I've been so late with this post but I figured that late is better than never! In October I went to Atlanta, Georgia for the first time to attend the annual Palooza of the charity I volunteer for, Crisis Text Line. Over 400 people attended from all over the US (and the world!) and although it was a long way to go, it was an incredible weekend for me and I'm so glad I made the effort to go.
I shared a hotel room with another Laura, a real-life Disney princess from Florida, who I met at the train station in Atlanta and was my buddy for the weekend. This made a big difference for me as walking into a room of 400+ people alone can be very intimidating! Having Laura by my side made the weekend very fun, and I feel blessed to have had the chance to get to know her and share our stories with each other.
Much of the weekend was about sharing. There were sessions for the whole group in the ballroom, such as a presentation from Kevin Hines which was the highlight for me. Kevin jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in SF at the age of 19, but was one of the 1-2% of people who survive the fall and the rescue from the treacherous water. I was shocked to hear how common it is for people to jump from the iconic location (which is one of my favorite places in the city), with about 1 person per week jumping. I cannot describe how sad this makes me. Kevin is truly inspirational, the way he tells his story is so compelling and he has dedicated his life to others like him. I found his talk about recovery especially interesting and impressive; Kevin explained that he has 'relapsed' into deep depression several times since getting married to the love of his life, but he continues to work on his mental health and is dedicated to getting the help he needs, when he needs it. You can read more here about his story and his work with his father and wife to install a net under the bridge, which has been approved for 2021!
The smaller sessions were also an amazing chance to hear my volunteer colleagues' stories and for us to share together. Some sessions were difficult, as the pain that some people are dealing with can be hard to hear, however I believe that sharing is the best way for us to heal even if I find it difficult sometimes to do. We also had some lighter sessions too, including 10 minutes each in a room full of dogs and kittens to cuddle <3
I wanted to spend some time exploring Atlanta after the conference finished, and I walked around the Centennial Park in the Sunshine and took some pictures. I wanted to travel across town but the streets were closed due to Pride, and as I missed the celebration in SF this year I decided to go and watch the famous parade. Pride was an amazing spectacle, and it was impossible not to be moved by the show of solidarity among the gay community and their allies (myself included!) I also loved taking photos of the amazing outfits and the floats, the smiles of the participants were contagious!
Since coming back from Palooza, I've felt even more compelled to support the important work of Crisis Text Line. Spending the weekend with the amazing staff, the CEO Nancy and the other incredible Crisis Counselors inspired me to sign-up to present at Google's very first Mental Health Conference which happened on 11/6/17. I was thrilled when I was given a 15 minute slot to talk about my experiences as a Crisis Counselor.
I co-presented with my amazing friend Libby who is the West Coast Director Crisis Text Line, and although Libby was definitely the more knowledgeable between the two of us (having been a crisis counselor before going on to work at Crisis Text Line), I wanted to use the opportunity to share a little about my journey with my colleagues. Although I kept it brief, it was the first time i'd ever said in a public forum that I suffer from Anxiety and have experienced Panic Attacks. I felt really liberated afterwards, and the reception from the audience made it all worthwhile. Hearing about some of my colleagues' stories about their mental health including living with OCD, Tourettes, PTSD, Bipolar and other serious health problems was unbelievably inspiring and humbling. I feel lucky and blessed to be sharing a workplace with these incredible people, who do a fantastic job for Google, manage their own mental health illnesses on a daily basis AND have the strength and courage to go on stage at events like this in order to help others.
I know that these two events will live with me forever. Although they may not have been what some people would consider fun, they gave me the opportunity to make real connections with other people and allow myself to let my guard down and be seen by others. Sharing is a powerful tool when we are feeling lost and overwhelmed and I try to remind myself of this in times when I want to close off to the world. A problem shared really can be a problem halved.