From public radio shows such as The Moth to local storytelling groups, there are more chances than ever to tell a personal tale in front of an audience. This weekend, an event called This Is My Brave comes to Lewiston, inviting people who have experienced mental illness to take center stage at the local Franco Center and share their story.
Corinne Pratt, 39, has struggled with mental illness for most of her life. For a long time, she didn’t think she could open up about it.
“For me, it’s really been the biggest barrier in my mental health. I felt I was bothering people by telling them when I was having a hard time or struggling, and that it would really just be better if I disappeared or faded into background,” she says.
But recently, she decided to step into the spotlight.
“There isn’t a day that passes where I do not make the conscious decision to live,” Pratt says at a recent rehearsal for This Is My Brave. “I shouldn’t be here today. But I’ve been given a second chance. My suicide attempt was significant. I was legally dead four times in the mile it took the rescue to get me to the emergency room.”
This Is My Brave is a national organization that helps put on storytelling events across the U.S. featuring people who’ve experienced mental illness. Pratt is one of 10 Mainers who will share their stories at the Franco Center Sunday, through essays, poetry and music.
“I don’t make it public when something is buggin’,” sings Zach Hurd of Auburn, who will perform a song about his PTSD. “Running I’m running I’m running I swear that I’ll jump. I can’t take none of the blame, this isn’t my fault.”
Hurd, originally from Haiti, remembers a tough childhood, going days without eating, before he was adopted and brought to the U.S. with his two younger siblings. His mother and four older siblings stayed in Haiti, which he says is part of the reason that he struggles with PTSD.
“Having to basically go from one country to another, and not being able to understand why my mom couldn’t keep me and my younger siblings, and why she gave us up,” he says.
Hurd says he’s sharing his experience so that others will understand that mental illness isn’t a choice. And in some ways, he says, the stage offers an opportunity.
“It’s hard to be transparent because of the fact that like, you can have a group of people — even the closest people that you trust — like you’re afraid they’re going to look at you differently. Because it’s maybe hard for them to relate, and if you don’t understand it, oftentimes you’re afraid of it,” he says.
The goal of This Is My Brave, says local show organizer Tracy Griffin, is to spread awareness about mental illness and make it easier for people to talk about it.
“For anyone that is willing to get up and tell their story, it makes someone else feel less ashamed,” she says.
Griffin says she has lost family members and friends to suicide over the years, and hopes that these kinds of personal stories will help to reduce stigma and make it easier for those struggling with mental illness to get help.
That’s what Hallie Twomey hopes her story will do. She lost her son CJ to suicide seven years ago.
“One gun. One horrible argument. One eye roll to beat all eye rolls. His question: ‘You think I’m a failure, don’t you?’ My response? Silence. Not a word. Not a peep. Nothing. Well, nothing other than that effing eye roll. ‘Failure? I’ll show you failure.’ And he did,” she says.
The pain of Twomey’s last interaction with her son and his subsequent suicide, she says, is just as raw today as it was seven years ago. But she says that hearing her fellow storytellers’ experiences have helped her not feel so alone. And she hopes that’s what others in the audience will feel as well.
“Every day is a gift, and even seven years later, I forget that sometimes. I think we need to be reminded that life can be ugly and messy and we don’t all get the happy ending,” she says. “So I just keep going every day, and some days are good, some days are bad, but sitting on this stage with this group of people gives me hope that somebody will hear something amongst this cast and relate, and maybe we’ll change somebody’s outcome.”
This Is My Brave begins at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Franco Center in Lewiston.
This story was originally published Nov. 2, 2017 at 5:31 p.m. ET.