One-man show educates on mental health

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Josh Rivedal performs a one-man show, "Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt," at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Tuesday. The performance addresses the themes of suicide prevention and mental health awareness. "Suicide is preventable," Rivedal said. "All of us can get help or be helpers."

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — When Josh Rivedal of Los Angeles was at his lowest, he discovered he needed to be in service to others to feel whole again.

The realization came when Rivedal, 35, was in his late 20s living in New York City pursuing an acting career. A couple years earlier, Rivedal lost his father to suicide and then found himself struggling with his own mental health.

“I did what a lot of actors do when they go through something traumatic,” Rivedal said. “I wrote a one-man show.”

He also went to school to get training on how to educate about and advocate for mental health as he performed his one-man show, “Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt.” Eight years later, Rivedal is an international public speaker, author, playwright, curriculum developer, educator, marketing consultant, and arts entrepreneur. Now, he travels the world sharing his story, his show and what he’s learned about coping with mental health and building mental wellness with audiences of all ages. On Tuesday, he performed “Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt” at Vincennes University Jasper Campus as part of the university’s Lunch and Learn programming.

Rivedal’s performance is part of an ongoing effort by VUJC to offer students programming on mental health as college campuses across the country see a rise in students struggling.

“We’ve really put our focus on mental health programming the last two years,” Director of Student Services Mary Champion said.

Students and faculty watch Josh Rivedal perform a one-man show, "Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt," at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Tuesday.

She and Student Activities Coordinator Cathy Egler chose to feature Rivedal after watching YouTube videos of his presentations. They saw value in his performance and though it would engage the VUJC community.

Tuesday’s performance of “Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt” chronicled Rivedal’s first 25 years of life. It began with a church choir practice when Rivedal was 5, told of instances of abuse from his father and ended with Rivedal saying his final goodbyes to his father in the funeral home. The theme of the show was Rivedal’s struggle to get out of the religious household his parents built in New Jersey — he likened their church to a cult — and into a life of acting.

“I wanted to be Chandler from “Friends,” Bugs Bunny from “Looney Tunes,” and George Lopez from “The George Lopez Show,” Rivedal said in one of the lines from his show.

Although he didn’t hit quite that stardom, he did become a professional actor. Then, Rivedal’s father died by suicide, just like his father had decades prior.

The final scene in Tuesday’s “Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt” performance depicted Rivedal sitting next to his father’s casket in the funeral home promising that the pattern of suicide in the family would end.
“I had no idea how hard keeping that promise would be,” Rivedal said.

A few years later, Rivedal found himself struggling and attempted suicide. From there, he rebuilt his life.

As Rivedal performed his one-man show, he said he’d often hear people talk afterward about suicide. Much of what he heard, though, was myth and misconception. That inspired him to become an educator and advocate so that he could pair his show with mental health advocacy work. After the show at VUJC, Rivedal shared about how he recovered and built a toolbox that helps him maintain his mental health. A big help, he said, was getting diagnosed and seeking counseling. He also tapped into his creativity and found ways to be of service to others. He encouraged everyone in attendance to build their own tool belt to help maintain their mental wellness when life gets difficult.

“We fall all the time in life,” Rivedal said. “One time I fell and almost shattered. I need tools in my tool belt so next time I fall, I bounce.”

Rivedal also stressed that people struggling with mental health are not bad or crazy — they’re human. The brain is an organ like the heart or stomach, Rivedal said. It needs support to stay well just like other parts of the body do.

Finally, Rivedal encouraged his audience to take care of each other. Reach out to your friends, especially if they’ve withdrawn. Chances are their withdrawal isn’t about you. And if they post about their struggle on social media, even if 99 other people have commented on it, you should, too.

“Don’t just assume someone else will get it,” he said. “You get it. You could be the one that person wants to hear from.”

The biggest support you can offer, Rivedal said, is listening. Don’t try to fix someone who’s struggling or tell them it will get better. Just listen. Then, let them know you’re there to help and that you care.

“Nobody wants to die by suicide,” Rivedal said. “They don’t want to feel the way they’re feeling.”




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