Profile in Brave: From TV Reporter to Mental Health Advocate, Speaker and Entrepreneur, Lauren Hope Shares Her Wisdom

IMG_7475 (1)

 

When Lauren Hope, entrepreneur and mental health advocate, practices self-care, she plays a Norah Jones CD and visualizes herself in a sunflower field.

Hope, 35, of Suffolk, Virginia, shares her lived experience with major depressive disorder and anxiety as a speaker, peer specialist, and on her blog Good Girl Chronicles. I found her through Instagram and the organization This is My Brave. The day we chatted I could hear Boo, her rescue dog, whom she adopted from the local Humane Society in the background.

“Boo and I rescued each other. He’s my emotional support dog. It’s nice having something to take care of that gets me moving and redirects my thoughts,” said Hope.

Hope’s troubles began in 2014 while a t.v. reporter for the #1 station in Hampton Roads. She was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety but believed it was only a character defect, that she could cure herself by pushing herself harder.

This came to an end after she attempted to take her own life that May. Her life slowly spiraled into a psych hospital stay, leaving her television job and eventually into homelessness for a year. She also gained 100 pounds.

In late 2016, she tried a new medication, which worked, and a new therapist. She reconnected with her Christian faith, and in 2017 began telling her story through blogging about her suicide attempt and mental illness. This led to people asking her to speak at mental health events. She’s been a board member for two years of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Virginia chapter.

She credits her advocacy as well as her survival during her homeless period to reaching out for help. She was surprised how when you reach out people freely give. Some donated to her GoFundMe page; while others let her take showers in their homes.

Telling her own story is a new way of life. “As a t.v. reporter, you tell other people’s stories not your own.”

One day at a suicide prevention walk, someone suggested she turn her story and blog into a business. “Storytelling saved my life and changed its trajectory,” she said.

She became a peer specialist, and continued to speak, blog, vlog and create content for social. She also does mental health consulting. “I can go into any agency and through talking about my lived experience help people be better allies and create a stigma free environment.”

She’s spoken to the Hampton Police and Fire conference and was surprised how little people knew about mental health stigma. But her goal is to one day speak to news organizations about setting mental health boundaries and not working until burnout, a cause close to her heart.

“I don’t think people understand the trauma news people see everyday,” “It’s a hard business to be in. It triggered my illness.”

Hope became active with the storytelling nonprofit This is My Brave. She shared her story in the Fall 2018 Arlington, Virginia show, and then is produced the Hampton Roads show. She started a small-scale storytelling show Sparks of Hope storytelling to give more people a chance to tell their stories.

“It’s the spark that changes someone’s life,” she said.

Through it all, Hope learned a lot about life. “I learned that I am so much stronger and that their are still good people in the world.”

“It’s not an easy thing being transparent and it’s especially hard around mental health.”

People who inspire her are Jennifer Marshall, executive director of This is My Brave, who has given people a voice and whose lived experience gives people hope and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a wrestler, whose confidence she admires. It’s on her bucket list to meet him someday.

Her other self-care activities include seeing her therapist once a week, avid journaling, running, and right now using the Peloton App. She also reaches out to friends and has coffee dates on the phone.

You can find Lauren Hope at Instagram @goodgirlchroniclesllc or on her web site and blog www.goodgirlchronicles.com.

“I don’t know” An answer to a question or a conversation stopper

It was 1980-something, I was 12-years-old. We live in Simsbury, Connecticut—a very heterosexual, WASPY town in New England. My parents always told me to never tell your religion to anybody, not even to talk about the subject of religion.

It is Sunday and I am in Granby, the next town over, at a friend’s house. I don’t know this friend well. We are playing with dolls and then her mom tells us it is time for them to go to church. I am supposed to go with them since they are responsible for me for the day. We pile in the car with her brother and sister and on the way we go. I have never been to a church. Her mom makes conversation with the kids in the back seat. “Do you go to church?” she asks me. “I answer “No.” I remember what my parents taught me. “What religion are you?” she asked innocently. Just then, I saw Nazis marching my family to the death camp, hysterical laughing German soldiers shooting the people I loved in the face in my head all for answering this woman in the affirmative. So, I said, “I don’t know.” Good old, I don’t know. The answer you say when you want to hide who you are and not make an issue of it. The best answer off of someone’s anti-Semetic crack pipe. I don’t know. It would never open minds and hearts, it would never help the world embrace all the diverse religions and races and ethnicities. I said, “I don’t know.” “How do you not know your religion,” she asked quizzically. “I just don’t,” I said. And, at that, the conversation led someplace else. I breathed a sigh of relief. I dodged another one. But did I dodge it well? I missed an opportunity to educate and open minds, take people out of their comfort zones.

