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She is a mental health advocate who finds joy in being a volunteer too

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a Dayspring volunteer, lovingly known as our “Big Mama”. One of her accomplishments is publishing Bipolar Phoenix, where she has courageously written about her life experiences and advocates for mental health.

 

A Family of Volunteers

Andrea – from the US and based in Singapore with her husband, Chris, and daughter, Georgia, since 2011 – is known as “Big Mama” to the Dayspring girls. Chris is “Big Daddy” and Georgia is “Little Gigi”.

“Chris and I have gained a lot of positive experiences through sports, especially via the rugby community. So, this is our family’s way of giving back. We love coaching the Dayspring girls rugby, and Gigi plays too!” says Andrea.

“When I see the girls catch a rugby ball and run forward, I’m delighted. There is a joy we all share in the accomplishment.”

“We have a lot to give as a family. I really like it when we get to volunteer together. We know the Dayspring girls don’t always have support from their families. We want to continue providing them with loving family support as much as we can.”

A Mental Health Advocate

Andrea published Bipolar Phoenix in 2020. She has struggled with bipolar disorder for over 40 years. Bipolar disorder comprises extreme mood swings: one can feel depressed; and when the mood shifts, one feels highly energetic.

In her book, Andrea openly and bravely shares about her childhood, family, career and relationships, where bipolar disorder has been a constant companion. 

“Even though I’m a professional writer, Bipolar Phoenix was a hard book to write. I really had to look at myself and my entire history, and see how these events shaped my bipolar experience and life. As I was writing the book, I learnt to forgive myself and love myself no matter who had done me wrong and how many mistakes I made. I’ve come to terms with the things I can and cannot control.”

Some of the vivid events covered in her book include going for parties endlessly, spending lavishly, marrying an alcoholic and then struggling with anxiety, a divorce and breakdowns at work. She skipped appointments, developed a stutter when speaking on the phone, typed words backwards and even initiated a brawl.

Andrea eventually stopped playing the victim in life.  Slowly but surely, she gained victory over her mental health – this she decided to do after an episode of back-to-back suicide attempts.

“I was hospitalised for these attempts. I was in the psychiatric ward, and somehow, I felt a great sense of calm: I knew I was finally getting the help I needed. I trusted that I was a strong person and could make it. I was fierce. I was determined. I was blessed enough to have help from family, friends and professionals.”

The main message for anyone struggling with mental health is to believe and know that there is help and there is hope. You don’t have to give up. You don’t have to die. You can start over. I’m living proof of that!”

Dayspring Girls: A Source of Joy and Comfort

Even though Andrea has overcome a lot in life, it does not mean that there are only good days going forward. There are still struggles, and Andrea actively seeks joy – one of the sources of that is through volunteering.

“The Dayspring girls make me feel so special. They cheer me for being there for them. A smile or clap or cheer from them is enough to snap me out of my funk and make me feel appreciated and loved!”

Speaking from her own experience, Andrea believes that girls and women are strong enough and have it inside of them to take control of their lives, to change when they need to and to stand up for themselves.

“I want all girls and women to believe that the world is a place for us and that we can feel love wherever we go. Put love and hope and dreams out there, and these will come back to you.”

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