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    Showing Strength in the Face of Mental Illness

    By Jennifer Pellecchia | Apr. 11, 2018

    My name is Jennifer, and I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my life. I’m diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety and an eating disorder.

    I have high-functioning mental illness, so even at my worst, I appear to be at my best. I’ve been able to live a full life, and, on the outside, I seem to have everything together. My parents didn’t know, my family and friends didn’t know, and even I pushed my symptoms down and thought if I worked hard enough and was a good person, they would just go away on their own.

    I’ve always felt blessed in a way to have my brain, because it gave me the drive to succeed. I worked hard at everything I did in order to prove something. So, my mental illness never held me back—it drove me forward. But it’s still taken a huge toll on me along the way.

    My purpose in sharing my story is to give a face to that famous quote: “Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about… be kind.”

    People with mental illness are not “crazy,” they are sick and trying to live a full life with real health conditions. Please try to remember that and show compassion, even if you don’t understand why someone is struggling. Take time to educate yourself as you would do with any other medical issue. And if somebody opens up to you, please try to listen.

    While we’ve certainly come a long way in understanding mental health conditions, there is still so much stigma and misinformation out there. And after three decades of battling my brain, I thought it was time for me to do something to help people understand.

    That’s why I decided last year to use my annual PlanksGiving event to support mental health advocacy and NAMI.

    I started PlanksGiving in 2012 to do my small part in this world to try to make a difference. I am a fitness professional, so planking is something I use with my clients as a core exercise, but for me, it’s always been so much more.

    Planking helps me “feel” at times when I feel numb and lost inside my illness. When I plank, it’s like a kind of meditation. It makes me feel strong physically and has taught me I am strong mentally too.

    In the past six years, I have raised over $25,000 for various causes through PlanksGiving, other physical challenges and by selling my artwork. I’m very blessed to have been shown a great deal of support from amazing friends along the way.

    And on November 30, 2017, I planked five minutes for each donation made to my NAMI DIY fundraising campaign. The result was $2,445 raised and four hours and 45 minutes of planking. It was challenging, exhausting, but so very fulfilling!

    There are three keys to fundraising that I have found helpful:

    Share your personal connection – People are much more willing to support you if they know the reason behind your advocacy. You don’t need to be an open book but sharing as much as you’re comfortable with gives a “face” to the cause and a reason to contribute.

    Send reminders, updates and thank-you’s – People want to donate, but then life gets in the way. Posting friendly reminders and progress updates via social media is helpful. I also send emails to introduce the event, another at a mid-way point, another just before the event and one more after the event to wrap up. I try to individually thank everybody for their support as well.

    Smile and have fun with it – While fundraising is important and geared toward helping serious causes, I find that by getting creative and thinking outside the box, I’m able to reach a larger audience. I say “smile” not because I take my events lightly, but because bringing people together and uniting for a cause is always a good thing and truly brings a smile to my face.

    In the future, I hope to do more fundraising for NAMI through their DIY program and to continue sharing my story to help others. I’m not ashamed of my journey. I’m proud of how long and hard I’ve fought to survive.

    Jennifer Pellecchia is a wife, mother, fitness professional, and artist. A life-long Jersey girl, she planks wherever she goes and hopes to change the world one plank at a time.