When I was 21, one of my favorite authors and speakers, Frank Warren, came to my college to talk about Post Secret-- a project he started to encourage strangers to anonymously share their innermost secrets with him. Those secrets then became art exhibits, social media posts and, most importantly, books. These books changed my life. Reading them was the very first time I didn’t feel alone in my mental illness.
Years prior to Frank Warren’s visit to my school, I was going through the pages of one of the books at Borders with my older brother, Brandon. We were looking through the pages and there it was. The secret that still brings tears to my eyes.
It was a pink flower and in the middle, on the yellow center, was written, “My anxiety consumes me.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Someone out there felt how I felt. I felt connected to this stranger and I felt understood. It was liberating and heartbreaking at the same time. The page is still bookmarked at my house to this very day.
I had followed the Post Secret movement for years prior to Frank Warren coming to my school and I purchased every book and kept them close to my heart. When I saw that he would be speaking at Mercyhurst, I couldn’t believe it. My beautiful friend Hayley knew how much these books meant to me and jumped at the opportunity to go with me.
Throughout the entire event, I sobbed. I was inconsolable. My emotions were just pouring out of me and I felt so overwhelmed. Thinking back on it now, I feel really so sad for that version of me. I was so sick and so lost.
At the end of the event, there was time for questions and answers. I was terrified and decided I couldn’t say anything. Connor, (my husband now, but who was just my boyfriend at the time) was working the event as part of this work study job. I took my book to him and told him, while on the verge of crying, that I was too scared to talk to Frank Warren and asked him if he could get my book signed for me. Being the amazing person that he is, Connor came through and it is one of the most special things I own.
This past week, Post Secret came to Pittsburgh. Connor agreed to go with me and I was so looking forward to it. I haven’t stopped following and it has been almost 15 years. The show was incredible. It was a full-blown play with actors and music. They shared secrets from every single topic and shared reactions to these secrets and fans’ experiences from the shows. I cried a lot.
Through the entire show, I just kept thinking about so many different things-- but mainly about the last time I saw a Post Secret show.
After the show ended, Frank Warren came to the stage and had a Q&A. They invited the audience to move up in the front rows if they were going to stay to ask questions. I asked Connor if he minded staying, he of course said no. We sat there, four or five rows back from Frank Warren and I bravely raised my hand-- something that would have killed me 9 years ago.
He looked me in the eye and said, “Yes?” I took a breath and shared my story. I told him about my brother taking me to Borders and about the flower secret. I told him it was the first time I realized that I was not alone in my battle with mental illness. I told him about his visit to Mercyhurst College and how I was sick and lost and devastated by my illness and how I was too afraid to speak. I told him that my husband was so cool and got my book signed for me because I didn’t have the courage to meet him.
I also told him that now, 9 years later, I am returning to his show happily married and healthy. I shared that I am a mental health advocate, public speaker and a small business owner and that I speak to middle school, high school and college kids about my story. With tears in my eyes, I thanked him for inspiring me for the past decade.
The room started clapping for me and Frank Warren told me that I sent chills down his spine. He told me one of his secrets that he put in one of his books was, “I am scared that I am living with an undiagnosed mental illness.” He told me what I was doing was important and that I am being the person I needed when I was younger. He thanked me for being a part of Post Secret that night. It was one of the coolest moments of my life.
So often, we don’t get a chance to thank those that have inspired us -- I got the opportunity to do that and it was beyond words.
So often, I forget how far I have come-- how bad it really was for me all of those years ago -- I had the most amazing moment of realization on Tuesday night.
So often, I don’t know if I am making any progress with Listen, Lucy and I question why I am doing this -- Frank freaking Warren reminded me this week.
Frank, I am sure you are obviously reading this because you became a Listen, Lucy fan overnight. So thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart for helping me see I am not alone. You inspired me to live my life to help others realize the same thing. You helped me learn to fly.