Books - Does Jamie Tworkowski 'Feel Too Much'?

Nonprofit founder revisits stories about depression and addiction that built online following

Thursday May 21, 2015 04:00 am EDT

Last summer Jamie Tworkowski, his dad and his sister Emily were on their way to see A Most Wanted Man. The spy novel adaptation stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose after 23 years of sobriety. Then Tworkowski heard the news: Robin Williams had died of suspected suicide.

Hours later, the author wrote a prose poem inspired by their lives, though doesn’t mention them by name, which ends with, “If you feel too much, don’t go. There is still time.” This, more or less, is how he has written the heartfelt stories that became the impetus of his nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms, also an autobiographical Sony Pictures film where Chad Michael Murray plays Tworkowski. It is also the theme behind his debut book.

Initially, If You Feel Too Much was to be a traditional memoir. Instead Tworkowski compiled the best of what he wrote over the past decade, first on Myspace and now his organization's website, about those who struggle with depression, addiction and self-injury, whether it’s Williams, a dear friend, or himself.

“What always ends up surprising people is folks who are so gifted but quietly struggle so much,” Tworkowski says, calling from TWOLHA’s Melbourne, Fla., headquarters, which employs 12 staffers and nine interns. “You typically don’t talk about the pain. That’s one of the hopes with the book, to encourage people to go there and be honest.”

According to its back cover, If You Feel Too Much should be filed under “Self-Help/Memoir.” It does feel like some combination of both: Tworkowski's most well-known story, “To Write Love on Her Arms,” tells of how he and his friend David spent five days with a 19-year-old, Renee, whom a treatment center initially rejected for being too great of a risk. Others, like “What I Feel vs What I Know,” show how he has to remember to be just as kind to himself as he is to others (“Take your own advice”).

Tworkowski has done “seasons of counseling” and taken antidepressants for several years. As his book discloses, being a public figure can also be tough, if not alienating. By addressing his struggles, though, in addition to capping his book with three pages of helplines, support groups, and other resources, he has taken an active role in being part of a greater solution.

“I think counseling and medicine has helped. I've learned a lot by being honest with friends. But another thing that has helped a lot is this work and conversation I've been a part of,” Tworkowski says. “I don't buy into the stigma.”

If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski. Tarcher/Penguin. $16.95. 208 pp.

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