By Laura Donaldson:
My mother’s mental illness has shaped the narrative of my life.
By the time I was 10 years old, I knew my mother was different from other mothers. My basic needs were provided for, but her increasingly odd behaviors alienated her from me emotionally at that difficult age when I really needed a strong female role model. As I grew older, I began to seek those role models in my friends’ mothers and eventually my college professors. I found many women who were willing to invest themselves in me, but I also came to the realization that all of the families around me seemed so “normal.” I often felt jealous of friends because their families were healthy, while my family struggled with the challenges of serious mental illness every day. I felt so alone.
In the spring of 2008, after more than 20 years of living with schizoaffective disorder, my mother survived a potentially fatal overdose. Since that time she has been more lucid and emotionally available to me than ever before. That event had a profound impact on the course of her life, but it also compelled me to action. Through online research, I recognized I wasn’t the only daughter living this way. I began a quest to connect with others who were facing a similar reality, and that’s when I discovered NAMI. What an overwhelming sense of relief… I was no longer alone.
NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania gave me my voice. I found the courage to be open about my story. They convinced me to take action to make a difference for others who struggle with feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
NAMI gives me a sense of community. Through their broad network of consumers, family members, mental health professionals and connected friends, I now know I can encourage positive changes around me and within me. I have discovered the tremendous power in showing people, through small acts of kindness, that they are not alone.
This organization touches many people, offering connectedness as a blessed alternative to loneliness. NAMI staff members are passionate in their work, and compassionate toward all of the people who turn to them for support. When you feel like someone cares, the sense of isolation fades. Hope grows when you know you’re not alone.