by Holly Kooi, U!Shine Ambassador in Vienna, Austria
From the moment U!Shine took off at Oklahoma Christian University, I was intrigued and followed its progress. I couldn’t help but think that had something such a program been around when I was in school, maybe I would’ve seen the warning signs sooner...
,...or known what they were for that matter, and wouldn’t have tanked so hard when anxiety and panic came knocking at my door in 2014— the year I had my first child and was shortly thereafter diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. That anxiety turned into a debilitating combination of depression and a panic disorder.
Thankfully, I sought help and have been in remission for nearly two years. But not everyone seeks help or knows they should. The stigma and shame surrounding mental illness are just as prevalent in Vienna, Austria as they are in the States, preventing those struggling from speaking up. Once I was mentally and emotionally aware enough to see this happening among locals and expats alike, I began looking for ways to help others struggling with depression and anxiety.
And it clicked. Storytelling could be my way in.
For a year I wrestled with what do for the Viennese community. Then one morning I saw snippets of U!Shine’s U!Blew It event, and it clicked. Storytelling could be my way in. Storytelling events are huge in Vienna and an event dedicated to personal stories on mental illness seemed like just the ticket. I talked with Vivian, an amazing friend I got to know when she interned with our team a few years back and asked if I could borrow the U!Blew It concept.
And that’s how it began. We talked about Vienna’s need for a safe, loving, and informative community to whom people can turn when they need support in their journeys with mental illness and how an event like U!Blew It could play a role.
But our discussion turned into a bigger idea— what if U!Shine went to Vienna?
But our discussion turned into a bigger idea— what if U!Shine went to Vienna? I was thrilled by the thought but assumed it to be a pipe dream… until it became a reality. Many prayers, emails, and exciting Skype calls later, Jenn and I formed a partnership to create U!Shine Vienna.
U!Shine Vienna will launch in Spring 2018. In the meantime, we are working to build our team and engage the community in speaking openly about mental and emotional health. We are confident great things will come from this partnership!