Last night Tim and I had the honor/privilege/opportunity/blessing to attend a weekly family support group affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The funny thing is: I'd NEVER heard of NAMI before this week, even though we've dealt with mental illness for a very long time.
From one of their brochures:
"NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI has over 1,100 affiliates in communities across the country who engage in advocacy, research, support, and education. Members of NAMI are families, friends, and people living with mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder."
Tweet: Did you know 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has a mental health condition? Find support at www.NAMI.org #mentalhealth #mentalillness #NAMI
We have a precious loved one who has recently been diagnosed with psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD. He suffers from delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and psychotic episodes. All different kinds of things set off triggers for him - triggers we are just now learning about. Life with him is a roller coaster, yet I can't and won't ever, ever, ever give up on him. We know the Ultimate Healer, the Great Physician, and we pray for his healing. But if God chooses not to heal him here on earth, we pray for wisdom in navigating this journey, wisdom to know how to help him best so that he can lead a functional, healthy, happy, productive life once again.
Last night, we gained more knowledge about this journey we're on, and we gained some new friends. We learned that - just like alcoholism - this is a disease we're dealing with, this is an illness. They stressed the importance of not labeling the person AS mentally ill, but rather as HAVING a mental illness. There's only a slight difference in the words, but a huge difference in concept.
Tweet: Mental illness doesn't discriminate based on race, gender, identity or age. Be #StigmaFree www.nami.org/stigmafree #mentalhealth #mentalillness
The group is similar to other support groups like AA, Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous. The meetings are conducted with an order, sharing stories, providing hope and encouragement for everyone else with great respect and camaraderie.
Tim said the thing that surprised him most was to hear story after story that reflected our own. We are not alone on this journey, and although it's heart-breaking to know so many are affected by mental illness, it's a comfort to know that there are others on the same path who have already learned how to cope and handle the day-to-day issues that come up.
Tweet: I'm inspired to build better lives for those affected by mental illness. I'm #StigmaFree. Are you? www.nami.org/stigmafree #mentalhealth #mentalillness
Mental illness doesn't go away with a simple prescription. Mental illness is a life-long journey of trials and errors, medication and treatment "dances" as one of my new friends put it last night. What works for one patient or one family may not work for another.
Yesterday, I had my first glimmer of hope in this ordeal. The caseworker began to talk long-term goals. Long-term. This is the first time anyone has talked the long-term, because for years, everyone else has just been concerned about getting us out of the current crisis. But to hear that someone is advocating now for long term goals - looking at the future instead of just slapping a bandage on temporarily - the news gave me such hope.
I know the battle isn't over. But we're more equipped with knowledge and support than we've ever been.
If you have loved ones who suffer from mental illness, I encourage you to hunt for your nearest NAMI group and GO to their meetings. Get involved. Help end the stigma associated with mental illness and help our loved ones get the help they need to function again.
Over the coming days and weeks, I'll write more about our journey and about NAMI's role in our lives.
I'd love to hear from you if you're walking this road, too. Know you're not alone. And that there is HOPE.
Hope and Tough Love