When I was contacted and asked if I would like to interview To Write Love On Her Arms at Riot Fest I jumped at the chance. I have been aware of the organization and the work that they do, since the early 2000s and have always admired their voice. Unfortunately, I was stuck at home but sent Monika, who was there photographing the festival for us, questions and she made time to help us out on the interview as well. Thank you
YOU ARE MOSTLY KNOWN FOR YOUR WORK IN SUICIDE PREVENTION, BUT DO YOU GUYS DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN THAT? LIKE DO YOU DELVE INTO ADDICTION DEPRESSION ETC.
Totally. So our mission statement says that To Write Love On Her Arms exists to provide hope and help for anyone struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. That was the mission statement that was crafted 13 years ago when we got started and we’ve certainly expanded on that so whatever it is you’re struggling with, if that is an eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, really anything that you’re wrestling with and you feel like you could use a little bit of help handling it, we are here to support you. Even if it’s just a heavy day in life. The heart of it all is connecting more people to more people.
THAT IS REALLY WHAT WE NEED IN OUR SOCIETY RIGHT NOW, JUST MORE PEOPLE CONNECTING.
WHEN YOU FORMED ALL THE GIRLS WERE PUTTING TWLOHA ON THEIR ARMS WITH MARKERS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THAT DEVELOPED?
Our name has been our best branding tool, but also one of the biggest sources of confusion. When we got started back in 2006, a lot of people, myself included that we were something just adjutant to the music scene, the Warped Tour. Our name definitely has a poetic feel to it, but the name was originally the name of a story about our friend Renee and her first five days of recovery from cocaine addiction and finding help with self-injury, so as word of the story kind of spread through social media. Some people dug a little deeper and they learned the roots of why we were called what we were, and some people just ran with the name quite literally, so you mentioned seeing young females writing love across their arms. While that is not something we planned, it is not something we orchestrated as a branding mechanism, that is something that created a ton of conversation in communities that have been aching for discussion about mental health but just waiting for the right ice breaker to do it. There is obviously still more ice to be broken.
MENTAL HEALTH IS A TOUCHY SUBJECT FOR ANYONE TO TALK ABOUT OR EVEN ADMITT TO.
It is, it is the elephant in the room so to speak. We would say that the chief enemy we are fighting against in society is a stigma. To me, sigma is whatever silence has allowed its voice into a conversation. Whenever our assumptions have become our absolute. Even the name TWLOHA, these days we need to be very clear that we are not implying that one gender struggles more than the other, but when we started this, it was a singular focus on our friend who was and is a her, and to this day, 13 years later we are still singularly focused on you , the interviewer, we are focused on you the reader, you the listener. Anything we do is worth very little if we are not focused on your story, your dignity, your humanity, so we love the name that stuck with us on a singular level because if we are going to see change sweepingly, we have to see change microspcopically
I FEEL LIKE MEN HAVE A HARDER TIME ADMITTING TO MENTAL ILLNESS. DO YOU FIND THAT?
For sure. Just personally speaking as someone who identifies as male, these issues, depression, addiction, self injury, suicide, they were all a part of my story and I remember the first clinical book I read on the topic of self injury, I’d been in recovery over a year at that point.
DO YOU MIND ME ASKING WHAT IT WAS?
Yeah, it was a book called Cutting by Steven Levenkron. He is a clinical psychologist that literally wrote the book oneself injury. When that book was written they were only working with the data that was present to them and in the introduction it said that a
HOW DO YOU TEACH PEOPLE TO DO THIS?
I think it happens. It is not a light switch. Being at a music festival obviously its super easy to draw out musical parallels . People come to music festivals because this is all analog. There is so much that happens in the in between, where as if you are just listening to music recorded, these days its all digital, but life happens at places like these festivals, where you have someone at the soundboard turning up certain volumes, slowly driving emotion through music as the sun is rising or is setting. Those are emotional moments, it is not just night or day, it is not just no sound or pure sound, there is so much life that happens in-between . With that being said, I think these conversations have to happen gradually, you need to dip your toe in the water. What does it look like to be curious about recovery. What does it look like to invite people along in that journey. What does it look ike to spend your first minute in recovery, your first hour, your first day, first week, month, year..
