Since 1991, when she was 22 years old, Dionne has been cycling in and out of hospitals, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She described it as a revolving door, being hospitalized 10 different times because she kept taking herself off her medication. Then, out of one hospital in Brooklyn, Dionne joined a NAMI group. Her mother joined the Parents of Adult Children Support Group. And with that, Dionne had found her place.
A woman at the hospital told Dionne about a course called NAMI Peer-to-Peer, but Dionne didn’t feel she had time. A 12-week course all about living with mental illness would be daunting. (As of September 2018, Peer-to-Peer is 8 weeks.) But she had always wanted to volunteer. And in searching for volunteer opportunities, NAMI came up again. This time, it was a program called In Our Own Voice. Dionne applied and was accepted.
How Dionne Gives Back to NAMI
“I’ve always wanted to give back in some way,” Dionne says. And now she does, by being an In Our Own Voice presenter. “Out of that came goodness and light and inspiration.”
The audiences are so receptive to the presentations, and interested and hungry to hear more. To Dionne, this is amazing. “It makes me feel validated that what we’re doing is making a difference,” she says. “We’re breaking down the walls of stigma.”
Dionne is an inspiration to the people who hear her speak. Not only has she been living with her mental illness for 25 years, she is also the primary caretaker of her mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Dionne gives people the courage to not only face their own lives, but care for the people they love as well.
How NAMI Has Changed Dionne’s Life
When asked if taking part in In Our Own Voice has changed Dionne’s life, her answer was, “Oh my gosh, so tremendously! I feel so empowered now.” Her involvement with NAMI has helped her grow as a person. “I was always terrified of public speaking,” she says. “In Our Own Voice has helped me project more. It’s built my confidence. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
This journey has been especially important because Dionne began it in such a dark place. In the first years of her diagnosis, she says, “I wanted to stay away from anything to do with mental health. I was in denial. I didn’t want to be associated with it.”
But she brightens. Meeting people at NAMI was encouraging—they were all doing so well. The fact that it is a volunteer- and peer-driven organization is its best attribute, she says. People can come to NAMI and feel at home. They can make good friends, like the ones she’s made through In Our Own Voice. And they, like she, can achieve great things.
“I think that NAMI is an awesome organization,” says Dionne.