NAMI Connections meetings were my turning point

5 mins read

By LAURA KAPONER

The turning point in my recovery was attending my first NAMI Connections meeting.

In March 2015, I experienced my most severe episode of mental illness which ultimately led me to relocate from New York to South Carolina to be closer to my primary support system, my parents. 

My parents offer me an abundance of love and support, but because they are not mentally ill themselves or trained mental health professionals, the type of support they can provide had its limitations.

I had been aware of NAMI’s existence for several years yet I have never pursued any of their programs while living in New York. It took a couple months after my move south to build up the courage to attend one of their Connections meetings. I’ll be honest, I was nervous. 

The majority of my previous experiences with other mentally ill people were not positive, so I was unsure what to expect. For weeks, when Wednesday night would come around,  I found one lame excuse or another why I couldn’t make it to the meeting that night until the day I ran out of excuses.

This was a point in my life where I was out of work, living with family and had no direction in my life. The shame ran deep because I wasn’t measuring up to society’s or even my own expectations of where I should be at that point in my life. 

On top of that I had made the decision to keep the mental illnesses in my life private because this was my fresh start, I didn’t want to be that mentally ill person.

At the time, the meetings were held at a local college campus in the library in a room not too different from a fish bowl in that half the walls were windows. Punctuality is a gift/curse of mine, I was extremely early. As I apprehensively walked in to the room, I immediately chose a seat near the door anticipating a quick escape when necessary.

It was not at all like I thought it would be. The facilitators, who are peers trained to lead the meeting, welcomed me with warm smiles and introductions. 

Each seat had a handout that explained the parameters of the meetings. I let out a deep breath because this really wasn’t so scary after all. A little bit of order in the midst of my chaotic and confusing life was a much welcomed change.

The beginning of the Connections meeting has a set structure, and then after that, it’s an open group discussion. I was surrounded by people who had similar experiences to my own yet were from all different walks of life and in varying stages of their own recovery. 

This felt like a safe place for me, free of judgment and full of support. It quickly became apparent to me that no matter what else was going on in my life, these weekly meetings could be a home base for me.
It was through these NAMI Connections meetings that I first discovered the concept and practice of peer support. This by no means replaced my need for professional intervention — it was a nice compliment to it. 

At these meetings I gained mentors who later on became good friends and, at the same time, lost the shame I had been carrying around with me for so long. I saw others in the group living openly with their illnesses, sharing their stories publicly and taking the lessons they learned to help others.

I found that my own experiences had value to others in the meetings and in helping others in their recoveries, I was able to help myself in my own recovery. 

Relationships and jobs came and went over the next four years, but NAMI was a constant. The only real negative thing about NAMI is that not nearly enough people know about it or the impact it could play in someone’s recovery.

The turning point in my recovery was attending my first NAMI Connections meeting nearly four years ago. I would not be where I am today if I had never walked into that room.

Latest from Blog

LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

 Affordable housing still a dream for many  When it comes to giving thanks, many place safe…

LOWCOUNTRY LIFE

Mark Pritchard took this photo of three dolphins swimming in tight formation in Jenkins Creek from…