Broken Hearts Spark a Conversation

Interview with Race Porter By Brave Expressions

Story Contains

Race is a Seattle-born entrepreneur who took a simple t-shirt design and turned it into a movement to help people talk about their mental health. Check out Race’s interview below, and his company Heart On My Sleeve (HOMS) to better understand what he’s doing in the fight for mental health awareness.

Bridget Lewis (BL): So I know there is some information on the website that you guys have, but tell us a bit about your background in mental health.

Race Porter (RP): My personal experience with mental health started with dealing with anxiety and depression my freshman year of high school. I probably dealt with it a little before that, but I didn't really recognize or understand what it was. And it was mostly due to the pressures put on me, mostly by myself, but kind of what I assumed my parents and all the adults in my life expected of me. That led to these expectations I had put on myself. When I wasn't meeting them, or I wasn't kind of reaching the standards set out for myself, I would beat myself up about it on my own time. And I think a lot of my anxiety came from the fact that I was always hiding stuff from other people. And so that's kind of why it got to the point where it did, and it spiraled. And I've always had such low lows, it's because I hide it from people. And that's one of the key points I usually like to talk about surrounding mental health.

I feel I can represent the large majority of people that deal with things and then shelf them and don't show others. It is important to express those things. Whether it be you had a rough day, or something. I think we often think, ‘other people have it worse’. That's one of the good phrases that people use. Or, you know, my problems aren't big enough to voice or tell people about. And I think I was one of those kids and so moving forward with mental health, and having interacted with professionals and people that have gone to school for years and talking about it. My background with mental health is a kid that's gone through it all, you know.

My goal is to kind of provide a real life example, you know, not, here's what the textbooks say, or here's what our common symptoms are, it's hey, here's what I dealt with. Here's my experience, and here's what I did about it. And here's what you guys can try to do about it.

“I've always had such low lows, it's because I hide it from people”.

BL: How have your personal experiences with mental health been?

RP:  Well, I think some concrete things would be around my freshman year when I started dealing with my depression. The first time I was diagnosed with depression was by a doctor. He printed out a sheet that said I had depression, and that I had to take it to school and show all my teachers. I remember that this was the first time where I realized, okay, this is a real thing. You know, this is something that's defining me. And I think a lot of my issues came after that, because it didn't get much better after I was diagnosed. But I think that was the first time where I thought, okay, there's something wrong with me. The fact that I have to go to school and show all my teachers this piece of paper says, here's what's going on in my life, you know.

“He printed out a sheet that said I had depression, and that I had to take it to school and show all my teachers”.

Sarah Strickler (SS): What were their reactions to it?

RP:  I only had seven teachers at the time I was in some classes, so a couple of them kind of knew already. Because obviously, it had gotten to a point where I was missing school, I wasn't doing as well in my assignments and I always had straight A's and so they picked up on that. Freshman year is not the hardest kind of scholastic endeavors, but most of them responded with, okay, yeah, we're here for you. You know, kind of distanced. I mean, it felt genuine, but you never feel super confident, and comfortable with people in those situations that aren't  your mom and dad, and especially being probably what 15 and I didn't even really know what depression was--it was just  a word to me.

I didn't understand the connotations that came with it, but they were supportive for the most part. But yeah, that was my first real experience with mental health and then moving forward, it was always depression and anxiety. And what I would do is I would shut down when my emotions got too strong and I would stop going to school, stop doing assignments, all that stuff.

It's been kind of ups and downs since dealing with it. And one of the things around mental health that I had very strong experience with is interacting with therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I think that's one thing that I want to really start to reimagine with the HOMS brand is kind of destigmatizing mental illness.

Being put in front of a therapist is kind of an intimidating thing to a lot of people. Especially with all that comes with, you know, the ideas of them so I want to make it easier for people to grasp the concept of talking to someone about their feelings. Then make mental health something that doesn't have to be okay, you're diagnosed with something now you go to a therapist. I don't want it to be this huge jump from ‘hey, I was a normal person a week ago now I'm seeing professionals that are trying to figure me out or whatever it may be’. I want it to be something you can chat with with your friends about, you know?

“I want to make it easier for people to grasp the concept of talking to someone about their feelings”.

BL: How did you come to start HOMS?

RP:  Yeah, so that was my junior year of college at the University of Washington when that all came to fruition. So I started dealing with my problems, especially in high school, and the first time I really did something about it personally was junior year of college. I think it was because I was mature enough to recognize I was starting to go back down into one of my slumps and that I wanted to do something about it, because usually I would go, ‘oh, here we go another sad, sad month or a couple months’. And so I thought, okay, yeah, I'm gonna do something about it this time because I don't want to be like this for a while.

That's when I came up with the idea of the broken heart and slapping it on the sleeve of a t-shirt. And it was such a simple idea really. And honest to God, I did it because I wanted more plain white t-shirts. I had one white t-shirt, and when it got dirty, I didn’t have anything to wear. So I decided I'll make a white t-shirt with this on it. And then I started wearing it because it's easy to wear a white t-shirt, and people would notice the heart and ask about it and then for the first time in my life, I found myself opening up about the kind of stuff I was going through at that moment. And I was feeling a lot better about it.

