The messages are unabashedly encouraging.
“What if I fall?” asks one of the greeting cards, “Oh, my darling, what if you fly?”
“Don’t believe everything you think,” proclaims another card.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway,” reads the T-shirt.
They are all part of a new product line produced by Natural Life, a Ponte Vedra Beach-based lifestyle brand company. Called “Fearless,” the line was the brainchild of self-proclaimed “mama bear” Kim Vincenty, whose son was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, as a sixth-grader.
Vincenty, also of Ponte Vedra Beach, stayed up nights researching OCD and the available treatments. She found a therapist and psychiatrist and intensive programs that helped her son. She became knowledgeable about anxiety disorders, shared her knowledge with other parents through her son’s school and the local “mom circuit” and joined the board of OCD Jacksonville, a nonprofit that helps families find effective treatment and support.
This year she partnered with one of those moms, Natural Life founder Patti Hughes, on Fearless, which they designed to empower people who have OCD and other anxiety disorders, reduce the stigma surrounding them and educate the public.
“Natural Life is … known for the kind of images I was trying to create. Something colorful, with uplifting messaging,” Vincenty said. “I thought to myself, what if there was a Natural Life product line that speaks to the mental-health community? Something that not only encourages, but also helps?
“My heart pounded at the potential reach,” she said.
The resulting collection includes T-shirts, journals, key chains, stress balls, stickers, wall decor and mugs.
“I have cried tears of joy countless times as the details … took shape,” Vincenty said.
Also, each product tag has an online link to mental-health organizations and practitioners, as well as information on local mental-health services and resources. Part of the proceeds from each purchase benefits OCD Jacksonville.
“We can’t wait to see the positive change this collection brings,” she said. “Since anxiety disorders have a negative stigma, they are not talked about and understood like physical illnesses. People don’t know a lot about it or don’t realize that we or someone we love might have it. We don’t know what to do about it … and it feels shameful to talk about. We want to change that.”
Anxiety disorders cause worry, doubt, fear, apprehension and extreme nervousness. They can cause panic attacks and physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, shakiness and sweating.
There are a variety of causes, including trauma, extreme stress, medical factors, substance abuse, genetics, brain chemistry or a combination of those factors. The “gold standard treatment” is cognitive behavioral therapy, Vincenty said, and she cited exposure-response prevention as key to treatment of OCD in particular.
“You gradually expose yourself to the things that you fear,” she said. “Think of it like retraining your brain to not react to the triggers that make you afraid. Practicing wellness, exercise, proper nutrition, relaxation and mindfulness can also be extremely helpful.”
Such methods helped her son, who she said “is well due to a high amount of the correct intervention.” He graduated high school and college with honors and lives an “independent, full life. He still struggles with OCD, but he has learned, for the most part, how to fight the ‘bully’ in his head,” she said.
Through Fearless and OCD Jacksonville, Vincenty continues to advocate for people who have anxiety disorders. She wants to use her experience to help them and their families navigate the “landmines this disorder hides in the most insidious ways,” she said.
“Nothing comes easily and it became clear we were not just fighting a battle, but a war,” she said. “I believe these kinds of wars can be won.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109