by Lara Gladych –
“I feel like we should love each other more than we do,” says Emily Olsen, founder of The Connection Project, as she reflects on how the undertaking came about. Early last October, Emily and a cast of friends participated in a two day showing of “mental health storytelling” at the Charlie White Theatre. It was a collage of very intimate, very poignant performances of music, spoken word, movement and art that depicted individual struggle with mental illness. It was, for Emily, the culmination of the energy and time she has spent healing herself along with a desire to change our perceptions of those who suffer with depression, anxiety and related disorders.
Emily spoke candidly with me about her journey from childhood onward with depression and later anxiety, and the suicidal thoughts that have plagued her over the years. There is a dark space for those suffering with mental illness, where that all-too-familiar inner voice says “I can’t bear it, it’s too much,” and where it feels like life or death in the moment. She knows she is not alone in this, and yet people often don’t find the support and resources they need because they feel shrouded in shame and stigma for their suffering and won’t ask for help.
Listening to an episode of CBC’s Now or Never, Emily found herself deeply moved and inspired as Trevor Dineen shared his own experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As Emily listened she recognized her enormous compassion for Trevor, and began to realize how sharing your story has the capacity to touch or even save another life.
Emily has opened up about her bouts of depression and anxiety, and as she’s done so she says: “I’ve seen people who know me, who didn’t really ‘know me,’ react differently to me. Some gravitate; some pull away.”
Her openness has changed the conversations at home, where she and her husband, Adam, now have a more candid dialogue with their young children. They make it safe and okay to talk about all feelings, good and bad, happy, scary and sad. Emily’s greatest fear in admitting her challenges to her children was that they would no longer perceive her as safe and strong. She wanted to be solid in their eyes – revealing the self-judgment that sufferers so often feel. She sees more compassion in her family now, allowing her to “let go of everything she felt about wanting to keep her illness secret.”
Producing The Connection Project, working on it with the many others involved and asking for public support brought Emily into her community, and as a result she says she “found [her] community by going to it.”
What does the future hold for her and for this event? “I know that I want to be speaking. It just comes. I see [the project] going in many different directions for many people; it’s not necessarily about me.” In witnessing the healing and magic created out of the Connection Project, Emily felt compelled to further explore what happens when people come together to share their stories. What evolved is Magic, a seven-part workshop series running through April at The Gardens at HCP.
“I see where I have my own hang-ups, my own judgements. The fears encountered all around are proof that this needs to keep going, that these conversations must be had, and that more light must shine in as this door opens.”
For a glimpse into The Connection Project, visit www.theconnectionproject.ca, and watch for a link to the recently completed documentary.