March 12, 2013

The remarkable thing about the NAMI Family Support Group is how relaxed it is. My sense of peace during the sessions probably stems from having attended only three sessions to date as a co-facilitator and, thus, from not having experienced the outbreak of raw emotion that likely occurs from time to time.

But I also credit Jeri Weeks, the lead facilitator, for the relaxed environment. She welcomes everyone, laughs a great deal, and encourages openness with forthright stories of her own life as mother of a man with schizophrenia.

In the bereavement support groups I once facilitated, in the NAMI Family Support Group, and also in the NAMI Family-to-Family class I currently attend, I have never failed to see a wonderful dynamic unfold. Many participants seem not to want to walk through the door on the evening of the first session; I among them. That’s obvious from the worried looks. By the third week, however, many come through the meeting room door smiling. It’s almost like clockwork, the camaraderie that takes hold over two weeks.

One of the most striking aspects of the support groups overall is, I think, humor. I expected and have seen tearfulness. I expected and have seen fear, frustration and sadness. What I didn’t expect was genuine laughter—a kind of delight—coming from people who are living with mystifying family relationships over which they sometimes have little control. That was a revelation to me. 

There are two reasons for my becoming a NAMI Family Support Group facilitator. The first is that my teenage daughter died by suicide in 1995. My need to talk about my daughter and her death was immense at the time, but almost no one was capable of sitting with me through the intensity. A support group would have been a safe place to be heard, so that is what I try to provide others as facilitator: a safe place to be heard.

The second reason is that I have a grown son with schizoaffective disorder who is living with my husband and me in a stable and good way. It is mostly concern for John Paul’s future that motivates me to help build the NAMI community.

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