And I thought, this is weird. Hey, I don't talk to people about this stuff and I don't pick myself up as fast out of these kinds of things. So I realized, this is cool. And then that's when people started asking about it, and then asked me if I could make them one. And, I think a lot of people resonated with it, and the story behind it. And at the end of the day, it was a white t-shirt. You pair that with the kind of message that it brings and me kind of opening up to people. If you're feeling rough around the edges, throw this on and you can feel better about it.

“People would notice the heart and ask about it and then for the first time in my life, I found myself opening up about the kind of stuff I was going through at that moment”.

SS: Do remember any of those first conversations with people when they saw the full heart or the broken heart--what was that like for you opening up to people and telling them your feelings for the first time?

RP: It was, like I said, strange. Really easy, and it seemed to flow. And that's when I realized how cool the design was because I think a lot of the time, people struggle talking about their mental state because they don't want to bring it up. But if someone else kind of organically starts a conversation about it, it's easier to talk about.

When I would wear the Broken Heart t-shirt, and people would say, ‘hey, what's the broken heart? Are you all good?’ I feel they genuinely care because they took the time to ask, and they already are kind of prepared for me to tell them something sad because of the design. So it was crazy to me how effortless the conversation seemed at first. That’s why I thought okay, yeah, I want other people to feel this.

It's shocking for me to realize that I’m having a rough couple days, and this is helping me get through it. So that's why I'm wearing it. And they'd respond with, ‘oh, cool. Well, yeah, I got your back if you need it, never hesitate to reach out to me.’  And that was cool, you know? And so that's kind of the experience I want other people to have.

“They already are kind of prepared for me to tell them something sad because of the design. So it was crazy to me how effortless the conversation seemed at first”.

BL: Being on the football team, how did you see their response? Did you see when you started opening up, others did too?

RP: It was amazing. They were all about it. I was actually on a study abroad trip, right when I was starting this whole thing with a bunch of my football buddies. They were all all eager and excited about it and asking me what I was going to do with it and kind of pre-ordering a couple of shirts, if you will. They were there. The majority of them picked the broken heart t-shirt, which I loved. And that's when I thought, okay, cool. All these football guys that people see and think are tough, you know, not very transparent or vulnerable, and they all said they wanted the broken heart one.

“All these football guys that people see and think are tough, you know, not very transparent or vulnerable, and they all said they wanted the broken heart one’’.

And that's when I started to realize, my goal through this was to start making it cool to be emotional, you know. And I think creating that image and using clothing to do it allows people like my friends on the football team to kind of connect with it instantly and say, okay, yeah, it's a cool sweatshirt. The message behind it can mean whatever they want to mean. I'm all on board. And so it's been awesome how supportive all my friends have been on the team.

Definitely a few of them have reached out to me and said, ‘hey, I love what you're doing. I never thought I would have someone that I could reach out to on the football team because we're all taught to suppress our emotions and especially in those settings, in the locker room and on the field. Just kind of rushing around as robots. And so when they started reaching out to me saying ‘hey, thank you, I'm definitely going to be reaching out to you in the future’. That's been really cool to see. So I'm excited about that.

“I never thought I would have someone that I could reach out to on the football team because we're all taught to suppress our emotions and especially in those settings, in the locker room and on the field”.

BL: What was it like playing football and dealing with depression, going through the deep lows and the medium highs?

RP: Yeah, it can be tough. It can be really tough, especially during the season. When you know, there's 70,000 people watching you, and they are judging you on your abilities to play the game and they don't really have any idea what you're going through. They don't kind of stop to think that you're a human as well. And I think that's one of the issues with sports or not issues with sports, but one of the negative aspects of sports is people are trained to view as a spectator. They have the tendency to forget that it's humans that are watching that go through stuff on their own.

And especially a sport like football, it's rough. Kind of all about strength and force, and it's been tough. I feel that's one of the reasons that I want to really take advantage of my time at UW and being on the football team. To show people the other side of that and really use the platform to kind of represent something that can show other people what it's like. But it's tough the five o'clock workouts when you're not feeling too hot, going up and and trying to muster up the courage to really fight through a workout when you're not feeling 100% is tough. And that's Another thing that people don't really see is that side of it, you know, they just see the games, but they don't know, the whole year round stuff that we go through and how tough it can be when it's 30 degrees in Seattle, and you haven't seen the sun for a few weeks.

“There's 70,000 people watching you, and they are judging you on your abilities to play the game and they don't really have any idea what you're going through. They don't kind of stop to think that you're a human as well”.

SS: What is it like talking with other men about mental health in general?

RP: Yeah, it's very tricky interacting with men because we are conditioned to hold things in. Be tough and strong. And I think of my friend Myles obviously, who's helped me with the business so much. He's been the perfect person to be there with because he's the stereotype of the typical man. And he hasn't dealt with any very personal mental health problems himself. And so it's been cool to see him interact with me.

And I think one of the things that's important when you're kind of opening the conversation up to men is not making them feel like they have pressure to talk about their own mental state. Talking to them and saying ‘hey, man, you can talk about anything’, doesn’t necessarily work. Make them aware of what it looks like with other people and give them the tools to deal with it. Especially, I think parents being able to understand and recognize it in their children and not give them the old rub some dirt on it or toughen up, you know. I think we don't have to kind of talk men into being vocal about their mental health issues, if they don't want to express it, that's okay. Or if they don't deal with it, that's okay as well, but it's being able to recognize it and see it in other people that I think is super critical.

