Photo by Collin Cooper
Josie Thompson Soloman, founder of the 444 project, shared her journey through mental illness and the creation of the 444 project in the Grande Ballroom Oct 12.
At age 19, Soloman began to feel darkness in her life and was diagnosed with severe depression. Getting out of bed in the morning was undoable. Later, bipolar was added to her diagnose, leaving Soloman feeling embarrassed and hopeless.
“It’s as though there is a mental, physical and emotional disconnect. It’s like your brain shuts down,” Soloman said. “The girl who was once high on life, suddenly couldn’t even get out of bed.”
After three years of struggling with doctor’s, medications and other forms of healing, Soloman was left with no progress. After leaving her home in Arizona, Soloman stayed with some extended family in Montana where after some time, she found temporary relief.
During this nine month period of relief, she volunteered to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, weeks before she was meant to begin her proselyting mission, the darkness returned and she was unable to serve.
“I was filled with this toxic energy, and I couldn’t shut it down,” Soloman said. “I remember thinking that I was the biggest failure. My life seemed as though it was nothing more than a morasses, on going of failures, one after another.”
The 444 project was born from unexpected circumstances. During a road trip to visit Farmington, New Mexico, Soloman picked up a hitchhiker that sparked her passion for discovering people’s stories. Soloman embarked on a 100 day journey to talk to as any people as possible, visiting over 30 states and exceeding her goal of talking with 444 people. She asked others what motivated them to get out of bed in the morning, and as she developed love for these strangers she had a desire to serve them.
“This was the first time I used my story of darkness as a means to bring light to another,” Soloman said. “I learned that we can use the glow of our refiners fire to help light the path of another. Our stories and experiences matter.”
The three point thesis that this project was built on, according to Soloman, is that good is still alive and well in the world today, everyone has a story to tell and finally, Soloman believes everyone has a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Following the death of her cousin, Season Joy, the second phase of Soloman’s project began as she went to Italy to discover what brought people joy. Soloman found that even though she might not feel joy, she can create it for others. With a team of volunteers, Soloman later traveled to the philippines to deliver hope and service while telling the stories of the people there.
Soloman continues to struggle with illnesses that bring her darkness after nine years. As she fights daily to get out of bed and live another day, she offers her story as a message of hope.
“While I wait for my miracle, I will become another’s,” Soloman said. “You do not have to be healed to help…as I look back on the past nine years, it is no question that the reason I am still breathing today is because of service. Service not only changed my life, but it saved my life.”