I believe hope is a thing that I will find sometime/if someone just will show me, belted Noah of Noah Gundersen and the Courage under the colored stage lights in Bovard Auditorium. His lyrics set the tone for the evening.
On Monday, members of the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms visited USC to promote awareness about its mission to provide aid to those struggling with depression and addiction.
“No one deserves to do life alone,” said founder Jamie Tworkowski. “Help is real. Hope is real.”
Sitting on a stool in black jeans and a grey thermal, he spoke about how the movement unexpectedly began.
In January 2006, while Tworkowski was working in Florida, one of his co-workers committed suicide. Tworkowski’s boss gave his team only 30 minutes to deal with the suicide before getting back to work. The company wouldn’t discuss the death or the broader topic of suicide prevention.
With his co-worker’s death still on his mind, Tworkowski met a girl named Renee through a mutual friend. According to Tworkowski, Renee had been through years of addiction and had a history of both depression and self-injury. She was lost while surrounded by friends who sent her discouraging and condescending messages about using drugs and not getting help. When Renee attempted to get help, she was denied entry to a treatment center because it was not equipped with the necessary “detox” period she needed. At this point, Tworkowski and his friends stepped in.
“We spent five days with her, keeping her sober. There was a sense of privilege, being able to be there with this girl who had been through so much,” Tworkowski recalled.
His friends tried to tell Renee that blanket words like “sobriety,” “healing” and “freedom” could be real. Mid-week, Tworkowski asked a question he thought Renee would surely be unwilling to answer: “Will you tell your story?”
Renee agreeed, prompting the creation of To Write Love On Her Arms.
Tworkowski wrote a two-page post about Renee’s struggle on the social network site MySpace. It was never a business plan to Tworkowski or his friends, but a way to articulate their belief that there is something better for everyone struggling with problems like addiction, self-injury and depression. The price of Renee’s treatment, however, prompted Tworkowski to make shirts and sell them to people he knew, including the lead singer of Switchfoot. The musician wore the shirt at a concert in Florida, which in turn jumpstarted traffic on the MySpace page. Today, the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms has received more than 100,000 messages from over 100 countries.
The mission of To Write Love on Her Arms is “presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.” The group exists to encourage, inform and directly invest in treatment and recovery.
“It resonates with anyone who is alive. It speaks into broken places in people’s lives where darkness is,” said Rich Sullivan, a team member and old friend of Tworkowski. “Whether you’re 10 years old or 70 years old, pain is universal.”
Most members of Tworkowski’s team were moved by Renee’s story or had a similar experience that made them want to get involved.
“It was not a smart business decision for anybody,” Sullivan said, chuckling. The movement is powered instead by the belief that every life holds the same value and meaning.
Tworkowski spoke of the all-encompassing nature of To Write Love On Her Arms.
“It’s not just white people, these are not just ‘emo’ problems,” he said. “This is part of being human around the world. All of us know what pain feels like.”
The project is extremely relevant in a time when depression is the third leading underlying cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States; yet two-thirds of people with depression never seek treatment.
“They all live in this place, but they are living alone in this place,” Tworkowski added.
According to Tworkowski, those who are feeling sadness or sorrow are more likely to stay quiet than reach out.
“We say friends and family are the closest to us, yet we can’t even reach out to them. It’s scary,” counselor Aaron Moore explained.
This is why Tworkowski believes community is important for those fighting the darkness within.
“Life has nothing to do with how many Facebook friends you have, but with the people who actually know your struggles and dreams — which are not always so far apart,” Tworkowski said. “[Getting help] will be worth it.”