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Mental health advocate Jill Bilka provides tools, resources learned through personal hardships

The pandemic was hard for everyone. But for Dundee resident Jill Bilka, who endured a mental health crisis and the sudden loss of her father to brain cancer, it was the most grueling time of her life.

In her first-ever book, "Grow Through What You Go Through: How to Plants Seed for Personal Growth," Bilka details her journey overcoming adversity and provides tools and resources to help readers cultivate the same resilience.

"By writing things down, my hope was that if anyone else was going through a hard time this might be a resource that can help them feel less alone," Bilka said, adding "we all have a story, and by sharing our stories, we can help each other to learn and grow."

The book, which Bilka published on June 18 under her maiden name VanderZanden in honor of her late father, addresses various topics related to mental health.COURTESY PHOTO: JILL BILKA - In her debut book, "Grow Through What You Go Through: How to Plants Seed for Personal Growth," Jill Bilka details her journey overcoming adversity and provides tools and resources to help readers cultivate the same resilience.

It touches on what matters in life, relationships, how to be vulnerable and authentic, self-care, fighting "bullies in our brains" that prevent people from achieving their potential, identity, redefining success and more.

Bilka described it as a workbook of sorts.

"People can follow along and fill-in the blanks," she said. "Think about what matters in life and break down what's hurting them in order to heal and get to a healthier, happier state in their lives."

Despite this being her first book on the subject, mental health education is not a new passion for Bilka.

While she is now a business consultant, Bilka has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Western Oregon University and was employed for a while in social work and family services. Along with her education and lived experience, she has gleaned information from other books, articles and podcasts in preparation for her own book.

"Really, the book is great for anyone, whether they have a (mental health) diagnosis or not," she said. "There are things in life that are hiding below the surface that all of us could stand to work on and improve upon."

Bilka said she hopes her book will help destigmatize talking about and seeking help for mental health issues.

"Mental health is health," she said. "The brain is a part of the body that's just as important as any other part and it deserves the care and attention it needs to be healthy."

Bilka learned this for herself the hard way.

A self-described "helpful spirit," Bilka didn't realize until too late that by investing all her energy into others, she was forgetting to take care of herself. Her hyperfocus on others, she said, was what caused her downward spiral.

"I think that's something that can happen a lot in society," she said. "We so often think of how we can help others and do things for others that our own self-care falls on the backburner and burnout happens."

Reconnecting with yourself is a prevalent theme throughout the book, Bilka said.

When faced with change, such as a divorce or an empty nest when children go off to college, people can feel like they no longer know themselves.

"If we lose pieces of our identity, we need something at the core of ourselves to help us thrive in the midst of uncertainty, despite whatever happens that might be out of our control," Bilka said.

This theme of rediscovering one's identity is one of the reasons why Bilka chose to weave flower and nature references throughout the book.

When she was little and hadn't learned to read yet, Bilka's parents used to mark her cups during social outings with a flower, so she knew which one was hers. To this day, she said she often adds a flower next to her name.

Another reason she chose the flower symbolism is because she wanted people to grasp the idea that "we all have seasons and bloom in our own time," she said.

"We are each our own unique person and should not compare ourselves to others," she said. "It's best to nourish the aspects of our own growth," and people are in control of their growth.

"The future is determined by the actions and the choices we make today," she said. "We can't change the past. We can hopefully learn from the past, but today is how we choose how the rest of our life will look. We get a new choice every day."

Bilka said she is evidence that the material works.

"I know it made a difference in my life," she said. "I know it brought me to where I am today. And if there's a moment or day I struggle, I look back at what I've written and it's still my guidebook for wellness. … I was in a much, much worse position and have experienced a lot of hardship and loss since then, and yet I'm still thriving and still doing well."

As for whether she will write another book, Bilka said she is open to it but currently doesn't have plans to do so.

"This wasn't anything I envisioned, but I would never say no to another opportunity if there was something I was inspired to write about or an experience that can help someone else," Bilka said. "It would be something I would consider."

"Grow Through What You Go Through" can be purchased in print or in e-book format through Amazon.com or Bilka's website at www.jillwithaflower.com/. To contact Bilka, email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bilka will be hosting two meet-and-greets, the first at Social Goods at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5 and the other at Coffee Cat at 9 a.m Aug. 23. Attend for a chance to win a free copy of the book.


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