My friend Renee, the original her in to Write Love On Her Arm. I remember asking her early on ‘ hey are you going to stay clean forever ? ‘ and she said ‘ I don’t know what forever looks like but I know what today looks like and if today is too long, I know what an hour looks like and if an hour is too long, I know what a minute looks like and if the minute if too long I am hopping on the phone so you can help me through this minute ‘ So your recovery is going to happen gradually and your story is going to unfold gradually. It doesn’t have to be silent and then a five hundred page memoir, you can share it in bits and you can find comfort in sharing it in bits and realizing that no part of your story is going to define the whole, but our lives are things that should be taken in context.
YOU STARTED OUT IN THE POP PUNK EMO SCENE CORRECT?
Yeah, the folks at Warped tour were the first in the live music scene to really believe in us and take us under their wings, and thank god, warp tour has developed among other
SO YOU STRATED IN POP PUNK AND MOVED TO OTHER GENRES…
Yes, mental health doesnt care what music you listen to, it also doesnt care your skin color or your age or how much money you have. These are equal opportunity issues, so we will not allow music to define where we share hope
ARE YOU OUTSIDE OF THE COUNTRY ALSO, OR DO YOU STICK TO THE US?
We’ve had the opportunity for world wide, we have supporters all over. From Europe to Canada to, actually, right here at Riot Fest I just met a girl named Desi. She came from Mexico City and she’s been tracking with us for the past ten years and this was the first time she’s seem our booth. We just had a really beautiful memo met. We’ve been friends organizationally and mutually for a decade. We were pen pals and music brought us together to connect. So we have supporters worldwide, we also have resources world wide, that you can find at TWLOHA.com/findhelp. If you are in the states we can do a step better, we are working on this, on a greater scale, but we can actually help ups find through the same find help page, mental health resources that are free or reduced costs bu your zip code. So for those moments that you think there is no one there that gets you, no one there that cares, if you give us a chance, we can help you find something that is just down the street.
HAVE YOU SEEN A CHANGE SINCE YOU BEGAN
Yes, I think that is the really cool part of our story. We have been able to, well we are 13 years old, you know not many projects get to turn 13, and that has also given us a really awesome chance to grow up with our audience. I will go to EDM festivals, I will go to events that 13 years ago, we never knew would have existed and people say ‘ hey, i remember you back in the Hot Topic Days, or I remember you back in the Myspace days, or I remember you back in warped days. I often say we are Myspace years old and people seem to understand what that means. There are people that as they grow, their music taste is going to mature as well. It has been really awesome touching base with people then connecting down the road many years later at completely different types of events.
But we absolutely have, and I think so much of that is due to the wise voiced that have been able to speak in our own journey. When this started, as I mentioned, it was really about helping one friend and telling her story. As this grew we fortunately retained this posture of humility that we dont know know everything and we became comfortable with the answer when people asked questions and we say ‘ I dont know but lets find the answer together’ we changed our language over the years, we’ve changed our look as far as our merchandise, we’ve changed the venues that we reach out to, we’ve changed social media platforms we invite in, we have changed what help looked like. You know just a few years ago our friends Crisis Text Line came on the scene. Use to be you could only phone in when you were walking through a suicidal crisis and the reality is , so many people, it was a staggering number, like 40 percent of calls that would be placed to a suicide hotline would change up when they heard another voice on the lined, it made the moment real to them. So our friends at Crisis Text Line launced a service where if you aren’t comfortable speaking, if you are at the point where you dont feel like you can physically speak, here is a way you can still reach out for help. 13 years ago that was a service that was unimaginable, but we have been able to see and support our friends finding new and creative ways to keep each other safe. We provide the resources for you to find these types of programs and over the years have been proud to provide financial support from the work that they do.
For instance, our friend RAINN ( Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network ) , they have a 24/7 live chat. If you are walking through a tough time, through their webpage ( www.RAINN.org ) you can chat with a trained responder to help navigate what comes next. Crisis Textline, anytime, day or night you can text 741741 and that will get you connected to a trained responder that will help you with whatever you are struggling with.
