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A Visit to Pristina, Kosovo for Mental Health Awareness Week

Getting Real Exposure in Pristina

At the invitation of The Center for Information & Social Improvement (QIPS), I gave a talk in Pristina this past Monday. QIPS is a Kosovo-based NGO working to improve the well-being of people in need and raising awareness for problems hidden by stigma. To be honest, this is what brings me the most joy while running The Artidote. Having the opportunity to be physically present in communities across the world to bring mental health awareness feels real. Managing the project behind the screen is fun, but having real interactions with real people has no substitute.

This talk was the kick off to the Mental Health Awareness Week organized by QIPS. The theme this year was Art Therapy. What made this talk particularly special for me was that translator devices were used. Headphones were used to translate English to Albanian and vice versa. This allowed me to share my journey at The Artidote with every one of the 250 people present. They also gave me the opportunity to understand the panel discussion that followed my talk. It was an insightful conversation between the director of The Mental Health Center in Pristina, a psychologist professor at the University of Pristina and the director of the National Autism Association of Kosovo.

Complex But Necessary Conversations

To me, it is a privilege and pleasure getting to learn from mental health professionals about the challenges in their particular community. They spoke about the limited access to mental health services, stigmas that need to be dissolved, government policies that need drastic improvement, collective trauma after war, our personal role in prioritizing our mental wellbeing and how we may be of support to others around us. These are all hard but necessary conversations to have. It’s important to raise awareness and help shift the stigmas around mental illnesses. More importantly, these convos expose the real challenge of securing adequate support for our mental well-being. Whether we suffer from a mental illness or not, our collective mental well-being is something that we should all care about. After all, we’re all in this together.

Growing Together With People

Half of the audience were Artidotees. This is something special for me. It’s such a joy getting to meet the community face to face. It shows me the real impact of this platform, an impact that goes beyond the screen and way beyond just quotes and art. It also strengthens my sense of responsibility. I’m grateful to see The Artidote growing into something that more and more resembles my dreams.

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Delhi: A Moment That Left An Impact On Me

The Artidote LIVE: Being In The Moment

On Wednesday February 21st, 2018, I hosted the first ever Artidote Moment. I didn’t want to call these things “sessions” or “events” because each of those terms carried implications that were not fitting. I wanted to create a new type of experience. In the end, the term “Moment” felt natural and objectively free from any weird, unnecessary associations.

Despite not having a set structure for this very first iteration of The Artidote LIVE, I intuitively knew what I wanted to create. Over a period of 3hrs, I would attempt to open up a space where people felt free to feel. Sounds simple, right? But feeling, openly and in public, is sometimes very difficult. Beyond feeling, I also wanted people to share those feelings and their stories. I dreamt of creating an enclosed environment in which, in a room made up of mostly strangers, people felt free to both laugh out loud and cry. It’s very difficult to find spaces, in other people or in the outside world, where that freedom is given to us without somebody placing a limit on what and how to feel what we’re feeling. This was my humble attempt.

Tears Under My Eyes When I think About That Day

There were two Moments that day: one between 9:30am—12:30pm and another one between 5pm-8pm. Each Moment was and felt different. Understandably, since each space brought together 130+ souls and unique stories that came together to share a moment in time.

Every time I think back on how I personally felt at the end of that day, tears form under my eyes. Nostalgic tears. It was a beautiful experience, personally, to both open up about my own life to a room full of Artidotees and to listen and feel their own presence. My favorite part was when I felt the collective transition into comfort. At this point, people began to fall into the courage of the moment and begin sharing the vulnerably honest part of themselves with all of us present. The energy felt in the room was unmistakable; how we were all there together to sustain ourselves in those moments. These are some of their stories.

On Processing the Reality of Death

A young girl whose beloved grandfather passed the night before, came to the event. Unable to still process the reality of death and put words to her feelings, something drew her to be in that Moment with us. She is one of the strongest people I’ve ever felt in my life — a powerhouse of nurturing — I felt it in the hug we shared at the end of the Moment. May she find her peace through the grief in the healing process.

On the Importance of Parenting

A 14 year old girl came with her mother. It was such a special Moment to have a parent present; I cannot stress enough the importance parenting has on our Mental Health, especially with the challenge of today’s generation gap. I was proud of the Artidotee for convincing her mother to come with her and inspired by the parent for listening to the passionate interests of her child.

On Living and Healing After Sexual Abuse

A young woman, on her way to the venue, accidentally ran into me on the street and recognized me. She froze in awe and amazement. We exchanged smiles, took a selfie, gifted me a handwritten letter and, after a hug, she continued on her way to the venue, jumping with excitement after our chance encounter. Later on, in a room full of 200 Artidotees, she felt comfortable to ask for the microphone. In that moment, she shared with us that she still carries the trauma of being sexually abused when she was younger.
You never know what the stranger next to you has been through. We all deserve a safe space where to share our stories, be actively listened to and be allowed to feel our feelings.
I will never forget her; she’s such a courageous ray of sunshine.