I am in high school in the mid-nineties. I attended an alternative private day school a few towns over in Hartford. We are in gym class, hanging all over the weight lifting equipment. Lisa, a girl a year older than me, starts asking kids what their sexual orientation is. All are answering her straight. When she comes to me, I am not sure how to answer. I really don’t understand her question. Whatever I said would permanently label me throughout my school years and perhaps my life. I quickly searched my mental file for some answer. I shrugged at her and said, “I don’t know.” I expected her to laugh at me and ridicule me. But all she said was “That’s okay, you have plenty of time to find out.” I let out a sigh of relief. But from that moment on it brought out the question why is sexuality so important to people. It forced me to research different sexual orientations and realize the prejudice there is out there on the GLBT community. Looking back on that gym class afternoon, I realized that many of the students whom she asked could have answered one way because they were hiding who they really were. While I experimented with both sexes in high school and college, today I am happily heterosexual.

I bring up these examples because as a mental health advocate I am forced every day on whether to hide who I am with people or to use conversations as teachable moments. When I tell people what I do, that I am a writer of a blog on mental health issues and a mental health advocate, it always scares me because the stigma is greater. But a few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that the phrase “I don’t know” no longer applies to me. My battle with mental illness has shaped who I am as does my rich Jewish heritage and my early experimentation of my sexuality has allowed me to accept the diversity of all people. To me, erasing stigma is about changing how we have conversations with people and opening the door for teachable moments. My business cards have my blog’s logo on it and from now on I will talk about my past proudly because I can change minds.

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher, a Champion for Mental Health

carrie

 

I’m not a big Star Wars fan but I do have quite a few Yoda quotes pinned to my fridge. I first saw Carrie Fisher live in her one woman show Wishful Drinking at the Hartford Stage. I was well into my journey with bipolar disorder and thrilled to see someone so vocal about her own struggle. When Fisher spoke out about her own struggles she gave permission for someone to seek help for their own mental health problems. Her story said that she had no shame about being sick and then getting well. Wishful Drinking was humorous as well as a powerful educational tool for people to see they are not alone. I just finished binge watching Lady Dynamite with Maria Bamford. Bamford also bipolar uses her tv series in much the same way to educate people about what mental illness is and take back some of the stereotypes with laughter as well. I owe a great deal of thanks to celebrities willing to be vocal about their struggles whatever they are. I know Fisher was featured on the cover of BP Magazine. She spoke about it on 60 Minutes as well. While we all can’t advocate in these ways, we bloggers, writers, and laypeople can use our time and talents to create content that engages people about mental health. Blogs, letters to the editor, lobbying legislatures, speaking out in NAMI and DBSA‘s speaker’s bureaus are all good ways to get the message out. Fisher did her part. Now, it’s time to carry on the good fight.

How Stigma Kills

People ask me why I want to write a column like this. But aren’t you embarrassed of your own story they say. My reply is always No. My story, based in the past, is merely a grounding point, a place to start, a place to show you I have experience with the issues so you can trust me better. In future columns, I’ll be seeking out others to write their stories and even doing some political/advocacy writing. I just haven’t gotton to all the possibilitiies yet. I have to slow down and write each column at a time. Back to story for a moment, the personal story can have power too. Jenn Marshall’s This is My Brave, Inc. uses storytelling and performance to change minds about mental illness. Jenn is bipolar and writes a blog about it at http://www.bipolarmomlife.com. I ask you to go to Youtube and type in This is My Brave for a list of performances of stories they’ve done.

My point is that mental illness is only embarrassing if we let it be. Mental illness is something that happened to us, only a part of us. Used skillfully and as a tool, our stories can educate people to know they are not alone. They serve to show legislators that people with these issues are real and strong and need services not stigma. I only wish our brave veterans would share more about what they go through on the inside so the rest of the country they fought for can really, truly have their back.

In the same way that the GLBT community had to come out in order to raise awareness about who they are and their issues, the community of those with mental illness must do the same. However, we must do it in the most respectful way unlike the pride parades of the GLBT community. We must start blogs, testify in front of legislators, join organizations like This is My Brave and NAMI and share our stories with schools and colleges, tell our stories to law enforcement in order to change the way police treat the mentally ill.

And yes, our stories, parts of them that is, are embarrassing. But we can heal ourselves and just make the embarrassing parts part of what happened. We don’t have to fear the darkness. Chances are someone out there experienced the same thing and lives in the darkness every day.