After completing a huge step in her recovery, Bouwke Franssen decided to embark on a road trip focused on spreading mental health awareness. Read on to learn more about her and the I Am One Movement.
tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Bouwke Franssen, 35, female. I am Dutch and grew up in this wonderful old town in the Netherlands, called s-Hertogenbosch. My childhood was pretty great. I was a happy young girl, taking my sisters to school, playing school with them, and performing endless ballet recitals for my parents. They followed me and I was happy to lead but then change came. We moved schools and I got bullied. Then, my uncle died. He was like a second father to me. We shared the same birthday and loved each others company. He was special to me and made me feel loved. I was building up so much anger and hurt inside. I pretended to be ok and I saw countless therapists but I didn’t have a breakthrough for over a decade. Looking back, it was a lot of small steps of self-reflection & analyzing that led to a big change of getting to know me and my dark side. I was diagnosed with Borderline and high sensitivity personality when I finally really ‘gave myself’ to therapy. I needed this to happen. I needed to heal. I had three college degrees and I was doing well in my management career, but it took such a great toll on me. I needed to do something about the trauma and the dark bits of me. I signed up for an intensive 18 months therapy. At first, I did that alongside my job, but soon I realized that I could not, I had to give my whole person to this healing process. I left my job and promised myself to reward myself once I completed the therapy. So when I completed it, I started traveling.
What was the beginning of that journey like and at what point did you begin your road trip?
I started traveling about 18 months ago and during the first part, I learned so much about myself, my balance, and it strengthened my personality and my love for who I am and that I have to take care of me. Then I got the chance to go on a cruise with a new and growing community, a digital nomad community. I went on the cruise and I met people that were like-minded: free, searching, self-reflective, open, sharing, loving and willing to learn and grow. It felt good. So I decided to go to Budapest, where a lot of digital nomads were to work and to have fun at the Sziget festival. I met a woman named Lina. She saw the true me; happy like a kid, and at the same time carrying some baggage. She gave me space and love to be myself even more. A few months later she reached out to me. She asked if I wanted to speak at the nomad cruise about anything I wanted. I had a lot of doubt. I thought, “what can I offer? Why would anybody listen?” I decided to talk about my story, about my mental health struggle. and how I took leadership back step by step. My talk got the response that I wanted. So many people came up to me to tell my their story, or asking for advice or just sharing. This is what I wanted. I wanted to open up the conversation for my own healing and for that of others. On that cruise, I decided to do a road-trip and dedicate it to mental health awareness. I painted a big green ribbon on a van I bought in Florida and drove. The green ribbon on the van opened up a lot of conversation on the road, I got honking, thumbs up and smiles. This is my mission now. I started the I am one movement. I want to support, help and open up. We are all defined by our experiences, good and bad, and how we handle them, it makes us who we are. We are all whole human beings with a story worth telling and loving. Together we can open up the conversation and the door to help and support.
What were some of your most noteworthy interactions with people?
Almost everybody I talked to knew somebody with mental health issues or had themselves experienced some. The one I will remember most though had almost no talking. An older man came up to me, somewhere in Nevada, in a deserted place in the desert. He had such a kind energy. He shook my hand and said; good luck with your mission, stay safe. He looked me in the eyes and then walked away. I felt something so powerful and loving there. And that is what this is about too, being loving to each other. This man. I will never forget. Another story is the story of two men on a vacation road trip. I met one of them in a bar. I was crying. I did not have a place to sleep and was scared, it was again in the middle of nowhere. He was kind. we started talking, eventually also about mental health. His friend, who went home early, he told me, was often suffering from depression. We talked about how he could be a friend in those times of need. In the morning I got to meet him. And we talked about life and how dark it can often be. We shared support. I told me he had to have talks like this more. That is again what it is about. I talked with a woman about her autistic grandsons and how wonderful they are. And that mental health or illness is a part of one’s personality and if you work with that you can find your balance in life and have a shot of happiness. Everyone has his/her beauty and darkness. The boys had a lot of support. Which is awesome. And necessary. I thought it was awesome that they understood this. Give them all the support and love you have and give them the help they might need. We have to acknowledge that we cannot always help ourselves or others with specific problems in life, but we can always give love and support. I got a lot of DM’s too from people who were less comfortable. DM’s like, ” I saw your van at Starbucks, it made my day! I am struggling and to know that someone does this, is heartwarming”. I also got questions how people can help their friend, sister or wife. I loved talking to them. Opening the conversation about this is the best! And I believe that just driving around and making this big green ribbon for mental health visible helps. I also got silences when I told what the green ribbon stands for. That’s ok. Let it just be processed in their heads. I planted a seed maybe. Small seeds can become big trees you know. That is what this was too. A small act for a big cause.
How did the road-trip impact your own mental health?
My road trip was very hard. I still don’t understand it completely. Maybe it has to do with expectation. I expected to camp in nature, in national parks but ended up a lot at Walmart parking lots. National parks were full all the time. Campgrounds were 40 dollars a night if I wanted a shower. A lot of things were “the law” and prohibited. I was driving a lot instead of hiking, biking, and rafting. I cried a lot, I felt anxious and alone. But despite this, nature gave me some wonderful moments of beauty and happiness. And people too. I cherish the conversations about my van and green ribbon. I dearly cherish families and people taking me in: Dean, Kristi Mike Ezra and Silas, Michael, Chris, Erica and her family and friends, Ray. Thank you all so much! I want to rest and be home for a while.
Do you have any plans for the future?
I am thinking about organizing some events, first in the Netherlands. I have some ideas, but nothing very clear yet. I need some help with that too maybe. But I want people to come together and have fun and the space to be themselves. My plan is to definitely do more talks! At health institutes, universities, schools. I love doing that. Well, let me correct myself, I am nervous as hell for it, but what I love is the time after the talk. The people that come up to you, the quality time you get with them, and the quality conversations. That is what I love. I think we can benefit from experience sharing. And I think it should be an integral part of any therapy. We need to see that we are not alone and that there are people out there struggling but also thriving. That is important.