While serving as opinion editor for her Mercyhurst College newspaper, Jordan Corcoran decided to write a piece about herself.
Her topic, one that wasn’t discussed much at the time, was coping with her mental health issues.
“I wrote about a specific panic attack,” she told her audience at Peters Township High School. “I wrote about being in therapy for four years. And I wrote about how this struggle was currently defining me, but that I was going to learn how to define myself.”
Corcoran has been a frequent speaker about the subject at schools for more than six years, and she was invited to do for the first Walk for Wellbeing and Wellness, an Oct. 12 collaboration between Peters Township and Upper St. Clair students.
The first time she really shared her own story, though, was in that college publication.
“It was a great idea in my mind. But then the day the article came out, I was like, oh, no. What did I just do? I just told thousands of people that I was mentally unstable,” she recalled. “But then something so cool happened.”
Readers started contacting her to show their support, and Corcoran said she remembered feeling as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from her.
“I was battling something that was awful, and I was battling something that was making me physically sick and doing a lot of bad things to me,” she explained. “But I was also battling trying to hide it from everybody.”
The response to the newspaper piece, she said, served to “give me this acceptance that I didn’t know I needed.”
Corcoran’s presentation fit right in with the intention of the Walk for Wellbeing and Wellness: to show support individuals who are struggling with mental health problems, and to provide resources and information to help toward to the road to recovery.
The event began during a light rain and chilly temperatures. But by the time students and guests had participated in activities such as tug o’ war and musical chairs and a five-kilometer walk around the high school stadium, the clouds started breaking up and Corcoran was able to speak during intermittent sunshine.
She talked about starting Listen, Lucy, her mental health organization, as an anonymous online outlet where people can share stories about their struggles without fear of ridicule or judgment.
The basis for the platform is her own coping mechanism.
“I would write about what a panic attack felt like. I would write about what was stressing me out, the emotions I was feeling,” she explained. “I would just write and write and write. And whether I read that to my therapist, to my family, to my friends or to no one, it helped me learn how to talk about the things that were dragging me so far down.”
She spoke about her experiences in high school, which manifested themselves when she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder as a college freshman.
“I was bullied before bullying was a thing that was talked about on the news. There was no bullying prevention awareness campaign. Celebrities weren’t talking about it. There wasn’t social media. So no one really knew what to do about it,” she said. “I was offered help, but the stigma around mental illness was so strong that I was embarrassed. So I refused.”
Her situation further deteriorated in college.
“I was having panic attacks daily. I was taken to the hospital. I was taken out of my classrooms on stretchers. I had oxygen masks on my face, and I felt what true terror really was,” Corcoran recalled. “I went from being this very involved, lively teenager to kind of a shell of that person because my mental health was struggling so much and I was refusing to talk about it.”
Today, she’s married, has a three-month-old son and is “a happy, well-adjusted, somewhat successful adult, depending on how you look at it.”
To conclude her presentation and help illustrate further the importance of communication and acceptance, Corcoran led an activity called “cross the line.” She read a series of statements, and participants were asked to step forward as each applied to them. Some were relatively innocuous:
“Cross the line if you like pizza,” and “if you have ever done the Chicken Dance.”
“Unfortunately,” Corcoran cracked as she stepped forward with the latter.
Others represent issues that people face but might have difficulty discussing:
“Cross the line if you have been impacted by suicide,” “if you have a family member who has been in jail, “if you’ve felt so stressed out by school or work that you don’t know what to do first” and “if you have cried within the last year.”
“Cross the line if you think we can positively impact the world.”
It looked to be unanimous, certainly including Jordan Corcoran, who already has.
For more information, visit listenlucy.org.