Finding Your Fairytale

Angela Kupper ’16 was scrolling through her social media feed when she happened upon a quiz: “What Fairytale Are You?”

Having been diagnosed with narcolepsy a year earlier, during her second semester in Alverno’s Master of Science in Community Psychology program, Kupper had an understandable, albeit sarcastic, reaction: “I must be Sleeping Beauty.”

Then, an idea emerged. What if Kupper could use fairy tale characters to start conversations about mental and physical challenges? Feeling brave, that evening she opened up to friends about her struggle with narcolepsy and her idea. Her friends revealed their own challenges, and each person seemed to fit a different fairy tale character.

That’s how Finding Your Fairytale was born.

The project aims to provide young adults with strong role models who show that happiness is achievable despite life’s obstacles.

“Through this project, we aim to give others the strength to continue fighting their battles, the courage to write their own stories and the hope for their own happily ever after,” she says.

To start, Kupper invited 12 individuals to be featured in a photo shoot for a 2017 calendar. Each dressed as a character from a fairy tale or other story who overcame significant adversity. The individuals represented challenges ranging from addiction to mental illness to depression. When the photographer, Chris Moehr, suggested that Kupper make a film, she thought the idea was crazy. After all, she wasn’t a filmmaker. She’s a therapist who works with kids suffering from anxiety disorders.

But that’s how the calendar became a fundraiser for producing the film.

A Kickstarter campaign in fall 2016 raised $13,000 in three weeks, and the project received widespread media coverage, including a story on CNN. Since then, the characters have attended numerous events in costume, including the Out of the Darkness Walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Kupper’s mother died by suicide when Kupper was just 17.

“My mother put a lot of time and effort into making me feel special and believe in magic, but she couldn’t see it for herself,” Kupper says. “I couldn’t save my mom, but hopefully through this project, we can give others the strength to continue fighting their battles, the courage to write their own stories and hope for their own happily ever after.”

Nursing alumna Margaret Schultz ’12 is rewriting her story about post-traumatic stress disorder. After graduation, Schultz deployed with the U.S. Army to Haiti and then Afghanistan. When she returned home, she had difficulty adjusting but didn’t want others to know — even her mother. She panicked in public settings, and the only time she felt relief was while walking her dog on her grandpa’s farm.

“Angie joked that I was Pocahontas, who defended her land and who related to animals and nature but couldn’t connect with people,” Schultz says. “It was comical, but it became real very fast. There were so many similarities.”

Playing Pocahontas has given Schultz the courage to speak out about her struggles with PTSD because she is representing a cause bigger than herself.

Erica Retzlaff ’14 felt an instant connection to Alice in Wonderland, who falls down the rabbit hole and spirals out of control. About 10 years ago, Retzlaff began the slow recovery from a two-year heroin addiction.

“I related to Alice in the way of losing yourself and trying to find your way back to your true self,” she says. “There were so many things I had to do to get my life back on track. I hadn’t thought about it that way until this project came about.”

It was Kupper’s experience at Alverno that gave her the confidence to dream up the project and move it forward at a deeper level than she could have ever imagined.

“At Alverno, you practice being vulnerable, and you learn from it, which is incredibly empowering,” she says.

“That’s our hope with Finding Your Fairytale: You’re telling a story and playing a role, empowering yourself to see past what you fear.”

Kupper has submitted the documentary to the Milwaukee Film Festival and envisions it becoming a tool for teachers and therapists to open up conversations in a non-threatening way. Her organization also received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in February 2017.

“No one claims to be healed. We talk about still fighting,” Kupper says. “But happily ever after is a mindset. It’s choosing to continue forward.”

One story at a time.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2017 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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