“One of the things that's important when you're kind of opening the conversation up to men is not making them feel like they have pressure to talk about their own mental state”.

SS: What is your relationship like with your own dad?

RP: It's amazing. He was actually one of the reasons that I went through such a tough time in my ninth grade year. All my initial mental health stuff came from the pressures he put on me in athletics. And so we had a rough road together in high school, kind of, there are some periods where we didn't talk at all. Then once he kind of understood that he was a little more invested in my athletics than I was, he understood what that did to me. That's when we started to kind of mend the relationship.

It was actually at dinner with him when I realized that I was depressed my junior year of college and decided to start HOMS. Not in the moment, but that was the moment I actually told him, ‘I think I'm depressed’.  And that was the first time that I was vocal with him about it. And I remember him and I was sobbing at our favorite Italian restaurant, in front of all these people. And I remember he was so understanding and so there for me in that moment, and I felt so good. And that's kind of when I think our relationship started to blossom. And he's so involved with my business and so helpful--he's all about it. He's a teacher at Lakeside High School, and he has been so vocal about HOMS and what it means to his students there, which has been awesome too. So I feel like him and I are our best friends for sure. It's been awesome.

BL: Talking about Miles, so you guys went to high school together, and then you went to college, and then you came up with HOMS last year? Did he know about your mental health throughout college?

RP: Yeah. So we were always really good friends in high school. Then it just so happened that we were able to kind of live together when I started my freshman year, which was awesome. I was going through a pretty tough time in my life. The transition from high school to college was tough on me and a couple other factors. And so it was funny because we were such good friends and he was all, ‘I'm so excited for you to move in. We're gonna party. It's gonna be such a great time’.  And then the first two weeks I was in the apartment, I was locked in my room. And he would knock on my door and say, ‘hey, you need to come out. I'd love to hang out’.  I would just respond with, ‘no, I don't really feel like it’.  And so I think it was funny because this first experience of me and him living together was one of my lows, and so he really quickly kind of learned how to understand that and how to operate when I was in those moments.

I think at first he responded by giving me space and then he started to kind of barge into my room saying, “hey, come on, dude, we're gonna get food.” And then I'd open up to him a little bit. And the cool thing about that, and what that taught me about mental health was, you don't need to necessarily voice everything that's going on or talk about everything that's bringing you down. Sometimes it's having a friend you know, or doing stuff that you enjoy, that kind of takes your mind off that sadness or whatever it may be. And that's what Miles has done. And he’s so awesome interacting with me. He has shown me a side of himself where he has recognized more of who he is, but he never makes a big deal over it.

You know, I think that's one of the things that HOMS can do, kind of through these experiences is to give people a reminder that if you're going through a tough time what you can do. If you are going to see a friend, seeing a movie, or going out to dinner you’re  bound to laugh. If it's one of your good friends you’ll have a few laughs, you know, sometimes that's all it takes to get you out of that slump.

“It was funny because this first experience of me and him living together was one of my lows, and so he really quickly kind of learned how to understand that and how to operate when I was in those moments”.

BL: Are there other things that you do when you notice yourself, going into a deep low?

RP: I try to. I try to kind of surround myself with my family members when I'm recognizing that. My niece and my nephew, my big sisters, little guys, they get me out of anything. And that's what I try to do whenever I'm feeling kind of a rough day or a rough couple of days, I'll call her and tell her I need to come over. And that's been really therapeutic for me hanging out with them and listening to them talk. And every time I go see him, they seem like they're three years older. And so it's fun to kind of find those kinds of distractions.

I love going and seeing sunsets, Discovery Park, stuff like that. Gasworks helps to remind me how beautiful, especially Seattle, the city we live in, how beautiful everything is around you--you can kind of block that kind of stuff out. And then lately, my clothing has been so therapeutic for me. The other night when I made this I was having a rough day and I made it and obviously the three broken hearts are a little noticeable that might not be the happiest of vibes. And so I posted on my story and I had a couple people reach out to me to check in, you know, “hey, are you okay? Is that all good?’.

“That's probably the best thing about HOMS for me is being able to throw myself into it and feel I come out on the other side lifted up, and on top of things”.

In them reaching out, I realized that making this totally boosted my mood and made me feel better because I realized, yeah, I'm totally fine. What are you talking about? Oh yeah, I get it. Thanks for your concern. But that's probably the best thing about HOMS for me is being able to throw myself into it and feel I come out on the other side lifted up  and on top of things.

SS: Have you noticed anyone wearing HOMS before out on the street?

RP:  I haven't. I have countless friends that have said, ‘oh, I saw one of yours,  just saw one of my friends in the airport wearing one’. People will come up to my friends all the time and ask ‘is that a HOMS sweater?’. They'll tell me these stories, and I have yet to see a random person. I feel like I'm the only person that hasn't seen one. So I'm still waiting for that. But yeah.

SS: And then on your website you have a ‘You're Not Alone Page’ I think is really cool. Have you had people reach out through that and tell you stories?

RP:  Yeah, I don't even remember that was such a random idea. I think I was looking at my website from the consumer's viewpoint on my phone, typed in HOMS and to check it out. I saw that I'd like to have a couple more tabs and so I was messing around with it. And then one of the options that my website provided was a chat board, and it was then I just thought about how I could structure it.

