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Inspiring Stories of Resilience

In August of 2011, more than six years after Jennifer Marshall’s bipolar disorder first surfaced, she decided to start a blog. It became a place where she turned to write about her life as a wife and young mom to two small kids, and writing helped her begin to heal. She titled it: Bipolar Mom Life. Jennifer wrote anonymously at first, because she was afraid of being judged. She also worried that disclosing her mental illness may make future employment opportunities difficult. For eighteen months, Jennifer wrote and found community online. Other writers who were openly sharing their stories of overcoming mental illness inspired her, and when she landed her first paid writing job, Jennifer decided to stop hiding behind a pen name.

When WhatToExpect.com published her first article with Jennifer’s byline, it was also picked up by AOL.com (the parent company). The outpouring of support and gratitude when that piece hit the Internet with her real name was overwhelming. She knew immediately that disclosing was the right decision. She could finally talk about all parts of her life, and not just the shiny, fun moments.

About six months later, Jennifer had the idea to launch a theater show. A simple storytelling show where individuals from the community could tell their stories through creative expression to break down the stigma associated with mental illness. She wanted to give individuals from the community the same opportunity she had – a stage on which to share their story of living a successful life despite mental illness. Jennifer met her Co-Founder, Anne Marie Ames, at a mutual friend’s party and recruited her to help put the project out to the world.

Jennifer and Anne Marie launched This Is My Brave on Kickstarter in October of 2013 and the excitement surrounding the project grew and grew. They offered tickets to the first show and handmade “BRAVE” bracelets, among other items, as rewards for financial pledges of support. Within 31 days, the campaign had surpassed their goal of $6500 to fund the first show, ending up with over $10,000 in contributions. It was clear that the community wanted to help bring this show to life – they believed in the vision and Jennifer and Anne Marie were dedicated to delivering an exceptional production.

It was at the inaugural This Is My Brave production that Jennifer realized the power of storytelling. At the conclusion of the sold-out performance, as audience members and cast members celebrated in the theater lobby, a woman waited patiently to speak with her. When she finally made her way to Jennifer to say hello she introduced herself and said, “Hi, Jenn. My name is Susan. My husband and I drove all the way from Philadelphia to see your show. I found your blog in my darkest moments of dealing with depression and anxiety, and your writing saved my life.”

That was the moment that changed everything. She went on to share that she was afraid she’d never be able to have children because of her mental health challenges, but Jennifer encouraged her to pursue her dreams of becoming a mother by consulting closely with her psychiatrist and therapist to devise a plan for a safe pregnancy.

A year later Jennifer would be brought to tears by an email that arrived in early May. Susan had reached out to say she was about to celebrate her very first Mother’s Day and shared a photo. She was beaming, holding her new baby.

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