Editor’s note: In recognition of National Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6-12, 2013), the Nevada County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has submitted the following opinions to The Union shared by its members, who requested they remain anonymous in sharing their stories.
My 25-year journey offers hope
Life was going good, raising four children who were happy and healthy.
Then, quite suddenly, our 17-year-old son, a reliable, good student with a part-time job, along with a girlfriend and a bank account, became someone, or something, else.
By the time he was 21, he had dropped out of college, was panhandling and living in the streets. Soon thereafter followed a DUI and new numbers for our telephone directory: law enforcement.
Family counseling lasted a few visits, and then after age 18, we, the parents, were “ex communicado” relating to our son’s life. The struggle and journey and tears continued, and then one evening, I attended a NAMI meeting. To my disbelief, the room was filled with similar stories from other parents of their beloved children.
After a year of crying and worthlessness, I decided it was time to take action, and I began the education of mental illness by becoming active in NAMI.
Along with this came my empowerment over the illness and some understanding of what was going on with this thing called schizophrenia and the realization that the dream for my son of an education, career, wife and family was reduced to being joyful that he got up and out of bed by noon … a true accomplishment!
And so to those just beginning this journey, do not let mental illness control your life and your loved one’s. Join our NAMI family of hope, support and recovery. NAMI is here to advocate for your loved one, to help educate and support you and fight the stigma of mental illness.
Everyone should understand mental illness; it does not need to be whispered about. It is a brain disease, and yes, there is treatment, amazing research, new medications, hope and lives being lived with “great expectations”.
We invite you to join our NAMI family; it is here for you. Call 530-272-4566 for information on our free educational programs and monthly support. It has been 25 years, and yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
It is so nice to be enjoying our son again.
Grateful for help family received
Before my son had a diagnosis for his mental illness or admitted he was ill, I sought advice for myself from a doctor.
I was told that several things were likely to happen if my son didn’t get help: a stay in a mental hospital, end up homeless, a stay in jail or death.
I saw an article in The Union about a group called NAMI and parent education classes. My husband and I signed up for the 12-week classes and were given guidance and friendship on our difficult journey. Our son had experienced all the doctor had warned me about except death.
With the help of Behavior Health and NAMI and Spirit Center, our son fought the good fight and was able to become stable enough to live on his own. Sadly he passed away in September 2012 from unknown causes. We are truly grateful for all the help our family received from the mental health community in Nevada County.
We learned we are not alone
Twenty years ago, just about this same time of year, my 23-year-old son moved home from Santa Cruz, where he’d been living for several years.
Within a short time, I could no longer blame his age or that he just hadn’t “found his footing” as the reason for his state of depression and loss. Our family physician prescribed an antidepressant, and within days, full-blown mania and delusions overtook my son. To say our family was devastated, fearful, confused and completely overwhelmed doesn’t describe it.
A staff member at the Behavioral Health Department in Nevada County gave me the phone number for NAMI Nevada County. The voice on the phone was like a lighthouse in the storm. She actually “got” what I was talking about. She didn’t judge us, she wasn’t shocked by the bizarre actions of my son, nor did she judge our family as being somehow responsible for the circumstances that we found ourselves in. She listened, reassured us that we weren’t in this alone and invited us to a NAMI meeting. NAMI is where hope was born for our family in this struggle. Through NAMI we learned to navigate the mental health care system and find resources to help our son.
I have been a member of NAMI for almost 20 years. I have been supported, educated and cared for by a group of people that I call my NAMI family. I moved from crisis, to acceptance, to advocacy and over the years have been blessed to meet some of the most caring, courageous people you could ever hope to call friends.
Now, 20 years later, my son is married to a lovely lady and is step-father to two delightful daughters. He works full time and is very active in his community and church. His recovery took more than 10 years and a lot of hard work. We are so grateful and so very proud of him. He is truly courageous.
Family to Family class members share thoughts
“Prior to this class I felt as though I was alone in the midst of my daughter’s bipolar hell. While my family attempted to be supportive, their ‘attitudes’ and ‘opinions’ toward a mental illness they knew nothing about caused me to question my own responses to my daughter. Their beliefs and shockingly at times, my own, allowed the following statements to dominate our thought processes in relating to my daughter:
“Her lack of motivation was because ‘she is lazy.’ Not true!
“Her outbursts are because she has ‘anger issues.’ Not true!
“Her jumping from one boyfriend to the next is because she is ‘sexually promiscuous.’ Not true!
“What is true is that she suffers from bipolar disorder, an illness that has racked her life since she was 17 years old, a diagnosis that unfortunately went undetected by the medical and mental health community until only recently. NAMI and the Family-to-Family Class has offered me hope, reassurances that I am not ‘in this alone,’ a place to safely share my story and sometimes cry.
“Please know that once our class has concluded, the binder of information that NAMI so generously provided will become my “go-to” guide when dealing with my daughter. I will reflect on what has been learned in our 2.5 hour sessions each week and I will know that ‘I can do this.’ I can be that source of strength that my daughter needs. I can be her advocate when others are not. I can be strong in the face of a mental illness that has robbed my daughter and me of so many years of ‘Growth,’ ‘Peace’ and ‘Security.’
“NAMI has given me a new GPS system and I plan to, God willing, stay the course.”
“NAMI Family to Family right away made us feel less alone and has provided great perspectives and reflections and has been a great reference for dealing with real-life situations that arise.”
“Family to Family and NAMI meetings have helped me through a stressful time while my sister was hospitalized and helped me continue to share my concern and understanding of what she’s going through and needs to do. Thank you. It kept me calm.”
“NAMI has helped me understand so much about mental illness and how it affects families.”
Peer-to-Peer class offers support
“Peer-to-Peer teaches in 10 weeks what it took me 20 years to figure out for myself.”
“The course presented a very powerful message. I am impressed with the entire curriculum. It included a lot of different tools for recovery while allowing for choice, which is important to me.”
“Great course. It gave me hope that I can change (even this late in life) and gives me some tools.”
“It helped me feel that I am not alone and helped me learn coping skills.”
“Being educated so thoroughly was great. It was helpful to hear about how others in the class have overcome and survived and been successful.”
For information check the http://naminevada county.org website. If you use Facebook, you can “Like” NAMI Nevada County at its Facebook page. Call NAMI Nevada County at 530-272-4566 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.