I love the idea of reaching out anonymously. Or kind of reaching out to someone that you don't really know. Which a lot of the people that have reached out have mentioned I wouldn't even tell this to my friends or my family, but the fact that you're some random person that hasn't been experiencing a lot of what I'm experiencing I feel comfortable kind of sharing my story. I've gotten everything from just ‘hey, love what you're doing’ to kind of paragraphs on paragraphs on the kinds of issues people are dealing with. And it's been a lot of fun being able to connect with people like that, you know. But yeah, I'd love that. That'll definitely be something that I keep promoting and, and something I'm gonna build off of. I want to do blog entries and stuff like that, or maybe a mental health concept of the month.I definitely want to pull off that idea.

SS: How do you respond to people when they send you a really kind of personal, intense story? Do you respond back to them, or share your own story?

RP:  It's definitely tricky. In the first few I kind of had to sit with them for a little bit, you know. I didn't think too much, when I was setting it up. Yeah, obviously, I'd love to kind of give people a platform to kind of voice their stories on but I didn't really plan for that first one where I realized that I gotta really think about what I'm going to send back.  The tricky ones are those that are pretty involved.  I'll sit with them and kind of think about and read through them a few times, to determine what the best way to respond is.

I try to respond to every single point they make or kind of every question that they have. And I'm going to say that's totally valid, I get that. And then when I can't really connect with something, or I don't feel like I have great advice for their situation, I will try to give them an example from my own story that is a little similar, or I don't have any experience with that. But here's what I would do in this kind of situation. And I feel like that always kind of resonates with people by being honest, instead of just saying, ‘oh, yeah, here's what you should do blah blah blah’ or, ‘hey, I can't connect with that. But here's what I would do’.

I wouldn't consider myself a therapist by any means. I’m still a kid at the end of the day, but having people reach out to me about their problems and their issues and giving them someone to talk to, not someone that's gonna solve everything for them. I think that's one of the healthiest things that I can personally do. And then other people can do that when interacting with those kinds of situations.

SS: You mentioned earlier, getting that label of depression, internalizing it and feeling that weight of, ‘okay, I'm depressed, this is who I am’. How do you approach the stigma around it?

RP: Yeah, I mean, there's so much around it and being I mean, you hand out this label to kids that are in seventh/eighth grade. I was in ninth grade when I got it and they don't even know what to do with it and they've got to figure it out on their own. Really, or sit in front of people that are going to tell them what it means. And it's different. Every single person's experience is different, which is what is tricky when you're trying to use one term to define and categorize all these people.

“One of the breakthroughs I had in college was when I started listening to really sad music, which has been super therapeutic for me”.

And I think when I  really started to understand depression was when I realized it wasn't  this profound sadness, it was nothing. It was just emptiness, you know. And one of the breakthroughs I had in college was when I started listening to really sad music, which has been super therapeutic for me. I've found one of my biggest issues around my own depression was the idea that okay, depression means I'm sad and I've got to be happy to not be depressed.

And I've discovered it's just feeling anything that gets me out of the depression. And that's what has been cool for me to realize is that's what I personally have found. And the idea around depression is that it's a label and it's one size fits all right? If you have it, you have it. And here's what it means. And I think what is super important is it can mean anything to any given person. And the way that they're going to interact with it and get out of those types of situations are going to be super unique to each person. And so it's our job to find what those things are for that individual person. And I think that's kind of what's exciting about us being young people talking about it, and being closer to the age of people experiencing it for the first time. We can say, ‘hey, you know, it doesn't have to be this huge deal, kind of set your whole life on a new track, we can figure out what it means for you and what we can do to help you out, you know’.

“Every single person's experience is different, which is what is tricky when you're trying to use one term to define and categorize all these people”.

BL: You mentioned  that your younger nephew is hesitant to wear the hearts to school. But a lot of people are hesitant to kind of share their emotions with other people, or share when they're having a tough time. What would your advice be to them?

RP:  I would say, and I get how hard it is because I've experienced that too, and not being able to be vocal about it. I think some would say it doesn't have to be a huge pivotal moment in your life that you decide to express yourself or tell everyone about all your problems. It can be picking one of your friends or someone that you're super comfortable with, and just letting them know a little bit about what’s going on. Or being with someone that you know is going to lift your mood.

I think there's plenty of ways that you can boost your mood and express yourself without being vocal about it. Which is one of the points of my brand is that I'm creating a product that you can express yourself with and start conversations, without having to say a single word.

And I think people get overwhelmed with voicing their sadness or emotions because they think it has to be this long winded big deal discussion. And I think as much as we can it’s about normalizing these conversations. Letting people know that you had a rough week or whatever it may be, and letting people know you're not in the best position right now. It will lead to a healthy income.

But yeah, I mean, obviously it's easy for me to say, ‘hey, it's not a big deal to talk about your emotions’. Knowing full well it is very hard and especially for certain people, but that's my goal with everything is to be able to say that eventually ‘hey, it's not a big deal and here's why’. And give people reasons to feel they can open up about it.

“Which is one of the points of my brand is that I'm creating a product that you can express yourself with and start conversations, without having to say a single word”.

Race is a Seattle-born entrepreneur who took a simple t-shirt design and turned it into a movement to help people talk about their mental health. Check out Race’s interview below, and his company Heart On My Sleeve (HOMS) to better understand what he’s doing in the fight for mental health awareness.

