Showing Strength in the Face of Mental Illness

APR. 11, 2018

By Jennifer Pellecchia


My name is Jennifer, and I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my life. I’m diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety and an eating disorder.

I have high-functioning mental illness, so even at my worst, I appear to be at my best. I’ve been able to live a full life, and, on the outside, I seem to have everything together. My parents didn’t know, my family and friends didn’t know, and even I pushed my symptoms down and thought if I worked hard enough and was a good person, they would just go away on their own.

I’ve always felt blessed in a way to have my brain, because it gave me the drive to succeed. I worked hard at everything I did in order to prove something. So, my mental illness never held me back—it drove me forward. But it’s still taken a huge toll on me along the way.

My purpose in sharing my story is to give a face to that famous quote: “Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about… be kind.”

People with mental illness are not “crazy,” they are sick and trying to live a full life with real health conditions. Please try to remember that and show compassion, even if you don’t understand why someone is struggling. Take time to educate yourself as you would do with any other medical issue. And if somebody opens up to you, please try to listen.

While we’ve certainly come a long way in understanding mental health conditions, there is still so much stigma and misinformation out there. And after three decades of battling my brain, I thought it was time for me to do something to help people understand.

That’s why I decided last year to use my annual PlanksGiving event to support mental health advocacy and NAMI.

I started PlanksGiving in 2012 to do my small part in this world to try to make a difference. I am a fitness professional, so planking is something I use with my clients as a core exercise, but for me, it’s always been so much more.

Planking helps me “feel” at times when I feel numb and lost inside my illness. When I plank, it’s like a kind of meditation. It makes me feel strong physically and has taught me I am strong mentally too.

In the past six years, I have raised over $25,000 for various causes through PlanksGiving, other physical challenges and by selling my artwork. I’m very blessed to have been shown a great deal of support from amazing friends along the way.

And on November 30, 2017, I planked five minutes for each donation made to my NAMI DIY fundraising campaign. The result was $2,445 raised and four hours and 45 minutes of planking. It was challenging, exhausting, but so very fulfilling!

There are three keys to fundraising that I have found helpful:

  1. Share your personal connection – People are much more willing to support you if they know the reason behind your advocacy. You don’t need to be an open book but sharing as much as you’re comfortable with gives a “face” to the cause and a reason to contribute.

  2. Send reminders, updates and thank-you’s – People want to donate, but then life gets in the way. Posting friendly reminders and progress updates via social media is helpful. I also send emails to introduce the event, another at a mid-way point, another just before the event and one more after the event to wrap up. I try to individually thank everybody for their support as well.

  3. Smile and have fun with it – While fundraising is important and geared toward helping serious causes, I find that by getting creative and thinking outside the box, I’m able to reach a larger audience. I say “smile” not because I take my events lightly, but because bringing people together and uniting for a cause is always a good thing and truly brings a smile to my face.

In the future, I hope to do more fundraising for NAMI through their DIY program and to continue sharing my story to help others. I’m not ashamed of my journey. I’m proud of how long and hard I’ve fought to survive.


Jennifer Pellecchia is a wife, mother, fitness professional, and artist. A life-long Jersey girl, she planks wherever she goes and hopes to change the world one plank at a time.


DIY fundraising with NAMI is a fun, interactive way to raise awareness and support NAMI’s mission. Use your unique skills, interests and creativity to secure donations for NAMI while encouraging friends and family to learn more about our work.
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MAY, 23, 2018 09:52:13 AM
JD Hatchett
Thank you. Very inspiring and useful in my daily life. As it offers me strength to continue and to help reach out while motivating others and myself in a continual process of learning , understanding , managing with coping like skills
My journey and course is set before me as i too look up to and need to be rejuvenated with power and true sincerity. Thank you once more for your share. For i to will spread the power in our words and resilience.

JD Hatchett

MAY, 22, 2018 06:20:35 PM
Ayesha Karim
What you shared here is great. You are inspiring others and me as well. Good going!

