About 100 students and parents from near and far gathered in the Sykes ballrooms on Thursday, Sept. 29 to hear the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), Jamie Tworkowski, speak about how one story became the basis of the non-profit organization. Founded in March 2006, TWLOHA “aims to present hope for people struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide while also investing directly into treatment and recovery.”
Tworkowski hoped the audience could relate to the topic so they could feel less alone. The goal for TWLOHA is to believe that a better life is possible.
The night started with Eric James of The Last Royals performing songs he had written about heartbreak, love and tragedy. His raw lyrics were accompanied by his guitar.
After each of the five songs played, he stopped to interact with the crowd and told personal stories about struggles he faced in his life. Tworkowski had explained while introducing James that music allows people to feel and express emotions, as well as relate to the singer or others listening.
Following James’s set, a video was shown to commemorate the 10 year mark for the organization. Tworkowski went on stage and told the story of how TWLOHA started. He met a girl named Renee who was struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts. Tworkowski spent five days with Renee, staying up all night getting to know all about her and what she was dealing with. He wrote a story about the five days and called it To Write Love on Her Arms and made a MySpace page as its home.
When Renee finally entered a treatment center, Tworkowski wanted to help raise money for the cost. He created and sold 100 T-shirts at a Switchfoot concert, and the main singer of the band and one of Tworkowski’s good friends, Jon Foreman, asked if he could wear one. After a song, he told the thousands of people attending to check out To Write Love on Her Arms on the internet. A plug which seemed rather broad in the mind of Tworkowski wound up giving his page thousands of views and followers.
The TWLOHA page received instant positive feedback where people connected and related to the story Tworkowski wrote. Whether the sender of the message was dealing with mental health issues themselves or a friend or loved one, the story provided people with the knowledge that they were not alone in their struggles.
People took to TWLOHA to get advice on how to help their loved ones, but Tworkowski was not a professional. Tworkowski did research and would direct people in need to crisis hotlines, crisis text lines and where to go to seek treatment and professional help. Ten years later and TWLOHA has reached 100 countries, and Tworkowski has seen that despite being all over the world, many people are struggling with the same things.
“Hearing someone say ‘you matter’ just felt so powerful.”
Tworkowski told the audience that two out of three people suffering from depression do not seek counseling as they cannot afford it, do not know how to look for it or are afraid to take the initial step.
Due to the influx of people reaching out to him, he has added a blue “Find Help” button to his website, which provides links to professionals in specific cities all over America. He also shared that suicide is the third leading cause of death in America, and among the leading causes among adolescents.
A night that was full of raw emotion and allowed the audience to connect and feel, Tworkowski addressed everyone with a very calm, whimsical tone. He opened up about his struggles and told everyone that it is okay to have a bad day or a bad week or even a bad month, just do not give up.
The talk ended with Tworkowski reading an excerpt from his book, “If You Feel Too Much,” which was published in 2015. Inspired by the sudden death of actor Robin Williams, the passage “There is Still Some Time” touches on how it is okay to not be okay. People are allowed to take breaks and feel. People can ask for help and reach out and need to know that they are not alone.
When asked about what resonated most with her about the night, senior Caroline Hipwell immediately noted the passage that Tworkowski read.
“I felt like every word spoke to me,” she said. “Hearing someone say ‘you matter’ just felt so powerful.”
Hipwell was reminded of her worth after hearing Tworkowski’s words of affirmation.
A Q&A followed the talk, where audience members were able to thank Tworkowski for all of his hard work and ask questions on how to deal with certain situations. Tears were shed and bonds were formed.
Tables were set up outside the ballrooms where books, T-shirts and other TWLOHA merchandise were being sold. Tworkowski posed for pictures with people and encouraged everyone to to ask for help if they needed it.
Samara Rosenfeld is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in Spanish and journalism. ?She can be reached at SR806559@wcupa.edu.