Bridget Lewis (BL): So I know there is some information on the website that you guys have, but tell us a bit about your background in mental health.

Race Porter (RP): My personal experience with mental health started with dealing with anxiety and depression my freshman year of high school. I probably dealt with it a little before that, but I didn't really recognize or understand what it was. And it was mostly due to the pressures put on me, mostly by myself, but kind of what I assumed my parents and all the adults in my life expected of me. That led to these expectations I had put on myself. When I wasn't meeting them, or I wasn't kind of reaching the standards set out for myself, I would beat myself up about it on my own time. And I think a lot of my anxiety came from the fact that I was always hiding stuff from other people. And so that's kind of why it got to the point where it did, and it spiraled. And I've always had such low lows, it's because I hide it from people. And that's one of the key points I usually like to talk about surrounding mental health.

I feel I can represent the large majority of people that deal with things and then shelf them and don't show others. It is important to express those things. Whether it be you had a rough day, or something. I think we often think, ‘other people have it worse’. That's one of the good phrases that people use. Or, you know, my problems aren't big enough to voice or tell people about. And I think I was one of those kids and so moving forward with mental health, and having interacted with professionals and people that have gone to school for years and talking about it. My background with mental health is a kid that's gone through it all, you know.

My goal is to kind of provide a real life example, you know, not, here's what the textbooks say, or here's what our common symptoms are, it's hey, here's what I dealt with. Here's my experience, and here's what I did about it. And here's what you guys can try to do about it.

“I've always had such low lows, it's because I hide it from people”.

BL: How have your personal experiences with mental health been?

RP:  Well, I think some concrete things would be around my freshman year when I started dealing with my depression. The first time I was diagnosed with depression was by a doctor. He printed out a sheet that said I had depression, and that I had to take it to school and show all my teachers. I remember that this was the first time where I realized, okay, this is a real thing. You know, this is something that's defining me. And I think a lot of my issues came after that, because it didn't get much better after I was diagnosed. But I think that was the first time where I thought, okay, there's something wrong with me. The fact that I have to go to school and show all my teachers this piece of paper says, here's what's going on in my life, you know.

“He printed out a sheet that said I had depression, and that I had to take it to school and show all my teachers”.

Sarah Strickler (SS): What were their reactions to it?

RP:  I only had seven teachers at the time I was in some classes, so a couple of them kind of knew already. Because obviously, it had gotten to a point where I was missing school, I wasn't doing as well in my assignments and I always had straight A's and so they picked up on that. Freshman year is not the hardest kind of scholastic endeavors, but most of them responded with, okay, yeah, we're here for you. You know, kind of distanced. I mean, it felt genuine, but you never feel super confident, and comfortable with people in those situations that aren't  your mom and dad, and especially being probably what 15 and I didn't even really know what depression was--it was just  a word to me.

I didn't understand the connotations that came with it, but they were supportive for the most part. But yeah, that was my first real experience with mental health and then moving forward, it was always depression and anxiety. And what I would do is I would shut down when my emotions got too strong and I would stop going to school, stop doing assignments, all that stuff.

It's been kind of ups and downs since dealing with it. And one of the things around mental health that I had very strong experience with is interacting with therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I think that's one thing that I want to really start to reimagine with the HOMS brand is kind of destigmatizing mental illness.

Being put in front of a therapist is kind of an intimidating thing to a lot of people. Especially with all that comes with, you know, the ideas of them so I want to make it easier for people to grasp the concept of talking to someone about their feelings. Then make mental health something that doesn't have to be okay, you're diagnosed with something now you go to a therapist. I don't want it to be this huge jump from ‘hey, I was a normal person a week ago now I'm seeing professionals that are trying to figure me out or whatever it may be’. I want it to be something you can chat with with your friends about, you know?

“I want to make it easier for people to grasp the concept of talking to someone about their feelings”.

BL: How did you come to start HOMS?

RP:  Yeah, so that was my junior year of college at the University of Washington when that all came to fruition. So I started dealing with my problems, especially in high school, and the first time I really did something about it personally was junior year of college. I think it was because I was mature enough to recognize I was starting to go back down into one of my slumps and that I wanted to do something about it, because usually I would go, ‘oh, here we go another sad, sad month or a couple months’. And so I thought, okay, yeah, I'm gonna do something about it this time because I don't want to be like this for a while.

That's when I came up with the idea of the broken heart and slapping it on the sleeve of a t-shirt. And it was such a simple idea really. And honest to God, I did it because I wanted more plain white t-shirts. I had one white t-shirt, and when it got dirty, I didn’t have anything to wear. So I decided I'll make a white t-shirt with this on it. And then I started wearing it because it's easy to wear a white t-shirt, and people would notice the heart and ask about it and then for the first time in my life, I found myself opening up about the kind of stuff I was going through at that moment. And I was feeling a lot better about it.

And I thought, this is weird. Hey, I don't talk to people about this stuff and I don't pick myself up as fast out of these kinds of things. So I realized, this is cool. And then that's when people started asking about it, and then asked me if I could make them one. And, I think a lot of people resonated with it, and the story behind it. And at the end of the day, it was a white t-shirt. You pair that with the kind of message that it brings and me kind of opening up to people. If you're feeling rough around the edges, throw this on and you can feel better about it.

