Last week I attended a class presented by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The twelve-week course, called Family to Family, is designed to help family members of someone living with a mental health condition.
I’m taking the course because my daughter and I have experienced panic attacks. I volunteer with NAMI and want to gain a better understanding of the programs they offer.
There was a mix of parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, and other family members in attendance. They’re desperate for help, desperate for answers. Their loved ones have different mental health issues. Bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and others.
One of the topics was how stigma affects us. Some shared how they’ve hidden their loved one’s problems and how they try to pretend the issues don’t exist. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Shame and embarrassment seem to affect us all.
As people spoke about their challenges, I noticed a common thread.
Their outward appearances didn’t hint to the deep turmoil in their lives. If I weren’t in that room with them, I’d never know they carried around so much pain.
I kept thinking how these men and women are in my community. If I met any one of them in the grocery store, out for a walk, or at a sporting event, I’d be oblivious to the suffering they endure.
However, I was just about to find out that I actually did know one of them.
As I looked around the room, one man looked familiar. But I couldn’t place where I’d seen him. During the break, he came up to me and introduced himself. Oh, of course, I know you. He’s a business acquaintance of mine and my husband’s. I’ve always thought of him as calm, happy, and easy-going. I’d never guess he’d been having severe challenges with a family member.
The thing is — we just never know. And all the more reason to be compassionate.
This meeting reinforced the fact that we’re not alone. Everyone has difficulties. And there’s comfort in knowing we’re in this together.
First image courtesy of here
Second image courtesy of here