A Too-Close-to-Home Encounter with NAMI

My mother sent me a message today, apologizing for having recently told the NAMI woman (the one who advised my family to have me committed precisely 2 years ago) where I worked. This is what I wrote back, about what happened this afternoon:

That woman comes to the door of my class, which I am in the middle of facilitating, and says, “Are you Faith?” I looked over, like, “Huh?” and she says, “I could tell by looking at you.”

She proceeds to enter my class and tell me that she was “with NAMI” and that she’d spoken to my mother recently and had been told that I was involved with _____.

I smiled and shook her hand, informed her that I will have been a peer at _____ for two years in February and then, for some reason, I found myself telling this woman that, yes, “everything is going really well.”

She realized that she was standing right in front of the projector (I was showing a film about recovery-from-severe-bipolar narrative from Fountain House) and that she might be interrupting my class, said goodbye and left the room.

She didn’t get far at all.

“Excuse me, if you have a minute, could I please speak to you?”

We went outside.

“How do you know my parents?”

“Oh, they’re very nice people. They were involved in our Family-to-Family class.”

“Yes, I believe you were in contact with them during my last crisis.”

“You may have been in some sort of crisis at that time, I seem to remember that.”

“NAMI advised my family to have me involuntarily committed and it was the wrong thing to do.” I was speaking very calmly. “I almost lost my children.”

(At that point, I began to swoon a little.  The realization hit me hard…this was the person, the person who told my family how and why to have me committed, an act that changed me and my family FOREVER, an act that put me in the position of being forced to sustain significant trauma calmly and with a smile, an act that literally could have killed me as I was mismedicated and dangerously medicated. It was noted in my chart that I “decompensated” on Zyprexa and yet they continued to force me to take it, and it caused hallucinations. Not to mention the Geodon which caused me to fall asleep and drool, and run into walls, shivering uncontrollably and feeling dead inside, or the depakote which made my hair fall out and my mind go to fuzz and brought forth a deep desire to die…or the risperidone, that made it impossible to believe in anything and caused occasional auditory hallucinations and vertigo.

What about the additional effects of being forced to take this stuff, of being court-ordered to take these pills, of having the custody of my children rely on my compliance with things that hurt me and that I knew were not true or good. Then there were the effects of the physical forcing, the being held in place and having my pants pulled down by men. The psychological, emotional, neurological trauma was tremendous.

It could have easily killed me.

That was just the hospitalization part. I didn’t get to the part in which this grievously inappropriate commitment completely marred my children’s childhood. While I take responsibility for the fact that yeah, the commitment wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t have a mad mom,  there are plenty of good things that come with that, too. Those good things take a beating when mad moms get turned into mentally ill mothers.)

Which brings me back to this NAMI woman who showed up at my work today. After I told her that I almost lost my kids because of NAMI and family, she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Do you want a hug.”

For some reason, I hugged her. Needless to say, I was reeling.

“It really was not appropriate. It hurt my family.”

“Yes, your parents were very worried.”

At that point I realized how awful the conversation really was, and how it was ripping a gigantic hole in the thin sheeting that I keep over that whole time of my life.

I made an effort to shift into solution-oriented professional mode, because it calms me down. I looked at the stairs.

“That’s why I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about ways to support families in having a better understanding of what is going on in crisis, how they can keep themselves calm and grounded and really recognizing the role of relationships and emotion…” I looked at her, “rather than thinking it’s all some ‘brain disease.’

She blipped a little, just a momentary blank smile before she launched into a spiel about how NAMI is a nationally recognized family support group and “it’s free!”

(I did not mention their rampant pharmaceutical funding, though I could’ve.)

She ended up leaving shortly thereafter and it was all very polite. I was in something of a stunned fog of stress hormones, because my brain was screaming dissonance about the past two years and the ethics/cognitive-emotional safety of working for place that even lets NAMI through their doors, with their flier featuring a new group about supporting families who have younger children who have a mental illness/Brain Disorder.

I’m sorry, but I cannot abide by that. It is socially and ethically irresponsible and absolutely abhorrent as a purported advocate for children to work in an environment that promotes support for the forced drugging of neurodivergent kids. I used to really respect the organization I work for. Now, I question it’s integrity. I have a very difficult time in employment that I find unethical or abusive in anyway. If things don’t make a quick shift back to a strident recovery model, I am going to have to find different work, otherwise I will begin to experience anxiety and depression, anger and grief. It will become increasingly unrelenting. It will make me sick.

The whole thing really wrecked my afternoon, made me workplace seem supremely unsafe and hostile to me, and triggered me into a momentary state of near suicidal desolation which was quickly cured by thinking about friends and noticing a sun dog on the way home.

I wonder when you will get angry, when you will realize how wrong it is for you to engage in pleasant small talk with people about MY LIFE, especially since they don’t know anything about my life.

