An Annual Birthday Wish

On my 16th birthday, in the basement of my home, my friends brought kids toys for me to deliver to sick kids in the hospital, instead of gifts for me. I made it clear that my only birthday wish was to help sick kids. At the time I had no idea that seven years later, this tradition of “giving back in lieu of getting” would evolve into an annual fundraising gala that has garnered thousands of dollars for organizations that have a direct, positive impact on the mental health community.

After delivering toys for three years, then supporting homeless shelters, I finally found my niche in supporting those experiencing mental illness. I named my event, “Raising Up Warriors” with my basic mission being to raise people up to be warriors in their fight with mental illness. My co-organizers and I achieve this by giving the stage to those affected by mental illness to share their story. This empowers the speakers while breaking down stigma amongst 250-300 audience members and raising awareness.

Each year it grows into a bigger and stronger event, with mental health trivia, spoken word poetry, live music, comedy, and a silent auction in conjunction with the speakers. I have not received a birthday gift in seven years. Organizing and hosting Raising Up Warriors means far more to me than a gift from Walmart. Presents are thoughtful, but sparking important, raw, and genuine conversations about mental illness is far superior to any gift I could receive.

I choose to give our proceeds to organizations oriented towards mental health because I have been personally impacted by mental illness. Today, I stand strong as a young woman pursuing a degree in social work; a volunteer with a shelter and a street health clinic; a teacher; an academic; an author; an award-winning film director; a spoken word poet; a loving daughter, sister and friend; and most of all: a fierce mental health and disability advocate.

I share my story of overcoming a long and hard battle with depression because my goal is to instill hope in people who are struggling; to raise them up to be warriors in their fight. I often think of myself with a flashlight in the dark, shining it behind me to the people who are still struggling and lighting the way for them – knowing that recovery exists, even in the darkest of circumstances, because it happened to me.

Healing is not linear, and it is often a slow process with bumps along the way, but with the right supports and a network of meaningful relationships, leading a fulfilling life despite of, and because of, a mental illness is possible. I have been in the dark, and now that I’m living in the light, my life mission – through Raising Up Warriors – is to share that hope with others.

Keep fighting, warrior. Tomorrow is waiting for you.

To learn more about Raising Up Warriors and support Breanna in her mission, visit facebook.com/raisingwarriorsup/.

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