By Jaci Wendel
On Thursday March 31 at 7 p.m., students from all years and majors gathered in the McShea Student Center for the To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) Open Mic Night, presented by Peers Advising Counseling Educating (PACE).
The night began with a short presentation from Lucie Loftus, a PACEr and the main organizer of the event, about mental illnesses and what TWLOHA is.
TWLOHA is a non-profit organization that originated in 2006 from a post on MySpace by the organization’s founder about Renee, a young woman he knew who was struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and a suicide attempt. In the days leading up to her first stay in rehab, the founder Jamie Tworkowski offered her support by taking her to concerts of the bands that she loved and basketball games. The name of the organization comes from the moment where Tworkowski noticed that Renee had carved insults to herself in her left forearm, and wanting to write “love” on her arm instead.
Loftus started this event three years ago after she found out that a friend of hers took his own life, and made it her goal to bring more awareness to mental issues like depression and suicide, so that no one else would have to receive the news that she did.
In her presentation, Loftus pointed out the stigma that often accompanies mental illness, the causes of which are often uncontrollable and unpreventable by those who are affected by it. The stigma not only causes embarrassment and a reluctance to seek help in those affected by mental illness, but the silence surrounding mental illness also often keeps scientists from developing new medications and treatments for these disorders.
Loftus’s goal “to spread hope” has made an impact on students in the three years that this event has been held.
“This is a place where people can learn that and talk about [support for those with mental illness] and I can see a lot of people here who are engaged in that and realizing that. It’s an awesome program,” said Loftus after the event. “A lot of the times I do this, people will tell me, ‘My friend took his life, thank you for doing this, I dealt with hiding it throughout high school. Thank you for doing this it means a lot to me.’”
Some students who performed during the Open Mic shared stories of how mental illnesses like depression and suicide have affected them or their loved ones, and in between performances, Loftus as emcee shared anonymous stories from students at DeSales who themselves struggle with mental illness.
The performance aspect of the evening began with senior PACEr Jess Mullelly and a visiting student from Temple playing guitar and singing a duet, followed by original poetry from junior Antonia Spano and sophomore Stephanie Zarecki. Sophomore Dylan Bortz then sang two songs a capella, junior John Messina performed an original spoken word poem and freshman Alyssa Ramsey sang two songs as well. To round out the night, seniors Austin Berner and Andrew Blaise of the band Yellowcake performed a set of songs on guitar.
Throughout the night, students attending the TWLOHA Open Mic were able to have the word “love” physically written on their arms in Sharpie markers by PACErs and Wendy Krisak, director of the counseling center. Students were also able to write thank-you cards to people in their lives that supported them in times of need.
Those in attendance were also invited to write down on a piece of paper what their biggest fear and their biggest dream was, which will be hung outside of the Wellness Center for everyone to read. Loftus emphasized that often, even though we don’t talk about such personal things, our biggest fears and our biggest dreams are usually the same as someone else’s, and by displaying them more openly, we can find support within the DeSales community.
“It’s okay if today you’re not okay, it’s okay to feel too much or have actual emotions,” said Loftus. “It’s going to get better… Love is the movement. Hope is real. Help is real.”