Things That Give Me Hope

Here I go, using the all-encompassing “things” again. But it’s early in the week and it’s dreary and I’m having a MECFS flareup, so that’s all I have, I’m sad to say.  And because it’s early in the week and it’s dreary, I thought it might be nice to share those items, situations, occurrences that give me hope.  Perhaps it’ll spark a memory for you, and do the same. They are in no particular order.

  • Being out and about in a city as it wakes up for the day.
  • Relaxing with an early morning cup of coffee.
  • Warm summer mornings.
  • Dog snuggles. With any amenable dog, not even just my own.
  • Waking up in a new town or city on vacation.
  • A good belly laugh. The kind where you laugh so hard you cry. Especially when it serves as a bonding moment with someone else.
  • Falling asleep to the sound of the rain.
  • Standing on top of a mountain after a hike, seeing everything below
  • Quality time with loved ones
  • Participating in activities that remind me of childhood- games I played as a kid, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, pillow fights, etc.

What are some activities or experiences that bring you hope?

A Hug From Us To You

This morning, I really needed a hug. It was just one of those mornings – tired, stressed, battling some depression and anxiety, and trying to hold it all in. And finally, I let it all out, and I got not one hug, but two. It didn’t solve all of my troubles, or any of them, but it felt good. It felt like someone was there for me, even if they couldn’t quite understand what I was going through. Sometimes, knowing that someone is there to support you, even if only in that instance, can help you put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day – or at least the hour, which is a start.

So here is a hug, from us to you. We were lucky enough to get them when we needed it, and so we’re passing it along, in an effort to spread support and hope. Please, do the same. You never know who might be struggling in silence, who may feel that nobody understands, that no one is there for them.  Let them know that you are. It may even make you feel better too.



Mental Health Month

May is known for a lot of things. May Day. May Flowers. Memorial Weekend and the unofficial start of summer. And while I enjoy all of these things, May is also important for another reason that’s close to my heart… and brain. May is Mental Health Month. While I personally think every month should be mental health month, because the topic needs that much awareness and education and support, I appreciate the designation. It brings to the forefront, or makes an effort to at least, a topic that so many still feel is taboo.  It gives those who may not always feel comfortable talking about it a “reason” to do so. It helps those who might be on the fence about standing up to fight against stigma a gentle nudge in that direction – after all, so many people are talking about it, and there’s “safety in numbers” right? And while I wish society didn’t need this “permission”, this “safety”, the bottom line is, it does.  So at least Mental Health Month gives us a place to start.

Throughout out the month, the Spread Hope Project will be ramping up our efforts. I mentioned some of our upcoming plans in my last post, and I’m sure I’ll have a few surprises up my sleeve – even to myself.  The benefit of a brain that’s thought patterns look like spaghetti flung against the wall is that you do often come up with new and creative ideas when you least expect it (like at 2am, or in the shower, for instance). Of course, I’m always open to ideas too!

So please, follow along on our Mental Health Month journey on here, on Instagram, and on twitter hashtag with the #spreadhopeproject. Heck, use it yourself! In fact, you know what? Let’s start right now (random spaghetti at the wall idea that came to me as I was writing this):  Let’s see how many people we can get to use the hashtag #spreadhopeproject on twitter today! If you want to follow me, you can do so here. But even if you don’t (I won’t be offended, don’t worry), give the Spread Hope Project a shout out with the hashtag above.

Thanks for the love, and the HOPE!

World Bipolar Day

Today, March 30, 2017, is World Bipolar Day. For those who battle bipolar disorder, this is, of course, every day. But for those who do not, it’s a great day to be reminded of the importance of education and support.  Mental health, to the general public, often flies under the radar – at least until the media decides to target it.  But in everyday life, it tends not to be addressed frequently. It’s not openly visible, so it’s easy for those not close to it to ignore.  And due to stigma, mental health tends to be a topic shied away from by many.  It takes a lot of courage to stand up and be open about your mental health, and there’s still much concern about repercussion.  So we need days like World Bipolar Day to bring legitimate (not media sensationalized) attention to mental health, both as a whole, and as individual conditions.

I do not personally battle Bipolar Disorder, and so it would be unfair of me to discuss the intrinsic details of this condition specifically. But as someone who battles mental health and mood cycling disorders, I can speak to those topics. And as someone who has to contend with these conditions every day, I’d like to try to keep this message positive, and to offer some suggestions. Suggestions of what you can do to help offer support, and to learn more about mental health.

