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My first NAMI visit

Lorna Ross

I had not idea what to expect at my first visit to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) meeting. I didn't know if there would be people sitting around talking to themselves while twirling their hair in a nervous manner or someone having a conversation with a corner of the room.

After all, my illness is anxiety so I worry about this type of thing. I figured it would be OK since this meeting was put on by Ellsworth Library Director Tiffany Meyer. She seems to pick awesome activities. This meeting was held at the Senior Center, which passess the expert judgment of Carol Peterson, the Senior Center's Activities Director. I was impressed not only by what I heard but what I didn't see.

NAMI stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. I only know that from reading "Fast Girl" by Suzy Favor-Hamilton, who was a classmate who went from Olympic runner to mental illness spokesperson. I always liked Suzy, so when she mentioned NAMI I had to Google it. NAMI provides support for individuals with mental illness of all types, and their families.

This NAMI group is based out of the St. Croix Valley (River Falls), but there are hundreds of NAMI chapters throughout the country. NAMI also provides family support for those living with someone who has a mental illness.

Living or working with someone who has a mental illness is far from easy to cope with! At least when you live with someone you most likely care enough about them to understand their illness. When you work with someone who obviously has some sort of mental disorder, you may be afraid to say the wrong thing and offend them. Why should you have to understand?

NAMI provided a free presentation at the library called "In Our Own Voice," conducted by two individuals who took turns sharing their stories following the guide of a DVD program assembled by NAMI. I this particular program, the DVD aired testimonials by individuals under the categories: Dark Days, Acceptance, Treatment, Coping Skills and Success-Hope-Dreams. They were then discussed by the two presenters.

In the video a good-looking younger man spoke about coping with being bi-polar, while another spoke of personality disorder and mood swings. To hear first hand a recovering alcoholic's story and the life of a schizophrenic was eye-opening. They spoke honestly and openly. I was pleased to witness a structured program, no name tags and the ability to ask questions after the program. Mostly I was happy that I had more questions!

Questions keep us learning and listening to others can create understanding for not only ourselves, but others too. Mental illness is a learning process like anything else worth the effort. I owe it to myself to understand my mental illness so I can be the person I really am, that person my husband married, and become more aware of others' actions.

At this meeting I saw and met everyday people, talking, eating, listening and learning. Nobody had to reveal why they were present and nobody told an "I story" except for the presenters. My first visit to the therapist was the beginning of a process; my first visit to a NAMI meeting I'm sure too is the beginning of a process. I look forward to more visits, answers to my questions and maybe even becoming a presenter because writing and talking seems to be part of my therapy.

On a side note, to those 20-some people present, good for you! You're not alone.

To learn more about your local NAMI chapter, visit