Telling Stories, by Virginia Atwell

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

*Trigger Warning* Suicide, Depression, Self Harm, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse

We spend our lives telling and listening to stories. Whether or not we realize it, everything from movies to podcasts are stories--they are narratives that teach us what it means to be human and what it means to tell our own stories.

Storytelling is an art, and like all art, we take joy and meaning from stories. We learn from stories.

The most important part of my work with Please Pass the Love has revolved around storytelling. Whether it’s encouraging young people to tell their stories or learning how to tell my own, stories are central to mental health education.

Stories create meaning, and when we attach that meaning to the statistics and diagnosis we see so often, we create a fuller picture of what it means to be a person with a mental illness.

People are stories, and people matter.

My story with mental illness began in junior high. It was rough adjusting to a new school and new peers--depression and anxiety hit me hard. Throughout the rest of junior high and high school, I battled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. By the time I had gotten to college, my trauma had compounded on itself. I slept through classes, stopped eating, and started drinking heavily.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

I had inadvertently surrounded myself with people who made it their goal to help--I owe my life to them in an incredibly real and present way.

I had a roommate who physically lifted me out of bed for classes, shoved coffee into my hand and pep-talked me the whole way to my desk. I found a mental health provider who gave me a correct diagnosis and helped me find the medication that keeps me afloat. I have friends and a family who make me laugh--that’s probably the most profoundly helpful thing I can imagine.

The supportive people around me changed my story--they changed the way I define myself.