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PlanksGiving 2017: Why I'm Planking for Mental Health This Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is coming — a time to give thanks for our blessings and to reflect on how we can make the world a better place.

I ask you read the following and learn about PlanksGiving, an event I run each November.

This year, I am planking in support of mental health.

First, a little background on me and how the event came to be.

My name is Jennifer and I live with mental illness. I am diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety and a classification of eating disorders known as OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder). I realized from around the age of 9 that something wasn’t right. By age 11, things got really bad. And by 13, as a way to cope with my depression and anxiety, I turned to restricting food in order to “disappear.”

Mental illness is different for everybody and almost too complicated for me to try to explain. But after three decades of battling my brain, I think it is time I try.

While we have certainly come a long way in the understanding of mental disorders, I think there are still so many stigmas we can fall into. Depression can be seen as just “sadness.” Anxiety can be thought of as just being “nervous.” And people with eating disorders should “just eat.” Some people think we should just “think positive,” try “exercising more,” and “just get over it.” Well, if you know me, then you know I am a very positive person, exercise could be my middle name and I’m one of the strongest willed people out there.

I have been able to hide all of this from everybody most of my life.  My parents didn’t know, my family and friends didn’t know… even I pushed it down and thought if I worked hard enough and was a good person, it would just go away. It never went away.

I deserve an Oscar for my performances over the years. Even at my worst, I could appear to be at my best. You see, I have high-functioning mental illness. I have been able to live a full life and on the outside seem to have everything together. Inside, I was falling to pieces.

I have always thought I was blessed in a way to have my brain, for it gave me the drive to succeed. I worked hard in everything I did in order to prove something. When it came to my family, I wanted to give them all the love I could never feel for myself. When it came to my beloved job, I gave it my heart and soul because I was good at it and I felt maybe I could help people feel better about themselves.

So my mental illness never held me back — it drove me forward, but it has taken a huge toll along the way.

My purpose in sharing this is to give a face to that famous quote: “Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about… be kind.”

People with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or any other mental illness are not “crazy” — they are sick and living with real illnesses. Please try to remember that and show compassion, even if you don’t understand why your loved one is struggling. Take time to educate yourself as you would do with any other medical issue.

And please, please, please… if somebody opens up to you, please listen.

If not for a couple of people in my life a few years ago who finally got me to talk about myself, I may not be here right now. They know who they are and how much they mean to me. A listening ear can make a world of difference for somebody stuck inside their own mind.

Mentally ill people are not “crazy,” they are ill. We are not weak; most of us are very strong for getting up and fighting each day.

I thought long and hard about opening myself up like this, but I am not ashamed I have depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Instead, I am proud of my journey and for how long and hard I’ve fought to survive. I am still the same Jennifer everybody knew. While I was able to “act” over the years, it doesn’t mean I was being fake. I was simply pushing down my illness as much as I could in order to survive. I am still silly, goofy, nerdy, caring and crazy about planking!

Speaking of planking… let me explain PlanksGiving.

PlanksGiving is an event I started six years ago in order to raise money for special causes.

This year, I am going to plank for five minutes for each donation made to PlanksGiving 2017, to be given to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The question I get asked most is “Why do you plank?”

Some people think my “obsession” with planking is a goof or something I do for fun… and it partly is. Others think planking is a just a core exercise. But for me, planking is so much more.

Planking helped me feel at a time when I felt numb. From the start, I was good at it… almost superhuman.

When I plank for long periods of time, I get clear. There is not much else to do while in that position than think… and sweat. I go to a deep place in my mind that I had shut down years ago. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is crucial to making me the whole and healthy person I wanted to be.

Planking made me feel strong, special and alive. When I’m planking I feel safe… nothing can touch me.

To push your body to the extreme point where you think you have nothing left, but then to fight and keep on going, is powerful. It has taught me I am stronger than I think. I have carried that idea into other areas of my life. I don’t quit… I’m a fighter.

So, I ask that you consider joining me this PlanksGiving in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Let’s stand up for Mental Health together… then on November 30, I’ll get down and plank for the cause!

You can donate here.

Happy PlanksGiving!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Getty Images photo via AlexRaths

Originally published: November 23, 2017
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