The first time I tried to take my life my mother rushed to my side. After four years of more attempts than I can remember she stood by me as I lay on a gurney in the ER, strapped down after trying to escape, and said, “There’s nothing more I can do for you.” She put her hand on my forehead for a brief moment and then left the hospital. This may sound heartless and uncaring but it was a day that I will always remember. It was the day that I began taking personal responsibility for my recovery from bipolar disorder.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1994 my family was lost. Somehow my father, mother and older sister discovered a NAMI Affiliate and began to find their way to hope. Through NAMI members’ help and support my mother found a way to “let go” in the wee hours of that summer morning in 1998. That is their story to tell. For my part I was still lost and adrift on the turbulent waters of mental illness but in her leaving I realized that I was never truly alone. I began to wonder, “What is this group called NAMI and what have they done to my family?” I learned that NAMI members reached out to me, through my family, when I did not even know they existed. They helped my mother navigate the maze of the mental health system which in turn enabled me to survive, even sometimes clinging to the hem of Death’s robe. There was no miracle, no “This-is-when-I-recovered-from-mental-illness moment,” only long hours of plodding through the darkness with glimmers of hope’s light to guide me. Suicide attempts became fewer and farther between while times of laughter, love and growth stretched out like a road to wellness.
As I grew stronger in managing my illness I realized that I wanted to give back to those who aided me and to the organization that made such a positive impact on my and my family’s lives. I began volunteering as a trained crisis worker for my county’s Hotline and eventually approached my local NAMI affiliate seeking additional volunteer opportunities. I was stunned when they offered me a paid position as their office administrator. It was the first time I had been steadily employed since the “crash and burn” of 1994. The satisfaction and learning opportunities of attending board meetings, support groups, and managing day to day operations was overwhelming, I can never repay those dear friends for their constant support and encouragement.
Where would I be without NAMI? I shudder to think.
From that NAMI Affiliate I have moved on to enjoy the privilege of participating in NAMI C.A.R.E training, In Our Own Voice instruction, Peer to Peer classes, and now serve as a co-facilitator for my neighborhood NAMI Connection group. My new NAMI Affiliate (I moved to Pennsylvania from Maryland in 1999) has embraced me and called me their own. They sponsored me when I attended a training to become a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) Facilitator and they sit with me at the same table during meetings with our county’s MH Administration. I have worked for our county’s Warm Line for eight years and I am currently the Peer Leader. NAMI Cumberland/Perry invites me to their support groups to speak about and demonstrate this valuable service. Where would I be without NAMI? I shudder to think.