  • Reach out. This is, to me, the absolute most important step. Whether a friend or loved one, or someone you just know is struggling, let them know (or remind them) that you are there for them. Often times, I find support comes from the most unexpected places, and I’m always incredibly grateful.
  • When you reach out, give it time. Mental health is intensely personal, and it’s possible we’ve been “burned” in the past by opening up to someone who stigmatized or judged us, or downright used what we told them in confidence against us.  So don’t give up after the first reach out. You may just get a thank you or an “I’m OK” the first time (even if we aren’t). But keep trying, without being pushy.  If and when we are ready to talk, and we know that you earnestly want to listen and help, we will probably come around.
  • Educate yourself.  Make sure that you are learning from respected, legitimate sources that aren’t biased against mental health. If you’re unsure, ask questions.  Do what you need to in order to make sure that you’re getting accurate and up to date information.
  • If you hear someone stigmatizing mental health, gently and nicely say something. You don’t need to preach, but there are ways to nicely say “Actually I have a friend that battles xyz and that’s not quite the case” or “That might be true sometimes, but we shouldn’t generalize”, or something of this nature. Try to educate instead of chastise, because education is key – people can’t know what they don’t know.
  • Volunteer with/participate in organizations that support mental health and/or specific conditions. Whether you find a local chapter and offer ways to help, or participate in a benefit walk/run/event, this is a great way to not only support, but to meet others who also support the cause. Of course, we encourage you to participate in the Spread Hope Project’s efforts, and are happy to answer any questions about how you can do so!
  • Be careful with language. Language may sound unobtrusive, but it can both hurt people directly and perpetuate stigma.  A general rule that I offer people is this: “If you replace mental health/the name of the condition with that of a ‘physical’ condition (say heart disease, diabetes, asthma) and what you’re saying sounds inappropriate or insensitive, then the same is true when it’s said about mental health.”  If you’re unsure of the best way to word something, ask – we’d love to help you!

To all of those people that battle Bipolar Disorder, we’d like to share with you this:  You are courageous and strong, even when you do not feel so. Please, continue to fight each day, even when it seems impossible, because your life matters so much. Despite how you may often feel, you are not alone – there are so many others out there that understand and support you, and we are just a message or an email or a text or a call away.



Spread Hope Project – Our Mission

We’re back! First off, our trip to Africa was incredible. The tour operators, guides, accommodations, everything! We’ve posted pictures on Instagram (shameless plug, please give us a follow!), if you’d like to check them out.

But now, back to reality, and the U.S., where we call home. As we do so, it’s occurred to me that I need to write a bit more about our mission. Of course it may seem obvious that our mission is Spreading Hope. Which is 100 percent correct. But the key piece is who, in particular, we’re spreading hope to. Now naturally, we’d love everyone to have hope for… whatever they need. Still, we have a specific group of people what we’re hoping to reach out to, and that is those battling chronic illness. While our most narrowed focus is on those with mental health conditions, we’ve broadened that a bit to include chronic illness, both well-known and rare, because we understand that though our individual experiences with illness may be drastically different, we all share one thing – we endure an illness(es) that does not go away, that we have to battle monthly or weekly or daily or hourly, and all that comes with doing so. And while we at Spread Hope Project may not be able to do much to actually physically help someone’s condition, we can let them know that they’re not alone. Sometimes, just knowing that offers hope. Which is exactly what we plan to do.

That’s where the travel piece comes in. In order to reach as many people as we can, we have to travel – whether it be to a different neighborhood within our home city (Philadelphia), to a neighboring state, across the country, or across the world. Because chronic illness can touch anyone, anywhere. It may be simply a picture of us with our Hope shirt in the destination, hoping that someone there that needs it will see it. It may be pictures with fellow chronic illness sufferers (spoonies, in chronic illness speak). It may be partnering with a hotel or accommodation to bring Spread Hope Project to their location. Whatever the method, we travel to spread our message, and hope. Always, our focus is chronic illness and hope.

If you battle chronic illness, or have a loved one who does, and think we should come to your destination, let’s hear about it! We can’t travel everywhere all at once, but we’re creating a list of spoonie contacts, friends, and destinations to for photo taking! In the mean time, we encourage you to take your own Spread Hope photos (homemade signs are an affordable and easy way!) and tag us on Instagram. Just make sure to include the message of hope for chronic illness in your actual photo/caption please!

