Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happiness Is My New Emotion: An Interview With Ashley Coker

Listening To: Glitter in the Air by Pink

Welcome to the first interview in our Love That Moves series. This week I'm excited to introduce you to three fabulous blog readers who inspire me all to pieces. I hope these interviews encourage you to keep fighting for the cause closest to your heart. I'm also giving away a copy of Paperdoll this week. All you have to do is leave a comment (about whatever you want) on any of this week's posts.

"People will laugh at you, and it's hard when no one listens, but the truth is those people who are laughing at you may be the ones that your really touching..." - Ashley Coker

I would rather write her a song, because songs don't wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her ... (read the rest of Jamie Tworkowski's story here)

That quote is a small part of a much longer story, a story of the night Jamie Tworkowski met a young woman named Rennee. Jamie's encounter with Renee changed his life. And Renee's struggle with depression became the foundation of an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement that has impacted the lives of thousands of young men and women affected by depression, self injury, addiction, and suicidal thoughts. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm a big fan of what they do. I think they tackle a difficult-to-discuss- topic with so much sincerity and grace, and they do it in such a culturally relevant way.

A few weeks ago, blog reader Ashley Coker noticed the link over to the side and sent me an email about her experience with TWLOHA. I asked her if I could interview her for the blog so you could hear her story too and she agreed!

Here's some info about Ashley: She's a high school student who loves science, horseback riding, and basketball. Watermelon flavored candy canes rock her world and she thinks mint green is pretty much the best color ever. Also, she's awesome. (I added that part ;)

Thanks so much for coming by the blog, Ashley! Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to get involved with To Write Love On Her Arms?
My passion for TWLOHA, and helping teenagers dealing with depression, definitely came from personal experience. My father left when I was three, and my mother didn't really know how to raise a child at that time. Later on I reconnected with my father, who I am quite close to now, and he is in the Army. He has been deployed once, and he is leaving again in April. Not having spent time with him as a child, and now just watching him put his life on the line has had an affect on me. Also, I have seen many people I love deal with depression and self harm. That can tear your whole world apart, and a lot of the time you just don't know what to do. I actually found out about TWLOHA at my church. A few girls from my youth group knew about them, and we had a lesson on it. It has been close too all of our hearts ever since.

I'm sure there are several readers on this blog, who have friends and family in service, who were so encouraged by what you just said. Thanks for being so honest about that experience. Will you tell me more about what you did to spread the message of TWLOHA?
My whole youth group decided that on National TWLOHA Day we would write love on our arms and explain the organization to anyone who asked about it. But I go to a different school than the rest of them so the day before I handed out fliers about it, and encouraged everyone to write love on their arms and told about the cause. That turned out pretty good, but I wanted too take it further than that. I am in the process of setting up a presentation to present at churches in my area, and at other schools in my area. This isn't directed related to TWLOHA, but me and a friend from school are designing t-shirts that say "Happiness is my new emotion" on the front and have the definitions of happiness and depression on the back. We plan on having our graphic arts center print the shirts for us to sale at school and donate the proceeds to TWLOHA. The cool thing is her mom is a teacher so she is willing too be our sponsor for a club all about spreading awareness and helping people dealing with these things. Of course this will all take time, but it's the vision right now.

Love it. Do you have any advice for those of us who might wanna share the message, or do something similar, in our own communities?
I don't really expect people too get as involved as I did unless they truly think God is leading them to, but there are simple steps everyone can take to raise awareness for this cause. Buy a t-shirt from their website, wear it to school, and when people ask you about it tell them all about the organization and what it's there for. Never pass up an opportunity too help out someone that's struggling. We all know people who are dealing with depression and self harm; direct them to TWLOHA. It really is simple, but always make sure you are there for the people that need help.

I think that everyone who commits to this need too know that if they give up nothing will be accomplished. People will laugh at you, and it's hard when no one listens, but the truth is those people who are laughing at you may be the ones that your really touching. Also, they need too be aware that Christians deal with this too, it is more than likely in their church as well.

I'm glad you said that. I think sometimes there's this big misconception in the church that trusting God means you don't struggle with issues like depression, self injury and addiction - which is so not true at all. Church should be a community of people who help you through dark places, and help you find help, hope, and counseling. I think for some people church is just a place to put on a happy mask and pretend to be some sparkly version of perfect. Thanks for reminding us to be genuine.

I found these stats on the TWLOHA website:
- 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression.
- 18 million of these cases are happening in the US.
- Depression often co-occurs with anxiety disorders and substance abuse (30 percent of teens with depression also develop a substance abuse problem).
- Untreated depression is the number 1 cause of suicide and suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers.

I'm not a numbers girl. Sometimes it's hard for me to process stats like that. However, even a non-numbers girl like me can read those stats and see how big they are. You aren't alone if you're struggling with depression.

If you'll allow me a moment to be just a little sentimental, I also want to tell you this - I believe every person has an incredible purpose to live out. I don't think it's coincidental people are born where they are, when they are, with the set of gifts, quirks, and passions they have wrapped up inside their hearts. I hope you've never come in contact with a person, or been through some kind of event, that convinced you your life was worthless. If so, I'm delighted to tell you that person was wrong. And that event -- it does not defines your worth, no matter how much it broke your heart. You have a really beautiful story to live out. You deserve to be loved and respected and to live a really full amazing life. If you're struggling with depression or self injury, don't keep smashing all that hurt further down in your heart until you feel like you're going to implode. And don't be embarrassed about asking for help. Taking the initiative to ask for help doesn't mean you're weak, it means you're brave. If you don't have someone in your life you can talk to, To Write Love On Her Arms also has a great resource page full of resources you can check out. Never, never, never, never give up.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she's known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true. - Jamie Tworkowski

You can find out how to become involved with TWLOHA here and you can join the Facebook community here.

I would love to hear from you in the comments! If you have any questions (or encouragement!) for Ashley, I know she'll be psyched to hear from you in the comments too. If you like to gush about TWLOHA, feel free. Here's another question to spur your thinking: can you remember an outreach you planned at your school, college, church or community? How did it go? What would you do differently if you planned it again?


  1. I wanted to tell Ashley that I think it's totally cool that she didn't let being in a different school stop her from sharing about TWLOHA. I love your bravery and determination :)


  2. Thankyou, Thankyou :)
    It's not bravery though, it's courage. Bravery is not being afraid, courage is being scared to death, but doing something anyway.


  3. Ashley,

    "inside is a person unafraid, clawing joyfully through the dark." - Dyana Herron


    Natalie, you probably think all I do is read blogs all day :)

  4. Sara, I so agree! :)

    Ashley, thanks again for letting me interview you. Your excitement over TWLOHA is totally infectious :)

    J, thanks for these great links!

  5. Wow. I first found out about TWLOHA a few months ago. I read what was on their website and fell in love with it right away. Thanks for this interview. TWLOHA is absolutely amazing and has inspired me beyond expression.