When Mary Corbett put her baby in a campfire in 1980 outside of Anchorage, she was suffering from schizophrenia, exacerbated by post-partum depression and cocaine use. Her infant daughter was too young to jump or move away, so the baby did only what she could do, she screamed, which alerted her father, who came running and took her out of the fire.
Her mother was later sent to Alaska Psychiatric Institute to serve a 20-year sentence related to incident. After being released seven years later, she disappeared.
The young girl, Gwedellin Bradshaw, would grow up with emotional and physical scars over 65 percent of her body, and a reconstructed hand that would one day heal and be able to play the violin - a key to Bradshaw's own health and recovery.
Bradshaw will be in Juneau Sept. 22-24 for the showing of the documentary film, "About Face: The Story of Gwen Bradshaw" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Gold Town Nickelodeon (with brief music performance and Q&A following). She will also perform some of her original songs at SoberFest beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 24 at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Bradshaw will also present her story and perform music in the schools on Sept. 23 and 24.
At 31, Gwen is still recovering from problems that developed as a result of the traumatic events in her childhood - bipolar disease, post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and drug abuse. She has struggled with depression, attempted suicide, a commitment to API, homelessness and incarceration.
"I didn't realize I had a problem until I pretty much hit rock bottom when I was 24," Bradshaw said. "When I hit rock bottom with my drug addiction and alcohol addiction, I realized I'd lost connection with the people that I loved ... I hadn't talked to my dad in five years and I'd lost all my friends."
Bradshaw went to Clitheroe Rehabilitation Center in Anchorage for drug and alcohol abuse outpatient treatment, followed by a medication regiment for her bipolar disease and PTSD. And she started talk therapy, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy.
"Talk therapy helped me open up and trust. It took a couple of years to trust my therapist. She'd give me homework to do every week and I realized that she knew what she was talking about, so I started trusting and letting her teach me," Bradshaw said.
"I realized that I was trying to do everything my way. I needed reprogramming and needed to trust somebody to help me do that. For me, it took going to a trained professional and accepting the help, and accepting that what I was doing was wrong," she said.
Bradshaw said that while medication and therapy together helped her a lot, music was also a huge influence and gave her a "release."
"If I didn't have music, I don't know where I'd be," she said. "Music lays out a framework, or structure, for me, a safe place to pour out the emotions without having to put it out on anyone. Just to be able to let it out and not blame or point fingers or anything, to release and let it out the window in a healthy way."
Bradshaw is looking forward to her Juneau visit because she thinks it's important to share her story and bring up subjects that are considered "taboo" or too difficult for people to talk about - like mental illness, drug addiction, recovery, homelessness and incarceration.
"Let's talk about it and open up," she said. "Talking about it turns it into a positive thing and not an ugly thing, or embarrassing thing. And not feeling alone. Nobody has to be alone in this. There are a lot of people that have the same problems I've had and I'm hoping that other people can open up too."
Looking back, Bradshaw said she grew tired of hurting and being angry. She now looks at the good side of her bad experiences, and how all of what has happened has helped shape her into the person she is today.
"I finally realized, 'hey, I'm ready to live.' I've been through so much and I'm really lucky to be here."
• Teri Tibbett is a writer living in Juneau. She is the advocacy coordinator for The Alaska Mental Health Board and Advisory Board On Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, working with The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.