In late 2005, when Jennifer Marshall was 26, she had two manic episodes back-to-back and had to be hospitalized, resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. “It came out of nowhere for me,” she said. At the time, she was under a tremendous amount of stress at work and “kind of cracked. The illness emerged.”
A few years later, she and her husband decided they wanted to start trying to have a child. She didn’t want to be on medication when she was pregnant or nursing, but four weeks after her baby was born, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.
“My trigger is lack of sleep and lack of medication. So I was very sick and had to be taken in for a week,” said Marshall, now 35 and the mother of a 5-year-old and 3.5-year-old. She recovered and went on to get pregnant a second time. Off her meds, she landed back in the hospital when she was five weeks pregnant. She was monitored by a team of doctors, including a high-risk OB/GYN, and ended up with a perfectly healthy baby.
After her second child was born, Marshall started blogging at Bipolarmomlife.com and wrote under a pen name because she was afraid of people finding out about her illness and treating her differently. About two years later, she was at a memoir-writing conference that gave her the gumption to open up and put her name on the blog. Putting her name on the blog “made me feel more authentic,” she said. Doing so has helped her stick to her treatment, find a big support system and keep going with her writing.
She spoke with me about the process of starting the show. This is an edited version of our conversation.
What is ‘This is My Brave’?
It started as a show where people from the community came forward to audition [for a place in the show] to tell about mental illness through personal essays, poetry, music. We selected 13 individuals. [Co-founder] Anne Marie Ames is doing the intro, then we take turns introducing each piece, and I’ll do one at the end as well.
How did this start?
I met Anne Marie through a mutual friend. I found out about her passion for mental health awareness and reducing the stigma because her son suffers from severe depression and anxiety. He’s doing better now, but it’s a continuous struggle. She jumped on board from pretty much day one. We launched a Kickstarter and raised $10,000 in 31 days.
What’s the best part of this project?
It’s exciting to get people to open up and talk about this issue. When someone talks about it, it helps someone else open up. I can’t wait to do different programs and versions of the show.
Why are there so many moms sort of coming out, talking about their struggles with mental illness?
I do notice it happening, and I think a lot of it has to do with writers that are very popular right now, like Momastery and Brene Brown. Writers who say it’s okay not to be perfect, to show imperfections. The more you show your vulnerability, the more a person can connect with you.
What is the importance of doing a show like this?
I think it is just the way it will encourage people to share and just be open and not hide it anymore. The more you hide it, the harder it gets to survive it. Brene Brown writes about how shame can’t survive empathy because the more you talk about it, the more you tackle it. I really think the importance of the show is to show people in the audience that there are regular people you may not realize are living with mental illness. They have been through it, and they’re telling their story to inspire others.