On Speaking Out Despite Social Anxiety

An Artidotee with a history of social anxiety asked for the microphone. Subtly shaking, she admitted that she could distinctly hear her heart pounding as she began to speak. She would go on to deliver a passionate account of her life, personal struggles and how she’s overcoming them. Her vulnerably honest thoughts were followed by all of us clapping at her and her courage to speak her mind.

On Reminding Ourselves To BREATHE

An Artidotee who suffered a panic attack the night before shared her story. She said that, in her panic, she felt enough stored up energy in her body to… do the unthinkable. But in the midst of it all, she remembered to B R E A T H E. And kept reminding herself to breathe throughout. And she wanted to be with us in that shared Moment to thank The Artidote community for being there. I felt so very thankful to have her there with us as well.

Moments To Never Forget

Someone that has never heard of The Artidote until that Moment (told about it by a friend) stopped by. He asked for the microphone near the end to share how much he appreciated having had experienced what just happened during the last three hours. And how appreciative he was of finding this community and having shared the last 3hrs of his life with all of us.

These are Moments I will personally never forget.
Jova

The Artidote is still a passion project running on love for the past 3 years by a team of one. But I’ve finally let go of my fear of asking for help, which I need more than ever to sustain the amount of work it requires today; consider helping me keep this dream alive by contributing to its financial sustainability <3
THANK YOU

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Bangalore: The First Offline Chapter of The Artidote

BANGALORE, India – Giving the keynote speech at the Under 25 Summit in front of the largest gathering of Artidotees to date to reveal a new chapter in the evolution of The Artidote. Sunday February 18, 2018. Photos courtesy of Under 25 Club

When Dreams are Bigger Than Fears

In front of 2500+ people (with hundreds of Artidotees in the audience), I attempted to be my most vulnerably honest self. From the start, I revealed to the audience that I didn’t have a speech prepared for that night. Purposely. Because I did not want to appear perfect, but human.

Instead, I relaxed into the moment and shared my history of social anxiety, the years of bullying, depression, fear, heartache, life-ache and every consequential thing in between that had brought me to that moment, speaking live in front of 2500+ souls.

I was offering myself up as a mirror; I was letting the underdogs in the crowd know that I am on their side. That I’ve always been on their side: an introvert with dreams bigger than his fears. #TeamUnderdogs

First Ever Local Chapter of The Artidote

The highlight of that moment would come near the end of my time on stage when, after various questions from the audience were answered, the revelation was made: The Bangalore Chapter of The Artidote will be the first offline Artidote community.

Bridging the gap from URL to IRL is perhaps my most ambitious dream with The Artidote. I want to build Artidote Chapters across the world. Imagine getting to know other Artidotees in your area. Or better yet, imagine one day visiting a new city far away from your home and, in the midst of the unknown, you get to meet members of this extended family and form long lasting bonds. This is a privilege and a blessing that I personally get to enjoy whenever I now travel and I’d like to also gift this possibility to every Artidotee out there.

The Work Ahead

Saying that there’s a lot of work ahead is an understatement. But for the following months, The Bangalore Chapter will serve as a pilot program to understand the structure and resources necessary to make it a thriving and supportive Artidote community that could serve as a model for future Chapters. Of course, I will be keeping you updated along the way.

2018 is proving to be the most formative year for this project and, I’m very happy and excited to say, this is just the beginning. Thank you for all of your support throughout this journey.

All the love,
Jova

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The Artidote India Tour: Bangalore Kick Off

FASCINATING adj. extremely interesting

It’s the term I’ve found myself repeating since I landed in Bangalore a couple of days ago. And it wasn’t to refer to the amazing coffee from Hatti Kaapi, nor the toasty/tasty Masala Dosa from MTR, nor its spicy/creamy/yummy Bisibele Bhath. Even though those things are great in their own right, what I’ve been constantly referring to as fascinating are the people that I’ve had the privilege of coming across.

People and their stories

My city guides, my culinary experts, my cultural translators have been a group of youngsters from various parts of India that have come together for the past few months to organize the Under 25 Summit, India’s largest youth festival. The passion and focus with which these youngsters execute their objectives and the way in which they’ve carefully structured their roles within a 200+ team to bring an event of this magnitude to a successful grand finale on February 18th was, well, fascinating to witness.

What I’ve equally found fascinating are the Artidotees that I’ve come across. I had the privilege of briefly getting to know their stories, struggles, dreams, courage and resilience. My eyes become watery just thinking about them. Not because I feel sad for them, but because I find them as the most inspiring young people I could surround myself with. Yes, some of them may currently feel like they’re barely surviving their struggle. But where they see weakness, I see underdogs with superstar potential.

