Volunteering is a Necessity | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Volunteering is a Necessity

By Marian McKenzie

I'm just a mom advocating for my son with as much passion as I can muster...

My son became ill when he was a first-year student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California in 2013. I was beyond devastated. One thing I did to ease my tortured soul was to serve a meal to the homeless in Santa Barbara. I figured my son would most likely be homeless one day so I might as well get to know these people. Although, it has been a couple of months since I've served a meal, I am still friends with many of these wonderful people and they keep their eye out for my son occasionally texting me that he is playing the piano in front of Starbucks or hanging out at the farmers market. 

We've all heard it before. "Volunteer, and you’ll get more out than you put in." How is that possible? It makes absolutely no sense but in the end, it would be an understatement for me. I have truly gotten so much more out of volunteering than I contributed. The relationships that I've made along the way have paved a way for my son to get the help he needs, such as a room in a group home with wraparound care. And not only has my son prospered because of the support he has received but I've learned to heal and blossom to the point where it doesn't hurt to take a breath any more. I can wake up in the morning looking forward to how much I can accomplish instead of just pulling the blankets over my head and making plans to stay there for the next ten years. Knowing that others are supporting me makes me not feel alone in this war.

Teaching a NAMI Family-to-Family class and facilitating a weekly family support group has also given me the strength to keep going and keep researching and most of all, keep hoping. Hope is everything. 

Although, some days I find myself lost in thought as I drive through my town. We have a one-way street that has about eight stop lights that are timed at 25 mph that lead to my fulltime job. If you drive the speed limit you can turn off your brain and slowly traverse the city. I know I'm in trouble when I get to the stop sign at the end of the lights and just stay there. There are no red lights, no one honking to get my attention. Everybody in the intersection has compassion and understanding as to why I can't make myself move forward. Maybe all are lost in thought. Those trips across town give me time to evaluate where my heart is at that moment and how much I can handle. And in the end, I try to point my car to the place that needs the most help. I don’t always get there. Sometimes I pull over on the side of the road, sob for a minute, wipe my tears, then move on to the place that will heal my broken heart.

I've had some wild adventures with my mentally ill son that exhaust me but I keep volunteering because I don't know if that next interaction will be with the director of our local recovery residential program, or a mom that feeds my son a meal on a lonely day, or a fireman that bandages his skateboarding wounds, or an arresting policeman with CIT training. I believe my motivation for volunteering is that I’m lazy and selfish. I know that makes no sense but I can't be there for my son all the time. I need time to refurbish my soul. I'm not a case worker, housing specialist, psychologist or psychiatrist. I'm just a mom advocating for my son with as much passion as I can muster and dragging the entire town along with me.


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