I learned about the Walk for Hope at work in 2007; ours was the agency who helped put the yearly TV ad together. I didn’t need a lot of convincing to join our team—I’ve had depression and anxiety most of my life, and around about that time, the panic attacks I’d had since childhood were becoming debilitating. I’d arrive at work and realize I couldn’t remember the commute. I’d melt down out of nowhere. I began experiencing hypochondria and agoraphobia. I racked up thousands of dollars in medical debt for mysterious issues no one could seem to diagnose. I was physically healthy, and yet I could barely function.

Other members of my own family, too, had long been treated for the same issues that plagued me; and other illnesses I’d escaped, like alcoholism, had claimed the lives or livelihoods of family members I would never meet. I’ve lost friends to suicide and worse. I have so many stories. Too many stories. No one has ever had to convince me that mental illness is as real as heart disease or cancer.

Eventually, I found a therapist who gave me the tools to understand and manage my strange brain. Where a bad therapist, or a mismatched therapist, can do tremendous harm, a good one can absolutely save your world.

In 2011, I became the captain for the team at my new job. With help from our colleagues, my two friends and I made some terrifically fun videos called “Choose Your Redhead,” to help get people excited about what we were doing. We each picked a persona—an elf, a soldier and a ninja—and had folks donate to whichever one they wanted to see win our epic battle. In 2012, we even managed to get Van involved! We raised thousands and thousands of dollars. I was so proud. So, so proud. And if you’ve ever seen me at the Walk for Hope wearing elf ears—that’s why!

By the time Shelley offered me the job as the Foundation of Hope’s Communications Specialist in 2016, there was no way I could turn it down. It is my pleasure, every day, to continue the important work of normalizing these conversations, of making safe spaces for people to talk about their illness, their worries, their pain, their successes. I am so grateful that this organization exists. I am so grateful for everyone who bares their hearts, shows their mettle and gives me something to fight for.

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