How I stumbled into support, and hope to pass it on

Christmas trees, at least five enormous ones strapped to tiny cars, passed me today as I walked the sunny streets of San Francisco. Clearly, holiday season has arrived and 2017 is winding down.

This year has been special. It marks an important anniversary for me. One that’s usually not celebrated. Hallmark doesn’t print cards for this one (yet).

“Bipolar? And I’ll have this for the rest of my life?.” At twenty-three years old, ready to take on the world, I was in shock and disbelief. “Why me? Why now?” I asked the doctor. That was 10 years ago, shortly after my college graduation in Germany.

Over the years, through plenty of highs and lows, I’ve learned how to manage my condition and live a balanced life. What remained difficult was talking about it.

Feeling shame, I chose to keep my experience from friends and coworkers. As a result, I often felt lonely even when I wasn’t alone, because a part of me had to stay in hiding.

Last year things took a turn.

Due to a hectic travel schedule during a trip to Patagonia, I hadn’t slept well for days, a red flag for people with bipolar. Out of necessity, I gathered my courage and shared my condition with my fellow travelers. My heart was beating fast. My thoughts were racing. “What if they don’t understand? What if they reject me?”

Much to my relief, they showered me with acceptance and support. One travel partner opened up about his own struggles with depression.

An hour later, we were at an Argentinian pharmacy trying to purchase sleeping pills in broken Spanish: ”mi amigo tiene una condición mental.” That night I slept like a baby feeling a new sense of hope and pride.

Over the course of my trip, I began to share with more people, and I learned that there’s no need to do this alone. That we’re in this together.

Inspired by this experience, when I returned to San Francisco I wanted to create a support system for others who struggle in similar ways. So I, along with my cofounder, Benjamin, founded Campfire.

Over the past months we’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of people about mental health. We’re grateful to have been able to learn from experts and, most importantly, from our community.

It’s been mind blowing to learn how prevalent the need for emotional support and community really is. Almost all of us have a big challenge in our lives: around 50% of us will experience a mental health disorder in our lifetime, and 20% of us will experience one next year. This doesn’t even cover other forms of adversity we experience, such as grief.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with an average of 120 suicides per day. 90% of these people have a diagnosable, treatable mental disorder. For ages 15 to 34, suicide kills more than any other cause, save accidents: it disproportionately takes the young.

Too many of us are left to deal with our challenges alone because existing help is not accessible due to cost, stigma and inconvenience.

Too many feel isolated and hopeless, often with fatal consequences.

Feel better together

Our mission at Campfire is to provide a space that will give everyone the support they need: five to ten trusted peers. Members build a bond over weekly video meetings and keep it strong using group messaging. The goal is for you to connect with people who understand your daily experiences.

So far we’ve brought people together in support groups around grief, eating disorders, depression and bipolar. Our members have told us how powerful it feels to know that you’re not alone. Meeting a group of people who all share the same experience normalizes our condition and enables us to learn from each other.

In a Campfire group, you might find people who are at the beginning of their journey interacting with people who have decades of experience successfully coping with a specific challenge. We believe that peer support has a strong and unique therapeutic value and that we can lead more fulfilling lives by connecting with peers.

Our vision at Campfire is to live in a world where everyone has access to a group of peers they can rely on. We couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come in 2018.

Looking for support yourself? Join us at campfire.care.