Have you wanted to dip your toe into advocacy but aren’t sure how? Jeff Bell, founder of The A2A Alliance and founding partner of Project Hope Exchange, and Liz McIngvale, founder of Peace of Mind Foundation, have an idea for you: Leave a 30-second message of hope for others with OCD. Let’s learn more, beginning with Jeff.
Explain Project Hope Exchange.
Project Hope Exchange is a joint initiative of The A2A Alliance and the nonprofit Life Vest Inside. The goal of Project Hope Exchange is to showcase the power of giving hope, and specifically the notion that we get hope by giving hope. What we have built through Project Hope Exchange is an online platform, coupled with what we call our Hopeline, that allows people to leave 30-second messages of encouragement to others battling an adversity that they themselves are either dealing with currently or have dealt with in the past. So, cancer survivors speaking to other cancer survivors, individuals with OCD speaking to others with OCD, or even more broadly, impacted by OCD.
What we have found is that far too often in life, the missing ingredient in recovery is hope. I know this from my own journey through mental health recovery: At my worst I felt hopeless and desperately needed to find that sense of hope to motivate me to get better. What I learned along the way, sort of by stumbling across this principle, is that we help ourselves by helping others. When I found ways to give hope to other people, I found a great deal of hope in that process. So Project Hope Exchange aims to facilitate that. We collect 30-second audio messages — people can leave them through our Hopeline, or they can visit our website, projecthopeexchange.com — we listen to those messages, we vet them, we edit them to 30 seconds if necessary, and we post them by adversity. Our Project Hope Exchange website allows visitors to drill down by adversity and listen to messages from others dealing with that particular adversity and ideally be inspired to leave their own.
This month in particular you’re focusing on OCD with the OCD Hope Drive. Can you tell us a little more about that?
We’re excited to be partnering with Liz McIngvale and the great folks at Peace of Mind to pilot the OCD Hope Drive with the goal of collecting 100 messages of hope from individuals impacted by OCD, in 30 days. One of the things that really excites us about this is providing a pathway to advocacy for people who are in the OCD community. So often people will think of us and say, “I’d like to do something in the OCD advocacy world, what do you suggest?” We think that Project Hope Exchange is a great place for people to taste advocacy. They can do it anonymously; they can do it with just their first name, but we hope that it affords them an opportunity to feel what it’s like to share some encouragement through this hope drive. We’d like for it to be a gateway to advocacy through our OCD ally organizations, Peace of Mind, the International OCD Foundation, or Riley’s Wish.
What would you tell someone who says, “I’m not 100 percent recovered, so I don’t feel like I’m equipped to share a message of hope with someone.”
One of the great fallacies about advocacy is that we can only provide hope when we have reached some certain threshold of recovery. I find that when people are looking for hope, what resonates most are people who are in the trenches with them, someone who can provide the perspective of someone who’s still struggling, still trying to find all the answers but is making some progress and is willing to share the hope afforded by that progress. I really think it’s important that we share our successes as we go and inspire people along the way.
And if they leave a message of hope and they see you at the OCD Conference in San Francisco, now they have a talking point to meet you.
I would love, love, love to meet everybody who leaves a message. I would love for them to share with me personally what that experience was like for them and for those who are interested in exploring other ways to get involved in OCD advocacy, I would love to talk with them about that and help do what I can to facilitate that.
And now let’s hear from Liz! Why did you and the Peace of Mind Foundation get involved with the OCD Hope Drive?
I’ve always worked really closely with Jeff, and I’ve loved our partnership and our ability to work together to make a difference for individuals with OCD. Jeff and I spent a lot of time thinking about different ways and opportunities for us to collaborate to make an overall impact in the OCD community. And this just felt like a really great way to be able to do that. It was simple — people could it from their own home and from really anywhere that they were — and it gave other people a chance to give individuals who are really suffering a lot of hope. That’s something that’s really dear to my heart.
What would you say to someone who asks, “How can my 30-second message of hope make a difference?”
It doesn’t matter how long or short the message is. Being willing to just talk to someone, support someone, be empathetic toward someone with a mental illness gives us hope, so being able to give them a message of hope, whether it’s short and quick or long is irrelevant. At the end of the day, you’re taking the time out of your day to remind us that you believe in us, that there’s hope available for us, and that we can and will have a happy life despite this disorder.
Can you speak a little bit about what messages of hope have done for you and your recovery?
For me, it’s knowing that other people have a diagnosis like I do. That in and of itself is super moving and inspiring. But I think more than anything it’s just the fact that there are people out there who care about me. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether we’re related or I know you: Leaving a message of hope to tell me that it will get better, that you’ve gotten better, or that you’re thinking about me — all of those things inspire me to move forward.
And here’s a question for both Liz and Jeff: Since so many people who will leave a message of hope this month have OCD, an anxiety disorder, they may feel really nervous about doing it, even if it’s anonymous. Do you have any tips for someone who might be feeling like “This needs to be perfect or I shouldn’t do it at all?”
Liz: The biggest thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong, there’s no black and white. It’s just about giving hope, and you can’t do that in a way that’s not a good way. No matter what you say, it’s going to be meaningful, it’s going to be moving, it’s going to be impactful, because you’re taking time out of your day to share some words that will lift someone else up. Don’t worry about it being perfect, because imperfection isn’t the point. If you have done the act of recording a message, you will inspire and move somebody.
Jeff: It can be challenging on many levels to share a story, even in 30 seconds. Let me start with one of the most challenging components of that, and that’s that “I’m not worthy of providing hope.” We touched on that already in terms of the idea that one needs to be fully recovered before I can share hope. The mere fact that you are willing to put yourself out there, even anonymously, and make an attempt to help other people, that is such a courageous thing to do that that courage alone will inspire people. I want potential participants in the hope drive to know that just stepping out and leaving that message is hugely courageous and will be perceived as such by other people who listen to that message. The second thing is those of us with OCD like to make the world very black and white, either I’m gonna leave the perfect message or it’s gonna be really, really bad. There’s no such thing as a perfect message. The message we want from you, an OCD sufferer, someone impacted by OCD, is simply a heartfelt acknowledgment that this is difficult but that it’s possible to move forward with recovery and support of others who are dealing with OCD. The third thing from a very practical aspect is that we try to make the interface as user-friendly as possible, so you can do as many different takes as you’d like with your message. You can call, you can listen back to your message, if you don’t like it you can push a button and re-record it and then re-re-record it and re-re-record it, and we only get that message that you decide you’re ready to send to us.
A couple of closing thoughts: If someone is feeling apprehensive about worthiness or ability to leave a message I would encourage them to leave that first message anonymously, give us a couple initials, whatever is comfortable for you, but give yourself a chance to see what it’s like. Push your comfort zone and leave a message anonymously if that’s easier for you, but give yourself the opportunity to see what’s possible when you step into advocacy. Listen to other people’s messages, get an idea of what other people are sharing. We hope that through this drive we will not only collect 100 messages that can inspire other people but help 100 people come to appreciate just how motivating it is to give other people hope.