Proud2Bme | #ANoteToShawn

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#ANoteToShawn

By River Ceballos--If you’re as much of a music lover as I am, you’ve probably heard of Shawn Mendes. All you super fans probably know him by his birth name, Shawn Peter Raul Mendes. The 19-year-old singer/songwriter hails from Toronto, Canada and found fame via the now defunct social media app Vine, where he used it to showcase his musical talents by covering popular songs with nothing but his raw vocals and an acoustic guitar.

Content note: mentions of suicide and self-harm

He soon won over millions of people, as well as industry heads with his boyish good looks and soulful voice. His lyrics resonate with people of all ages and backgrounds and he has an infectiously sweet personality.

“This guy took me by surprise. His music is so good and I can listen to it all day! Some of his songs have actually inspired me to start writing again. He's a cool guy, my sister Stella got me into his music and she absolutely just loves him. She knows his songs playing within a second of it starting.” -Dolores Chavez

Shawn has a huge heart and it shows. He’s used his star status platform to raise awareness for various social issues from the very beginning of his career. It only takes listening to him speak ONCE to realize that he’s wise beyond his years. Wisdom and maturity go hand in hand, which brings me to the topic of this article.

That huge heart and maturity led him to team up with DoSomething.org in 2014 to launch the first annual #NotesFromShawn campaign. The “Treat You Better” singer said that he’d seen the effects of depression in both his fans and friends, which inspired him to do something about it.

“After seeing so many of my fans and friends dealing with depression and bullying, I really felt I needed to do something to help,” Shawn said in an interview with Teen Vogue.

You’d be surprised by how many lives his campaign has changed and saved. Spoiler Alert: MINE

This past October, I was admitted into the hospital for four days because I had a horrible flare-up caused by my debilitating Crohn’s disease.  Nothing is more humbling than lying in a hospital bed, realizing that you’re not in complete control of your life despite how badly you try to be. It’s a very odd feeling, depressing even. I wanted to go home but my body wouldn’t allow it. I had a lot of recovering to do. After the third day of being in that hospital, depression started kicking in because I was missing out on work, family, and career obligations. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to have all my ducks in a row.

But due to the severity of my condition and how quickly I was rushed to the emergency room, I didn’t have my iPod, headphones, or my iPhone charger, so I had no way of listening to my music. Everyone knows that music is my sweet escape. However, the TV in my hospital room did have a couple “music choice” channels and Shawn Mendes was one of them, thankfully. His soulful music and unique voice got me through those long nights of extreme pain, beeping machines, countless shots and injections, and being woken up every two hours to get my vitals checked, as well as two different procedures in which I had to be put under anesthesia. One night, I was wide awake in pain, and the clock read 4 A.M. Shawn’s music was coming softly through the speakers that were built into my hospital bed and I remembered something that made me tear up.

After the passing of my older brother in 2013, I had become incredibly depressed and that triggered all the bad habits I had ever known. My bulimia was rearing its ugly head, I was self-harming every day, and I was dabbling in drugs. I just remember feeling so completely angry and alone, looking for anything to temporarily make the pain go away. For the purpose of trying to keep myself busy and to find a reason to not give up completely, I was accepting little gigs here and there.

As we all know, I’m heavily tattooed and all of my ink symbolizes something significant and it tells my life’s story. When my brother Adrian and I were young, we’d look at our older brother’s tattoo magazines for hours upon hours. We’d share our ideas and who we wanted to get tattooed by (Kat Von D topped both of our lists), and we bet on which one of us would be featured in a tattoo magazine first. So it goes without saying that when I booked a major feature in Urban Ink Tattoo Magazine during this tough time, it was like a sign from my brother. I dedicated the feature in his memory.

Upon its release, many of my fans at the time knew what I was going through and showed me a massive amount of love and support. Many of them had taken pictures of handwritten words of encouragement and quotes that they’d written on sheets of paper and sticky notes. They’d tweet and email me these notes every day for about a week or two. Some of the things those notes said were the nicest, most kind-hearted things I had ever been told. They really cared for me.

But what had struck me as odd though, was the fact that all of this was handwritten! I hadn’t passed along or received a handwritten note since my junior high days. This is the digital age where virtually nothing is on paper anymore. Organizations like Proud2Bme and NEDA were frequent tabs that I had open on my phone and laptop because I turned to them daily for help, inspiration, and guidance.

Someone online at the time had recommended that I also check out DoSomething.org for a little inspiration and to see what I could do in terms of activism to keep myself busy. A few months before my brother passed away, I stepped foot into the world of activism. I shared my personal story of depression and self-harm in a major music video for a very well-known pop punk band. The video was released a year or so before and it had received so much praise due to the song’s messages and the video’s concept.

