Speaker: One story has the power to affect many, change people’s lives

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Over the course of four years, a small group of people with a vision have responded to 150,000 e-mails and messages from more than 100 different countries.

To Write Love on Her Arms is an organization that is “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide” according to its website. The messages and e-mails the organization responds to are from people reaching out for support and for help.

“It started in 2006 as an attempt to tell a story,” said Jamie Tworkowski, one of the creators of the organization.

Tworkowski meant Renee, a friend of a friend, who was wrapped up in “drug addiction, depression, self-injury, and had attempted suicide,” Tworkowski said. “She was denied entry into a treatment center.”

Five days of sobriety was Renee’s only chance for admission into treatment. Tworkowski and a few friends took it upon themselves to get her through the five days that would follow, and they did.

During this time, Tworkowski wrote a story about Renee, put it on his MySpace page, sent it to friends and family via e-mail and printed T-shirts to raise money to help offset the cost of treatment.

After Jon Foreman, member of the band Switchfoot and Tworkowski’s friend, wore one of the T-shirts during a performance, the sensation took off.

It did not take long before Tworkowski had a realization.

“We are bumping into a bigger story here.” To Write Love on Her Arms began to as a bridge between desperate people and the resources that could help them, Tworkowski said.

The reality about depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide often does not get attention, even though 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., there are 18 million cases, and two-thirds of those suffering never seek professional treatment.

“I’m actually a cutter,” said Heidi Keil, junior in English literature at Oklahoma State University.

Keil traveled four hours from her home in Oklahoma to attend Tuesday’s event sponsored by Union Program Council.

“I didn’t hear about (To Write Love on Her Arms) until I did this last July,” Keil said, as she revealed an eight-inch scar on her calf. “They have definitely helped kind of alleviate some of the pain I am going through.”

For Keil, the organization begins helping by raising awareness.

“Their whole goal is to help bring to the social media that it’s OK to be like this, it’s not OK to cut,” Keil said. “But for people who don’t deal with this, it shows them that we’re not crazy.”

Keil was 14 when her father died unexpectedly. For years, Keil dealt with guilt and sadness, and at age 21, she began dealing with the pain in a different way.

“I grabbed a pair of pinking shears and just started carving into my arm,” Keil said.

Keil became one of the millions who suffer from depression, but she also became part of the one-third who received help. Although she still struggles with the occasional relapse, she said her victories far outnumber her regressions.

Natasha Gilbert, of Topeka, is one of Keil’s friends who attended the event with her. Gilbert represents another side of those affected by depression.

“I came because my friend Heidi was needing support,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert has experience with friends dealing with depression and self-injury, and though she is empathetic toward her friends, she said she has a hard time understanding the motivation behind their actions.

“I’m a terrible wuss when it comes to pain,” Gilbert said. “So why would you purposefully put yourself in pain when you’re already hurting inside?”

Though she does not fully understand, Gilbert said she is committed to becoming part of the solution by supporting others.

Renee’s story was first written with the thought that if one person heard the story and received help, it would be worth it, Tworkowski said. Four years later, Tworkowski has a vast collection of stories of lives changed and lives saved.

The community that the organization provides is crucial for the healing process of many, including Keil, who said people who self-injure or have depression need a support group.

“The longer you keep it in, the worse it’s going to get,” Keil said. “I get direct messages from (the To Write Love on Her Arms) Twitter account, they e-mail you back, they keep in contact with you.”

People’s struggles have nothing to do with ethnicity, culture, the clothes people wear or the social groups a person identifies with, Tworkowski said.

“This is a conversation that transcends all these things,” Tworkowski said. “This is a part of being human.”

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