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Storytelling performance at Wharton destigmatizes mental illness


“This is My Brave: The Show” couldn’t go on without help from local producers like Michigan’s Alyssa Turcsak.

Turcsak was mourning the loss of a friend to suicide when she heard about the program on the radio. That led her to join the nonprofit This Is My Brave, which sponsors the nationwide mental health awareness presentation series coming to the Wharton Center Sunday.

She participated in one of its productions, in Iowa, in 2014.

“It was the first time I’d ever felt like I had a community. They’re actually the people who helped me get medication for the first time, to help with some of the issues I was struggling with,” she said.

Turcsak will emcee Sunday’s show, which she also booked.

She believes the connections between the poets, writers, musicians and the audience is the most vital aspect of the show.

“That’s the big one I hear frequently.

People don’t feel so isolated anymore, and they feel like they have a support system,” Turcsak said.

Jennifer Marshall, a This Is My Brave cofounder, said the show is “eye-opening for a lot of people, because they’re witnessing people from their own community tell their story creatively in a public forum. You’re witnessing art and hearing them talk about their struggles and how they found recovery.” Lansing’s own Jerri Nicole Wright, an outspoken advocate for mental health, will read an essay telling of her own journey. Wright, who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, has lived her life with resilient force.

“I have been a homeowner for 16 years, I have been an ex-smoker for 16 and a half years, I haven’t self harmed in 21 years, I’ve been married for 24 years and I’ve been sober for 28 years — by the grace of God, one day at a time,” Wright said.

Wright is always looking to reach out to somebody looking for answers in the same battle she continues to fight daily. She finds the show has potential to provide an important source of inspiration, or can perhaps a much needed first push toward reaching out.

“I think it can let people see those that live with mental illness as human beings first. We’re not just a diagnosis — we’re not crazy, or whatever term you want to use, we’re human beings,” Wright said.

This Is My Brave’s origins date back to Marshall’s 2006 diagnosis with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder. After undergoing hospitalization four times in five years, she found personal healing by running an anonymous blog, BipolarMomLife, which intimately detailed tribulations of her daily life.

“I wanted to find stories of people who had been through similar struggles. I found them through online blogs, and those people inspired me to start writing my own story,” Marshall said. “I felt like if I could share my story, and help someone else not give up, then it would be worth all the effort to write and put myself out there.”

The encouragement and positive feedback she received became therapeutic. She wished to share that same opportunity with others, booking the initial show after a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia. The show has since featured over 675 presenters in almost 50 performances. Marshall continues her blog at www.jennifermarshall.me.

Aside from its collaborative presentations, This Is My Brave organizes several charitable efforts, such as mental health first aid training, a bureau that books speakers for mental health conferences and, come 2019, a new program dedicated toward college-aged audiences.

“It’s an invisible illness. Most of the time when you’re talking about mental health conditions, there are many things hidden from the outside world,” Marshall said. “We’re making that visible by shining a spotlight on it and bringing them on stage.”

This Is My Brave: The Show

$18.50 Regular, $13.50 Student Sunday, Nov. 11, 3 p.m. Wharton Center for Performing Arts 705 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing www.whartoncenter.com (517) 432-2000


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