When you first started TWLOHA what were you planning to accomplish?
I was just trying to help my friend Renee get through treatment. I wrote a story about the five days leading up to her entering treatment. That story was called “To Write Love on Her Arms” and the surprising response to that story led to TWLOHA becoming a non-profit organization. Because of that surprising initial response, it was easy to believe that we had the opportunity to talk about these issues and help people on a bigger scale.
Looking back at the past five years, would you say that you are proud of everything that has been accomplished?
Yes I’m proud and I’m also very aware that TWLOHA is something much bigger than me. It’s our staff and interns and it’s people all over the world who consider themselves part of our community. I’ve met people that have told me that TWLOHA saved their life or it encouraged them to finally get help. Those things are certainly the heart of the matter.
If you had to describe TWLOHA and your vision in three words to someone, what would it be, and why would you choose these three words?
“Hope is real.” Hope changes everything. Hope is a reason to stay alive. It’s the belief that things can change, that things can get better.
I’m sure that you get quite a lot of messages all the time from kids battling depression, addiction, self injury, and suicide. How do you find a way to get back to all of them?
At first it was just me but now there’s a whole team that responds. Our interns go through training and then they spend about half of each day at the office responding to messages. To me, it will always be the heart of what we do. And we continue to respond to each message that comes in, because each one represents a different story, a different life that matters infinitely.
Can you tell us about how TWLOHA was formed?
My friend Renee was struggling with drug addiction, depression and self-injury. She was denied entry into a treatment center in Orlando and spent the next five days with my friends and I. I wrote a story about our time together and posted the story as a blog on MySpace in February 2006. Then as an attempt to raise money for her treatment, I started printing and selling “To Write Love on Her Arms” t-shirts. Friends in bands started wearing the shirts and so their fans found their way to the MySpace page. People wrote in asking for help and how to help their friends. That’s where everything started.
What is an inspiring story where To Write Love On Your Arms has helped someone?
We hear stories of someone that was close to suicide and they end up on our website, or they have a conversation sparked by one of our t-shirts, and they choose to stay alive. Those are the stories that keep us going. Those are the stories that make it all worth it.
What foundations was TWLOHA born on?
TWLOHA exists to let people know they’re not alone in their struggles, that people need and deserve other people – that we were made to be loved and made to be known. And that professional help (treatment, counselling, etc) can change and save lives.
The internet is a huge tool for organizations. Have you ever encountered a situation where the use of internet has been a hazard or there being a negative side to it?
Sure. We’ve certainly seen the best of the internet in terms of people using it to find and spread our mission and message. But the other side of that is the internet is also a place where people say ugly things and recycle rumours.
Where do you hope to see yourself in a few years forward?
I hope that TWLOHA continues to be creative in offering hope and help and encouragement to people. As for me personally, hopefully I’ll be doing what I’m doing now but I also want to be writing books and i’d like to have a family by then.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
You’re not alone. And you matter very much. If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. Talk to a friend or talk to a counsellor.