TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski shares hope in coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is keeping much of the world locked down. We’ve been forced into isolation and sometimes reacting to it poorly. Jamie Tworkowski, founder of mental health advocacy group To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) figured he’d redress the balance. So he went to Twitter.
He tweeted, “Conversations will not be canceled. Relationships will not be canceled. Love will not be canceled. Songs will not be canceled. Reading will not be canceled. Self-care will not be canceled. Hope will not be canceled. May we lean into the good stuff that remains.”
Not surprisingly, the tweet went viral. The TWLOHA founder reminded us that we have things to take up our time, but not at the expense of our humanity. He then took to his blog, mentioning a long list of things being canceled in the world, from sporting events to friends’ book tours. Tworkowski then discussed what we have in abundance. “While the list goes on and on and grows longer every day, we’re going to need some good stuff to lean on and look forward to,”
The quote and TWLOHA blog are emblematic of Tworkowski and his altruism.
The coronavirus pandemic is something all of us are experiencing together, and we thought a chat with Tworkowski would bring some affirmation to the world. Jason Pettigrew spoke with the TWLOHA founder about the mindsets he’s seeing and the good that he’s feeling. He was currently in Florida staying with his parents, showing love and strength and leading by example.
What I’m seeing play out on some social media is generations warring with each other. Gen X’ers are saying that they’re the original “latchkey kids” and have no problem being bored and inside, and everyone should stop whining. News outlets are reporting of millennials still going out and filling up bars. And even younger gens are living on their phones constantly like digital head bandages. It seems that everyone has some kind of coping mechanism in place. So what manifestations of depression are you seeing? And what do you think the root of it is?
JAMIE TWORKOWSKI: Those are all good questions. I wouldn’t claim to be an authority or an expert on specific [instances]. I’m not sitting here with a bunch of research, but I’m happy to share some thoughts.
I think you have people in a bunch of different boats. For some people, it’s simply, “How will I pass the time?” Some people are dealing with boredom. Maybe for some it’s the general anxiety of “Are my grandparents going to get sick? Will my parents get sick? Am I going to get sick?” [What] I’ve been thinking a lot, especially in the last couple of days, is [about] people whose basic needs aren’t met. People who are out of work. People trying to figure out for how long they’ll be out of work. “How will I pay rent? How will I keep food on the table?” That’s where my focus has shifted to: How can I invite people into that reality?
The broader context is the quote I wrote that was being spread over the last few days. When I first wrote that, I was dealing with disappointment after all these things were being canceled. But now, I think there’s a different weight to that. It goes so far beyond “Oh, I can’t watch basketball,” or “I can’t go to Coachella.” There’s such a different weight to it for people that are struggling financially. You have people in a lot of different places feeling different things.
I wrote a blog to go with that quote. For a lot of people, life was hard a month ago. Just everyday life and maybe getting through the day and dealing with their mental health a few weeks ago felt like plenty. For a lot of people, there’s so much to navigate. Then you're adding the challenges of basic needs or just simply the anxiety of “How is this the new reality?
“The new reality” is certainly key. I can appreciate the punk-rock arrogance of defying social distancing and wanting to hang out with your friends to stave off your depression. But if that act of gathering is going to kill somebody you don’t know’s grandparents via transmission, it’s the pinnacle of insensitivity. Is it a true lack of awareness, or is it straight-up nihilism?
Yeah, apathy. I know what you mean. I feel like maybe this is less true today, but I feel like even a few days ago, you were dealing with people [wondering] what is true about the coronavirus. Hearing things like, “Oh, it’s basically the flu.” Some people can choose to believe what they wanted, but I do think we’re ending up in a better place where even the president himself is starting to say things that I would agree with, in terms of the severity of it and the restrictions that need to come along with that. Because part of what you’re asking is, “What do we do with ignorance? How do we make people care not only about their own health, but how their life and health is connected to the lives and health of other people?”
There was that one quote that the first President Bush had about having a “kinder and gentler America.” Do you think there’s a consciousness in America where people think, “You know what? I’ve got my own problems, and I don’t need to magnify them on somebody else”? We're more focused on mental health than ever.
I think there’s a lot of good right now. I want to be mindful of the fact that in the midst of this for lack of a better word, viral tweet moment, we’re getting to see a lot of that good. I’m seeing people respond positively. So much of my feeds have been filled with a lot of that. I think in this moment, there are examples of people trying to care for one another and people trying to raise money for folks who are out of work. It’s that Mr. Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers.” I’ve seen that shared a few times in the last few days. I think lot of people are helping. For me and for [TWLOHA] as an organization, we try to focus there and lead by example. I hope that can continue and be shared and multiply.
Microbes aren’t preferential: We really are all in this together. What’s the major talking point you want to get across in the strongest way?
Two things come to mind. I think the first is to listen to the experts and take the social distancing serious. If you do think you’re sick, do your best to get tested. That should be near the top. As it relates to mental health, we want to encourage people to be connected. Check in on one another. If you’re struggling, tell someone. If you’re concerned about a friend or a family member, reach out. It’s a great time to take advantage of technology: FaceTime, call, email or text.
Beyond that, know that professional help is still an option. Even on our website, we list a couple of different apps that people can use. Crisis Text Line is a network of crisis counselors across the U.S., as well as in Canada and the U.K. Anyone can send a text to Crisis Text Line—which is 741741—and they’ll get a response from a trained crisis counselor. For as much as people are having to get their head around being isolated, in the midst of that, we want to encourage people to remain connected and not to be entirely alone, even if you feel physically alone. There’s variations in counseling: Maybe if you can’t see one in person, you can see one over the phone or through one of those apps.
One other thing I’ve seen is definitely encouraging people to practice self-care. If we’re all on our phones even more than usual because of this moment in time, be mindful. “Hey, maybe I need to put the news away” and becoming aware of how we’re feeling, the information we’re taking in and when it’s too much.
We have a “Find Help” tool on the TWLOHA website where anyone in the U.S. can click on it, enter their ZIP code and they can get a list of mental health services that are free or [have a] reduced rate. That’s something we started over the past year.
Tell me the best interaction you’ve had in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Good question. It’s been cool to see what I wrote shared the way it has. I’ve seen a lot of friends reach out because they were excited for the reach of those words. For the wins and surprises along the way, it’s been really neat to hear from people who genuinely feel a part of that.
In recent years, I’ve tried to prioritize staying connected to my sisters and my parents. I live in Nashville, and a week ago, I flew down to Florida to be with my parents. I wanted to be [in Nashville] after the tornado hit my neighborhood. And now I’ve been staying in my parents’ house. It’s felt good to be with them in this “new normal.” I don’t have a single answer, but that’s been my last week or so. I think a lot of people are on the “one day at a time” plan.
If you need mental health assistance, you can text Crisis Text Line at 741741 or visit the TWLOHA website and click on the "Find Help" button. The number for the National Suicide Prevention line is 1-800-273-8255.