“People would notice the heart and ask about it and then for the first time in my life, I found myself opening up about the kind of stuff I was going through at that moment”.

SS: Do remember any of those first conversations with people when they saw the full heart or the broken heart--what was that like for you opening up to people and telling them your feelings for the first time?

RP: It was, like I said, strange. Really easy, and it seemed to flow. And that's when I realized how cool the design was because I think a lot of the time, people struggle talking about their mental state because they don't want to bring it up. But if someone else kind of organically starts a conversation about it, it's easier to talk about.

When I would wear the Broken Heart t-shirt, and people would say, ‘hey, what's the broken heart? Are you all good?’ I feel they genuinely care because they took the time to ask, and they already are kind of prepared for me to tell them something sad because of the design. So it was crazy to me how effortless the conversation seemed at first. That’s why I thought okay, yeah, I want other people to feel this.

It's shocking for me to realize that I’m having a rough couple days, and this is helping me get through it. So that's why I'm wearing it. And they'd respond with, ‘oh, cool. Well, yeah, I got your back if you need it, never hesitate to reach out to me.’  And that was cool, you know? And so that's kind of the experience I want other people to have.

“They already are kind of prepared for me to tell them something sad because of the design. So it was crazy to me how effortless the conversation seemed at first”.

BL: Being on the football team, how did you see their response? Did you see when you started opening up, others did too?

RP: It was amazing. They were all about it. I was actually on a study abroad trip, right when I was starting this whole thing with a bunch of my football buddies. They were all all eager and excited about it and asking me what I was going to do with it and kind of pre-ordering a couple of shirts, if you will. They were there. The majority of them picked the broken heart t-shirt, which I loved. And that's when I thought, okay, cool. All these football guys that people see and think are tough, you know, not very transparent or vulnerable, and they all said they wanted the broken heart one.

“All these football guys that people see and think are tough, you know, not very transparent or vulnerable, and they all said they wanted the broken heart one’’.

And that's when I started to realize, my goal through this was to start making it cool to be emotional, you know. And I think creating that image and using clothing to do it allows people like my friends on the football team to kind of connect with it instantly and say, okay, yeah, it's a cool sweatshirt. The message behind it can mean whatever they want to mean. I'm all on board. And so it's been awesome how supportive all my friends have been on the team.

Definitely a few of them have reached out to me and said, ‘hey, I love what you're doing. I never thought I would have someone that I could reach out to on the football team because we're all taught to suppress our emotions and especially in those settings, in the locker room and on the field. Just kind of rushing around as robots. And so when they started reaching out to me saying ‘hey, thank you, I'm definitely going to be reaching out to you in the future’. That's been really cool to see. So I'm excited about that.

“I never thought I would have someone that I could reach out to on the football team because we're all taught to suppress our emotions and especially in those settings, in the locker room and on the field”.

BL: What was it like playing football and dealing with depression, going through the deep lows and the medium highs?

RP: Yeah, it can be tough. It can be really tough, especially during the season. When you know, there's 70,000 people watching you, and they are judging you on your abilities to play the game and they don't really have any idea what you're going through. They don't kind of stop to think that you're a human as well. And I think that's one of the issues with sports or not issues with sports, but one of the negative aspects of sports is people are trained to view as a spectator. They have the tendency to forget that it's humans that are watching that go through stuff on their own.

And especially a sport like football, it's rough. Kind of all about strength and force, and it's been tough. I feel that's one of the reasons that I want to really take advantage of my time at UW and being on the football team. To show people the other side of that and really use the platform to kind of represent something that can show other people what it's like. But it's tough the five o'clock workouts when you're not feeling too hot, going up and and trying to muster up the courage to really fight through a workout when you're not feeling 100% is tough. And that's Another thing that people don't really see is that side of it, you know, they just see the games, but they don't know, the whole year round stuff that we go through and how tough it can be when it's 30 degrees in Seattle, and you haven't seen the sun for a few weeks.

“There's 70,000 people watching you, and they are judging you on your abilities to play the game and they don't really have any idea what you're going through. They don't kind of stop to think that you're a human as well”.

SS: What is it like talking with other men about mental health in general?

RP: Yeah, it's very tricky interacting with men because we are conditioned to hold things in. Be tough and strong. And I think of my friend Myles obviously, who's helped me with the business so much. He's been the perfect person to be there with because he's the stereotype of the typical man. And he hasn't dealt with any very personal mental health problems himself. And so it's been cool to see him interact with me.

And I think one of the things that's important when you're kind of opening the conversation up to men is not making them feel like they have pressure to talk about their own mental state. Talking to them and saying ‘hey, man, you can talk about anything’, doesn’t necessarily work. Make them aware of what it looks like with other people and give them the tools to deal with it. Especially, I think parents being able to understand and recognize it in their children and not give them the old rub some dirt on it or toughen up, you know. I think we don't have to kind of talk men into being vocal about their mental health issues, if they don't want to express it, that's okay. Or if they don't deal with it, that's okay as well, but it's being able to recognize it and see it in other people that I think is super critical.

“One of the things that's important when you're kind of opening the conversation up to men is not making them feel like they have pressure to talk about their own mental state”.

SS: What is your relationship like with your own dad?

