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How Sharing Our Struggles Can Build Powerful Human Connection

by KIMI CULP

Hi, I’m Kimi. I am a wife, mother, reluctant homeschool teacher, television producer, and the host at the All the Wiser podcast.

On my show, I interview people who have survived the unthinkable: solitary confinement, cults, plane crashes, electrocution, unfathomable loss, to learn what hopeful lessons they may have found on the other side of pain.

On our 10th episode, I decided to share my pain, that I kept my bipolar disorder a secret for over two decades from everyone I know and love. In the aftermath, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful notes and messages I received from friends and strangers, many sharing their struggles with mental health or the mental health of someone they love.

I share this because it was the first time I really understood that connection heals. The thread in our human experience, the glue of our oneness, the antidote to our suffering.

As I look back on 2020, I see snapshots of myself-like frames from an experimental indie film. There I am, sliding down the bathroom wall, knees buried into my pounding heart, numbing myself with wine, the anxiety that follows, cleaning, scrubbing, yelling, loving, laughing.

And then I remember, sometimes through sheer will, there are moments of deep joy (I know you’re in there joy! Come out where we can see you!). The sun-filled morning our farmers market reopened my dad’s voice, seven-year-old kisses, eyes that smile, long family walks, a kitchen dance party, and god’s quiet whispers that I am not alone. Connection. Life-sustaining connection. Message received.

In my second year hosting the All The Wiser podcast, I had the privilege to spend 2020 from the safety of my home, continuing my intimate conversations with brave souls and their beautiful stories, brutal honesty, and hope filled messages-a reminder that, together, we can do hard things.

I spent hours talking to 30-year-old Maya Amolis as she quarantined in her apartment living with Stage 4 cancer. Maya focuses on tiny things and the happiness they bring. A cup of coffee in bed, the sun beating on her back, a phone call from a friend, being able to wrap her hair in a towel when she gets out of the shower. Gratitude finds joy and acceptance of life as it is. Wisdom understands that you don’t hold your happiness hostage in some unknown future time and place. You can be happy now. In fact, you can only be happy now.

My guest, Damien Echols, knows a thing or two about isolation and describes the ten years he spent in solitary confinement as something that happens ‘for him, not two him.” He survived a decade of loneliness with his breath, meditation, mindfulness, and hope.

Preston Gorman spent 27 days in a plastic bubble at the NIH, the first on American soil to be treated for Ebola Virus. Dr. Fauci was one of his physicians. He told me about the tender tone of a nurse’s voice that filled his weak body with comfort. “Dr. Chertow stuck his hand in the plastic bubble, with the glove, and said, Preston, we’re here, and we’re going to take care of you. It’s the first time anybody had said something like that, but something about the way he said it, it was so comforting.” An eloquent reminder of precious bedside moments happening in hospitals around the world today.

Ohhh, the lovely day we heard from an inner-city high school teacher in Florida using All the Wiser as a homework assignment to spark honest conversations about mental health during the pandemic. She assigned her students to listen to episodes of the podcast and create art representing color-filled and telling reflections of their hearts and minds. For many of the students, it was their first time sharing their struggles publicly and with each other.

How have you been able to create powerful moments of human connection this year? How has it comforted you?

P.S. You can learn more about our stories at All the Wiser and our one-for-one charitable model here. To date, All the Wiser has donated $84,000 to charities making an impact on the frontlines of mental health, addiction, cancer, LGBTQ rights, COVID support for migrant farmworkers, criminal justice reform, and initiatives to close the gender gap in national security.

KIMI CULP

Kimi Culp is a TV and film producer and the host of the All the Wiser podcast. As a filmmaker and producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and Nightly News, she has traveled the world interviewing hundreds of people with the intention of inspiring audiences. Most recently, Culp produced GLEASON, a feature-length documentary film that follows the journey of her friends, Steve Gleason and his wife, Michel. She was a partner at Long Story Media, a short-form content and creative consulting company focused on cause-related content. Until 2011 she served as Executive Director of Talent and Development at OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Culp is also the co-author of the best-selling book, A Letter to My Dog.

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