Second in a series of three blogposts, two UW Bothell business students reflect on the experience of attending a NAMI support group dinner for the first time.
By Heather Agun and Divij Vispute
Just before 5:30 PM, we pulled into the parking lot at The Broadview Community United Church of Christ in Seattle. A friendly young nursing student, a coleader of the group, greeted us and led us to the meeting place. As we entered, we could hear the sound of people talking and laughing. We saw a bustle of people serving themselves and others as we walked through the kitchen and into the main room.
Serving dishes of pizza, turkey, and oven fresh tamales covered the counters. In the main room, we saw a circle of tables and chairs filled with people eating and chatting. In one corner of the room there were tables with more food and plates. This was not the kind of group therapy that is so often portrayed in the media. This was not a drab room filled with quiet tears and secret shame. This was a room full of life and recovery. This was a room full of people dedicated to living their life to its fullest, regardless of their obstacles.
As we helped ourselves to the feast, we took the opportunity to start chatting with the people around us. There were a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. We got to meet even more people after we settled down into our seats to eat. We talked about careers and personal goals. We talked about school, hobbies and many other subjects. We had the kinds of conversations you might have at a party with a big group of your friends. All of the people there seemed dedicated to everyone else’s success in a way that has become strikingly uncommon in our fast paced and self-centered lives. Here, though, it was apparent that the success of one was the success of everyone.
Just as though they were in a group of their close friends, the people there were able to be completely honest about themselves. If they were having a difficult day, they didn’t feel like they needed to hide it. It was clear to them that they were safe to express how they really felt and what they were going through.
After we had our fill of good food and conversation, the meeting leader called for everyone’s attention. The opening exercise was for everyone to take turns saying something they were grateful for. Answers ranged from emotional and moving revelations to simple observations, like how the sunny weather had brought out the best in everyone’s mood. After hearing so many expressions of thankfulness, we felt an attitude of gratitude settle over us.
Next, a printed poem was passed around to everyone. Upon reading, it, we discovered a short but moving piece by Langston Hughes:
Been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,
Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make me
Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’-
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!
Several people took turns reading the poem to a contemplative audience. “What is your favorite line in the poem? What do you really connect with?” the facilitator asked. People shared their thoughts with the group. One reader liked the last stanza “Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’- But I don’t care! I’m still here!” She said that she could relate. There were times in her life where she had stopped laughing and stopped truly living. Through it all, however, she was still here and made it through to a better place. Another person liked the first stanza. She thought that likening emotional struggles to the harshness of nature was a perfect metaphor. This poem resonated with many of the folks who attended this meeting. So many have lived with these emotions and have faced similar hardships.
Once we were done with that, we wrote about something on the piece of paper with the poem on it. We could write about anything from why a line stuck out to us, to what we had for lunch today. We did that for about 5 minutes and then broke up into groups of three to discuss what we wrote. This allowed us to get to know more people on a deeper level. Some people wrote about how their experiences related to a line in the poem. Others just wrote about their current day-to-day life. Ultimately, this poem was likened to an anthem of recovery. Here was this author admitting that the world had scarred and battered them. And yet, they had made it through many hard times, they kept fighting, they persevered and they are still here! It is a relatable sentiment for all.
After experiencing this group, we found it to be a collection of people no different from us. The constant societal pressure to otherize those with mental illness is founded only on fear of the unknown. In reality, we are all alike. Our struggles may look different from the outside, but on the inside, we are all humans finding our place in the world. This group was a refreshing look into a common struggle that many are afraid to speak out about. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness, please don’t hesitate to look into a group like this. The loving support of people who have found solutions to the same problems you are facing is invaluable.
To find a group that can provide support those living with mental illness, see the Get Support section of the NAMI Seattle website.
Heather Agun and Divij Vispute are students of Professor Laura Umetsu’s Spring 2019 business writing course participating in a community writing partnership with NAMI Seattle.