Wednesday 10 April 2024

We Are Only Asked to Love: Celebrating 18 Years of TWLOHA

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless.

— Jamie Tworkowski, “To Write Love on Her Arms”

It’s a commonplace that wearing t-shirts is not enough. It takes more than a pithy slogan or eye-catching design to effect real and lasting change in the world. That said, mental health merchandise can prove a conversation starter, and open the door to genuine and open exchange. I’ve acquired quite a collection over the years. Mostly t-shirts but I also have two excellent hoodies from BOYS GET SAD TOO. I wear them all with pride, but I figured I didn’t need any more. But when an ad by mental health non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms crossed my screen recently, I couldn’t resist.

I knew very little about the organisation, but I placed my order within minutes. The t-shirt arrived a week or so later. The carefully packed box included a bookmark and a booklet describing what TWLOHA are all about. The shirt itself is undoubtedly eye-catching. As well as the main message — How Are You REALLY Doing? — in huge letters on the front there’s a smaller reminder (“You deserve the space to be honest.”) and the TWLOHA logo on the back.

Less expected were the words printed inside the garment.

Your feelings are allowed to exist without judgment. You are more than the pain and trauma you may have inherited. You are living proof of generational hope and resilience, of strength and community carried through the years. Your honest and vulnerable self is worth loving, and your voice deserves to be heard.

It’s the kind of touch that tells me they’re not just on the mental health merchandise bandwagon. They know what they’re doing. And they care. A visit to their website reveals their mission statement.

To Write Love On Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

The TWLOHA journey began with a story. Literally, in that their name comes from the title of a story written by founder Jamie Tworkowski about helping a friend deal with addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. The story is full of Christian imagery which I personally find difficult. However, the website makes it clear that it’s not a religious or faith-based organisation. “TWLOHA believes that mental health care should be available and accessible to all regardless of religion, belief, gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, or financial status.”

Religious overtones aside, Jamie’s telling of his friend’s story is powerful and moving. There’s a good deal I can relate to, from my experience being a supportive friend to Fran and others. They‘re clearly doing something right because TWLOHA has just celebrated its eighteenth anniversary and is active in many areas. There’s too much for me to cover in detail, but I’ll highlight a few things that caught my attention.

The TWLOHA Store
In addition to t-shirts and hoodies, they sell a wide range of garments and merchandise. These include stickers, greetings cards, mugs, magnets, keyring, and journals. They offer gift cards if you want to treat a friend but aren’t sure what they’d choose.

According to their website, TWLOHA has shared over 1,100 blog posts, and their weekly blog is well worth a visit. They welcome guest submissions, see their FAQ page for details.

The TWLOHA Podcast
Recent podcast episodes include such topics as suicide loss and sibling grief, the woes of using fashion as a mental health check, therapy deserts, body dysmorphia, and burnout.

It’s great to see a page devoted to self-care ideas and techniques. These include suggestions you can try in the moment, as well as longer term strategies to take care of yourself.

Find Help
The main search tool on their Find Help page is US-based, but there’s also a link to international support organisations. For the UK, this is the crisis text line SHOUT, and the Samaritans.

The Hopeful
TWLOHA have their own free (and ad-free) app called The Hopeful, focused on self-care, awareness, and connection. There are links to TWLOHA blog posts and podcast episodes, a mood and gratitude journal, and the option of daily notifications and reminders. I’ve only used it for a couple of days but I like the layout and I can see it being a helpful and accessible resource.

All in all, I’m incredibly impressed by everything that TWLOHA have achieved in the past eighteen years and wish them all success in the future. It’s clear from the feedback on their social media posts that they have a brilliant rapport and connection with their supporters. That’s great to see. On a personal note, I commented on one of their posts the other day to congratulate TWLOHA on their anniversary and received a very warm reply. That kind of engagement is incredibly important. I look forward to exploring their content more fully, and perhaps submiting something for their blog.

I’ll close with an excerpt from an article I wrote back in 2020 titled Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough. The message is no less relevant to me today and I believe it speaks to the spirit and vision of TWLOHA.

I will go on supporting Fran in all she does and sharing our story because the story of how a well one and an ill one manage their friendship needs to be heard. I will champion all who are doing their own amazing things. I will call out stigma and discrimination wherever I find it. And I will wear my t-shirts with pride. It isn’t enough, no. Not on its own. But it can be part of enough. Because you never know when a KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH shirt might spark a conversation; might give someone confidence and permission to open up or ask for help.

You can find TWLOHA on their website, Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.


Photo by Shaira Dela Peña on Unsplash.


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