My TedXPeachtree Talk: Transcending the Messiness of Mental Illness

My TedXPeachtree Talk - Brass Tack Thinking

photo by Matt Ridings

Several months ago, when TedXPeachtree co-organizer Jacqui Chew asked me if I’d consider doing a talk based on my own experiences with depression and mental illness, my initial answer was a clear and resounding

Hell NO.

That was a knee-jerk response rooted in one thing: Fear.

I’d blogged about the topic once or twice and had some spontaneous conversations with a few people online about our various experiences. But a TEDx talk? To an audience of several hundred people in person and several thousand more online?

That was a different story. So here’s how it went down.

Being the change you want to see…

I talk an awful lot on this blog about change. About the importance of learning to navigate it, and perhaps most importantly, being the person that can and does spark it in your own world.

Mental illness is something that’s touched me personally — through my friends, my family, and my own experiences. But I hate how it’s talked about, or rather not talked about, in the world at large.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dozens of other mental illnesses. They’re terribly stigmatized. Which means that people don’t talk about it, don’t ask for help, don’t get treatment. Because they’re afraid. Afraid of being judged.

That fear was exactly what was keeping me off that stage.

So I said yes.

The philosophy of TED and the associated TEDx events is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. It’s an honor to be considered to grace a TED stage, and frankly it’s been a professional goal of mine for a long while.

I just never thought it would be telling such a very personal story.

I think shattering the stigmas around mental illness is an idea worth spreading. I think the fact that mental illness is something that many millions of people live with, every day, is worth talking about, loudly. I think that if just one person speaks up, gets help, or helps someone they love because they feel less alone after hearing personal stories like this, it was worth every moment of nervousness and trepidation I felt before I stepped onto that big red X.

The response has been nothing short of overwhelming. Thank you in advance for giving of your time and attention to listen, and if you feel so inclined, to share and spread the message that we cannot stay silent.

Here’s the talk I gave at TedXPeachtree on November 2, 2012. Special thanks to Jacqui, Al, and the entire TedXPeachtree organization of volunteers and sponsors for welcoming me and giving me the platform to share.

So now what?

After the tears, the hugs, the new friends and the outpouring of support after this talk, I knew I couldn’t just let this be something I did and then walked away from.

So, in the next few weeks, I’ll be launching a new blog called The Mind:Share Project. It’ll have many contributors, and the goal will be to talk openly, honestly, and bravely about life with mental illness and break through the stigmas we’ve created. You’ll hear from people who live with these diseases themselves, and the people who have been touched by it through people they love.

It’s my way of being part of the change I want to see in the world, using the platforms I know best. I hope you’ll stay tuned and join us there in the coming weeks.

I can say little that would mean more to me than simply thank you.

To the friends and family who told me it was not only okay to go out there and do this, but necessary. To each and every one of you for reading, for listening, for supporting this blog and my venture at SideraWorks, for being the kind of people that do go out and change things.

Thank you, thank you. It was my honor to share this with you and I am eternally grateful for the chance to make a difference.

  • Yukari Peerless

    So glad I finally got to see this. Sharing for sure. Just few weeks ago, I almost lost a friend to depression…he is ashamed and he doesn’t want anyone to find out. It’s heartbreaking. I’ll be sending this to him too. Looking forward to being a part of your new project as well. xo

    • Amber Naslund

      It’s all too familiar a story, I’m afraid, but we can only change it if we’re willing to keep speaking out and giving others a safe place to be. Thanks for your enduring support, Yukari. It means a great deal.

      • Laura Overstreet Biering

        Thank you for sharing your voice and encouraging the same in others. It is important, they are needed, and I am grateful I got to hear yours. I look forward to much more, Laura O. Biering of True Voices

  • Alan Baer

    Way to go Amber! And to say I knew you when.. Im proud of you!

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Al! What fun to see you here. :) One of these days when work takes me to NYC, I’m going to have to come and say hello. Thank you again.

  • annhandley

    You’re amazing. And I love you to bits. I don’t have more words than that… xoxo.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Ann. Love you back. xo

  • jaybaer

    Remarkable. I wouldn’t have the guts to even write the title of that talk, much less give it in public. Everyone who watches this will be a better person as a result. An idea worth spreading, indeed.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks so much, my friend. It meant a lot to me to give it, and even more to me that people are willing to share it.

  • Carol Roth

    I’m so proud of you, Amber. You are an amazing role model and friend. xo

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you so much. Can’t wait to see you soon. xo

  • hardlynormal


    I’m in awe of the courage it took for you to stand in front of people/camera and be so vulnerable!

