This is My Brave Opens the Eyes of Northwest Indiana

We all have the chance to be brave. We all have the chance to show our braveness and overcome hard times. For the people who suffer from mental illness, being brave is something they have to do in order to get through every day. On Thursday night 14 people who know mental illness first hand came together to tell their stories of survival in 'This Is My Brave' - a show aimed to erase the stigma that comes with very common illnesses.

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'This Is My Brave' is put on in different cities across the country, but the show at Valparaiso’s Memorial Opera House serves as Chicagoland’s edition. Becky Jascoviak, Producer of 'This Is My Brave', found the show while researching ways to find an outlet to talk about mental health, and to be able to spread that to the public.

“I was originally looking for resources to help my husband deal with anxiety and depression throughout last year and I kept coming back to an organization called This is My Brave.” Jascoviak stated. “As President of the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation, seeing that they have been putting on these storytelling events I thought, ‘We’re a theatre group! We have to put this on here!’. This show really is an eye-opening experience. People talk about cancer, heart disease, and suicide - but not really what leads up to that. Hopefully tonight brings light to what mental illness really is.”

The opportunity to put on the show wasn’t just something relished by Jascoviak, cast members also were glad to have the ability to share their story and to be able to open the public’s eyes to what it’s like living with mental illness. Cathy Osborne, an outpatient therapist from Griffith, performed a piece she created 20 years ago but brought it back to the stage for the show.

“I’m pretty excited about tonight. I wanted to be a part of tonight and tell my story in order for others to have the courage to share theirs,” Osborne stated. “There’s a really amazing group on stage, and their stories have really made an impact on everyone involved. This is something that needs to happen, and I’m glad I’m helping with that.”

All 14 participants of the show took the stage together, with each individual taking their own time to express their stories. Some performed dramatic dialogues and slam poetry, while some others simply took the time to read essays about their own life experiences. Without a doubt, no matter what they chose to do during their time under the spotlight, every single person in the theatre was moved by what they had to say and inspired by their stories of triumph. For the people watching, the show was a rollercoaster of emotions - they gasped, cried, and laughed during the various performances - and for good reason. Heather Cuttill, a nurse who knows of mental illness herself, explained that the event is something that everyone should witness.

“I am not a crier and I cried more than five times tonight. What got me is that everyone on stage explained how I felt about dealing with mental illness, and I can’t explain the experience other than it was like I was hearing my own story through them,” Cuttill stated. “Mental illness is not something people talk about - or like to talk about. This event is something that should happen more often, and experienced by more people. It truly does make a difference and lets everyone know that they’re not alone in this fight.”

When the house lights went back up after a thunderous standing ovation and the performers walked off the stage, they were greeted with open arms and words of praise. Gauging from the audience reaction and the courage of all 14 participants, 'This Is My Brave' can well be on its way to becoming a recurring event in Northwest Indiana.

Mental illness is still an area where many people go untreated, where people shy away from the topic, and where a very large percentage of people suffer from some form an illness. 'This Is My Brave' eliminated the stigma with broad strokes by showing that no matter who you are, mental illness can affect anyone - and as Stephanie Stalbaum said very movingly as she ended her speech - “No matter what you do, there is brave inside of you.”