The Artidote Meetup

On February 19th I called for an Artidote Meetup. I had made the location and time announcement just the night prior, so I expected a maximum of 50 attendees. Over 130 Artidotees showed up to make the venue literally packed. Despite the difficulty in managing to interact with every single one that showed up (which, naively, I hoped to do), I got to experience the beauty of human vulnerability with some one-on-one interactions.

I met a madly in love couple who met through The Artidote and came to say Thank You for bringing them together. There was also a girl who is tough and badass on the outside but hidden inside was the most gentle and nurturing soul in whose presence I felt incredibly safe. I also encountered a couple of souls that may currently feel lost and with a void within them but with the potential to shine brighter than their shiniest of dreams. And dozens of people that reminded me of why we need more spaces like this to talk about the things we normally don’t feel safe enough to talk about.

At the end of the Meetup, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to reveal to them that the Bangalore Chapter of The Artidote will be the first pilot program of what an Artidote Community could look like in real life. I’ll be working over the next months on developing a working structure that would serve as a model for other cities to follow.

Cultivating today the change we want to see tomorrow

I feel blessed to have created an online platform that attracts humans who are: empathetic and curious about other humans, critical thinkers, sensitive beings able to be amazed at the sight of the moon or a sunset, courageous hearts that feel their emotions and—most importantly—prioritize mental health (theirs as well as others’). These are youngsters that understand the present ever-changing world we are living in—people that understand the importance of mental health and the need for a societal restructuring of the misguided beliefs around it.

As I spoke to each of them about their most intimate vulnerabilities, I kept thinking that these are the youngsters that will be the future leaders of their communities, cities and countries — the ones that will eventually be able to affect the outdated policies and beliefs of the old guard and make their world a safer space where mental illnesses are not a taboo and more education surrounding the importance of Mental Health is established. And, in-between our conversations and me feeling inspired in the presence of so much courage and resilience, I had a recurring thought: If I can create a space where they come together to empathize, bond and heal today… they will change the world tomorrow.
It is them and that idea what I keep finding fascinating.

All the love,
Jova
February 20, 2018
Bangalore, India

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Done Wishing: An important message regarding the future of The Artidote

I think it’s more than clear by now that what began in 2015 as a creative exercise in which to tell stories and share thoughts artistically on social media, has evolved beyond, well, beyond being just that. Beyond just the sharing of art & quotes. Beyond giving artists exposure. Beyond introducing new forms of expression with modern-day technology.
Today The Artidote has become a worldwide community of humans from all walks of life; a global squad of support.

For me, personally & professionally, it has been my most successful art project to date. Yes, I’ve considered The Artidote a work of art: a virtual collage of visual & written storytelling that opened new channels of communication and expression capable of making people feel at scale. As such, it has brought me great joy over the years and, without exaggeration, has changed my life. It’s been my dream brought to life, as it fuses all my passions. All of them: storytelling (art), psychology (mental health), philosophy (self-awareness), philanthropy (empathy) and the potential to lead a life that, in its wake, leaves a positive impact on the world.

All of this, over the years, done on my own spare time, fueled only by my passions and with no monetary earnings — no way of make a living to afford the time & effort put into it. Not because I couldn’t simply start selling random ads to run on all of its channels (for example), but most importantly because I have been very cautious and have constantly refused and rejected those offers in an attempt to not jeopardize the value of The Artidote’s shared content & the trust in the community I’ve been building. If I ever were to market a product or a service through here, I want to make sure that it’s of actual value to my community.

Unfortunately—but not surprisingly and perhaps a disguised blessing—I’ve reached my spare-time limit. Meaning that my spare time is no longer sufficient to handle the demand of the various feeds and needs of a community that keeps organically growing. There are many people who daily message me with inquiries and various degrees of attention that often require much more support (often professional) than I could provide through The Artidote in its current phase.

Messages of help. Messages that break my heart, both for their content and for not being able to afford to have the time to look into them properly and at least guide them to someone who may provide actual, practical help.
For some time I’ve been wishing I could help every single one of you that reaches out. Wishing I had the time. Wishing I had the means to afford taking the time. Wishing that I could support myself through The Artidote so that I could give not just my spare time but my full time to an endeavor that has not only changed mine but I know the lives of many. That is my dream life.

But I’m done wishing.

I’ve taken the initiative to evolve into my dream life; to take a leap into the unknown and learn to fly on my way down—so that I may soar even higher. In the coming days, weeks, months & years you may notice these changes. I simply wanted to leave this message here for the sake of transparency and vulnerability—and in the hopes I continue to have your support as we grow along. Thank you for being a part of this journey thus far.
We are all in this together <3

All the love,
Jova
Munich, Jan 16 2018

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