Since the dawn of time, staying true to life and sharing stories has been part of humanity. We have always told stories to pass on knowledge and lessons to future generations. We are constantly learning, making new discoveries through storytelling.
However, the most significant advantage that humans have garnered with storytelling is our ability to embrace our and others’ stories, giving us strength and the will to carry on in difficult times. These stories show us that we are not alone in this world, and it is support from others during harsh times that motivate us to move forward and flourish in living the life everyone deserves.
Dayna Altman, a mental health entrepreneur, author, and public health professional, couldn’t be a better example to showcase the power storytelling has in healing people. Overcoming and learning from the challenges that started in her college years, Dayna embarked on a journey to help others by creating her organizations specializing in mental health advocacy.
Exeleon exhibits the empowering story of this bold entrepreneur.
The Proactive Mindset
Dayna can distinctly remember how she has always been a leader, even from a young age. Growing up, she loved musical theatre and every other aspect related to dancing, acting, or singing. Even so, she created her own show during her second-grade year. “I coordinated a rehearsal schedule with my friends’ parents. I did the costumes and set design as well as the advertising,” shares Dayna.
And when the show was over, all Dayna Altman could think of was when she would be able to do something like that again. This was the active mindset with which she grew up, and 20 years later, she still feels the same. She says, “Every time I get to lead an initiative and work on a project that I love, I am so grateful and can’t wait to do it again!”
However, before she could take this proactive mind into the open world, Dayna saw herself struggling with mental health issues, taking a significant toll on her life.
Accepting the Imperfections
Dayna began struggling with her mental health at the start of her college years. It was there when she decided to jot down her experiences in hopes of publishing a book about living with mental illness someday.
What worked for Dayna was the acceptance of her struggles and her will to embrace the imperfections the fate had thrown at her. Those early years when she couldn’t accept it, Dayna was in the perception that something was wrong with her, and she needed to be happy all the time. “I think something that held me back from getting help earlier on was not really ‘knowing’ about mental health or seeing other people openly speak about their struggles,” shares Dayna. “Had I seen someone living openly and simultaneously talking about their mental health struggle, I think things would have unfolded differently.”
And this is what Dayna has been doing by now. She has led an authentic life by staying true to her life’s imperfections. Her work is inspired by her struggles and being the person who embraced it. “I like to both lead and live authentically, which means living with mental illness.”
This strength to live up to herself empowered Dayna to help others with her book Bake it Till You Make it: Breaking Bread, Building Resilience. It is a cookbook with recipes, stories, and resource pages that encourages people to realize their inherent power in their own stories. It combines the mental health stories and recipes of over forty different contributors.
The book humanizes mental health and mitigates people’s discomfort when talking about it by using recipes and food. Tied together with resource pages and a diverse number of perspectives, the book is written in such a way that anyone can pick it up and feel the greater sense of living with imperfections.
Continuing the Proactive Mindset
Dayna picks up after her childhood habit of longing after productive work even after so many years. To her, it is essential to lead by example, especially with vulnerability and authenticity. In Dayna’s dictionary, a transformational leader is someone who has a passion for what they are doing and believes in their message, so many others want to become a part of it.
And as a leader in the mental health space, Dayna does not pretend to appear ‘perfect’ or ‘completely recovered’ and takes on the leadership role in an authentic manner. “I show up like me and do my best as well as speak to what I am passionate about and what I know. I have found that vulnerability and authenticity are contagious,” shares Dayna. She continues, “Leading with vulnerability has not only allowed me to help inspire others, but it has also allowed me to create meaningful relationships with people who wanted to be ‘seen and heard’.”
Dayna describes being humane as the solution to understanding the current gap in the mental health industry. In her opinion, the more the subject is humanized, and people are reminded that they are not alone, the more acceptance will be followed, and there will be more ways to help struggling people. Whether it is in a big way through a community event, book, or workshop, Dayna wants people to be invited to be vulnerable and want to be supported.
That’s also the reason why Dayna inspires emerging and aspiring women leaders to get rid of any reasons to hide their struggles. She advices, “Struggling with your mental health is not shameful; in fact, it probably makes you an even more in-tune and empathetic leader. You do not have to struggle alone, nor do you have to lead alone.”
A Will to do Better
Dayna’s journey has been long and circuitous, and she has overcome a lot of roadblocks to reach where she is today. Her journey has also been painful, but these moments brought her the most clarity in what she wants to achieve today. However, the most challenging road for her has been the judgment and pressure she put on herself.
Dayna says, “I put so much pressure on myself to continue to churn out products and inspiration and be a beacon of light for everyone at all times. When I am learning in reality, the best thing I can do is be honest and be myself, even if it is messy and not necessarily pretty.” And for the next phase of her life, she wants to continue to learn that and practice what she preaches. She wants to grow by what she is inspired by and not think about the extra pressure of feeling good enough.
And to do that, Dayna Altman imagines a future where there will be a continuation and broadening of all things Bake it Till You Make it. She will mix everything from new books, workshops, and multimedia elements to live by her mission.
On the personal side of things, Dayna hopes to continue to live authentically and continue to be close to those she loves, both metaphorically and literally.