TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS
Although Electric Forest is one of my favorite festivals to perform at, I noticed something unexpected this year:
The highlight of my weekend was not being on stage, playing music, or even running around exploring: it was volunteering inside of this little treehouse in the middle of the woods…
In conjunction with an amazing non-profit called To Write Love On Her Arms (who serve to encourage mental health, from light-hearted art projects to pro-active suicide prevention – https://twloha.com), the festival and their partners from Grand Artique had set up little telephones, attached to trees in The Forest – like some kind of magical, mysterious phone booths. I sat inside a little treehouse with an old-timey switchboard and headset, playing Operator to the network of phones placed throughout the forest. I would see a button light up, which meant that there was someone at a phone, and I could ring a phone and see who answered. The idea was to engage people in a meaningful discussion, and I decided to interview people about friendship, philosophy, and the meaning of life.
Electric Forest made a video of our project, check it out:
After hours of deeply inspiring heart-to-heart conversations with perfect strangers, I remarked to my friend that the experience was so much more fun than playing a set. It was more fun than making music, hanging with friends, or partying at a festival. People were wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and they were crying, and talking about suicide and losing their friends, and getting deep into the principles of love and living. Ironically what stands out the most to me as the most memorable highlight of the music festival was the joy of getting to engage in deep talks about life and death with strangers.
I asked questions like “Who are your friends? Who are you close to? What are your friendships like? How is your communication with your friends and family members? Is there anything you wish you could say to someone, but haven’t? Is there any advice you wish you could give, if only someone would listen? Is there any advice you know you should follow, but have been avoiding” etc… Partly, I was genuinely curious about the answers. And partly, I wanted a fast-track to vulnerability and thoughtful discourse instead of mindless party talk or banter.
I think engaging in ‘deep talks’ can be incredibly healing… pondering life along with another human being can be fascinating, but also can lead to enhanced mental health. So often i hear people exasperated with anxiety, or gripped with depression, remarking desperately about how lost they feel. My first instinct is to recommend therapy, but the stigma around that can be problematic.
My earnest belief is that therapy can help heal and strengthen. And if it’s started early on, i believe people can avoid psychological trauma by engaging in preemptive mental health awareness and exercises. This can come in early childhood through nurturing parents, teachers, family members and friends – it can come from government services which enrich early childhood education with nurturing lessons and ideologies, it can come from nonprofits or any organization (even tax dollars) which affirm value in the hearts of people, which encourage confidence, self-esteem, and teach healthy ways of living and navigating the world.
This can continue on… perhaps through ‘normalized therapy’ which does not need to be a psychiatrist prescribing drugs and medication to treat depression or anxiety or ADHD, but rather through strong, positive role models, educational media and materials, and interactive discussions focused on positive life lessons.
By normalize, I mean: MAKE IT NORMAL. Make it natural, fun, interactive. Ideally, a therapist doesn’t need to be any more taboo than a gymnastics coach or a swim instructor, a yoga teacher, a personal trainer or a dentist. Make lifelong therapy as normal as playing sports, as normal as PE in schools, as normal as going to the gym, as normal as regular checkups at the dentist or the doctor.
When you stop and think about it… isn’t it literally insane that we don’t do this? We treat ‘mental health’ like an embarrassing, forbidden taboo, or we ignore it as a society, or we’re conditioned never to even conceive of it, many times until it’s too late.
How many people remember the emotional pain of getting teased or bullied when they were 7 years old? Or 9 years old, or 11, or 16?
How many people remember feeling emotional pain at the fear of being teased at school… maybe for having a big nose, or acne, or a silly voice, or those awkward braces, or because your hair didn’t look as good as the popular kid’s hair, or whatever…
How many people remember feeling emotional pain in junior high when they lost a friend, or went through a breakup, or maybe got in a fight?
What if they never even had a boyfriend or girlfriend, or what if you had trouble making or keeping friends at all?
How many people remember experiencing emotional pain as a child due to a clash with someone in their family?
Am I wrong for assuming that this is 90% of all of us? 99%? 100%??
(Secret: I think it’s 100%!!!!)
A vast majority have suffered this deep, overwhelming, confusing, mysterious pain for as long as we can remember, but how many people treated it carefully the same way they would treat a broken bone, or strep throat, or even ‘bad grades’? It’s normal to go to the gym to ‘exercise’ your physical body. But for some reason, it’s taboo to exercise your emotional being. It’s taboo for a kid in 6th grade to talk openly in class about feeling lonely and depressed. It’s taboo for a freshman in high school to admit they are going to talk to a therapist because they or afraid or anxious.
In my ideal world, everyone has a life coach, or a team of life coaches, who they meet with once a week, every week of their lives. This could offer preemptive guidance to avoid depression or anxiety; it could teach people empowering skills to navigate difficult emotional challenges… it could even catalyze self-reflective intelligent growth and provide tangible life advice for making decisions about future studies, jobs, relationships, and surviving times of crisis.
When I was 10 or 11 my parents and I met with a child counsellor to discuss “the challenges of adolescence and how to prepare for puberty”. They literally told me I was going to begin experiencing physical changes which would result in new emotions and feelings. They warned that many of these new feelings would be painful or hard, and that it was extremely normal to struggle with feelings of inferiority, self doubt, and sadness. They explained that as a child starts to become an adult our brains are flooded with chemicals which can both give us strength to grow but also which can confuse and overwhelm us. And they told me that no matter what: it is VERY normal to feel awkward, embarrassed, insecure and even inferior as you start to grow up. Just like it’s normal to fumble around at the roller-rink the first time you put on roller skates, or it’s normal to feel afraid of the water before you know how to swim: it’s normal to struggle through the emotional pain of life as you begin to transition from childhood to adulthood. Even though they were right, and I did struggle immensely (sometimes with fear, or depression, or stress, or anxiety, or sadness, or lack of confidence… and sometimes with failure and humiliation, or rejection, or whatever) I learned how to navigate these feelings, and have always wanted to help others learn to navigate in ways which work best for them.
I hope our society can gradually learn to embrace more interactive ways of helping children develop and sustain enhanced mental health. I hope we can encourage proactive methods of therapy and self-help to build healthy, strong, confident, excited, inspired, loving, open, friendly, powerful humans with healthy physical bodies, AND healthy emotional bodies.
I think TWLOHA is an awesome organization with an ethos similar to mine, and I was proud to get a chance to work with them.
If you need someone to talk to, TWLOHA can help you find local resources, or connect you with a 24-hour helpline. No matter what your problem, speaking to someone is a great place to start. https://twloha.com/find-help
If you just want to learn more about their organization or give your support, visit: https://twloha.com