You've been reading a lot about my participation in NAMI's In Our Own Voice (IOOV) presentations lately. NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the United States largest grassroots organization that educates, advocates, and does research for people living with mental illness and for the people that love them. It's a wonderful organization that does a lot of good for lots of people. I have been familiar with what NAMI does since 2009 when I started attending their support group for consumers. After a year I became a facilitator for the same support group and now I mainly speak to different groups, telling them my recovery story, and I show them a NAMI video that re-enforces my message that one can lead a successful life even with a severe mental illness. I love doing my IOOV presentations! I feel like I am helping other people, which as I have said before, makes me feel redeemed from all of my years of being severely sick. Even more than that though, it majorly increases my self esteem. Each time I tell my story, I gain more confidence in myself. I tell myself I have nothing to hide, no shame to try to run away from, and each time, I believe it a little more.
*trigger warning: I talk about cutting. Not in graphic detail, but still.*
This past Monday and Tuesday, I did three presentations at a college for psychology students. I told myself that it was especially important that I be truthful about my experience with recovery, as I spoke to many people who were in training to become therapists. So I did something I had never done before-I spoke openly about an old negative coping skill, namely, cutting. I wanted people to know that I hadn't done it for attention, but to cope with extreme anxiety. I told them that even though cutting is painful, it releases endorphins, a brief high, that temporarily takes one away from the severe emotional pain. Finally, I told them to look at people who cut with compassion, because they are people who are in severe emotional pain and who do not know how to appropriately deal with that kind of pain yet. I say yet, because it is one hundred percent possible for a person who used to be addicted to cutting to learn better ways of dealing with their emotional pain. I am living proof. I now know that if I distract myself long enough, then the pain will eventually diminish. I know to not fight the horrible feelings and to give myself permission to cry. Afterwards I soothe myself with a cup of tea or a hot bubble bath.
*trigger warning over*
There's only one way to beat stigma and that's by talking about the subject that is so stigmatized. Mental illness and addiction are still very much stigmatized. Most people delay getting the help they need, because they are afraid of what the help may look like or what other people might say. Not talking about what one is going through though does not help the person in the long run, because it creates a thick cloud of shame that follows them wherever they go. I am so proud to be able to do the stigma-busting IOOV presentations and I am grateful to NAMI for paying me to do them and for providing me with the materials needed. If you would like me to speak to your organization, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to help the organization that is enabling me to help myself and so many other people, then please donate to NAMI. On Saturday, we are going to do our annual NAMI Walk, which is where many of us gather together to show our support for those affected by mental illness. Click here to make a donation.