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The i'Mpossible Project (53) with Jeanine Hoff

This is the fifty-third edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Jeanine Hoff with Finding My Sunshine

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I love rain. I love storms even more. Clouds, thunder, sideways droplets. It calms, soothes, and inspires me to do simple things like read, paint, or bake. But we all know, it doesn’t rain forever and eventually the sun comes out. Oh, the sun. Whereas the rain cleanses the soul, the sun returns to reveal it. And although I prefer gloomy weather, there is nothing more profound than the moment my life began to revolve around sunshine; internal sunshine; sunshine from my soul. I often share my journey in bits and pieces, giving the listener only what they need, but I always give them this; sunshine symbolizes the journey through a challenge, especially if that challenge is your own mind.

In the midst of the darkest days of my life struggling with anxiety and depression, I questioned what defines personal happiness and how does one master it. I always put my emotional worth into something tangible—a work project, new concept, recipe, creating a new graphic, composing a song, not just for me to see, but everyone else as well. After all, that was the only way I understood people to validate themselves. If there isn’t something “to show,” then how could it be real? Think about how many individuals define their validity through monetary displays: home, car, clothing, vacation. Despite this, something was terribly amiss. I began to internalize everything and focus on what happens when you appear to have it all and still lack inner self-worth—that sunshine if you will.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I thought about the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” but as I waited for it, tomorrow continually felt further out of reach. I tried to “snap out of it,” or “not think about it,” and the more I did, the worse I felt. I realized everyone around me had the ability to just move on, while I had the ability to do the complete opposite. My “gift” was thinking about things over and over again. Going through every scenario, every possible outcome, relentlessly analyzing every word, thought, expression. Experts call this rumination. I call it self-inflicted torture.

The hardest part about this emotional tumult was that no one else seemed to understand and rightfully so. How exactly does one explain they feel awful, insignificant, useless and expect the average person to make sense of it? In my mind, everyone around me had something of value to contribute to the world and I had nothing. Even I didn’t understand it. What was wrong with me? When I looked at my life on paper I knew I had a wonderful family, beautiful children, a lovely home, enjoyed great vacations, was educated and was physically healthy. On the outside, I was the embodiment of the girl who had everything. On the inside, I was a swirling tornado of unending worry, anxiety, sadness, and despair. As this mixed bag of emotions continued to eat away at my spirit, my fears began to intensify. What an uncomfortable dichotomy; feeling simultaneously worthless and fearful of practically everything.

As I continued to doubt and second-guess everything, I wrote a list of all the songs I could think of where the lyrics focused on the sun. As a musician, my knowledge of sun-themed songs was unsurprisingly vast. What I noticed was almost all shared the same idea. The sun is a constant and will eventually shine through the toughest of times. But where was my sunshine?

And like that, it appeared. I thought about what I loved to do most. Writing, graphic art, photography, educating people, rallying my community, sharing my voice and speaking on behalf of those who fear to do it themselves. Then I thought about “What am I really good at?” I’m a singer, event planner, and fundraiser. And right there is was. My sunshine. If I can create something that could help people who are at their lowest, then we can heal together.

I originally began “Where is the Sunshine?” as a means to bring people some positive inspiration. It soon evolved into something so much more. I realized this when I began tweeting my senators telling them to support mental health legislation. Within days I was blogging about things that most people keep to themselves. I knew that I could be a reasonable voice in mental health and advocate intelligently while never losing sight of those I’m trying to help. I have voiced my thoughts on mental illness and gun ownership, on mental illness, and terrorism and so much more. I knew I did not want people with mental illness to be seen as criminals, dangerous, or unreliable. I knew I wanted to educate those with mental illness, their loved ones, and the general population. I knew I wanted to speak to students, veterans, lawmakers, and corporations. In less than six months, I went from depressed to sharing positive thoughts to becoming the founder of the non-profit organization, where I work with local organizations to better support mental health.

The darkest days of my life, brought me to my brightest. My family and I have never been happier and more whole. In finding my sunshine, I found simplicity, beauty in the mundane, and the meaning of true love of family. My storm washed away my former soul and sun revealed the real me.

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BIO: Jeanine Hoff is the founder of Where is the Sunshine?, a non-profit organization and social media resource dedicated to positive mental health advocacy through education and community collaboration. Jeanine is a TEDx presenter on mental health, a certified presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Peer-to-Peer program, helped create Mental Health America’s nationwide Peer Specialist Accreditation Certification team and is certified in Mental Health First Aid. She is a classically trained musician holding both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Arizona State University. She and husband Mathew are the proud parents of three boys.

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You can find more stories like Jeanine's in The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles.

The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.

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