Going to Africa, & We Need Your Help

It’s been a busy couple of weeks as we get ready for our trip to Africa. We leave a week from today! Exciting stuff. We have our Hope shirts all packed and ready to go, and are looking forward to exploring Kenya and Tanzania with them. While we’re not sure of the wifi/internet access we’ll have there, we hope to upload photos to Instagram throughout the trip when we can.   Our trip destinations include:

  • Nairobi (and a chance to visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – they’re into spreading hope too, to orphaned baby elephants and rhinos.
  • The Masai, including a hot air balloon ride
  • The Serengeti
  • Ngorogoro Crater

While we’re unbelievably excited to be Spreading Hope over in Africa, we could use some help keeping the momentum going here. That’s where you all come in. While we’re traveling, we’re asking a big favor of those friends who are … well, anywhere, really. Take photos throughout your neighborhoods, on your travels – day trips, vacations, family reunions, it all counts – post on Instagram, and hashtag #spreadhopeproject. If you want to create some homemade swag, even better! Make a Spread Hope Project sign or wear some purple (the color scheme of SHP) or whatever else you feel like doing.  Don’t forget to add your destination in your post too.

Have questions about the Spread Hope Project, or interested to learn more ways to participate? Let us know!  The more people involved, the more people we can reach and the more hope we spread.

We’re Headed to Africa!

The goal of the Spread Hope Project is to, as it sounds, spread hope, to as many places and people near and far as we can. In February, we have a fantastic opportunity to head to Africa, Kenya and Tanzania to be specific.  We’ll be there for almost two weeks, heading first to Nairobi, then to the Masai Mara, over the Serengeti, and finally, the Ngorogoro Crater.

We will be taking Hope photos in our various destinations, sharing our journey through these countries with you.  Make sure to follow us on Instagram to keep up today on our photos!

How It All Started

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or at least that’s how the saying goes. These days, when a photo can circulate around the world in seconds, it’s probably worth more. Think of the haunting images we’ve seen of destruction, or the snapshots of Olympic Gold Medal glory. A photo transcends language barriers and thanks to the internet, many geographic ones.

This past year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what more I could offer to those battling mental health conditions and chronic illnesses – how I could reach out to more people, make some sort of an impact. What, being a “lay person” with simply my personal experience as my background in the field, could I offer? And how could I offer this? One day, I looked down at a shirt I was wearing that had the word HOPE written across it, and I got my answer. One thing I could offer, I knew, was hope.

I am far from alone in being able to offer this. Each one of us that battles illness but still perseveres, even if from our bed some days, because it’s all we can do, offers hope. Each one of us who can share our story, who says “I’m still here, and I’m going to be here tomorrow” can offer hope. Each one of us that advocates, even in the smallest way, can offer hope. All I have to do is get that message out there. And so I decided to literally “get out there.” By going to as many places in my “HOPE” shirts as possible. By meeting as many people as I can when doing this. By documenting this and sharing these photos with the message of hope as far and wide as I can.

And with any luck (and hard work and perseverance) I can one day use the Spread Hope Project to do more for mental health and chronic illness. I have big ideas, swimming around in this vessel of continual imagination that I call my head. Some which may happen, some of which probably won’t. But you never know, so I keep dreaming. And for me, that offers hope. Hope that, just maybe, I can share with you all one day.

We Have a Blog!

Welcome! It’s been an exciting month for the Spread Hope Project. First off, if you’re reading this, the website is live, so that’s big news. We’re also now on Instagram, where you can see all of the neighborhoods, towns, cities, and sites we’re visiting to Spread Hope, the people we’ve met along the way, and all the fun projects we’re working on in between. While we don’t have a twitter account just yet, you can follow the hashtag #SpreadHopeProject, as well as our founder, Maya Northen.

In addition to our website and social media, we’ve begun the process of designing customized Hope shirts and merchandise, which will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to mental health, suicide prevention, and chronic illness nonprofits. We’ll be posting some photos of samples soon, and of course are always open to special requests .

And that’s where you come in!  Our mission is to Spread Hope, plain and simple. That means reaching out to and interacting with as many people as possible. We want to know where you think we should head next.  Maybe that’s your town or city. Maybe that’s a place nearby where you live or work or travel. Maybe it’s your school or university. Or maybe you just want to join in the spreading of hope and think your town or school or local business would be the perfect place to do so. Whatever it is, we want to know. So reach out by email or Instagram, or tweet at #SpreadHopeProject. We can’t wait to hear from you!