think it depends on what they say. I don’t have a stock, you know? I think you want people to feel heard; you want people to feel safe. Those things come to mind, but then when someone is really struggling, I think my hope is that they will connect with a professional. So, not that they would just tell me, not that they would just tell a friend, but that they would get the ongoing help that they need and deserve. So, I think at some point in the conversation, I try to make sure we talk about that.
There was a band I interviewed before, With Confidence, who has a song named “Voldemort.” They stated that it was about destigmatizing mental health because it was a very happy song talking about something very harsh. First, have you seen Harry Potter or get the reference?
I don’t; I actually haven’t. Everyone on my team has, but I haven’t.
That actually pains me a little, wow. I make sure to add Harry Potter to all of my interviews and everybody gets it and you just hurt me a little (laughs).
Well, good thing this one doesn’t actually reference Harry Potter. What do you think of combining book references to help something as serious as depression?
We can find metaphors and comparisons anywhere in life. Obviously, this is a night of music that addresses mental health; there’s poetry involved. We think words are super powerful. I mean, everything we get to do as an organization grew from a story that I wrote and I think that’s great.
I think that’s great too. Do you have a favorite reference?
No, not off the top of my head.
Did you help create the semi colon project?
What are your thoughts on it overall?
I don’t know a ton about it. I think the semi colon idea is super powerful. I had nothing to do with creating it and haven’t been involved with the organization. I just think as an idea, the semi colon is powerful as it relates to mental health.
I have one; it’s very tiny and under my watch, but it reminds me to not end my story.
Yeah, sure, we’re still going. We love that.
I’ve read that you, yourself, suffer with depression. What steps do you take or favorite activity will help get you through that bout of sadness?
I go to counseling; I’ve been going to counseling for years on and off. I’ve been going weekly for the last year. I take medicine every night; I’ve taken an antidepressant for years now. Those are the two biggest ones. Then from there, it’s just friends and family, nephews, exercise, rest, surfing, basketball. Doing things that make me smile, but I think the most important two are counseling and medicine.
What caused you to talk openly about your illness?
I don’t know anything caused me. I think I’ve just been wired. I realized I’m a writer and I’m a communicator and I’m sort of wired to share about life – whether it’s my life or things that I see happen in the world or in the lives of people around me. We tell stories to try to make sense of life. I get kind of bored or I’m not really wired for small talk, so I feel like it’s a privilege to get to be honest. I’ve realized that it hopefully helps other people to be honest as well
I get that, it’s honestly been very hard for me to personally talk about my illness.
That’s why counseling is so great. Not that every counselor is a perfect fit, but they’re there to listen. It’s an hour designed for that conversation.
What brought you, personally, to go to counselling or take an antidepressant?
Just struggling. Just realizing things needed to change. I think that being around this work, this conversation, and friends who are professional counselors, I knew the steps to take. It was just a matter of getting to a place with taking them. I just think logically when things aren’t working, it makes sense to try something else. I got a point of really struggling and realizing I needed help.
I know that personally myself, I ponder and sit in the darkness when I fall into depression, how do you get out of that dark place?
I wouldn’t say I do it perfectly or every time is the same, but I think just knowing that I have these tools and steps. I have some language for it and a framework for it. Sometimes it’s just trying to fall asleep and trying to believe that I need a new day. Some of it is picking up the phone and calling a friend or asking someone to come meet me. I don’t think it’s one thing every time, but some of it is just knowing I do want to get out of that pit. I want to live a life that keeps getting out and starting over; believing things can get better.
I like that. It’s hard to realize that it does get better. Who are those that write for your blog and do they believe they bring inspiration?
There’s a whole bunch of people. There’s a whole list on our blog. At this point, it’s probably a couple hundred people. I hope they believe it because we see a lot of comments, tweets, and emails from people who are moved by the blog. So, I certainly hope that the writers feel proud because that’s a big part of what we do.
What is the greatest advice you could give someone not struggling with depression or anything, but someone who is trying to be on their side and help them?
I think to learn about the issues. If we’re gonna try to show compassion for someone, we have to do our best to be empathetic to what they’re dealing with and to understand as much as we can; something like depression, for example. So I just encourage people to be willing to do the homework and to also to sit and listen. You don’t have to have the perfect speech, you don’t have to know what to say, but you have to show up and be willing to show that compassion.
Do you have anything else you wish to say to those on Mind Equals Blown?
Those are lots of good questions. We just want people to know they’re not alone. We want people to know it’s okay to be honest and it’s okay to talk about the things that you and I are talking about right now. More than anything, it’s okay to ask for help.