"Mandy Antoniacci is the girl who lifts us up!" - BuzzFeed
I'm so happy you're here.
You probably landed here because you read something I wrote, or heard me speak. Or perhaps you discovered upps™ and wanted to learn about the gal behind the hidden smile and puppy shenanigans.
Whatever the reason, I'm so happy you're here.
If you are interested in my bio, head here.
But if you're really curious as to how this all came about, let me do what I do best—
tell you a story...
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve approached life seeing the silver lining first, later observing the cloud with curiosity. I’m not the world’s happiest psychopath—I have a normal range of emotion, I promise! I am, however, unwilling to let negative emotions have any bearing on my life.
This allows me to look at any challenge like something that can be overcome - a mindset which came in handy in 2017, when I set out to run the LA marathon without training.
I was a storyteller with an exciting theory to test. I believed that running a marathon was 90% mental, and that I could get through it without training, on mental fortitude alone. At mile-19, I hit a wall. In that moment, I was failing, yet I had my head down and was just barely powering through. When I finally looked up in desperation, I saw a little boy standing on the sidelines with a sign that said “free high fives.” I reached out and slapped his hand with mine and suddenly, I was back in the race. It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t witchcraft. It was the stimuli that sparked me to tune in, and ultimately to finish the race.
Having crossed the finish line, I had not only proven my theory, but had added an important element to the mix. It wasn’t lost on me that in my toughest moments along the route, I was being weakened by the fact that I had retreated into my head. I had tuned everything out, disappeared into myself and was desperately hunting for strength within. Yet, it was the moment when I was able to look up and tune into the world around me that I felt the strongest.
I was beginning to see that this theory actually had greater cultural implications. The “accidental social scientist” in me recognized a problem and was beginning to piece together a simple formula to solve it. As a society, we seem to be programmed to look down, to retreat into ourselves, to disappear. It’s no wonder that we struggle on such a large scale with mental health issues including depression, loneliness, anxiety, and a lack of overall mindfulness. And the solution is simple...
You just have to look up.
I was hooked. I started building my company, calling it upps™ with a laser focus on mental wellness, positivity, and the power of interconnectedness, all with one simple goal in mind-—become the pick me upp to the world.
Then, my developing ideas were put on hold.
12-weeks after I ran the LA marathon, I experienced paralysis in my hand, my arm, then eventually my entire right side. There was no inciting injury, no accident, only questions. My life quickly became a revolving door of doctor and hospital visits. I was diagnosed with a random, genetic anomaly that prompted emergency spinal surgery causing 50% loss of mobility, and left me bed-ridden for 10-weeks, in a hard brace, sleeping upright at a 90-degree angle.
I lost my ability to ever look down again.
As someone who had already developed a passion for looking up, I was suddenly thrust into the greatest social experiment of my life. I was no longer capable of conforming to social norms that would otherwise keep my head down, powering through life.
I was forced to live life up, and the results were astounding.
Fresh out of recovery, I began to experience the benefits. I felt seen, I felt fulfilled, I felt creative in ways I haven’t in years. This led me to share what my experience taught me in a TED Talk, here. The talk was viewed more than a half-million times, and people began to see themselves in the narrative and reach out to share how this simple message was making a qualitative difference in their lives. It turns out, I had catalyzed a conversation on a global scale. The world was craving the power of looking up, and I had found a simple, straightforward way to deliver...
I was on top of the world.
And then, on the eve of my one-year anniversary of my surgery, at what should have been one of my final follow-up visits, my surgeon revealed that it didn’t work. I had failed for the first time in my life—and my body was to blame. I fell into a tiny 1% margin of error and was forced to relive the greatest trauma of my life—the cutting of my skin, the fusing of my spine, being put back together, the time in a hard brace, watching 77 sunsets from bed, the confinement, the isolation—I had to do it all again. This time, as bad as the physical pain was, the mental challenge was savage.
Yet, despite pain-induced blackouts, a single breakdown (I am human, afterall), and the constant presence of an incessantly whirring bone growth-stimulator I’ve lovingly nicknamed Sammy, my positivity has carried me through.
I continued developing upps™ and started writing my first book—Up: How Keeping Your Head in the Clouds Can Change Your Life, from my recovery bed, using a voice journaling app and with some assistance from Alexa and Siri. And this is what I learned:
every, single, one of us is healing from something—whether it’s something we can see, or something we can’t. In that healing process, it is not only vital that we feel seen, but that we see one another, see something within ourselves, participate in the world around us, create community, and, of course, lift one another up. This starts with a simple behavioral change that, if embraced by more people, could change the world.
The accidental social scientist in me, may have discovered the power in being forced to look up.
But the optimist since birth in me, would choose to see it no other way :)