BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - For two nights this week, an award winning storyteller and pioneer in Narrative Medicine is performing at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.
Regi Carpenter is in Birmingham for a week long residency to promote mental health as part of UAB's Institute for Arts and Medicine. Carpenter is working with patients and caregivers, but two of her performances of her story "Snap!" will be open to the public. "Snap!" is about Carpenter's experience in a mental institution when she was 16 years old.
"I kept that story inside of me because of the shame and the guilt," explained Carpenter. "When I had the courage, the ability, and the support to tell that story, my life changed for the better."
According to Carpenter, the death of her brother in a car accident a decade ago changed her relationship with storytelling. She says storytelling was no longer just for fun. Carpenter realized by sharing her history of mental illness, she could help others.
"There are so many people who have a story similar to mine, or who know someone whose story is similar to mine, but they haven't been able to find the words to tell it," explained Carpenter.
Kimberly Kirklin, the Director of the UAB Institute for Art and Medicine, says she has seen Carpenter's impact first hand, especially with young patients.
"Suddenly, they feel a little safer because there is someone who knows what it's like to be hospitalized," explained Kirlin, who says patients also find hope in working with Carpenter because they see a successful person who's faced the same challenges.
According to Carpenter, she practices Narrative Medicine by using stories as a way to help people talk about their issues without having to be re-traumatized.
"Storytelling is the oldest source of social media and through the simple act of telling a story and having someone hold it for you, it really can change your life," said Carpenter.
Carpenter says for 40 years she was scared to share her story because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. She was also concerned about her professional career and how her friends would react.
"I had to tell my story to save my life," explained Carpenter. "I had to care more about my life than about other's opinions of me."
Carpenter’s first performance of “Snap!” is on Wednesday night starting at 7 p.m. Her second performance is Thursday night at the same time. UAB is asking for a $5 donation for a ticket, but no one will be turned away. The money raised will go to help support mental health services at UAB.