How a Book Is Changing a Community

I stood in the bookstore at Miami International Airport staring at the self-help shelf. I was alarmed at how many of these books I had already read, and yet here I was in the depths of depression during Christmas vacation, looking for another way out. I noticed a familiar name, Brené Brown, whose popular TED talk I had watched recently. Her book was called, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.”

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It’s been eight months since I purchased Brené Brown’s book and little did I know that it would change the way my friends, neighbors and strangers in my community look at each other.

Here’s the evolution: the book convinced me to write an essay about my depression, which came as a surprise to most everyone in my life. Public comments and private emails of support rained down and I learned how much those around me were also suffering in silence.

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I checked out of society for a month to catch my breath and do some healing at home with books and music, family and quiet. No news, no social media, no phone, no texts. I’ve written about how in my lowest, most hopeless moments the words “I am more than my depression” came to me, and within hours a public awareness campaign through art and writing had formed in my mind, and the to-do list began.

Within a month I had 17 individuals willing to share how they were more than their mental suffering with an accompanying portrait. They are grandparents, students, artists, teachers and more with challenges ranging from OCD to anxiety, grief, depression, eating disorders, addiction and PTSD. Some had kept their struggles private, some were an open book and all had complicated family histories. More importantly, all had gifts that were sometimes overshadowed by their struggles and that’s what we attempted to uncover.

Six of these portraits and essays have been completed and published so far. Each subject had a photography session with an inexperienced photographer (me) to come up with the perfect reference photo for their portrait. I have been to a dance studio, on the shoreline, in the ocean and I’ve met a chicken named Betty and a cat named Coco Bean. I’ve been challenged to draw flowers and trees, waves, a laptop, a piano and newspaper lettering. I’ve learned so much spending time with these individuals in their favorite places. Eleven more to go.

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Jim, 2017. Pastel on paper, 16×20 inches

With a deadline of next June for a public exhibition of the portraits and essays, I had to put a limit on the number of drawings I could complete, but there was a need for more people to be able to contribute. So I opened up my public platforms and invited anyone who wanted to contribute an essay for I Am More to send them my way for publication. (See how you can participate below)

And now for the newest development: the Gloucester Writers Center, in addition to offering editing and mentorship to contributors, has agreed to host an evening of their wildly popular live storytelling series “Fish Tales” with the theme “I Am More” in May of 2018.

A year ago my garden was a brown, lifeless mess due to my depression. This year part of my work was to dig it all up and start over. I just looked out the window and saw a monarch butterfly fluttering from blossom to blossom in my newly reborn garden and I’m reminded of the difference each of us can make by reaching out to one person, or in the case of Brené Brown, millions of individuals, to show they’re not alone in their suffering by sharing our own stories. I’m extremely grateful to Brené Brown, the Gloucester Writers Center, and Jim, Brenda, Chris, Sophie, Donna, Avelino, Dylan, Susie, and Melissa for being the monarchs of this community with your faces and your words.

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If you would like to share how you are more than your depression, grief, addiction, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorder or OCD please email me at amykerrdraws@gmail.com for a Writing Guide.

To subscribe to the project and receive an email when new essays are published just enter your email address on the right side of the blog.

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2 thoughts on “How a Book Is Changing a Community

  1. I have loved seeing your work. I am glad you share on fb. I am more than my depression, anxiety, and PTSD. What i love about your project is the art but also the stories. I find it so helpful to be validated that these are real struggles, that I am not alone in my struggle and that prompting comment of ” I am more….” and where that takes my mind to all of me not just the struggles but the ” good ” I experience and share with others. Thank you for doing this! I look forward to more!

    Liked by 1 person

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