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Anyone familiar with mental illness knows that recovery is not a singular event, but a multi-dimensional, multi-linear journey characterized more by the mindset of the one taking it than by his or her condition at any given moment along the way. Understanding recovery as having several dimensions, makes its uneven course easier to accept. Much as we don't blame the cancer patient for dying of invasive tumors, we can't condemn a consumer whose symptoms overtake his or her best efforts to manage illness. Recovery is the point in someone's illness in which the illness is no longer the first and foremost part of his or her life, no longer the essence of all his or her existence. Ultimately, recovery is about attitude and making the effort.
In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness (formerly known as Living with Schizophrenia and Other Mental Illnesses) is a program focused on spreading the message of recovery by living examples. It provides hope and opportunity to both the audience and the presenters. The following testimonials are examples of the impact this program has had in helping to foster a more positive attitude towards mental illnesses.
From consumers . . .
"When I signed up to attend the Living with Schizophrenia and Other Mental Illnesses (LWS&OMI) training to become a presenter, I was very fearful. During the training weekend, I felt very inadequate and self-conscious. The idea of standing up in front of people was terrifying. I thought there was no way I could ever do these presentations. Well, guess what? I am doing presentations in a lot of places, and I get so much out of it. Beforehand, I am very tense and stressed, but how I feel afterwards is incredible. At the training, I felt real lonely, but getting out of myself and trying to give to others has changed my life. The most important thing is that maybe I can at least give one person in the group a little hope. LWS&OMI has helped my recovery in huge ways. I have even received kind cards and letters from the audience. I now have more security in my recovering life with my mental illness, my sobriety, and my eating disorder. People have really stuck with me. I am oh, so grateful, and I hope I can give a little back to all the special people who have helped me. It sure is scary getting up in front of others, but the feeling of gratitude I feel afterwards is so worth it. Thanks to my family, my doctors and counselors, and most of all to God for bringing NAMI into my path. For the first time in my life, I have a dream. I want to work with people who have a mental illness. I even have some hope. Thanks to you all!"
"The LWS&OMI outreach program has done far more for Robert Qualls and I than we ever anticipated. Robert and I go into a place with the idea that we are going to spend up to one hour sharing our stories about recovery. We thing we are going to go and impact someone's life. We think we are going to make a difference. Don't misunderstand me, we have done all those things and more. Robert and I have found that each time we walk away from a presentation, someone in the audience has impacted our lives as well. Someone who had listened to us turned around and put into our lives. They did this with a handshake, a word of encouragement, or a smile. Our stories have come close to home for several people. They could relate with Robert and I because they are going through where we have already been. Most of all we realized that there is something deeper happening. There is something more happening than what we share. There is a stirring of the heart. There is an impact going on between that person's soul, heart, and mind. It is a look on their faces that tells us of this impact. It is not that look that a person gets when a light bulb goes on. It is a look that says, 'Wow I didn't know that there was hope, wow I didn't know I could be successful, wow I don't have to live like this anymore!' It has been an awesome privilege for both of us serving and educating the community on recovery and mental illness. Thank you to all those places we have visited. We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with you. Thank you for impacting our lives."
"[This] program shows the hope in recovery if we use all the tools available today and work toward that goal."
"I have been through the dark times. I am glad that I belong to a behavioral health center to help me cope, and even though I just volunteer some and do activities I feel like I have success."
"I want to be a presenter and help people like me - I want to get on with my life."
"The advice I learned about how to structure my day and having a positive attitude helps me realize what I can become. I hope this program reaches each and every consumer." VA audience member
From family . . .
"As the parents of a young woman who has struggled with mental illness and the myriad challenges that come with brain disorders, we would like to applaud NAMI for Living with Schizophrenia and Other Mental Illnesses. Our daughter's involvement in this program has provided her with an internal sense of pride she's never before experienced. Last February, Kamala was invited to a weekend training to learn about this program. Think of it - to commit to a whole weekend. And she showed up. And she stayed! We were proud of her just for that. That was only the beginning. Kamala was then asked to speak to consumers and professional staff members of hospital programs, family members, and even to go to Sacramento to meet with our political representatives. She not only showed up again for everything, but came away from these experiences feeling that she could touch people's lives in a positive way. She found that ten staff members asked her for advice. Imagine, educated professionals asking a consumer - who had been through years of institutionalization and two terms of conservatorship in a locked facility - what she thought. What an empowering experience! And empowerment is a feeling not often felt by many of our loved ones. The highlight for us as parents was sitting in the front row at the NAMI convention in San Diego while Kamala shared her experience with this special program. The pride in our eyes was blurred by our tears of joy as we listened to her so openly and honestly share from her heart. Her message is clear: Don't ever give up! Our message as parents is just as clear: Don't ever give up!!" the loving parents of Kamala Castle, Bob and Barbara Castle
"I didn't believe my son could have any quality of life." Parent in MO
From professionals . . .
"It helped me think about what consumers on my caseload may be going through." Professional, San Diego, CA
"It gives insight into how the outsider misjudges the situation."
"This was a very enlightening session for me. It makes me more sensitive to individuals with mental illnesses." D.J.J. worker, Baltimore, MD
"This presentation validated my professional goals in mental health services."
"This program provided me with additional tools for my clients." Social Worker
From Others . . .
"Encouraging to know there are brave, courageous people in this world who are strong enough to overcome their life obstacles." Anonymous, MO
"It is great when a person can get help to overcome something that the general public does not or cannot see." Anonymous, SD
"I did not know people could be so severely 'disturbed' and still recover before I heard this presentation." Student, Springfield, MO
Willingness to share personal stories made these illnesses real to me." Nursing student, AZ
"Breaks the stereotype that clients with mental illnesses are 'goalless' or 'not motivated'." Nursing student, AZ
"I have a friend diagnosed with depression - this helps me understand what she is going through." High school student, MO
"It really opened my eyes to what some people have to go through and now I have a new perspective on the way I look at this." High school student, MOA final note . . .
"Presenting LWS, as we have nicknamed the program, has been therapeutic for me. The presentation reminds me of where I was, how far I've come, and that I am still living with mental illnesses. I guess the best way to describe what working again, after initially feeling trapped, really means to me is a story I stumbled upon:
Two men were fishing in a creek. One man noticed that every time the other guy caught a fish, he would measure it with a small stick he had in his pocket. This confused the first fisherman, so he asked the purpose of the stick. The second fisherman said the stick was the size of his frying pan, and any fish that was larger he threw back because he knew it wouldn't fit.
The fish, for me, represent opportunities for growth. The frying pan represents self-imposed limitations. Working again has meant learning to get larger frying pans, and since I've been working for NAMI and the LWS program, my frying pans just keep getting bigger and bigger." Royal Riddick, Program Coordinator, Baltimore, MD
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