To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a movement of people dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who are struggling with mental health. Their journey is an inspiring read, it’s worth checking it out here.
My journey with TWLOHA began in mid-March when I realised that my favourite artist, Jon Foreman, was playing at their ‘Heavy and Light’ event in Orlando, Florida. Heavy and light is a yearly focal point that gives people the opportunity to share in songs, conversation and hope. We were heading to Orlando for a family holiday and the concert was being held only 15 minutes from where we were staying. I couldn’t not be there….
I sat excited, and at times frustrated, trying to book tickets for my wife and I to attend. I found out that voice recognition software struggles with a Scottish accent. ‘I am sorry I don’t understand that’ was a repeated line as I dialled in through Skype. My 2 older kids were in hysterics as I attempted to then speak in my best American accent and then we lost it completely when my youngest son entered the room and asked why I was speaking Italian! Thankfully I finally got sorted and a dream of mine was going to come true as the good people at TWLOHA were happy for me to photograph the event as well.
The event surpassed both of our expectations. I must admit that I was looking forward to just seeing and photographing Jon, but the evening left me with a much wider challenge.
You see, my mental health has been a constant struggle for much of my adult life. I am now 36 and for a good chunk of that time I have struggled with anxiety. More specifically I am often hyper vigilant in crowds, I can catastrophise and have panic attacks.
I am the type of person that worries about their anxiety.
Thankfully my mental health has improved over the years. Counselling and CBT were a literal god send and I can now recognise the various triggers and signs of my illness. I am learning day to day how to cope better. I am learning to accept who I am – that’s so important, learning not to punish myself when ‘I let people down’ for pulling out last minute and most importantly I am giving myself permission to grow into who I am. That’s never easy.
With this context, I was actually really nervous coming to Heavy and Light. Some of my anxiety voices were getting stronger the closer I got to the venue. One of the reasons why I asked to photograph the evening was to give myself a safe ‘out’ if I was having a bad night – my anxiety spikes with lots of travelling, new places and tiredness. 3 out of 3 ticked for the evening.
But what I experienced on the night was something very different. At times I had to put my camera down as I listened to other people share their stories through song and poetry. I felt at home with new friends who understood my struggle. No words were exchanged, just an acknowledgement that we were in this battle together. The feeling of belonging and hope was at times overwhelming.
At one of my ‘I need to put my camera down moments’ (hence why no photos!) Tonya Ingram shared her struggle with mental health as a result of sexual abuse. It was hard hitting, but full of grace. She declared with passion and defiance….
‘despite the condition of the soil, I choose to bloom.’
The evening was closed with Jon singing. As he started to sing the Switchfoot song ‘Dare you to Move‘ A Capella with the audience sharing every word, I was transported back to 2001 and a younger self who would listen to this song every morning for 2 years on his way to work. A deep struggle existed in that younger version of me and this song, like no other, spoke deep into my own personal tension, a tension that took 20 odd years to fully discover and begin to understand.
3 years ago I helped set up The Bridge Community Project after my own mental health journey led me to a difficult place. God took a depressed, anxiety-ridden, broken mess and used me to be one of the pieces that helped create something special that is the Bridge Community Project.
Now as Project Director, my passion for the Bridge is to create a safe place for people to access in their own time of crisis. A place where love, compassion and hope are the foundations of our work.
We are slowly building that bridge.
As I left that evening I walked past a board full of hand written A5 bits of hope. People were asked as they arrived “What heavy are you carrying?” and “what light do you want to share?” I never got a chance to answer these on the night, I now have.
Being part of the evening reminded me how far down this mental health road I have come personally and how this journey is not one to travel alone.
The challenge left on me was simple.
Continue to build the Bridge, however difficult it gets, as hope has a place in all our lives.
Alan Davidson – Project Director