Storytelling For Life
October 26, 2018
Bill Bernat is a TED speaker, storyteller, comedian, and mental health awareness advocate. In this guest post, he speaks about the power of crafting and telling stories to help people live well, in light of our community partner NAMI Washington’s upcoming event, The Brainpower Chronicles: Mental Health Stories. Learn more information about The Brainpower Chronicles here.
By Bill Bernat
I didn’t know what “storytelling” was until my ex invited me to join her for an event in Capitol Hill. I was skeptical, but I wanted to see her. She bailed at the last minute, texting me that she got a better offer. I decided to show up anyhow.
I was riveted watching ordinary people at Roy St. Coffee get up to tell true stories—they took me on unpredictable, harrowing, everyday odysseys. They made me laugh by turning tedious minutia in fascinating, relatable epics. They inspired me with their honesty and courage.
Pushing through some stage fright, I became a regular Fresh Ground Stories storyteller. I tried to bring humor and fun to stories about my journey as a recovering addict who had lived with depression. I wanted to allow people experiencing struggles similar to mine feel connected and less alone.
One time, I told a story about my social anxiety and the hijinks of endeavoring to overcome it. A couple of weeks later, a stranger approached me in a coffee shop. They were one of those attractive, thin, neatly-groomed people with good posture who I assumed never struggled in life. They spoke with striking sincerity: “I just wanted to say thank you so much sharing for your story.”
I didn’t engage them in conversation about it because . . . social anxiety. I knew, though, that my story had given them comfort. Over the next several years, I told so many stories that I began to worry I was running out of worthy ones. Until I finally realized it didn’t matter. I’m just one person with one life experience. Everybody has an amazing life and stories that are awe-inspiring, intense, and beautiful, so I began to create storytelling workshops and events to help people bring their stories into the world.
That’s how I wound up approaching NAMI Washington about creating The Brainpower Chronicles: Mental Health Stories. In 2017, several brave storytellers talked about living with depression, bipolar condition, and other mental health issues. A couple more spoke about how they were impacted by friends’ and family’s conditions. They all shared their transformations from struggling to living well.
For 2018, we have had much more time to prepare, and a bigger group of people supporting the event. Eight storytellers have been workshopping for months. They are all committed to making a difference. KUOW’s Bill Radke is hosting.
On November 10 & 11, you can join us for heart-rending, uplifting, and sometimes funny stories about mental health and living well. You can get more information at namibpc.eventbrite.com.
While it stung at the time, I realize now my ex made the right choice ditching me that day. I was kind of a wreck on the inside. Crafting and telling stories was a critical part of learning how to live well—or at least better! She went on to marry that other fellow. I fell in love with stories.
Bill Bernat is a recovering addict living with bipolar condition who advocates for mental health awareness through speaking, comedy, and storytelling. He is a TED speaker and The Moth Radio Hour storyteller. Learn more at www.stayawesome.com.