How did you find NAMI-NYC?

After one of my ill relative’s doctor visits, I asked where I could get help for myself.  They told me about NAMI and gave me the Helpline number.  I remember saying to myself, “What’s NAMI?” because I had never heard of it.

What was your first experience like?

I called the Helpline and the volunteer asked if I wanted to take the NAMI Family-to-Family course, and I said “Yes.”  Then they invited me to attend the Family & Friends Support Group, and I said “Ok,” with no idea what I was getting into.  I was shy and normally wouldn’t agree to things so quickly.  In Family-to-Family when the teacher asks, “What’s something you’re proud of?” I always say, “Accepting help when it was offered.”

Why did you keep coming back?

Because I was with people who really understood what I was going through.  I also thought, “How can I get help by attending only one support group session?”  So I kept coming, and have been since 2005.

It’s hard for your family member to change the way they think because their brain won’t let them. We have to change the way we approach them.

What did you gain from NAMI-NYC?

Empathy, support, knowledge, understanding, and compassion.

Did you experience an “Aha!” moment at NAMI-NYC?

Yes, after I had been teaching Family-to-Family.  In the past, I would wonder why my relative acted the way they did.  As I was reading to the class that our relative’s emotional growth can be halted when they first get ill, all of a sudden I realized, ”That’s why they act like that…because they got sick when they were young.”  At that moment it made so much sense to me, and I stopped doing that.  I had to change my thought pattern.  I let families know, it’s hard for your family member to change the way they think because their brain won’t let them; we have to change the way we think and approach them.

What was your reaction when your relative was first diagnosed?

My first reaction was shock, confusion, then sadness.

Tell us a little bit about the culture you were brought up in, and how that culture views mental illness? Was shame a part of that view?

I really did not have any cultural views about mental illness growing up.  From my own observations, when I saw people acting erratically, I was scared of them, or thought they were sick mentally.  When my relative was saying odd things in public, I was embarrassed and always wanted to change the conversation.

Has NAMI-NYC changed your relationship with your family?

I’ve learned to be more understanding of my ill relative, especially knowing that it’s not their fault, and most of the things they experience are a result of their illness.  NAMI-NYC has made such an impression in my life that two of my siblings have taken Family-to-Family, and one has been trained to teach it; my ill relative has also taken the NAMI Peer-to-Peer course twice.

You’re also a NAMI-NYC staff member. What do you do here?

I am the Adult Education Coordinator of three programs: Family-to-Family, Peer-to-Peer, and NAMI Homefront.  I’m also a state teacher trainer for both Family-to-Family and Homefront, teaching family members to become teachers of these programs.  It’s their way of giving back to NAMI, just as I am doing.

How has NAMI-NYC changed your life?

I’ve gained more empathy.  Teaching families how to deal with their relative has been a joy and pleasure, and NAMI has given me that opportunity.  As I always tell families, “Even if you cannot help your relative, you can help yourself.”