Seeing how much my story resonated with people, I launched my own non-profit organization called The Cali Misfits Collection. I created replica, glow-in-the-dark, anti-suicide bracelets like the ones that were specially made for me to wear in the music video. Half of the proceeds that I earned went to charity. While visiting DoSomething.org, I came across a little campaign they were promoting called “Notes From Shawn” that was started by upcoming pop singer, Shawn Mendes. This really caught my eye. Admittedly, during this time with everything I was going through, I was being really rebellious and my teenage angst had me blaring nothing but ‘90s heavy metal. Anything pop related or lighthearted wasn’t on my radar so I hadn’t heard much of Shawn’s music. But I noticed that his campaign concept was identical to the notes that I had been receiving for the past few weeks.

We know that positive messages can improve self-esteem. Shawn’s campaign goal was to turn that increase self-esteem and reduce thoughts of self-harm in the countless young people who are struggling. He encouraged his fans to join “Notes From Shawn” and leave a positive note for someone they think may need it. Simple and easy.  Nothing too remarkable could come of something like that, right? WRONG.

Shawn was at the start of his career and it was moving at the speed of light. Humbly doing what very few artists on the fast track to superstardom do, Shawn listened to his fans, paying close attention to what they were saying and doing, and in that, he noticed a reoccurring issue. This kick started his mission to spread messages of positivity worldwide. Like a surge of lightning fueled by love and compassion, an astonishing 23,949 of you signed up to join the #NotesFromShawn movement where you secretly posted self-esteem-boosting notes to fellow peers and even strangers. That’s pretty amazing for a first annual launch!

Seeing all of the beautiful, positive words people were spreading to and the kindness that was being put out into the world gave me so much hope! For the first time in months, that dark cloud lifted and I felt inspired; I had hope. Then it clicked that THIS was what all of my followers had taken part in and were sending to me. I was receiving “Notes From Shawn.” His campaign is what helped lift me out of my depression enough for me to seek out professional help. I realized that I was worth saving and I had people rooting for me. If I wanted to change lives by being a successful activist, I had to piece myself back together.

Everyone knows that my career as an actor and model make me so happy. I come alive in front of the camera but my writing and activism are what I live for. The media has gone as far as saying that I’m one of the few male public figures doing what I’m doing in this field of work, dubbing me the male version of singer and actress Demi Lovato.

These career milestones wouldn’t be possible without Shawn, if I’m being honest. He started his campaign very early on in his career, and even though he had a great following, it wasn’t the fan base that we know of today. He inspired me to try it myself. You don’t have to be extremely famous or popular for people to listen to what you have to say. If it’s pure and comes from the heart, you can change things. You never know who’s listening and who needs to hear exactly what you’re saying.

“Notes From Shawn” resonated with me in such a way that I started reaching out to different organizations and writing for them on their behalf. Before I knew it, I was chosen as a guest panelist at the annual NEDA Conference in San Diego, CA, which was life-changing for me! We brought in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. That day will forever be engraved into my heart.

Shawn is a few years younger than I am, but the way he’s navigated his way through the industry, how openly, confidently and confidently he’s supported the LGBTQ+ community and spoken out about other social issues is something I look up to. Despite his rise to the top, he’s remained the same quirky, humble, pure-hearted dude who first introduced himself in the 7 second vine video where he covered Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” For that, I feel like he’s the little brother that I’ve never had but always wanted.

There aren’t very many males in the entertainment industry who speak out about bullying, depression, self-harm, insecurities, or anything of the sort. These issues are looked at and deemed “female issues” where we men are taught to not talk about our feelings. I’ve always said that the few of us that are out there have to support each other. It’s like a brotherhood. I look up to Shawn in many ways.

In 2016, three teenagers from my old high school, Clovis West High in Fresno, CA, all committed suicide in a few months’ time span. It was a tragic epidemic that still has many people in our community shaken up. Many supporters, friends, fans, and people in my community have contacted me asking if I could contact the school to put something together to share my stories of struggle and success with the new generation of kids in hopes of spreading positivity, awareness, and hope.

I would be honored to do so, seeing as I battled many demons while walking those same exact halls a few years ago. It would be a full-circle moment for me and a way of giving back to the city that raised me. I’d love to incorporate resources for the students, including Shawn’s work with DoSomething. Shawn has yet to launch a fourth annual “Notes From Shawn,” but given his touring schedule, reaching new milestones, and working on his new album, respectively, it’s understandable that he has a lot on his musical plate. If and when Shawn brings the campaign back, I’d love to join him in spreading the word and continuing to save more lives. I’ve put the idea out there and have received a massive amount of encouraging feedback.

It would be a beautiful thing to incorporate in school systems given how successful the campaign has been in the past. The world has experienced so much loss, tragedy, hate, and prejudice lately that I think we need to spread the message of this campaign now more than ever! It’s a very warm and comforting feeling knowing that there’s no reason to feel alone or scared because there are people from all over the world rooting for you!

Shawn, if you happen to read this, thank you sharing your talents with the world, for having such a big heart, for remaining so humble, for inspiring so many people, and for being 100% yourself, unapologetically in an industry that tries to change everything about its occupants. Thank you for just being Shawn. Also, a huge thank you to the team at DoSomething.org that helped launched Shawn’s campaign; you’ve saved so many lives including mine. I’m forever grateful!

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

"It only matters what you think about yourself." - Shawn Mendes

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