By Fred Terling:
I always get nervous in a completely new environment with new people. I suppose everyone does. However, I recently learned about an opportunity about becoming a presenter with NAMI’s In Our Own Voice Program and decided to set those nerves aside and give my treatment a real reality check.
How far had I progressed in the past year of meds, doctors and group? I totally need to get back to my social self as well and I felt this training would be an important therapeutic step towards that goal. Most importantly, I wanted to do this to help other people like myself. Two years prior, I would have paid anything for just one other person who could understand what I was going through, why I wouldn’t leave the basement except to eat and bathe. Not to advise me, just a person that I could listen to and connect with. Someone who was where I was in my illness.
The first day of the two-day training started as expected–with one wrinkle. Instead of awkward silence, everyone seemed to be relaxed with one another. Over cups of coffee, tea and water, the mood was one of exchange and open conversation immediately. I thought of how well the NAMI Southwestern PA staff must have screened the applicants as the openness of everyone was apparent within the first ten minutes. It was as if we had known each other for a while, and were just seeing each other again after years of separation.
Next came the period of instruction. The instructors were, I know this will sound cliché, awesome! They really were. Susan Harrington and Laura Thomas were not only informative and guided the lessons on time, but were extremely helpful and soft with their guidance. The more they shared, the more comfortable about sharing I felt and think I can speak for my classmates, that they felt as well.
As the day went on, the lessons were hands on. We literally jumped into the fire of presenting, section-by-section for the rest of the day. The initial nervousness and crackling voices began to shape into confident storytelling, told by people who lived through a very diverse set of personal traumas. As we continued to share our own stories, eleven people began to take shape as one fortified unit by the end of the first day.
Later that evening, as I sat at a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game, my thoughts drifted from the play on the ice to the events of the day and training. I was changed. I felt it. I wasn’t sure how, but the intimate details of everyone’s In Our Own Voice presentations was providing an additional benefit I had not previously anticipated. I was growing with acceptance and added a new coping skill to my toolkit. Wow.
Day two started off much differently than the first day of training. We were set and all ready to go, excited and anticipating the next sections of the program. ALL of the presentations were much smoother and confident than day one. The openness had transformed into a sharing amongst friends. It was apparent to me within the first hour, I wasn’t the only one who was changed by the first day of this experience. We had all become a family of sorts, the “Class of 3/16.” Wherever our journeys would take us over the course of our lifetimes, these other ten people would be part of my ongoing story. If this is the effect of the training, I can just imagine how this will impact the lives of others that we present to out in the field.
Within a day of our departing NAMI headquarters in Pittsburgh, we had started our own Facebook Page to stay in communication, exchange our stories of presenting and just share general information we find about our various conditions. I simply am bursting at the seams with excitement to do my first presentation with one of these amazing people I met over the course of those two days. I would just like to say thank you again to Amy, Alyssa, Karen, Bonnie, Matt, Jeff, Jim, Debra, David, Linda and our superlative leaders, Susan and Laura. I am beyond proud to be a part of your group.