By Eliza Williamson
On a chilly day in the fall of 1992, I walked into the education building at Moravian College for the first of what would be thousands of times. It was my first class, aptly named Foundations in Education. The professor had already written two things on the blackboard in perfectly looped cursive:
I have never forgotten either, although the latter is really at the core of why I love being a NAMI teacher. NAMI embraces the idea of group wisdom in all facets. We believe that each participant brings with them a wealth of strengths and skills and experiences.
In NAMI classes there is not one qualified expert who shares their knowledge—there are many. In fact, the number of experts depends on the class roster: in our Leominster, Mass. NAMI Peer-to-Peer class we have 25 wise souls. In our class in Concord there are 15! Each week in class I witness group wisdom in action. It is exciting to see the support, validation and troubleshooting that flows organically between people with similar experiences. It is thrilling and energizing.
Twice a week this spring I have the opportunity to pay it forward in the hopes that my own knowledge will lessen the struggle for someone else. So on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I have empathy and support and my ninja-like coping skills at the ready. Sometimes I share, but the tools I use most are my ears. There is so much good stuff to take in. I have never left a class without a tidbit that made me think or a new strategy I wish I had thought of or a moment that solidified for me why I do this work. Every week, each class nourishes me.
As a writer, I believe stories save lives. As a NAMI Peer-to-Peer teacher, I watch it happen. Stories connect us; they tether us; they offer hope; they make us laugh. Stories give us perspective and give words to the unsaid and remind us we are not alone.
In all NAMI classes, personal experience is revered. We know that the very act of telling your story is hopeful. By putting pain and suffering in context we see that it is one piece of your life, not the entirety. Whenever people share their stories in class, a palpable shift takes place. When a person gives voice to the dark parts of life—the places where shame and fear and loneliness fester—it gets lighter.
The storyteller shares and the group listens and it is healing. A burden is lifted from the teller. Things aren't as heavy when you have help holding them.
It is a process that is as simple as it is profound: I am here, maybe I am OK, but I am not alone. Those moments, really are magic; it’s a little piece of magic called NAMI.
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