Driving away from the Panera Bread on a late Monday afternoon, I was elated. To think, she kept our brochure for a month after she got off the Behavioral Health Unit! That is so awesome! I thought to myself.
Every other Friday, I give a talk to the patients on the Behavioral Health Unit at a local hospital. I tell my story and talk about the support groups and classes National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers. The patients hear there is life after a mental illness diagnosis.
Anne* had been a patient about a month ago. She kept our brochure and contacted us, which is a positive difference from my own past experience. When I was on the Behavioral Health Unit ten years ago, no one told me about NAMI. Seven tough years went by before I heard that NAMI could help. When we started the NAMI affiliate in Brown County, I was determined I would do for mental illness patients what no one had done for me. As we say in NAMI, “If I can make a difference in one person’s life, it is worth it.”
Driving away that Friday, I thought of the long journey ahead for Anne and her family.
At first, you are in shock. You have been through a traumatic event. A psychotic break is like the foundation of your mental house cracking. Worse, there’s a pit underneath your house, and when that foundation breaks, your entire house falls into the pit and shatters into pieces.
Being sick is hard, but no stigma exists for cancer or heart disease. Not true for mental illness. Not only do you feel broken inside, but people you thought cared about you may back off and make excuses about why they can no longer be around you. They don’t understand why the medicines you’re on now slow you down, make you perpetually sleepy, cause dizziness and weight gain, or make you feel like someone you’re not. They don’t get that you’re trying to put the pieces of you back together again.
That return to wholeness involves grieving both what was and what is, with all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To be psychologically healthy, it is perfectly normal for you to go through this process. Yet, your process will be different from mine or someone else. NAMI programs are designed to walk you through the grief process. NAMI is a safe place to vent difficult, negative emotions.
At NAMI support group, you find a haven to vent your negative emotions. You relate with people like yourself who have lived through similar experiences. You hear stories of how other people have worked through the same kind of situations. You hear ideas and suggestions about how you can manage the often frustrating mental health system. And because you see people like yourself who are farther along in the journey, you start to have hope that you can make it through this difficult process. NAMI helps you to experience unconditional acceptance, realize you are not alone, and learn that negative emotions don’t have to own you.
If you are suffering in silence with a mental health condition, I want you to know, you are not alone. NAMI is here for you.
* Name has been changed to protect anonymity.
Originally published in the News Democrat on November 29, 2018.