My Journey From Isolation to Connection

By Fletcher Mann | Aug. 29, 2018

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon in April 2007 and I was still in bed in my pajamas, balled up in a tight fetal position with a pain in my heart and a knot in my stomach that would not go away. It had been like this for months.

For 14 years, I had dealt with major depression, bipolar disorder type II and anxiety. But things had become particularly bad these past several years—a public and humiliating job loss, a sudden and traumatic divorce, my father’s death and another job loss.

I went to bed at night praying that I wouldn’t wake up and woke up every morning wishing I hadn’t. I was seeing a therapist several times a week and a psychiatrist every three weeks. We were doing all we could to get me out of the downward spiral I was in, but the pain had become more than I could bear.

That day in April, the doorbell and phone had rung several times, but I didn’t move. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. Finally, I got up to retrieve the day’s newspaper from the front stoop. I discovered a half-page listing of support groups. “Support groups for individuals living with mental illness and their families. Call NAMI Greenville, SC,” caught my eye.

My medical providers had not known of any peer support groups. So what was NAMI, I wondered. I called their office and found that there was a support group meeting in a few days, and that I was welcome to attend. I thought, “Why not go? What have I got to lose?” Actually, I knew exactly what I had to lose if this didn’t work.

So, I got up my courage, drove to the meeting location, and walked into my first NAMI Connection meeting. I found nine other people dealing with similar issues, working on coping skills and supporting one another to get through the week. It was safe and everyone knew to let me come out of my shell slowly. So, I attended meetings as often as they offered them. It turned out to be the start of a new life for me.

I willingly accepted their offer to take a NAMI Peer-to-Peer education course. The peer mentors led a small group through 10 weekly sessions to learn about our conditions, possible treatments and coping skills, trigger management and how to prepare for bad days. 

Fellow peers and I built a support network that carried into volunteering for the NAMI Greenville affiliate office, attending NAMIWalks and drinking coffee together at a nearby café. My peers even taught me about patient-assistance programs and a free medical clinic that helped cut back the staggering costs of my mental health care.

One day, as I followed our affiliate executive director down the hall, I insisted for the third time that we needed weekly NAMI Connection meetings. She turned on her heel and, with a smile, said, “Then get the training to be a facilitator!” What had my mouth—famous for costing me jobs—gotten me into this time? It was time for me to start helping others. So, I became a NAMI Connection facilitator.

I was nervous to run my first group, but I found that everyone was rooting for me—partly for the fact that the success of a NAMI Connection meeting was just as important to their health as it was to mine. And “success” is simply knowing that you are not alone and leaving feeling better than when you came in. Once I got the hang of it, I learned a new program: NAMI In Our Own Voice (IOOV). 

With IOOV, two people with lived experience tell their journeys from dark days to successes. Teams go to local psychiatric hospitals to offer hope to patients and families. Seeing looks of acknowledgment and sadness, and then hope, followed by handshakes and thanks, is an affirmation of the good we’re doing. 

Slowly, step by step, a meaningful, purposeful rhythm developed: receive support, listen, learn, provide support and teach others. Through NAMI’s peer-led programs, I went from praying that I would not wake up in the morning to praying that I would help someone the next morning.

 

Fletcher Mann is a NAMI In Our Own Voice Presenter, State Trainer, and National Trainer; NAMI Connection Facilitator and State Trainer; and NAMI Peer-to-Peer Mentor. He received National’s 2014 NAMI In Our Own Voice Leadership Award and NAMI South Carolina’s 2010 Recovery Member of the Year. He lives in Greenville, SC, has remarried, seen his two children blossom and welcomed two grandchildren into the world.

 



We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.

Comments
Dean Hoffmann
I am reaching out and praying a lot. I have struggled with bipolar disorder for most of
My 55 years of age. Recently I had a gradual slide into depression and a big separation from the love of
My life. I had a temper tantrum And threw a few things Not
Too bad but bad enough to scare my beloved Lisa ..... I did not catch the slide into depression and she didn’t know enough to help me or did I explain it to her how ..... this has hurt me so much it has completely changed me ... for many weeks I did not
Leave the house or my bedroom .... I see why some pastors think this is demon possession I watched some you tube videos and experienced their sermons .... I am still alive. Completely humbled and quiet. I was able to leave my bedroom and stay with Jane a good friend of mine who knows what happens to me I thank the lord for the love he has given me with Lisa we had it all happyness and contentment for nearly two years. What a gift
I feel so ashamed of my emotional outburst and illness. Suicide is on my mind much of the time. I pray to the lord for help and forgiveness and thank him for Lisa. The good thing is a love like that in my heart is priceless but I may not be able to have the same relationship again
I am so broken hurt sad material things mean nothing to me
I have not been able to commit suicide because it really scares me. Life hurts so much that I almost was pushed to killing myself many times
Just could not do it. So I am stuck In between this unrelenting pain of
Life and fear of death. Yet I thank the lord and say aloud and in prayer the blessings that have been given to me over the years
I pray much of
The time and ask for a
Bit of
Reprieve and healing
I welcome and replies
With love to all of
You and all the earth. Dean


My
9/23/2018 9:30:30 PM

Miriam Dixon
I totally agree with Margaret Kelly. Praise God for your move forward, Fletcher.
9/19/2018 5:56:19 PM

Miriam Dixon
I totally agree with Margaret Kelly The Lord moved your spirit to get out of bed and find the support listings in the newspaper which prompted you to MOVE FORWARD in recovery and begin a new life.
9/19/2018 5:54:52 PM

Joan
I need help.
9/11/2018 9:21:13 PM

Chrissa
This gives me hope. All the support groups are far from me. So I’m hoping I can find one close to me someday.
9/11/2018 8:08:41 PM

Lizanne Corbit
This is one of the most helpful and life-changing patterns we can experience: "receive support, listen, learn, provide support and teach others." I am so glad that you were able to have this experience and shared it with others. Thank you for sharing your story!
9/4/2018 7:21:26 PM

Margaret Kelly
Good Morning Fletcher, I am so glad you can look forward to the morning again. Your story is an inspiration and your actions even more so, thank you for sharing and giving so much of yourself.
I believe in miracles and I believe yours was getting yourself out of bed to pick up the newspaper that day to find exactly what you needed to move forward in recovery and start a new life.
8/30/2018 7:49:35 AM