IN MY PREVIOUS LIFE I was a Life Enrichment Assistant at a nursing home. It’s more than just calling BINGO, by the way. I did that, but not on a daily basis. As an activities person, you’re responsible for the cognitive, spiritual, and social aspects of a resident’s life. I did art projects, exercise, gardening, word games… made sure those that wanted to go, got to Mass (it was a Catholic facility)… manicures for the ladies…presented monthly educational forums… I even took some seniors to my barn for an outing once a year.
I was working on my Activity Director Certification with a specialization in Dementia Care. I loved working with that population. I still do.
Having to give up work at what I thought was going to be the career I would be at forever was not easy. I fought it. A few years before it was finally to the point where there was no choice, my previous psychiatrist brought the subject up but I refused to even discuss it. I wanted to work. And I definitely wanted to do what I was doing.
July 2017 was the end of my activities career. My illnesses were clearly changing paths. For every day I’m manic it takes two to recover; and I had been manic for a grand total of 23 days. That was sandwiched in between episodes of severe anxiety. It was evident (even if I didn’t think so at the time) that maintaining my mental health was, and is, a full-time job. Both my psychiatrist and therapist were on the same page; and both of discussed with me their reasoning behind the decision.
I was angry for a long time. Not at them, but at myself. Or, rather, my disease. I get that way whenever my mental health decides to rear up and take something away.
I need to be of use. I do. I love working and I love being needed. While I loved my days being filled with barn time and the kiddos (my nieces and nephews), it wasn’t enough. My therapist suggested I look into volunteering at NAMI.
For those that don’t know what NAMI is, here is a quick plug for them:
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They are the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. Started my two mothers that met through church (their sons lived with mental illness), NAMI now spans all 50 states and has 1200 affiliates throughout them. Offering educational programs, support groups, and community education for free to those that want/need it. Their mission is to help all those affected by mental illness.
I contacted my local affiliate and had a meeting with the woman that oversees the volunteer opportunities. I originally signed on to work their Helpline two days a week; and would help with office tasks as needed. I wasn’t there long when they asked if I wanted to train for their Speakers Bureau and then as a young adult speaker for their Ending the Silence program [going into high schools]. I loved it.
I still do.
Over the past two years, I have trained in support group facilitation, as a speaker for different NAMI Signature programs, and as a teacher for their Peer-to-Peer class. I have taken on a pet project: gathering and putting together my affiliate’s faith outreach material. Originally I was to be the Helpline Coordinator’s primary volunteer, one of the women likes to say “we’ve all pilfered you.” It would take ore than this small paragraph to tell you everything I’ve ended up helping with over the past two years.
As I said I love it. It is safe at NAMI. Not that my other job wasn’t safe, but it’s okay to not be okay here. When my non-suicidal self-injury “comes into play,” they check in, but they don’t dwell or make a sky high big deal out of it. They make sure I’m keeping my cuts clean and make sure I know they’re there if I need anything. When the anxiety is in high gear and my speech is far from the greatest, it’s okay to still go to “work.” I don’t have to take time off unless I feel I need to. Being there, according to my therapist, is a grounding place for me. And she isn’t wrong.
And I love the people that have come into my life through NAMI. I found out how just how great they over the past two and a half months.
I went from my lowest of lows to nearly my highest of highs. Not in a good way on either account. If I was anywhere else, I would have had to take time off. I wouldn’t have been able to be in the office or go out for events. I would have lost the stability that is my structured life. It was the only thing keeping be from soring through the stormy clouds and hitting a bolt of lightening.
They were worried about me. I was worried about myself. I still am. THEY, however, watched without hovering; and have been empathetic. They have made what was a solo fight into a battle with people by my side.
Last week I had to speak at a local university. I wasn’t sure about it, but I love the speaking events. So, I went. The woman that oversees this signature program made the offer of taking me to see my horse as we were literally two minutes away and I haven’t seen her in over a month -I haven’t been able to handle the buses to get there or to be outside long enough to be at the barn. I turned down the offer at first, knowing she had a meeting. After the engagement was over, she offered again saying that she would be able to take the meeting as a tele-conference. I took her up on the offer.
I don’t know who was happier to see who. Zoe to see me or me to see Zoe. It may have been a tie. She’d nudge me whenever I attempted to pay attention to anyone but her.
Ellen didn’t have to make the offer of taking me to my happy place. She didn’t have to go through with it. Kari didn’t have drive me home when the day was so rough I didn’t know if I could handle the bus transfers that I do every single day. Terri didn’t have to co-lead a class with me because my self-confidence was lower than it had been in a long time.
Everyone has their place that they need to be. Where they belong. I’ve found mine; and I am eternally grateful for that. Sometimes your place is that rock you stumbled on. Hold it in your hand and let it be your grounding tool.