Staring at myself in the mirror of Marran Theatre’s green room, I looked different somehow than I did when I began this journey five months ago. I looked more confident, stronger even. I knew I was ready to share my story of living with a mental illness with the crowd eagerly waiting just beyond the curtain.
I was ready to speak on depression, on my own experiences, on something incredibly personal to my own journey. I was preparing to talk to complete strangers about an issue that I only recently shared with my own family. This was incredibly vulnerable even for me, someone who wears their heart perpetually on their sleeve. Yet, I knew this was necessary work. People needed to hear my story, to learn about the ugly, painful side of healing and the beauty that waits on the other side. I’m a writer; my words are often all I have, and I knew I was in a position to use them for good that night, to inspire.
Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” played out over the speakers. The entire cast stood stage right, hiding in the wings, ready for our time to shine. We quietly gave each other pep talks and exchanged hopeful high-fives. We listened in as This Is My Brave’s co-founder, Jennifer Marshall, and the show’s Producer, Elizabeth Driscoll, set the tone for the night with their introductions. They prepped the audience for the stories they were about to see and hear and encouraged them to take care of themselves. A Lesley counselor was on-site to talk to anyone who needed support during the show.
With that, the cast was introduced. We filed onto the stage, sitting in a half-circle of chairs facing the audience. The seating arrangement gave a homey, relaxed feel to the stage, as if this was just a conversation happening between friends. Exchanging nervous smiles with each other, all of our hard work and preparation suddenly became real. It was showtime.
The sharing of individual stories is the heart of a This Is My Brave event; the inaugural College Edition show was no exception. The next hour and a half was an emotional, incredibly-personal ride. The crowd at Marran was treated to a series of painfully-real stories about dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, mania, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among other mental illnesses. Some presented their stories through original songs written for the occasion. Others read personal essays. A few blended their poetry with storytelling to present their experiences in a way that was both accessible and emotionally-charged.
Either way, the personal anecdotes were incredibly impactful. From my seat on the stage, I saw some audience members tearing up and wiping their eyes. Honestly, I found it difficult to hold back the tears, too.
Even after hearing these stories countless times in pre-show rehearsals, they still took my breath away. There was a sense of collective awe in the room. Each cast member had to overcome enormous mental obstacles to stand where they stood, center stage, under the bright spotlights. As a cast, we cheered each other on, clapping the loudest for our new friends. Being first-hand sufferers, we all knew the courage it took to speak publicly about something so intimate. Mental illness is a force that continues to be an obstacle in each of our lives.
The show closed with a This Is My Brave alumna, Hana Khan, performing an original song called “Thrivers.” It was a fitting end to the night, an ode to the bliss that comes with gaining the upper hand over your mental illness and reclaiming your own livelihood. As Hana sang her final note, the show drew to a close. Each of us glanced at each other, taking a collective sigh of relief and pride. We held hands, bowed together, and embraced each other in a group-hug. We did it.
Everyone on that stage bared their heart to all who came to listen. Ultimately, our show was worth all of the effort and love we invested in it- the late nights rehearsing, the countless re-writes of our pieces that made us throw up our hands in frustration, the tears we cried. As members of the community approached me after the show, thanking me for my honesty and bravery, I realized how many people needed to hear this message of hope. This show mattered. Everyone is affected, or loves someone who is affected, by mental illness. It is a silent struggle existing all around us; with every story shared, we work to end the stigma. Mental health advocacy is crucial and beautiful work.
On behalf of the entire This Is My Brave College Edition cast, I’d like to thank those who came to support us at our first show! For those of you who missed us, we’ll be performing again at Harvard on October 23, Northeastern on October 28, and Tufts on November 5. Come out, say hello, keep an open mind, and learn what it means to be brave from some of Boston’s toughest fighters.