For someone who has spent 7 years posting daily “Happiness is” statuses on Facebook, I am notoriously bad at all other forms of social media – making me the worst millennial and also a bad nonprofit organizer. That’s why I was so excited to make a genuine connection through Instagram. Still not 100% clear on how direct messaging works, I reached out to theinvisibleillnesses and was stoked when I received an immediate response.
Having chatted more with Emily Torchiana, the woman behind the page, I am even more excited to share her story and words of wisdom. Without further ado, here is Emily Torchiana, Founder of The Invisible Illnesses.
Liz: Let's start in traditional Smile Project fashion - give me a "Happiness is.."
Emily: To me, happiness is being surrounded by people who love and support you. This includes my family, friends, boyfriend, and those who I have met or become connected with through my organization. Knowing you feel supported and loved is truly one of the best feelings.
Liz: Tell me a little bit about the organization.
Emily: The organization started actually as a personal project during my senior year of college in 2016. I wanted to take photos of people who struggled with mental illness or lost someone to suicide and have them share their stories publicly to help eliminate the negative stigma surrounding mental health. In March of 2017, also during my senior year, I decided to take it a step further and make it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As a nonprofit organization, we still share the stories each week on our website/social media platforms, but we also educate students (middle schools, high schools, and colleges) about mental illness and suicide prevention using our mental health curriculum. This curriculum has different hands-on activities and open-discussions to really talk about these topics that usually are not talked about. In our first year, we educated over 5,000 students and are excited to educate even more this upcoming school year. I have a team of amazing volunteers who are passionate about the mission of the organization. We also have 30+ campus representatives at universities around the country, spreading the mission to their fellow classmates!
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Emily: I silently struggled with depression, social anxiety, and PTSD in high school. Unfortunately, it took my suicide attempt and hospitalization to realize I wasn't alone and that it can get better. During college, I started a blog and began sharing my story to help those that were silently struggling, like I once was, to know they were not alone. People began sharing their stories with me and that really inspired me to start the organization. The driving force behind what I do today is hearing feedback from individuals, including strangers I have never met, saying that the organization has helped them in some way- reach out to their parents, go back to therapy, and even saved their life. Hearing that makes me feel like the organization has a purpose, that I have a purpose, and if I can save at least one life, that makes it all worth it to me.
Liz: What does "service" mean to you?
Emily: Service is taking my personal experiences and knowledge and sharing with others to help in some way. Service is not necessarily always easy, but it is selfless. Service isn't done to get a "thank you" or "good job," but out of the goodness in your heart to want to help others. Just like Mahatma Gandhi said: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." I feel that through being selfless and helping others, you really can find yourself and your purpose.
Liz: How can people get involved?
Emily: College students can apply to be campus reps. People can also donate to our cause for our student mental health curriculum. To share your story, click here. Also, follow The Invisible Illnesses on Facebook and Instagram.
Liz: Anything else you'd like to add?
Emily: If you want to learn more about the cause or why sharing your struggles are important, you can watch my TEDx talk here!
Liz: What's your favorite quote?
Emily: I recently read this quote and think it is so important, as I have struggled with low self-esteem and self-love: "I am capable of loving myself in the ways that I want others to love me" - Alex Elle
Liz: Any final advice?
Emily: If I could go back and tell my 15-year-old struggling self where my life would be today, my 15-year-old self would not believe it. When I was younger, I truly believed it would never get better and that it wasn't worth reaching out for help. If you are currently struggling, please believe me when I say it does get better. Reaching out for help is not weak; it is brave and shows the strength within you to recognize you need help. Nothing would be the same if you did not exist.
For help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org