5/16/2013 4:16:00 PM 'In Our Own Voice' event is one
opportunity to learn about mental illness
by DENISE MARTIN
by DENISE MARTIN In the wake of mass shootings in places like Aurora and Newtown, where perpetrators lived in the shadows of mental illness, there ‘s been renewed public dialogue about how this nation deals with people who have mental illness. Congress, including Sen. Al Franken, is asking how to make it easier to detect and treat mental illness (see Opinion page.) There’s also a number of bills that have been introduced (that may or may not get passed) in the state legislature aimed at access to mental healthcare in Minnesota.
But, when people who live with mental illness are asked how best to go about building a more secure and in-sync society-- the key lies in the hands of the individual taking charge of his or her life. May is national mental health month, and last week at the North Branch Library two brave area women spoke publicly about their mental health journey. It’s a tough step to take, admitting you need help. Discovering your way is not always easy. As volunteers with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, they are part of the “In Our Own Voice” series. NAMI puts a human face on mental illness partly through interacting with the public in programs like the one last week in North Branch. “Morgan” is a funky personality who, based on first impressions, you’d think she was a creative professional or maybe studying to be one. “Louise” is grey haired and has an acerbic wit. Her body language is that of a strong-willed person, and she’s a good public speaker. (She was formerly a teacher at a community college.)
Morgan lives with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Louise deals with rapid cycling bi-polar 2. From 2004 to 2010 Louise was hospitalized 16 times. It took Morgan five years to get through high school. She remembers she behaved obsessively even as a pre-schooler, storing away personal items like toys in very specific order. She took illegal drugs as a teen to overcome her anxieties and sense of doom. She explained, “People asked me what are you so sad about?” She told them she didn’t know. The audience of 12 people or so sits riveted when Louise speaks of a dark day when she sat in her car, with her 4-year-old son, clear in her mind on a plan to kill both of them. Until her diagnosis and treatment she was depressed all the time. Morgan finally got into therapy and developed a relationship with trusted mental healthcare providers, but until that point she felt ashamed. “I thought I should have been able to fix this myself,” she thought.
Shame leads to isolation, and from there it’s not much of a leap to alienation. Both speakers said there are certain things you must do if you feel at all that you might be struggling with a mental illness: ~ Accept that you have an illness and seek help. Louise explained that once she had a diagnosis it was “the start of my recovery.” ~ Get treatment. Both women say their medications and behavioral therapies have made them able to live a life that’s enjoyable. ~ Learn coping skills to de-stress. Get a hobby. Read. Keep a routine in your life. Morgan carries portable ice packs she can set on top of her eyelids to alleviate the intensity of her emotions. Volunteering for NAMI is also a coping skill. When you volunteer it takes the emphasis off yourself, Louise explained. As NAMI’s Volunteer of the Year last year Louise was facilitating support groups in the Chisago and Isanti County area, and she continues to do this. Readers are encouraged to learn more about NAMI.
See namihelps.org or call 651-645-2948, or 1-888-NAMI-HELPS. To get somebody into treatment Morgan says they have to be on-board. Be supportive, bring them reading materials and brochures about programs like NAMI. Let them know that acceptance of their illness is the only way to get started. Morgan added that part of her success is that she forces herself to engage in the very situations and activities that used to paralyze her with fear. Louise said she went through way too much of her life wanting to “...change the direction of the wind.” In therapy she learned to “change the tilt of the sail” instead.