Bill Manny

Meet a survivor, a 'weirdo' and a woman 'stronger than the stigma' at the Human Library

Julia Larson is a human book. If you check out her title, "Survivor," you’ll get the story of a young woman’s pain and breakthroughs dealing with sexual abuse and suicidal impulses.

“When I share it, I feel like I’m helping others,” she said, explaining her desire to tell her story. “And when I’m helping others, that makes me happy.”

Tahirih Cahill will offer her “readers” a story about failing to reach unobtainable perfection as an artist and mom.

“The one thing that I hope that anyone who sits down with me takes away is to just love themselves completely,” said Cahill, “the weird parts, the quirky parts, and the parts that feel like a failure.”

These two women are among the nine "books" that readers will be able to check out at the Human Library from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, at Storey Park in Meridian, part of the Indigo Idaho Arts festival. It’s a project by the Meridian Library District and the Ada Community Library.

Each of the human books has titles, chapters, even book jackets that summarize the author and story. Their readers get to check them out for 20-minute sessions.

It is a deliberately different kind of conversation, said Dani Elizabeth, the Meridian library services assistant overseeing the project.

“We don’t see a lot of opportunities to face a human being and be able to ask direct and maybe uncomfortable questions and get understanding from that,” said Elizabeth. “There’s plenty of internet opportunities to shout at one another, but this is a pretty intimate setting where you have a chance to actually learn about somebody else.”

Elizabeth started lobbying for the project several years ago, after she learned about the program born in Denmark in 2000. After a wave of hate crime there, the Danes wanted to find a way get people to talk about stereotypes and combat stigma. The Human Library was born.

“It just took off from there and now it’s a worldwide organization,” said Elizabeth. She wanted to do a version to help “invisible communities” in homogenous Idaho address stereotypes and prejudices here. The first event last August kept 10 human books busy for three hours.

“I wanted marginalized members of these communities to have an opportunity to tell their stories and maybe get things right,” said Elizabeth.

Readers at this week's Human Library at the Indigo Idaho Arts festival, which has a mental health theme, can check out stories from refugees, people who’ve experienced homelessness and addiction, an AIDS survivor and advocate, and more. A counselor will be on hand if anyone needs to talk or get information about local mental health resources.

Larson, Cahill and two other "books" shared their stories with the Statesman, offering a preview — edited for clarity and brevity — of what patrons can check out Saturday.

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Caitie Fredrickson Kelsey Grey kgrey@idahostatesman.com

Caitie Fredrickson: “Stronger Than the Stigma.” Chapters include “Daily Life with Bi-Polar Disorder.”

I’ve encountered a lot of people who maybe have prejudice against people with mental illness or just misconceptions. I just really want to speak up and show that people with mental illness are just like you. They just struggle with something different, but we all struggle with something.

What will readers hear from your story? I’ll tell you my story about growing up with mental illness, but not knowing that’s what it was, just knowing I was always a little different than other kids. I’ll talk about maybe my diagnosis, my stays in the psych ward. We’ll talk about the stigma I’ve encountered .

As a child I learned to hide it really well when I was out in public, because it was a coping mechanism. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I’ve really learned how to have a polished exterior.

What don’t people understand about mental illness? It can be lonely to feel like no one really understands why you are the way you are, or why you act the way you act, or really who you are inside

What do you want readers to take away from your story: I just want them to see that people with mental illness aren’t weird or crazy or scary or necessarily all that different from you. They’re just people. I knew a man who said, ‘We’re all broken somewhere.’ I’m broken in my brain; maybe you’re broken in your heart. You know, maybe it’s something else, but we all have something in us that’s broken, and we should learn to come together to work on those things and appreciate each other rather than push each other away.

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Tahirih Cahill Kelsey Grey kgrey@idahostatesman.com

Tahirih Cahill: Burnout: When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: The Story Of A Highly Motivated High Achieving Failure.” Sample chapters: “Art School Dropout,” “From the Punk Scene to Mom Jeans.”