RP: It's amazing. He was actually one of the reasons that I went through such a tough time in my ninth grade year. All my initial mental health stuff came from the pressures he put on me in athletics. And so we had a rough road together in high school, kind of, there are some periods where we didn't talk at all. Then once he kind of understood that he was a little more invested in my athletics than I was, he understood what that did to me. That's when we started to kind of mend the relationship.

It was actually at dinner with him when I realized that I was depressed my junior year of college and decided to start HOMS. Not in the moment, but that was the moment I actually told him, ‘I think I'm depressed’.  And that was the first time that I was vocal with him about it. And I remember him and I was sobbing at our favorite Italian restaurant, in front of all these people. And I remember he was so understanding and so there for me in that moment, and I felt so good. And that's kind of when I think our relationship started to blossom. And he's so involved with my business and so helpful--he's all about it. He's a teacher at Lakeside High School, and he has been so vocal about HOMS and what it means to his students there, which has been awesome too. So I feel like him and I are our best friends for sure. It's been awesome.

BL: Talking about Miles, so you guys went to high school together, and then you went to college, and then you came up with HOMS last year? Did he know about your mental health throughout college?

RP: Yeah. So we were always really good friends in high school. Then it just so happened that we were able to kind of live together when I started my freshman year, which was awesome. I was going through a pretty tough time in my life. The transition from high school to college was tough on me and a couple other factors. And so it was funny because we were such good friends and he was all, ‘I'm so excited for you to move in. We're gonna party. It's gonna be such a great time’.  And then the first two weeks I was in the apartment, I was locked in my room. And he would knock on my door and say, ‘hey, you need to come out. I'd love to hang out’.  I would just respond with, ‘no, I don't really feel like it’.  And so I think it was funny because this first experience of me and him living together was one of my lows, and so he really quickly kind of learned how to understand that and how to operate when I was in those moments.

I think at first he responded by giving me space and then he started to kind of barge into my room saying, “hey, come on, dude, we're gonna get food.” And then I'd open up to him a little bit. And the cool thing about that, and what that taught me about mental health was, you don't need to necessarily voice everything that's going on or talk about everything that's bringing you down. Sometimes it's having a friend you know, or doing stuff that you enjoy, that kind of takes your mind off that sadness or whatever it may be. And that's what Miles has done. And he’s so awesome interacting with me. He has shown me a side of himself where he has recognized more of who he is, but he never makes a big deal over it.

You know, I think that's one of the things that HOMS can do, kind of through these experiences is to give people a reminder that if you're going through a tough time what you can do. If you are going to see a friend, seeing a movie, or going out to dinner you’re  bound to laugh. If it's one of your good friends you’ll have a few laughs, you know, sometimes that's all it takes to get you out of that slump.

“It was funny because this first experience of me and him living together was one of my lows, and so he really quickly kind of learned how to understand that and how to operate when I was in those moments”.

BL: Are there other things that you do when you notice yourself, going into a deep low?

RP: I try to. I try to kind of surround myself with my family members when I'm recognizing that. My niece and my nephew, my big sisters, little guys, they get me out of anything. And that's what I try to do whenever I'm feeling kind of a rough day or a rough couple of days, I'll call her and tell her I need to come over. And that's been really therapeutic for me hanging out with them and listening to them talk. And every time I go see him, they seem like they're three years older. And so it's fun to kind of find those kinds of distractions.

I love going and seeing sunsets, Discovery Park, stuff like that. Gasworks helps to remind me how beautiful, especially Seattle, the city we live in, how beautiful everything is around you--you can kind of block that kind of stuff out. And then lately, my clothing has been so therapeutic for me. The other night when I made this I was having a rough day and I made it and obviously the three broken hearts are a little noticeable that might not be the happiest of vibes. And so I posted on my story and I had a couple people reach out to me to check in, you know, “hey, are you okay? Is that all good?’.

“That's probably the best thing about HOMS for me is being able to throw myself into it and feel I come out on the other side lifted up, and on top of things”.

In them reaching out, I realized that making this totally boosted my mood and made me feel better because I realized, yeah, I'm totally fine. What are you talking about? Oh yeah, I get it. Thanks for your concern. But that's probably the best thing about HOMS for me is being able to throw myself into it and feel I come out on the other side lifted up  and on top of things.

SS: Have you noticed anyone wearing HOMS before out on the street?

RP:  I haven't. I have countless friends that have said, ‘oh, I saw one of yours,  just saw one of my friends in the airport wearing one’. People will come up to my friends all the time and ask ‘is that a HOMS sweater?’. They'll tell me these stories, and I have yet to see a random person. I feel like I'm the only person that hasn't seen one. So I'm still waiting for that. But yeah.

SS: And then on your website you have a ‘You're Not Alone Page’ I think is really cool. Have you had people reach out through that and tell you stories?

RP:  Yeah, I don't even remember that was such a random idea. I think I was looking at my website from the consumer's viewpoint on my phone, typed in HOMS and to check it out. I saw that I'd like to have a couple more tabs and so I was messing around with it. And then one of the options that my website provided was a chat board, and it was then I just thought about how I could structure it.

