NAMI - Mental Illness Support Group
Yesterday I went to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support group meeting. I went to support someone dear to me who has been recently diagnosed with mental illness.
I honestly didn’t think I’d get anything out of the meeting. I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for quite a while. I’ve done loads of research, taken a variety of medications, seen therapists, talked to friends who also struggle with mental health conditions… I figured there’s nothing they can say that will be helpful to me because I’m already a self-proclaimed expert.
I was so wrong.
When we arrived (ten minutes late, which already had me slightly anxious) I had a mild panic attack walking through the door. The small room was full. There was a circle of about 20 people sitting in chairs, with only one chair open. My heart started racing and the room seemed to shrink before my eyes. I went with three people – my security blanket. There was only one free chair. Chances were, I was going to be separated from them, and I didn’t like it. Hello, social anxiety!
They brought in two more chairs – I at least got to keep half of my security blanket, though that was quickly taken away when another latecomer showed up. They gave everyone a list of rules and things you could expect to take away from the meeting. We went around the room, reading off the rules. Social anxiety whomped me on the head. Not only was I in a small room full of people, I was going to have to speak! Goodbye, dreams of being a wallflower and only observing!
A little self-talk helped there – reading a line from a list isn’t too terribly bad. I can deal with that. However, that small comfort was fleeting. Once we were done with the rules (including arrive on time – hello, shame) we then took turns introducing ourselves, naming our mental illnesses, and telling everyone a little about ourselves. I survived. I even made them laugh when I said having to wait to speak to them all was torture. I was comforted by the fact that the vast majority of them also suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I’m not a freak!
Being surrounded by other people who are like me is such a wonderful feeling. I have friends with a variety of mental illnesses. Most of them say they understand me and don’t judge me, and I believe them.
Sometimes, though, people say they understand and then make comments that show maybe they don’t really understand, they’re just being nice. Or, they just think they understand. The stories these people told – from the relief of being diagnosed, to dealing with the stigma of mental illness, struggling with medications, and how their illnesses have shaped their lives – they were all so close to my own story. At several points during this hour-long meeting, I realized I had tears in my eyes because I was so happy to be surrounded by people who truly understand me and what I go through.
I even piped up a few times and contributed to the conversation. Yay me!
I left the meeting with a feeling of hope that I didn’t even realize I was missing. I’m looking forward to meeting with these people again and to continue learning how others deal with their mental illnesses. I’m most excited to see what I can do to help.
If you would like to learn more about NAMI, check out their website: http://nami-bc.org/