Aspire to Inspire

by / Comments Off on Aspire to Inspire / 263 View / January 2, 2017

by Liza Long

What do people who live with mental illness look like? Erin Lorensen, Jessica Wyman, and Kristen Johnson look like successful, attractive, busy women who found a common calling on the Mrs. Idaho pageant stage in 2015 and 2016. Though they didn’t win the title, together, they formed a team, “Aspire to Inspire,” to continue to promote their platforms, including mental health awareness.

All three women live with mental health conditions. Lorenson, a nurse at Primary Health, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type 2, shortly after nursing school. “Stigma kept me from going to the doctor,” Lorenson told me as we discussed the group’s inspiring new project, a Boise production of the highly acclaimed “This Is My Brave” show.

“I was okay with people knowing I had depression because it’s more accepted by society. But I was terrified if people found out I had bipolar,” she said.

In part, Lorensen blames the media’s stigmatizing portrayal of bipolar disorder and other serious mental illnesses.  That’s part of the reason that “This Is My Brave” can be so powerful: By showcasing the talents and personal stories of real people who are living with mental illness, they help to break down negative stereotypes and build respect.

Johnson, a busy wife and mother, lives with depression and anxiety. She started therapy when she was just three years old. “When I finally accepted my diagnosis, the whole world opened up for me,” she said. “People told me that I couldn’t succeed in life because of my illness, but they were wrong.”

Wyman, a self-described “cycling fanatic” who works full time at Rolling H Cycles in Nampa, was anxious and depressed as a child, even sometimes thinking about suicide. She and Lorenson have been friends since seventh grade. When Wyman’s childhood mental health problems resurfaced in adulthood, she reached out to Lorenson, who has been very public about her own struggles with bipolar disorder.

“I ended up being diagnosed with bipolar on St. Patrick’s Day,” Wyman said. “I tell people that it truly was my lucky day because suddenly, my whole life made sense.”

All three women note that their openness about sharing their mental health challenges sometimes surprises people. “When I tell people, they say, ‘you’re the last person I would expect to be living with mental illness,’” Johnson told me.  “We’ve all been successful as adults; we just have extra challenges.”

The mission of This Is My Brave is to end the stigma of mental illness by sharing poetry, essays, and music in a live theater show in local communities across the United States. Co- founder and Executive Director Jennifer Marshall was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her twenties. The organization was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2016. Lorenson connected with Marshall after the 2016 Mrs. Idaho pageant. “I crashed, and I posted about it on Facebook,” Lorenson said. “Jen commented on my post that I should share the story with ‘This Is My Brave.’”

The Boise cast will share pieces of their stories in a variety of media. Some cast members live with mental illness, and some were raised with family members who lived with mental illness.

But Lorenson stresses that the show is for everyone in the community, not just those who have been personally affected by mental illness. “If you ask a room full of people to stand up if they are affected, nearly every person will stand,” she said.

“The people who don’t realize how they are affected are the ones who need this show the most,” Wyman added. “It’s liberating for all of us when people can hear our stories. Maybe they can get help for themselves or for someone they love. We need more compassion and understanding.”

This Is My Brave

Saturday, February 18, 2017 7:30 p.m.

Boise State University Special Events Center

For more information and tickets

see Aspire to Inspire’s Facebook page at

www.facebook.com/AspireToInspireEKJ/

#LiveBrave and #isharemystory

If you or someone you know is in mental health crisis, please contact the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357 or visit your nearest emergency room.