    THANK YOU for helping to keep an important conversation that most people want to hide out in the open!


    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks so much, Mark. I know you’ve been an advocate for mental health issues for so long, and I appreciate that more than you know. Please keep up the great work.

  • Anita Hovey

    Amber, thank you for having the courage to speak about your experience. I’ve only told a very small group of business colleagues that I suffered from Post-Partum Depression. I said that I think I have finally “recovered”, but it is a daily struggle. I can’t wait to see, and hopefully be part of, The Mind:Share Project.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Anita. PPD is *such* a difficult thing to deal with and so many stay silent and don’t get help. I hope you have all the continued support you need.

  • Nikki Little

    Amazing story, Amber. And beautifully told. Thanks for sharing. It hits close to home (not me personally, but a family member who is now deceased). I’m sure you planned to do this already, but please share how people can contribute to the new blog once you’re ready. I’ve never shared my story publicly, and I may just have enough courage to do it when your project launches.

    • Amber Naslund

      I definitely will, Nikki, and thank you. If you’re interested in getting the first correspondence about Mind:Share in the next few weeks, just send me your email on the “Contact” page here at BTT. Otherwise, I’ll be sure and post more information in the near future.

      • Nikki Little

        Thanks, done!

  • Stephen Lahey

    Thanks for sharing your important story, Amber. So much courage.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Stephen! I appreciate your comment.

  • David Alston

    A powerful message delivered so eloquently from the heart. Thank you for the courage to share it Amber. You are a rock, you truly are.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks, David. Truly appreciated.

  • Janice Arnoldi

    I’m always amazed how everyone I talk to about manic depression is touched by mental illness in some way. Your honesty and the response to your talk and the shares of this post shows how wide spread it is and how many people can be inspired.

    • Amber Naslund

      That’s part of what encouraged me to do this. If I couldn’t find the courage to tell my story, it would be awfully hard to encourage other people to speak up for themselves and get help. So many people are affected, and so many can be helped. Thanks for watching, Janice.

  • donnapapacosta

    Very brave talk, Amber. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks for taking the time to watch it, Donna. Much appreciated.

  • jessicamalnik

    Wow. That took some serious guts to deliver that TedX talk. Such a brave and courageous talk. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank YOU, Jessica, for being willing to give your time to watch it and comment. Much appreciated.

  • Jason Konopinski

    An exceptionally powerful talk, Amber. Thank you for sharing that part of yourself with us.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Jason. I appreciate it.

  • John Haydon

    Amber – You’ve transformed your mental illness into mission. Not that your problems are gone, but you’ve created meaning and a positive impact on others with them. You’ve won!

    • Amber Naslund

      That’s the best I can ask for, John. And I don’t know if the battle is ever “won”, but it’s important to me, and I’m going to keep fighting.

      • John Haydon

        You may never “arrive”, but as long as you’re helping others by sharing your experience, you’re winning.

  • su ann lim

    Bravo Amber! for so courageously and eloquently championing the need to openly discuss mental illness, how it affects all of us and how individuals can transcend their illnesses. Thank you!

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you so much, Su Ann. Like I said, I don’t know if you ever really “transcend” it, but you make peace with it like any other chronic condition. And I don’t want anyone to be ashamed that it’s part of who they are.

  • Jenni Leeds

    Thank you, Amber. I count myself among the lucky few who is “out” at work and not stigmatized for it. With Asperger’s and a side of depression/anxiety, there’s never a dull moment. Unfortunately, the Asperger’s that can sometimes turn out to be a benefit in my professional life is often just the opposite in my personal life. I’m so proud of you for – as you said – shining a light on this topic, and I look forward to reading more. -Jenni

    • Amber Naslund

      I’m so glad you have support at work. Kudos to your colleagues for that, and I so wish everyone could experience the same. Thanks for being so open with YOUR story so that others can find solidarity. That’s the whole point. Thanks for watching and commenting.

  • Tamsen McMahon (@tamadear)

    Thank you for giving voice to what so many of us have experienced, and for doing it so eloquently and bravely. Any of us who’ve lived with and through similar issues know just how hard — and freeing — that talk must have been to accept, conceive, and give.

    The fact that you did is a testament to your dedication not only to yourself and your own progress with depression and anxiety, but to the mission (as John says below) of giving all of us with those issues the courage to fight on, to fight for a life — a happy life freed of the cages of our own heads — so many of us so often don’t even believe exists…but does.

    Thank you for showing others it’s possible.