I met a girl in Tampa last year, she said ‘ I remember seeing you on Myspace when all this started, I even bought a t-shirt, but I wasn’t familiar with these issues at all. My daughter is now in middle school and she is walking through some tough stuff. I was able to remember you and I was able to resource out to you, so even though I never needed you when I was an adolescent, I am now able to have a candid conversation with my daughter on what it looks like to ask for help’
We had no idea this would be a generational project, we didn’t know it would last longer than a month and now to get to see stories unfold, it’s wildly inspirational. We have this phrase that our founder wrote a few years ago, a guy named Jamie, he said ,’ that whenever you talk about this idea of hope, it is the idea of what you are experiencing now, it is not permanent , there is space for change to happen. It is my opinion that THE BELIEF IN BETTER THINGS. I happen to believe that the better things can be you, it can have your name, it can have your face’
PLEASE TELL OUR READERS HOW THEY CAN GET INVOLVED
These issues, depression, addiction, self injury, and suicide, while money will certainly help fund the research and help fund the scholarships to give people access to that help, that is only a piece of the equation. Often people don’t ask for help because they down know who to ask. They dont know if it is ok to ask, so we want to encourage your readers to use our website as a starting point for research. Learn what resources are available in your area, maybe save a few numbers in your phone, you never know when that can be a service. Be proof that you are a safe place to start these conversations. Maybe it’s with a shirt you wear, or a bracelet. Maybe that is sending a retweet or liking a post on instagram, it doesn’t even have to be under our banner, you can just reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile and say “ Hey how are you doing “ and follow that up. The answer doesnt have to be fine, dig a bit deeper. Like I mentioned before we are not going to see changes in the statistics until we change our immediate community and that starts with personal relationships. So if your curious about ways to continue that conversation definitely check out our website, we actually have a button there that says GET INVOLVED and that will show you a number of ways that you can lend yourself to the mission. A great way is just join our newsletter, whenever we launch a new campaign we send it to our newsletter subscribers first.
We actually just ended a campaign for National Suicide Prevention Week and through the help of those subscribers we were able to raise over $200,000 for prevention and treatment.
WHERE DOES THAT MONEY GO?
Much is scholarships. Some goes to furthering PR campaigns. We earmarked $150,000 to suicide prevention and we realized with that money we could fund 3000 counseling appointments, so there is unlimited potential for what we can do, but that money was earmarked for suicide prevention, which is treatment through counseling, therapy and crisis intervention. 3000 doesnt sound like a lot, but that is 3000 people who didnt have help. I learned that for every suicide there are at least 7 other people affected. That is 7 best friends. 7 co-workers, 7 children, 7 parents, people that are directly affected by this moment of tragedy , so when we say that 3000 counseling appointments can now be made, we are seeing that 21,000 people will be directly affected and then of those people who are caregivers or dependents of those receiving the care are able to say they can see a difference in the lives of their loved one because of that could be another 7 more. This has a ripple effect that just keeps going and I think that’s probably one of the best things we’ve seen through our growth, is that it really just takes one moment of bravery, one moment of transparency to encourage someone else that maybe hope and help is available to them. So people often ask how many people we’ve been able to serve, how many people have we been able to support over the years and there is no way of actually knowing because the vast majority of people we have quote unquote affected have never met a staff member, have never met an intern, have never met a volunteer but they’ve met you, they have met someone wearing a shirt.
One of my favorite stories is that I travel a lot with the organization and that often routes me through the Atlanta airport, which is a zoo. So one morning Im traveling through this zoo and I am sitting down for a bagel and coffee, and I see this guy out of my right side of vision and he is wearing on our our hoodies. I love seeing our stuff out in the wild, so I just nodded and smiled and he keeps walking. Out of my left view I see a young woman who is clearly not having a good day, it is written all over her body language . She looks up to dodge another passer by and she sees that hoodie and you see a smile come across her face and I dont know if that gentleman even knew what effect his wardrobe had on her but that sent a message to her that some one is on her team, sone one gets her. I had nothing to do with that, I just got to witness it. At some point this guy said mental health matters, and him expressing that perhaps turned that young woman day around. All she needed to know was she was not alone and if a piece of cotton is what it takes to do that, so be it.
I am convinced your readers can take it a step further and directly engage with people around them by saying ‘ We need you’ to say ‘ You make today better “ to say ‘ I don’t want to imagine a tomorrow without you in it’ It is just a simple string of words but you never know how just the littlest bit of empathy can really make this a more beautiful place.
Here are links to the above resources that Chad spoke of, should you need more please reach out to TWLOHA.
CRISIS TEXTLINE : Text- 741-741