Kat Dolan visited Fountain House in June 2018, where she had the opportunity to learn about our community and was inspired by the global movement that grew from the actions of six individuals. Below, Kat shares how poetry not only helped her manage her depression and anxiety, but changed her life and inspired the creation of her non-profit organization Out of Your Mind.
Nobody but Myself
By Kat Dolan
When I started performing my poetry, my knees would knock together uncontrollably, so much so, I would wear the same long, black shirt to shield my anxiety fueled adrenaline. Being on stage was exactly like playing with fire—the chances of getting burned were high, but the opportunity to become the flame, and be to one to generate energy, was too alluring to ignore. I was unsure of myself. At 19, my words were coming from a place of untamed frustration and profound depression. I didn’t understand who I was or what I wanted but the words swam through my mind like whales and when they breached, clear and undeniable, their truth rang with a resonance I was compelled to share.
Scribbling in margins, rehearsing while driving, I was quick to pen each thought, not for fear of inspiration missed, but for the chance to try to understand the way my mind worked. Everything I was experiencing was so clearly connected, so irrefutably poetic, my practice of performing became more than therapeutic; it set me free. My addiction to the stage didn’t come until I began to memorize my pieces. Something about being on stage, under bright lights, hearing myself say exactly what I mean—exactly what I felt—looking out into a crowd of people who were not only listening but, allowing themselves to feel my words. After one of my first performances on campus at my alma mater, James Madison University, I stepped off stage and was enveloped into the arms of a complete stranger. A young man I had never seen before, embraced me and said, “I felt you…thank you.” It was then that I realized that my art could do more than just echo through the microphone, it could change the way people feel.
At 26, after 8 years of performing in bars, coffee shops, at music festivals and weddings from North Carolina, to New York, even the far reaches of New Zealand, it has come time to return the healing favor performance art has given me. Last month, I started a non-profit organization called Out of Your Mind (OYM) with a mission to combat social isolation through creative peer support and reframe mental illness as a mental opportunity. Out of Your Mind is the space between suffering in silence and paying for professional help. It is a space for all of us to begin to understand that mental “illness” is an opportunity to learn to use the gifts each of us are given.
Although OYM was officially launched in May, this project began in Boone, North Carolina in August of 2017. Since August, we have facilitated over 15 donation based events ranging from yoga, group hikes and open mics, to chocolate tasting, creative writing workshops and community potlucks, all of which have drawn an average of 10- 15 community members and Appalachian State University students. Our goal for the next 18 months is to facilitate pilot programs geared towards the local High School, University, and community. Each month, OYM will host a group hike or open mic (weather depending) and collaborate with a local, small business allowing participants to meet new people, experience a new setting, and learn how local entrepreneurs turned their passion into a way of living. Each OYM event is designed to inspire self-care, self-confidence, self-love, communication and resilience, and by consistently engaging in the community, participants quickly discover that finding their passion for life does not have to be done alone.
There is something that happens to us when we are given the chance to creatively express ourselves. We become human vessels of magic, ready to enchant the world in a visceral explosion of valuable art. Living is, after all, our magnum opus of reality. We need to use our art to help each other feel alive. We need to share in order to understand who we are. Performance poetry is my reason for living and Out of Your Mind reminds me that I am, in no way, alone. By sharing my reason--my truth--I have grown to love my depression and anxiety because with them I can finally be nobody but myself.
This poetry video is an offering of hope that I created with my neighbors, in our community. If this video resonates with you, please pass the good feeling on to someone you love. We don’t have to give up, we don’t have to be alone. We need to allow ourselves to feel and take the time to get out of our minds, and back into our hearts.