Calen and I were delighted to be asked to open the NAMI convention this year, as we have so much respect for the positive impact NAMI has had on so many people’s lives, including ours. NAMI offers people living with mental illness and their friends and families both education about mental illness and hope for recovery. NAMI’s excellent educational resources can also be accessed by visitors to the BringChange2Mind website. I co-founded BringChange2Mind two years ago as a leading campaign focused on eradicating stigma around mental illness. Yet prior to this period of advocating for change, I was unaware of many of the signs of mental illness and was also deeply affected by self-stigma.
NAMI is the Alliance that helped me with my life and my son Calen’s life in the very beginning of our journeys to get well.
In my own life, mental illness played a crippling role, stripping me of my dreams. There were so many things I wanted to pursue, so many careers I started and had to stop because of my all consuming and destructive moods. Everything I wanted to work toward was inevitably destroyed; once humiliated I couldn’t go back.
I wasn’t diagnosed properly until I was 47 years old. I know I’ve been bipolar, untreated, for most of my life. I went through so many houses and cars that I lost count. I went through 5 husbands (it’s more difficult to lose count of husbands), three of which told me, “I just can’t take this anymore”. I don’t blame them and am not speaking of this for sympathy; I can certainly handle that all by myself.
I’m speaking of this to illustrate how difficult it is for those who are not mentally ill to truly understand those of us who are, and why they should attend NAMI’s Family to Family meetings. My last husband would tell me to my face, “I want you back”. What he meant was that he wanted my mania back, “just please bring back that person I love because I can’t stand the depressed, suicidal one.” I remember pounding him on his chest with my fists saying, “I’m right here! This is me too!” The manic me spoiled him. He loved the hyper-sexuality and the happy, giddy, person who greeted him at the end of the day with enough energy to cook dinner and clean up. He didn’t like the scared, sad wife who would crawl into our closet to hide, lying on our shoes. He didn’t like the empty shell of a woman who sat, staring at nothing, for days on end. Who would?
I encouraged him to attend NAMI meetings but he only went to one. He wanted nothing to do with understanding my dark side and actually only wanted the beginnings of mania, not the end part when I got irritable, angry and mean. It’s possible I chose husbands who wouldn’t understand because I felt such self-loathing inside my skin. I’ll never know the answer but I do know I no longer feel that self-loathing as intensely as I used to.
BringChange2Mind has partnered with NAMI on many NAMI Walks and as a founder of BC2M I am proud to see this alliance. NAMI is there for all of us and I must say that I think going to NAMI meetings to support a loved one should be prescribed along with the psychiatric medications we take. Sharing suffering makes for great friendships. I had a small but effective group in Bozeman, Montana to help me through the four stages of my Grief surrounding Calen’s illness: Denial, Anger, Acceptance, Advocacy.
The personal feel of NAMI gatherings, the hope held out to all who attend, the ability to make this huge organization touch the personal, to help and allow hope to ring true are what I am celebrating this month of NAMI’s Conference.