I love the idea of reaching out anonymously. Or kind of reaching out to someone that you don't really know. Which a lot of the people that have reached out have mentioned I wouldn't even tell this to my friends or my family, but the fact that you're some random person that hasn't been experiencing a lot of what I'm experiencing I feel comfortable kind of sharing my story. I've gotten everything from just ‘hey, love what you're doing’ to kind of paragraphs on paragraphs on the kinds of issues people are dealing with. And it's been a lot of fun being able to connect with people like that, you know. But yeah, I'd love that. That'll definitely be something that I keep promoting and, and something I'm gonna build off of. I want to do blog entries and stuff like that, or maybe a mental health concept of the month.I definitely want to pull off that idea.

SS: How do you respond to people when they send you a really kind of personal, intense story? Do you respond back to them, or share your own story?

RP:  It's definitely tricky. In the first few I kind of had to sit with them for a little bit, you know. I didn't think too much, when I was setting it up. Yeah, obviously, I'd love to kind of give people a platform to kind of voice their stories on but I didn't really plan for that first one where I realized that I gotta really think about what I'm going to send back.  The tricky ones are those that are pretty involved.  I'll sit with them and kind of think about and read through them a few times, to determine what the best way to respond is.

I try to respond to every single point they make or kind of every question that they have. And I'm going to say that's totally valid, I get that. And then when I can't really connect with something, or I don't feel like I have great advice for their situation, I will try to give them an example from my own story that is a little similar, or I don't have any experience with that. But here's what I would do in this kind of situation. And I feel like that always kind of resonates with people by being honest, instead of just saying, ‘oh, yeah, here's what you should do blah blah blah’ or, ‘hey, I can't connect with that. But here's what I would do’.

I wouldn't consider myself a therapist by any means. I’m still a kid at the end of the day, but having people reach out to me about their problems and their issues and giving them someone to talk to, not someone that's gonna solve everything for them. I think that's one of the healthiest things that I can personally do. And then other people can do that when interacting with those kinds of situations.

SS: You mentioned earlier, getting that label of depression, internalizing it and feeling that weight of, ‘okay, I'm depressed, this is who I am’. How do you approach the stigma around it?

RP: Yeah, I mean, there's so much around it and being I mean, you hand out this label to kids that are in seventh/eighth grade. I was in ninth grade when I got it and they don't even know what to do with it and they've got to figure it out on their own. Really, or sit in front of people that are going to tell them what it means. And it's different. Every single person's experience is different, which is what is tricky when you're trying to use one term to define and categorize all these people.

“One of the breakthroughs I had in college was when I started listening to really sad music, which has been super therapeutic for me”.

And I think when I  really started to understand depression was when I realized it wasn't  this profound sadness, it was nothing. It was just emptiness, you know. And one of the breakthroughs I had in college was when I started listening to really sad music, which has been super therapeutic for me. I've found one of my biggest issues around my own depression was the idea that okay, depression means I'm sad and I've got to be happy to not be depressed.

And I've discovered it's just feeling anything that gets me out of the depression. And that's what has been cool for me to realize is that's what I personally have found. And the idea around depression is that it's a label and it's one size fits all right? If you have it, you have it. And here's what it means. And I think what is super important is it can mean anything to any given person. And the way that they're going to interact with it and get out of those types of situations are going to be super unique to each person. And so it's our job to find what those things are for that individual person. And I think that's kind of what's exciting about us being young people talking about it, and being closer to the age of people experiencing it for the first time. We can say, ‘hey, you know, it doesn't have to be this huge deal, kind of set your whole life on a new track, we can figure out what it means for you and what we can do to help you out, you know’.

“Every single person's experience is different, which is what is tricky when you're trying to use one term to define and categorize all these people”.

BL: You mentioned  that your younger nephew is hesitant to wear the hearts to school. But a lot of people are hesitant to kind of share their emotions with other people, or share when they're having a tough time. What would your advice be to them?

RP:  I would say, and I get how hard it is because I've experienced that too, and not being able to be vocal about it. I think some would say it doesn't have to be a huge pivotal moment in your life that you decide to express yourself or tell everyone about all your problems. It can be picking one of your friends or someone that you're super comfortable with, and just letting them know a little bit about what’s going on. Or being with someone that you know is going to lift your mood.

I think there's plenty of ways that you can boost your mood and express yourself without being vocal about it. Which is one of the points of my brand is that I'm creating a product that you can express yourself with and start conversations, without having to say a single word.

And I think people get overwhelmed with voicing their sadness or emotions because they think it has to be this long winded big deal discussion. And I think as much as we can it’s about normalizing these conversations. Letting people know that you had a rough week or whatever it may be, and letting people know you're not in the best position right now. It will lead to a healthy income.

But yeah, I mean, obviously it's easy for me to say, ‘hey, it's not a big deal to talk about your emotions’. Knowing full well it is very hard and especially for certain people, but that's my goal with everything is to be able to say that eventually ‘hey, it's not a big deal and here's why’. And give people reasons to feel they can open up about it.

“Which is one of the points of my brand is that I'm creating a product that you can express yourself with and start conversations, without having to say a single word”.

Race Porter

Race is a Seattle-born entrepreneur who took a simple t-shirt design and turned it into a movement to help people talk about their mental health.

My Affirmations
Bridget Lewis
Art
More Than A Title
Sarah Strickler
Writing
Mind Whirled
Cody Kuiack
Poetry

Everyone has a story. We want to hear yours.

If you’d like to submit a story or creative piece, visit our submissions page. We accept submissions at any time, from anyone, about anything, in any form.
Submit a Story

Share Your Support

Comment Box is loading comments...