I sort of had this sense of direction of where my life was going to go, and what I was going to achieve, and in my young naivete I didn’t realize that life doesn’t always go according to plan.

I was constantly letting myself down and I was depressed and I was anxious and I wasn’t myself – I had tucked away a lot of who I really am, to put on this facade of who I thought I should be, to be considered successful or respectable or competent.

Overall, I am a weirdo, and that’s a label I wear with pride, because that means you’re being authentic, that you’re not afraid to show your enthusiasm about the things you’re enthusiastic about, even if other people think it’s weird.

The more I talk about it, the more feedback that I get from other people that I’m not alone. And so if I can let other people know that they are not alone and it’s OK to talk about it, it’s OK to mess up, its OK to make mistakes, its OK to be imperfect, then I think we’ll all be happier and healthier because of it.

What is the story people will hear if they check you out? They’ll get to follow along with me on my adventures of some pretty devastating lows and some pretty magnificent highs, and all the twists and turns I between, my struggles with depression and eating disorders, and how I worked through that in my process of just learning to love myself and my quirks, and then learning to embrace my flaws and my imperfections.

What do you want readers to take away from your story: We all have baggage, we all have flaws, we’re all going to make mistakes, things aren’t going to go as planned, and it doesn’t make us any less perfectly whole as a human ­— and we should absolutely be OK with that.

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Charlye Hahn Kelsey Grey kgrey@idahostatesman.com

Charlye Hahn: “Not Them, Not Here, Not With Us.”

I really want you to follow my journey as a foster mom. I want you to understand who the children are that are in need of out-of-home placement, and break down that myth that they’re worse than the general population, and how can we as a community come in and really support this particular overlooked population.

How many foster children have you cared for? My husband and I actively fostered for about eight years and we did about 12 children. We did end up adopting three children.

What do you want people to take away from your book? If you take nothing else away, I want you to understand that as a community we really have an opportunity to support these children that are in are in foster care, give them that message that they’re still important and that they’re still loved, and if you can take nothing else away from that, that would be to please understand that these children need your help and your support.

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Julia Larson Kelsey Grey kgrey@idahostatesman.com

Julia Larson: “Survivor.” Sample chapters: “If It’s Not Rape, Is It Still Sexual Abuse?” “Coming out as suicidal”

It’s such a hard topic and I want to make it less awkward and make it OK to talk about. I was able to get a lot of help and realize I have a lot of worth in life, and I was able to realize that the path I was on was not what I really wanted in life. It was sad and lonely and I didn’t want that. So I found things that made me happy. I sort of flipped a switch and decided that I wanted to do something with my life, and I wanted to live.

I am a support worker for two sisters with muscular dystrophy. That’s me helping the world, I guess. You realize that everybody has challenges and everybody has hard times, and if we can help each other with them, then that makes it easier for all of us.

What will people hear from your story? I was pushed further than I would like to go. I was taken advantage of – I was more of an object, more of a means to his happiness. And it just tore me apart. I was lying and I just was failing everything and my whole world all of a sudden came crashing down.

It’s hard to ask for help. You think, ‘I have it all together, I’ll be fine.’ But when I realized I needed help, it was a lot better, this burden, this weight was lifted off of me.

I am learning things about myself that I like, different things that make me happy. I am realizing that you can’t rely on other people for everything. You can ask for help and get help and people are awesome. But in the end you have to want it. They can’t do it for you.

What do you want readers to take away from your story? I want people to realize that if you ask for help, that doesn’t make you less of person. It doesn’t make you this weak person, it doesn’t make you any less. We all need help.

I went through this horrible thing and it was awful. When I went to (a hospital I Utah), it was the hardest thing ever. My parents sent me there; it wasn’t my choice. I felt like I was in jail almost. But as the days went on, I realized that if I want out of here, I got to put in the work. So I did. I was happier. I felt so much better. I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this. I’m not worthless, I’m not hopeless, I have a purpose. I can be loved.’ It just felt so much better.

Bill Manny is the Statesman's Community Engagement Editor: bmanny@idahostatesman.com; 208-377-6406; Twitter/Instagram @whmanny.
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