This woman spoke to me as if I’d never heard of NAMI. “Oh, we’re this and we’re that…”

Of course I’ve heard of NAMI. I even know people who know the new NAMI president. I know people who work for NAMI and I know people that wished NAMI would simply cease to exist at this point in history, and many that wish it never existed in the first place.

I am one of those people.

“Mental Illness” does hurt families. Because “mental illness” wedges itself between people like a big blurry lens that distorts everything. People don’t see one another clearly anymore. Everything becomes a part of the disease. Every thought, every word, every feeling. “Brain disease” affects everything. Almost all that a person is becomes a part of the disease. The parts of a person not assumed to be part of the disease are appraised in relation to the “illness.”

It’s how we think.

The son becomes the son with schizophrenia (the schizophrenic son), the cousin “my cousin with bipolar” (my “bipolar cousin”).

Then people bring these “mentally ill” relatives up in college classes and as comments whenever anyone mentions Girl, Interrupted or A Beautiful Mind.

What is it about “mental illness” that makes people think they can say anything about it or do whatever it is they want to try to “help” (I.e. Control and diminish and discredit) us? Is it because we “don’t know what’s going on”? Is it because we “need to be taken care of”?

Or is it because we scare you because we’re honest?

“Mental Illness” kills people. The idea that something so core to you as how you think and feel and see and hear and live and love and fear is an illness. It creates an auto-immune disorder, an attack on one’s self.

The worst thing about “mental illness” is that it literally does cause mental illness…because the drugs and the treatment (social and medical) really do drive people absolutely insane and make them lose their minds and shut down or snap in half.

4 thoughts on “A Too-Close-to-Home Encounter with NAMI

  1. I typically do not re-post people’s words without their permission. However, this is my mother’s reply:

    Dear Faith, thank you for showing me how blanked up that whole system is.** I’m sorry that between that person and me you had a hideous afternoon and I am thankful for all that you have learned and shared with us.
    Out of line…and I am angry and upset about misdirection we received (not necessarily from that person) but NONETHELESS. Totally out of line. I’m glad that with your work with WRAP there is a more humane and conscious way to
    navigate situations AND HELP RATHER THAN HURT ,where no one is at their best. I’m trying in my small way to learn more and bring any little bit of conscious compassion and enlightened witness to any situation. NOT EVEN WRONG, labels are disgusting and
    Sick.**I am still reading/re-reading Whitaker,as it is so shocking and disturbing I can only take in so much. I value your intelligence and I treasure that you are such an honest person, and still willing.
    Sometimes I want to tell you about some of the kids I’m meeting at the middle school, then I remember and know that you met different versions and worked intimately with them. Forgive me for falling into complete idiocy, and I hope we
    can keep our eyes and hearts open.
    Seriously, in that book QUIET, the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, one of the first thing the author points out, is something that you pointed out to me…..in the long history of humans, all the variations in our
    ways of being survive for a reason, and thank goodness for the thinkers and people who can see more clearly, the artists, YOU KNOW. I did not have a discussion with that person about you,, other than to say that you are doing great,* nor do I discuss you with anyone…other than to say, “we went to the fair together,” I’m sorry. I need to write an apology in 100 parts, like a sorry symphony(*and the mistake of saying ______)Rip Off. I’m sorry for all the things I did not understand.
    I love you, Mom.
    Words just are not adequate.

    (A big part of this weblog is record-keeping and story-telling through communication. this is not one of those blogs where someone is trying to be tidy and factual or cool and savvy. This is one of those projects where someone is just trying to make sense of their life and tell the truth about it.)

  2. Faith, this is another love letter. You are amazingly courageous, brilliant and compassionate—so much so that your mother might still be trying to grasp your fullness. Too much to wrap her arms around at present, perhaps. But it looks like she’s trying to stretch. You have a right to feel violated. You have a right to lose your voice and to find it again. You have a right to your recovery, your freedom, your wisdom and the sanctuary you have created in your life. You have what this dear misguided visitor does not—compassion for the dignity of human beings in suffering and a strong belief in their ability to triumph if given the chance, respectful support and encouragement. No need to cite verse and scripture, to hide behind labels or “diseases”, or prop yourself up with skewed scientific studies. You stand up on your own two capable legs walking a path of true recovery in service to your heart. Your place of employment, and those it serves, is much safer with you there. Which is not to say you have to stay in any environment where you do not feel empowered—your first obligation is to yourself and your precious family—but it is to say that no one can walk in and steal your power. No one. Your are extraordinary.

    • Thanks so much for saying something. Sometimes I write these things and put them out in the world and I just really have no idea how they might land. I have had to stop caring too much about what people might think, but I still care a little…especially about what people I respect and appreciate think. (…) <~ this is a love letter in return. Thank you!

      It meant a lot to me that my mom wrote back what she did…that's why I posted it, with appreciation. An "enlightened witness" is a wonderful way to approach seeing one's child, at any age. I love my mom, and my family…they got hurt by lousy ideas, too.

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