MAY, 07, 2018 12:50:59 AM
Kimberly Ferguson
Thanks for sharing your story. I have a similar story about being high functioning bipolar for 25 years my last crisis was 16 years ago when I lost my newborn baby to a birth defect and I met a therapist in the hospital who is why I thrive today. She motivated me to work. I lost 70 pounds walking. Hurricane Katrina hit and moving helped me start improving and removing men who are bad for me. I got my GED and driver's license and went to cosmetology school and now have a seven year old son at age 42 and wrote three books sharing about my mental illness and I wrote papers on it in college and I helped many people. I am thinking about majoring in psychology because I am the friend people call when they are in trouble and it's my calling and I use my voice for people who are afraid to speak. My family didn't expect me to have used social media to reach people who are abused by men, people on drugs, people who are mentally ill and people who are on the verge of suicide. I stand up for people who are mistreated by police and living in Alabama what I am doing is not common but I am needed on a national level. I have never suppressed my mental illness and my mom has mood disorder and it's hard because I try to help her but she doesn't understand that medicine is not the cure. I did my work exercise, college, writing, relationship with God and supportive friends and my dog has been essential and removing men. It's a process. You have to apply it day by day. I had to walk away from lots of people and I don't talk to these people. I outgrew many people I once knew. I had to discover to recover and people don't expect a black woman who has mental illness to do all I do with no help with my son but I have a mission. I have so much strength and perseverance and resilience. I fall but I stand tall. I know who I am and what I am on earth to achieve and I believe.

APR, 27, 2018 05:36:37 PM
Cheri Dwyer
Like you, I also have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder resistant to most medications and anxiety. I was treated by a psychiatrist for 1 1/2 years and wasn't getting better. In fact, I was so bad that I had to take a reduced early retirement from teaching because I couldn't do my job. I've been doing very well under my current psychiatrist's care for the last 3 years. I find that exercise really helps me feel great and dancing is my favorite form of exercise. I've been doing more planks since I've read that they're so good for your core. I do them for 60 seconds. Your article is very inspiring! That's wonderful that you're raising all of that money to support mental health and NAMI. My husband and I learned a lot from taking NAMI classes after learning that our 21 year old son had paranoid schizophrenia.

APR, 25, 2018 08:10:05 PM
Janet Field
This has really inspired me to be more public about my mental illness. I am a Sales Director and, as you, high functioning while taking medication to control my clinical depression. I said to my doctor at one of my six month check-ups, "I wish I didn't have to take medication." She kindly explained that it's no different than taking insulin for diabetes. I have an imbalance and the medication puts me in balance and has resulted in a full life. I, too, want to think about constructive ways to raise money as well as awareness for mental illness and getting the stigma out.

APR, 25, 2018 09:48:40 AM
Anna Fjelde
I related to your post because I am relatively high functioning as well, even though I've had anxiety and depression for over 23 years. I was first diagnosed in 1992 at age 12, with Severe depression, panic disorder, OCD, and generalized anxiety. Over the years, the illness would ebb and flow, and I have become so used to their presence that I can function at work, at home, socially, etc. HOWEVER, I realize that I'm merely existing each day. Not really living. Not really enjoying life. I don't remember the last time I was actually happy. I can laugh a lot. But that's for other people. I do not work out but I'm going to join the Y. I'm overweight and have pre-diabetes. Plus, so many say that exercise is so good for mental illness. I'm really hoping that's the missing key to get me out of this lethargic, numb existence. Thanks for sharing your story!

APR, 17, 2018 09:05:40 AM
Gwen Tompkins
Could you please tell me more about plankening? I have had an op on my right knee would that matter? I am a former NAMI member. I would contribute to NAMI if I could plank. Thanks.

APR, 16, 2018 06:31:05 AM
Stefanie Strand
You inspired me, Jennifer! I began my day with a 60 second plank. Tough, but I made it! Thanks for the lift!

APR, 13, 2018 07:35:03 AM
Carol Ward
Amazing. I really loved the quote with the "be kind" ending. Kindness is so important and really easy for people to do😀 Loved your story and all you are doing. You are a beautiful inspirational young woman and doing great things to raise awareness, de-stigmatize mental illness (there are many varying degrees of severity), and raising $$$ for others.

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