“I am my best self”: Through personal storytelling, former TV reporter confronts depression

Lauren Hope’s YouTube channel dates back eight years.

Then known as Lauren Compton, she began posting videos of her work as a reporter for WAVY-TV, the local NBC affiliate, interviewing beekeepers, ballerinas and getting her hands dirty while working as a garbage collector for a day.

But eventually the videos became more raw. She talked about being homeless, living with depression, looking for jobs, radio gigs and freelancing.

The self-proclaimed “goody two-shoes” was finally being her authentic self, said the 34-year-old Virginia Beach native.

Hope was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at about 16 when her parents divorced, she said. In 2012, she joined WAVY-TV as a reporter.

In retrospect, Hope says, she put too much pressure on herself at work.

“I never took vacations,” she said. “I was there on my days off. I didn’t realize the self care that I was skipping out on. That job and being a reporter was so much of who I thought I was that it pushed me further into a depression.”

She was later diagnosed with major depressive disorder and spent two years in the “worst debilitating, ugliest depression” she had ever experienced, she said.

Her diagnosis was hard to accept because she didn’t know many people who spoke openly about mental health, she said.

She was convinced that she had “cured” herself. She stopped taking her medicine and going to therapy. Then in May 2014, she said, she survived a suicide attempt.

She quit her television job two months later because she couldn’t do it anymore, she said. In 2015, she felt obligated to explain why she disappeared from TV screens throughout the area.

So, she wrote.

“I wrote a really candid blog called ‘Standing in my Truth’ about surviving a suicide attempt and what that looked like,” Hope said. “There were viewers sharing their mental health stories with me. That’s when I really started to chronicle my mental health journey.”

That’s when “Good Girl Chronicles” was born — a blog where Hope documents what it’s like to live with mental illness and muses on other topics, like dating.

She chose the name “Good Girl Chronicles” because she has always been straight-laced and proper, she said.

“I’m going to write a book about how you navigate your love life, your sex life through the eyes of a ‘goody two-shoes,’ ” Hope remembers saying. “I wanted to be the black Carrie Bradshaw without all the sex.”

But Good Girl Chronicles didn’t take off until she delved into her mental health journey and started talking about it openly, she said.

She was homeless from May 2016 to early 2017. She did odd jobs and lived in random places like rental offices and a homeless shelter. She also spent some nights in her neon green Volkswagen Beetle that she calls “Lolo.”

She asked the public for help via GoFundMe. Viewers and others who saw her videos came through, she said.

“People donated over $4,000,” Hope said. “I used that money for bus passes, food, hotels when I could. People sent me food and care packages.”

While she was homeless, Hope documented her reality on Facebook, where she’d update people and ask for help, she said. A Christian couple saw her pleas and welcomed her into their home.

“Telling my story literally saved my life,” Hope said. “I would not have gotten the help I received had I not been writing through it.”

Eventually, she started to go by the last name “Hope” because it allowed her to separate herself from her past. It was hard for those around her to fathom why she would be so open about her struggles, she said.

She wanted to let go of the family friction that stemmed from sharing her story. She also wanted to make a name for herself outside of her journalism career.

“I wanted to be Lauren Hope, the speaker,” she said. “Lauren Hope the survivor.”

A friend suggested that she turn Good Girl Chronicles into a business. Now, she hosts storytelling nights once a month where speakers talk about their victories.

“It started out as a lot of survival stories,” Hope said. “Survivors of domestic violence, people sharing their mental health stories and people who came out of the foster care system. Now, it’s evolving.”

What’s the requirement to speak at Storytelling Night?

“Their stories have to have a message of hope,” she said. “That’s what helps people, when they see how you’ve gotten through something. What you’ve learned from it. That’s what inspires people to make change.”

On a recent Friday night, Hope hosted Storytelling Night at Bearded Bird Brewing in Norfolk. Seven people spoke, including a man who lost 75 pounds, a woman who wants to normalize discussions about menopause and a comedian who uses laughter to talk about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis.

A little over 50 people showed up, including author, blogger and insurance agent Gabrielle Riggins. It was her second time speaking at one of Hope’s events, she said.

Riggins’ doctor told her she couldn’t have children, she told the crowd Friday. Riggins was 23 at the time. Now 28, she has two children, ages four and 2 months.

Her faith — and sharing her story — got her through it all, she said.

“When people tell their story, it really is self-healing,” Riggins said. “If you just hold stuff in, eventually you implode. You have this mental breakdown, which I had many times because I wasn’t telling people how I felt.”

Riggins likes Storytelling Night because she’s helping to normalize discussions that are hard for some people to have, she said. After writing her book, women reached out to her and said they, too, had miscarriages that were hard to talk about.

“We actually help to destigmatize what people feel about certain things,” Riggins said.

Hope has become a certified peer recovery specialist, she said. She coaches others struggling with mental illness while they recover. She also works with Colonial Behavioral Health in Williamsburg and will soon run a peer group with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, among other things.

Hope wants to make Storytelling Night a stage production, like a TED Talk, she said. She’s looking for ambassadors to promote events and find speakers.

She also wants to write a memoir, go on a speaking tour at colleges and high schools and get more people in communities of color to talk about mental illness, she said.

Hope started taking her medicine again during the winter of 2015, shortly before she started blogging, she said. She’s still taking them and in therapy.

She said there are three critical parts of her recovery.

“It is my spiritual walk with Christ, it is good medication and therapy,” she said. “When all of those things are working well, I am my best self.”

She wants to further inspire others to open up about their struggles.

“I hope through storytelling that we normalize it,” Hope said, “and take the fear out of it.”

Publication: The Virginian-Pilot / January 24, 2019
Photo Credit: Pexels

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