This post was originally published on January 7, 2015.
“I wonder if I were to throw out the possibility in this room that everyone is living a story…I wonder how that would sit with you,” said 34-year-old Jamie Tworkowski as he stood in front of the Ted Talk crowd in a distressed hoodie and two days of facial hair. “Now the thing that I want to suggest is the possibility that your story is sacred, that your story is unique…I would throw out the idea that no one else can play your part.” What he’s getting at is this—that if we can all arrive at a place where we believe in our own inherent worth, then suicide would no longer be one of the top 10 leading causes of death in this country.
Meet After Party hero Jamie Tworkowski, the founder and creative director of To Write Love On her Arms or TWLOHA—a nonprofit dedicated to offering hope and help to those suffering through the pain of addiction, depression and self-harm. The message he is sharing is simply this: that all of our lives matter.
It Started with a Single Story
In the spring of 2006, Tworkowski wrote an essay about the five days proceeding a friend’s admission into rehab—not only the dark places in her mind that she was bumping up against, but the discovery that hope is possible as long as we ask for help. He posted the essay on a MySpace page and made t-shirts printed with the story’s title, “To Write Love on Her Arms,” in a bid to help pay for her treatment. What happened next is a testament to the power of a single story.
It Became the Story of a Movement
TWLOHA has reached over 200,000 people in 100 countries. “Essentially,” Tworkowski says, “what we heard was; this is my story. This is my mom, this is my girlfriend; this is my brother. It’s a classmate. It’s a neighbor. It’s a cousin.” It wasn’t that he had invented the issue, but that he had started a global dialogue around it, one that allowed people to be honest and one he was eager to continue—enough so that a few months later, he quit his job at Hurley to work on To Write Love On Her Arms full-time, the ultimate goal being to get people into treatment and to save lives.
To Write Love on a T-Shirt?
For someone who was a sales rep in the apparel industry and continues to be active in the live music scene, this was a natural progression of sorts. Tworkowski started selling the shirts at live music festivals as well as online. It was a defining moment for the future of the non-profit and the proliferation of its message when, at Cornerstone Florida in 2006, Hayley from Paramore wore one of the shirts on stage, finishing her set by directing everyone in the audience to check out the TWLOHA booth. A regular contributor to the VANS Warped Tour, TWLOHA has been sponsoring its own music series since 2008. The mission is for people to come to listen to an evening of songs, conversation and hope and leave feeling less alone, with a handful of resources for themselves or for someone they know who is feeling stuck or even hopeless.
Living with Purpose
It is estimated that 121 million people from around the world are currently suffering from some from of depression. Over 80% of those suffering from clinical depression are not receiving any form of treatment for their depression, when all they really need is some form of talk therapy, medication or both. The goal at TWLOHA is to provide a forum for people to get honest about their suffering, to get the help they need and to be a part of a larger community offering both support and understanding.
“I wanted to bring my heart to work,” Tworkowski has said, and it seems to have paid off—in 2011 TWLOHA was awarded a million dollars at the American Giving Awards in order to continue telling the stories that save lives. A movie that tells TWLOHA’s story, starring Kat Denning and Chad Michael Murray, will be released this March.
As the daughter of a woman who killed herself, I know first-hand that this kind of living with purpose may be one of the greatest weapons we have against the darkness that in some way affects us all. The last story my mother wrote was on two pages of lined yellow paper. “Please try hard to forgive me,” it began, “but I can’t live with me anymore.” It is institutions like TWLOHA and people like Jamie Tworkowski who are making sure that stories like my mother’s are finding different endings.