    • Amber Naslund

      I’m not sure I really believe that we are “freed” from our illnesses so much as we learn to accept and fit them in, and know that happiness isn’t just having “happy thoughts” but instead finding peace and meaning in *all* of the feelings, good, bad, and ugly. It’s part of who we are. And accepting THAT is the bit that’s most challenging to me, and most important. Thanks for watching, and for commenting.

      • Tamsen Webster (@tamadear)

        Agreed. A therapist once told me that, with anxiety at least, the rejection of anxious thoughts and feelings was at the same time the very source of them. We cannot reject part of who we are and still feel whole. As you say, *that’s* what’s freeing — when we realize that the thoughts that construct who we are are not, in fact, cages. They are what give us shape, and our lives meaning…and are always under construction, and reconstruction.

        I wish you the best on your continued path.

  • andreacook

    Thank you Amber for being so genuine and open. You are a true leader, role model and inspiration to many, including moi.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to watch and comment. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Robin @ Farewell Stranger

    So glad you did it, Amber. I did a TEDx talk last year about my experience with postpartum depression. Very powerful experience.

    • Amber Naslund

      I’m glad too, Robin! Thanks for sharing your experiences with people, too. Those that have the strength to speak need to do it for those that do not.

  • Susan Giurleo

    Amber, thank you for waking your talk. For me, your willingness to share is powerful. You being the change you want to see in the world is humbling….

    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks so much, Susan. It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable enough with this part of me to talk about it so openly. Almost 20 years! So it’s better late than never I suppose. :)

  • Cassie

    Amber, “This is me. I am her…” Thank you very much for your courage and for sharing your wisdom.

    • Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Cassie, for taking the time to listen and comment. Very appreciated.

  • Katherine Bull

    Really well done, Amber. My first visit to a doctor at 24, after not being able to work for three days, was that I didn’t want to be “like my mom,” who suffers from clinical depression. His reply? “If you had diabetes would you not take insulin?” That hit it home for me. Anti-depressants and therapy changed my life, but almost every day is a struggle, especially when anxiety reared its head in my 40s. I’ve never hidden my diagnosis but I can’t say I’ve been out in front about it either. So. Here I am..saying it with you and standing with you.

    • Amber Naslund

      YAY. Thanks, Katherine. It’s not easy. Our brains are these enigmatic things that we think are filled with emotion and ideas and all sorts of wonderful but ethereal bits. But they’re biologically *very* connected to the rest of us, and it’s taken me so long to learn that it’s all part of the same complicated system. I believe we never really beat it, but we learn to manage it like any other chronic condition, and THAT can be enough to take our lives back. Good for you for continuing to fight. Keep at it.

  • Ian

    Amber, thank you for sharing so honestly your personal struggle. That took a lot of courage. I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life and continue to be amazed at how many people I come across who suffer from a mental illness of some description.

    And how right you are – we need to bring it out of the dark and into the light. I look forward to meeting at your new blog.

    Once again, well done, Amber.


    • Amber Naslund

      Thanks so much, Ian. It’s amazing how many of us there are, yet how silent we feel we have to be. Realizing that *I* wasn’t alone was part of what gave me the drive to do this talk. It meant the world to me to know I wasn’t a “crazy freak” and I wanted other people to know and understand how prevalent this is. By 2020, it’s expected that 50% of the world’s population will have had experiences personally with mental illness. That’s staggering. And the only way we change that is to learn to accept it as part of the human experience that we all share in one way or another. Esoteric, maybe, but I believe it. Thank you so much for listening.

  • Executive MBA

    This is pure TEDx magic, Amber. Thank you for doing this.

  • Jackie Shelley

    Amber, thank you for speaking out. Your speech has moved me deeply. I am so grateful for people like you who are actively working to remove the stigma around these disorders. I grew up with a parent with a serious mental illness, and now struggle myself to parent well while battling my own inner demons. Sometimes the hardest part of the road to health is my own refusal to acknowledge my own courage in just getting up to face every day. When no one is looking, I judge myself much more harshly than anyone has ever dared to judge me, at least to my face. When you say in your talk, “You are courageous, and we need you to keep fighting,” that means the world to me. It really does. I look forward to your Mind:Share project, and hope I’ll be able to contribute or participate.

  • christy

    Panic attacks for me. I hate them. I don’t tell people. When they were untreated I heard, “Be strong.” One time a friend wanted to borrow something. She drove to the house to pick it up. I was right in the middle of a panic attack. Never saw her again except when she brought back what she borrowed. I hide it and only write upbeat things. Thank you. I cried when I read this. I have a supportive husband who understands. I am even chicken to post this.

  • Kickstart Your Change

    Love this idea. Excited to see The Mind:Share Project take shape.

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