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    “This is My Brave” hopes to reduce stigma of mental illness

    Mary Leaphart performing her song “Out of my Head” at a recent rehearsal. Courtesy Photo
    Using artistic elements such as original music, poetry and dance, two Ashburn moms have teamed up to create a powerful show about personal experiences with mental illness.

    “This Is My Brave – The Show” will take the stage May 18 at Artisphere’s Spectrum Theatre in Arlington at 3 p.m.

    “The simplicity of ‘This Is My Brave’ is what will make it so dramatic and moving,” explains creator/producer Jennifer Marshall. “It is 12 brave people standing alone on a stage telling their stories.”

    Marshall began her journey with bipolar disorder about six years ago after being married for only one year.

    She speaks from the heart about life with bipolar disorder in her blog, bipolarmomlife.com. At first, Marshall began writing anonymously, because she was concerned about the stigma associated with the disease, and afraid of the reaction it would receive from friends and co-workers.

    Then, Marshall came to the realization that bringing her face and name to the cause would allow her to better connect with other people and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

    The show is called "This Is My Brave," which refers to the moment when Marshall says she found "my brave," or the moment when you are ready to stand up and show your whole self.

    Co-producer Anne Marie Ames said her 17-year-old son, Alex, developed anxiety at age 14, which turned into severe depression.

    Finding treatment that works for him has been difficult.

    “He seems to be medicine resistant and had not gone to school for three years,” Ames said.

    Last fall, he went to school for two hours a day, which was hard for him, as he had developed social anxiety disorder.

    “He was doing well and then winter came and he was depressed again. He is just starting to feel better now that the sun is coming out.”

    Ames has had a difficult time finding resources for him through the school system.

    “Some things have been good, others horrible. Many people don’t get what depression is. The fact is that he is unable to get out of bed.”

    “My heart is in helping teenagers in Northern Virginia where there is so much stress and competition. When this happened to Alex, I shared the story with my friends and neighbors. Very often I would get stopped and people would say, this is happening to my son or daughter too. The expectations and stress of school are difficult for kids. There have been four attempted suicides at Briar Woods High School this year. Parents had no clue that their child was struggling. Kids are good at hiding and end up suffering inside. Two of our teen cast members speak to that. I believe hundreds of kids experience this every day in Loudoun County.”

    Ames said she has been struggling with depression right along with her son. “I probably have struggled throughout my life, but just carried on and did not realize it. I now realize how I was really unhappy and forgot what it felt like to be happy. I encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed juggling everything go talk to your doctor, it could be something chemical that can be fixed.”

    Mary Leaphart, of Alexandria, met Marshall last year when she was doing a show for the Capital Fringe Festival. ”We got to know each other as we both suffer from bipolar disorder and of course I wanted to be involved in her show.”

    “The only way stereotypes will change is because people are brave enough to stand up and share their stories. I felt it was my responsibility to share my story and it is a fantastic time to be involved,” Leaphart said.

    “People are ready to hear these stories. I am so passionate about it. People picture straight jackets and mental hospitals and it is not the reality of the rewarding and fulfilling life that I think people can live.”

    Leaphart will be performing a song she wrote titled “Out of my Head.”

    “I’ve come to see my relationship with bipolar disorder is like a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, with many ups and downs. It takes me to the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I want to get the truth out there and share my story and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so.”

    Alicia Green, a mother of two young children from Bethesda, experienced postpartum anxiety disorder after having her second child.

    “I started to have intrusive thoughts and sought treatment and was on medicine for several years. I felt a loss of control,” Green said.

    Her essay, “Losing Control” will be presented at the show and describes the first few days after she was diagnosed and her journey since then.

    “I want to tell my story so that hopefully it will make one person feel less alone,” Green said. “Every day I am scared to tell this story. Hopefully in the end it will add up to something significant and lessen the stigma,” Green said.

    Tickets for “This Is My Brave” are on sale at http://www.EventBrite.com “Th.is is My Brave” hosts a Twitter Chat (@ThisIsMyBrave) - #BraveChat – every Wednesday at 9 p.m. To encourage a supportive dialogue, there will be a "This is My Brave Pledge" for people to sign and tell their story of living with or loving someone with mental illness. Visit http://www.thisismybrave.com for more information.


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