Today I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the NH chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Concord, New Hampshire. One of the main reasons I attended was because I wanted to make connections with the larger mental health community in my area. As I contemplate my own possible role as a mental health advocate, I thought it would be helpful to meet other advocates and to hear more about NAMI. Of course, if I'm going to advocate, I have to be comfortable with sharing my own story. I admit, it was a little difficult telling perfect strangers about my OCD. By the end of the day though, I was more at ease with blurting out my diagnosis.
I am glad I attended as I met some truly wonderful people from all walks of life. Most touching were the presentations given by family members of those with mental illness. There were certainly some tears shed by all. Today's speakers relayed how they advocated for, cared for, and cried over their loved ones. Their pain was real and palpable.
In our own personal fight against mental illness it can be so easy to overlook the feelings and needs of those who stand with and by us. However their love and care is invaluable. Family and friends may not always do or say the "right" thing in trying to help us. That's ok. I don't always do or say the right thing either. To my friends and family, I say thank you for standing by me! Sometimes, just knowing that you were there was the only thing that kept me fighting.
Even if your loved one with mental illness has been unable to express appreciation to you, please remember that you are doing a wonderful thing supporting him or her. It may seem like what you do is not enough or that it does not matter. Truly, it does.