When Boise nurse case manager Erin Lorensen learned she had bipolar II disorder, it took her weeks to process. Having been diagnosed with depression years prior, it wasn’t the idea of mental illness that was new — it was the seriousness that came along with it.
“I didn’t want the full diagnosis,” Lorensen said. “People associate bipolar disorder with being crazy. I wasn’t sure how my nursing career would continue.”
The question of how to communicate such a condition — if at all — stuck in her mind, so her interest was piqued when she heard of This is My Brave, a national nonprofit that organizes events at which people struggling with mental health issues share their stories. It was her interest that eventually brought the organization to Boise on Feb. 18, 2017.
More than a year after its first Boise incarnation, This is My Brave is returning for its second event at 6 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Boise State Special Events Center. The program will feature eight Idaho speakers communicating their experience with mental illness in a variety of ways — from essays to music and even comedy. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for college students.
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According to Lorsensen, the purpose of This is My Brave is to help eliminate societal misconceptions surrounding mental illness and the awkwardness of talking about it.
“For some people in the cast, this is their first time publicly speaking about the struggles they or their families have gone through,” Lorensen said. “It’s scary and you’re very vulnerable, but it’s also very empowering. We know how to hide that we’re struggling, and that’s why it’s so important to talk about this.”
For some members of the 2018 cast, the public expression of these experiences with mental health can be healing. Bridget Frank, one of the speakers for the Oct. 8 event, will share her experience of grief and depression in the wake of the loss of her son to suicide in September 2017. Destin Drew Frank had just returned from military duty in the United States Navy.
Frank said that in her presentation, she hopes to focus not only on eliminating the stigma she’s encountered concerning her depression, but also to address those struggling with mental illness within the military. “Basically (the military) wants you to just ‘man up’ and protect our country. You get blacklisted,” Frank said. “(The military personnel) push and push those kids. My son did well in his division because he was physically fit, but inside he was sweet and loving. He didn’t want to bark orders. He was 22 when he died.”
While the presentation tells a story of tragedy, Frank tries to find and express the other elements at play — even comedy. She said her presentation includes some humorous explorations of how strange coping with tragedy can be.
“I’m using the spin of how we can deal (with loss) and how we can cope. I’m finding humor any way I can so I can get to the next step,” Frank said. “It’s going to be emotional, and you’re going to realize how many people are touched by mental illness.”
Sivaquoi Laughlin, while taking a different approach, will also touch on how invisible mental illness can be. She described how her life grinded to a halt after she made an attempt to take her own life and, six years ago, was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorder.
“People were just shocked,” Laughlin said. “The more functioning your are, the harder it is to talk about it. How do you reach out for help when the response is, ‘How can you be struggling so much when you have nothing to be sad about?’”
In July 2011, her experience living with these conditions lead her to create “Behind Her Smile,” a blog about mental health which she has kept up to this day. Laughlin said the reaction to her blog was surprising, and made her realize just how many people were struggling with similar issues. From there, she made it her mission to speak out, and share her recovery and stumbles along the way.
“My mission is — though it’s a cliché — that if you can inspire just one person with your story, then that’s what makes the difference,” Laughlin said. “When people have reached out to me, (that is) what has kept me going.”