Jessica Tookey—artist and advocate
Story Megan Bryant Photos Kimberlee Miller
“Location. Location. Location.”
It’s a common phrase when referring to the perfect place to put down roots for your family’s home, office, or ideal vacation spot. Most often, it is viewed with outward context, but, have you stopped lately to think about what you allow to occupy your mental real estate? That location, between your waxy ears, is arguably the most critical property that we own and it’s worth the investment to be mindful of what goes on in our brain and who/what we allow to occupy that precious space.
Life is an ever-bustling experience, jam-packed with deadlines, expectations, health issues, personal and professional relationships, and just, well, general overwhelm. We always seem to be running from one thing to the next and overextending ourselves. Our brains are loaded with the to-dos and less of the freedom of enjoying life in the moment with people who we care about.
It’s no wonder we see articles aplenty documenting research that cites increases in a variety of mental health issues from depression and anxiety to more serious psychiatric disorders. We need to take inventory of our thoughts to see what can stay, and what should hit the curb for garbage pick-up.
Monitoring where we expel our brain power is important to our health and happiness. For some, it’s even more critical because thoughts can become triggers, and can lead even the strongest-willed into a world of hopelessness.
Boise-based artist, Jessica Tookey, is the creator of an impactful art exhibit called “Words Matter.” It originated as a way for her to showcase young women who had been victims of bullying. By tackling this topic through images of real people, she hoped to open dialogue about what spurs this kind of treatment towards other people, and how can we overcome it and use our words and talents for good in the world.
Following her intuition, the exhibit expanded into a display of drawings featuring people who we have lost to suicide, including beloved community all-stars like three-time Olympian Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, and former Boise State University communications professor and Suicide Prevention Advocate, Peter Wollheim.
The process of drawing an image of someone who has taken their own life can be very emotionally overwhelming. “I have to clear out why I’m drawing them. To think about what they went through makes it really hard to look at their picture for hours and hours.” She says, “I focus on the beauty. They always have such a great smile.” It helps to pull the light out of them instead of focusing on the despair they endured.
She is very familiar with the grasps of depression and is an advocate for addressing mental health issues before it’s too late. “My first memory of suicide goes back to third grade,” Tookey recalls. She was having suicidal thoughts on a sometimes-daily basis, and, thankfully, spoke with her mother about it. “At least I was not yet in the deep dark space. Once you get there, you’re not telling people you are having the thoughts.”
In addition to her stunning art, Tookey has become a steady voice of hope through her daily Facebook LIVE videos. What started as a personal goal to achieve a run of 100 days in a row, has now, as of the time of this article, surpassed 208 consecutive days of “going live.” With as much accessibility and endless access to influencing others online, she points out how powerful it is for us to use these resources in a positive way.
“There is no single answer that works for everyone, but everyone does have a purpose. You must figure out what your purpose is,” Tookey expresses.
May we all take some time to consider how much happier and more productive we can be in our lives if we are thoughtful and selective of the relationships we have and the content we feed our minds. Think of our brains as a fixer-upper! There’s no shame in doing what you need to maintain high property value within yourself.