As I awoke, unusually early for a Saturday, I felt a bit nauseated. I was approaching, what I considered, a challenging weekend. You see, for some time now I have dealt with mild social anxiety. It has become especially difficult for me since CJ’s challenges have gotten harder. I have come to the conclusion that it is directly connected to CJ’s diagnosis. My theory is that, for most people, home is routine, home is monotonous and they look outside their door to find something to spice up their life or to experience something different in their world. For us, life at home is unpredictable. When I wake up each morning, I have no idea what to expect from my day. When you live like that, who wants to face even more unpredictable situations outside your door? Not me. I tend to stick to what I know…….the stores I shop at, the restaurants I eat at and the friends I spend time with. Putting myself into new situations can sometimes make me physically ill.
For the past year and a half, my husband, Michael, and I have been a part of a family support group for caregivers that is part of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) organization. It has proven very helpful for us and we have a nice group of people locally that I am very comfortable with. In an effort to help others, we had decided to sign up to train as facilitators so we would have more people able to run the meetings in the event that someone was ill or out-of-town. I didn’t think much of it when we initially inquired about the training. Last week, we received an email that there was a training class happening about an hour from where we lived and they had an opening. So, there I was, Saturday morning, nauseated and driving along hwy 20 feeling like I was going to be sick. Little did I know that this weekend would not only be full of new challenges….but give me a lot of insight on how lucky I am.
A-ha moment #1:
Throughout the weekend, our training was filled with scenarios and role-playing that reflected many situations that families with mentally ill loved ones deal with. It wasn’t like I didn’t know all of these situations happen…..but the fact that they were written into a training class somehow made me feel different than just hearing it in a support group. I have met people in similar situations that have gone through what we go through regularly and it is always comforting to know that there is someone out there like you. What hit me this weekend, with this training class, was that there isn’t just ‘someone’ out there like me….there are so many people out there living in these situations that they created a training scenario about it. I don’t know why it took this class for me to come to that realization.
A-ha moment #2:
By lunchtime on the first day of training, my nausea was gone and I was quite comfortable with everyone in the room. Feeling included with other people has always been hard for me. Even as a teenager, I didn’t feel as though I was ever a ‘part’ of a group. I had friends and was acquaintances with many people in many different ‘cliques’, but was never a true part of any specific one of those cliques. Even with family, I can sit at a dinner table and feel as though I am not seen or heard. I have just always been so much better one on one than in a group. I am quickly finding that I can feel at ease quickly with just about everyone I have met through NAMI. I don’t know if it is because we all have a story, we all have a life that others may judge…..so we don’t judge each other. It’s like a permanent ‘safe zone’. From my regular support group, to the NAMI walk, to this training class, even though I have started out nervous, I have felt comfortable pretty quickly. Kind of like a fraternity or sorority, you can meet someone new, find out that they are involved in NAMI and there is an immediate bond and understanding. It may have taken me until the age of 39….but I think I have found my ‘group’.
A-ha moment #3:
One of the topics that came up a few times this weekend was the fact that NAMI helps so many people feeling lost and lonely after losing friends and family that don’t understand what you go through when you are caring for someone who is mentally ill. This was brought up on Saturday in conversation, but I didn’t think about it much in the context of my own life. Saturday evening, after class was done, I had planned on spending the night at my best friend’s house as she lives close to where the class was being held. I got there at 5pm and we started talking…..I don’t think our conversation ended until we fell asleep at 2:30am. I love nights like that with her, where we can talk about anything and everything, but I think I sometimes take for granted how lucky I am that I have a friend like that. In the car the next day, I started thinking about the fact that she has been in my life and CJ’s life since he was a baby. One of my other best friends has been a part of our lives since before he was born. They are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. As I thought about it more and more, I realized that I have not lost anyone in my life due to CJ’s illness the way that so many others have. At first I thought it was because I am lucky that my friends accept CJ’s illness. As my drive home wore on I changed my mind as to why. I think it has more to do with my acceptance of CJ’s illness. I have never hidden our struggle. There may not be many people in our lives, but most of them have been on this journey with us. They don’t just know the good, happy, parts of our lives…they know all of it. They share the highs and lows with us. If anything, my vocalization of our life has brought more people into my world. The more people, the bigger the support system. I have gained better friendships with people from high school, people from church, people from social media….heck I even now have a friend overseas that I consider a part of my support system. I don’t think I would have been able to have gained such a great group of people and surrounded my family in so much love if I hadn’t been willing to accept CJ’s illness and educate others. This realization has made me feel like, somewhere along the way, I made a few good decisions in how I handled the challenges life has thrown at us.
So after 2 exhausting and emotional days……..with a long night of girl talk sandwiched in-between, I am now a certified NAMI Family Support group facilitator. I am also now planning on training to be a NAMI Basics class teacher, to help other parents of kids and teens understand more about mental illness and navigating the educational and health care systems. This weekend has taught me that I still have a lot to learn…..but at least I can take what I do know and help others in the best way I know how.
To get more information about NAMI or to find a support group in your area, please go to