To Write Love On Her Arms
Arts & music reporter Danielle R spoke to the organisers of To Write Love On Her Arms about helping people with depression.
To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) (new window) was Renee's story. It was one girl's journey to finding hope that inspired a movement. Suffering from severe depression, Renee was self-harming - cutting obscene words into her skin - words that she thought reflected her worth.
Turned away and considered too great a risk for rehab, a circle of friends, led by Jamie Tworkowski, believed that rescue was possible. They became her hospital and started selling T-shirts to fund treatment.
To write love on her arms was the goal, for Renee to find hope and know that her story has a better ending. It's a real story about real pain. It's also a story that is shared by many and one that shouldn't be told (or end) alone.
Love is the movement
Now the name of a non-profit organisation, TWLOHA exists to encourage and inform those suffering with depression, addiction and self-injury. It's run by Jamie and 10 fulltime staff members in the United States along with assistance from interns and volunteers around the world. Support is also provided by many musicians.
The movement is about bringing a conversation that needs to be had to concerts, festivals, universities and churches in America and around the world.
"The transition from helping one girl to now an entire organisation grew from a need," says Katie Nakken, who formerly worked as Jamie's personal assistant and is now the TWLOHA Event Co-ordinator in the U.S. "When people heard Renee's story, they started coming forward with their own," she says.
23-year-old Gemma Lee, who is at the forefront of establishing TWLOHA in Australia, was working with an event management company when Jamie first visited Australia to spread the TWLOHA message.
"I spent five days driving Jamie and his friend Byron around, getting to know them and listening to them share their stories and passions. They invited me to America to work alongside them throughout 2008. It fascinated me that such an honest story touched so many people around the world and inspires some to seek help."
For both Katie and Gemma, meeting people from all walks of life and hearing these stories is rewarding.
"We hear from people every day who say 'thanks for what you do' or 'I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for TWLOHA.' It's an amazing feeling to be a part of the story that continues to grow, to know what we do makes a difference," says Katie.
When words fail, music speaks
Members of the bands Switchfoot and Anberlin were among the first musicians to wear TWLOHA T-shirts and support the cause. These shirts now help fund the organisation as it continues to donate to treatment and recovery. They also help to get the message out. "Wearing a shirt always garners questions," says Katie.
Gemma names Ellington, Avalon Drive, The Sundance Kids and Addison as just a few of the many bands and musicians who support their cause here in Australia by wearing shirts and having links on their MySpace pages and websites as well as talking to people online and in person.
It's not personal recognition that bands are after when spreading the word. "Sometimes we aren't even aware that a musician is promoting TWLOHA until someone sends us a photo or tells us," Katie explains.
Avalon Drive may have parted ways but as the band's former singer Damion-Douglass Page moves on to other music projects, the TWLOHA message is one he always carries.
"I have spent a lot of my life around those who are depressed," says Damion. "So it's so great that we can point people in the direction of TWLOHA knowing that their message can help them discover that there are people who really care, and that there is not just a small group of people who suffer from depression. I will always continue to support TWLOHA through my music and beyond."
Damion is always to happy to talk to fans and friends at shows and whenever they need. He is passionate about the positive influence music can have and the TWLOHA vision.
There's always hope
On the road to recovery, Jamie had asked Renee what she would say if her story had an audience. She smiled and said, "I'd tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars." That story has developed into a warm community that will continue to be a point of contact and voice for hope.
As the TWLOHA vision statement appropriately concludes: "You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story."
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