Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude

This post is dedicated to all the Family to Family participants and teachers I've encountered over the past year. To the class that has just finished, thank you for your commitment and enthusiasm over the last 11 weeks. Teaching this class, I learn new things from the people who come to NAMI Huntsville looking to learn from us. At risk of slipping into terms of cheesy pedagogical sappiness, I have to say that I emerge stronger and better informed from this experience because the education that happens is really not a one way process. I can't say enough about how well Dr. Burland designed the program.

I found the organization in early December last year when I was looking myself for help getting back to mental stability. I'd spent nearly all of June 2011 hospitalized with severe depression and was slowly finding my way back. An internet search led me to a page about a monthly support group meeting. I attended apprehensively with my mom. I remember that it was dirty cold and rainy. But there's a plunging gulf now between me and the bone chill of that wet December night. Looking back, it almost seems like it happened to someone else in a different lifetime. A little less than a year has passed, but the memories of how stupidly hard things were then have started to fade. I got involved volunteering for NAMI, and now I work to provide the same boost I found last December to others who are struggling.

In NAMI parlance, I go both ways or switch hit, meaning that I've suffered from depression and have family members who have as well. In olden days, they would have said I was a "family member" and a "consumer." But NAMI has dropped that second term and now I'm an "individual living with mental illness" (a clunky term but warmer I think than "consumer"). I do most of my volunteering from the family member perspective addressing other struggling family members. But this work is certainly one of the most powerful methods I've found of maintaining my own stability.

In discussions of mental illness, people claim frequently that no one can really understand it unless they've experienced it first hand. In my hardest luck times living as a sort of emotional defeatist, I identified strongly with this idea that no one else could possibly get it. It was just futile to try to explain anything or even talk about the problem much at all. But this common place assumption that no one else can understand isn't true. Understanding is a great challenge that demands imaginative effort from the people on the outside and rhetorical work creating clear explanation from folks on the inside. But people can understand. I've seen it over and over in four sessions of Family to Family when eyes light up in compassionate moments of piercing insight into what a sick family member struggles with. The families I've met desperately want to get it, and thanks to the twelve weeks of effort they put in coming to and participating in this course, they do, not exactly as if they'd lived it but well enough to assist someone who is. Misunderstanding and breakdown in communication between people suffering and their families is just the starting point. It doesn't have to be a permanent affliction. This is perhaps the best thing I've learned in Family to Family. Knowing that depression is often a recurring condition is terrifying. But after my time teaching and taking this course and seeing that it is possible to talk about depression even with people who haven't known it first hand, I can't imagine it ever being so hopelessly difficult as it felt a year and a half ago. And for this I have an abundant--we're talking cornucopia style overflowing bounty of natural splendor--sense of gratitude.