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401923_510939892289256_565436889_nWhen I fist met Melissa I didn’t know what to think; from her northern accent to her bright red hair and her wide open personality. We were having dinner at Panera Bread before the first time Where I Stand ever came alive on stage. She was the keynote speaker we brought in and to be honest at first I was skeptical. Immediately she began asking questions about the event and all of them were deferred to me. Before long my life story was on the table and her exact words to me were: “Dude I’m so pumped for this. This is amazing.” At this point I really had no clue how big Where I Stand was going to become, but her encouragement meant a lot.

You see, Melissa, like myself has a history of mental illness. However Melissa was the first person I ever met who modeled to me what I knew I was called to do. Her passion for people, for spreading hope, for dispelling the myths and relaying the truth that mental illness is not a death sentence is nothing short of beautiful.

After hearing Melissa speak at the first ever Where I Stand I coordinated (which was far from a success) on at James Madison University in 2011. I felt inspired. But what completely shocked me was that at the end of the event she looked at me and said: “You inspire me.” In that moment that’s when I knew Melissa didn’t care about how many people thought she was awesome, or cool, all she truly cared about was spreading the hope and the light that made changes in this world for the good.

After that event, Melissa and I stayed connected, though geographically in different locations – fueled by the same desire to change the world, we became natural friends. Here in Virginia I made various strides on our campus in mental health advocacy, and eventually brought Melissa back to speak at an incredibly successful event Dancing with the Stars of JMU for Suicide Prevention. Melissa hosted the event, shared bits and pieces of her experience in between the dancing couples for a cause.

During this time too Melissa was hard at work writing her first book “The People You Meet in Real Life” a compliation of stories and inspiration of people struggling through things and displaying great strength and character and hope. Melissa’s story is told throughout the book as she encounters and is inspired and encouraged by each of the people she meets. When Melissa asked me to be apart of this amazing book; I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I felt. After all, Melissa, who has inspired me (and so many others) so much, now wanted my story to inspire others.

The book was released as an e-book earlier this month and it is truly inspirational and encouraging from start to finish. There are a lot of people who have helped shape my life. I am a firm believer that the people in our lives help us to navigate and grow into who we become – but I will tell you that Melissa and her intense hope, love, drive and determination continues to remind me to follow my dreams.

My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.

Get your copy of The People You Meet in Real Life Below:

Learn more about Melissa Ann Hopely Below: