Every Story Has the Power to Save a Life

APR. 28, 2015

By Eliza Williamson

Eliza Williamson Eliza Williamson

On a chilly day in the fall of 1992, I walked into the education building at Moravian College for the first of what would be thousands of times. It was my first class, aptly named Foundations in Education. The professor had already written two things on the blackboard in perfectly looped cursive:

  1. My name is Dr. Sandra Fluck (pronounced like book).
  2. We are all both teachers and learners.

I have never forgotten either, although the latter is really at the core of why I love being a NAMI teacher. NAMI embraces the idea of group wisdom in all facets. We believe that each participant brings with them a wealth of strengths and skills and experiences.

In NAMI classes there is not one qualified expert who shares their knowledge—there are many. In fact, the number of experts depends on the class roster: in our Leominster, Mass. NAMI Peer-to-Peer class we have 25 wise souls. In our class in Concord there are 15! Each week in class I witness group wisdom in action. It is exciting to see the support, validation and troubleshooting that flows organically between people with similar experiences. It is thrilling and energizing.

Twice a week this spring I have the opportunity to pay it forward in the hopes that my own knowledge will lessen the struggle for someone else. So on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I have empathy and support and my ninja-like coping skills at the ready. Sometimes I share, but the tools I use most are my ears. There is so much good stuff to take in. I have never left a class without a tidbit that made me think or a new strategy I wish I had thought of or a moment that solidified for me why I do this work. Every week, each class nourishes me.

As a writer, I believe stories save lives. As a NAMI Peer-to-Peer teacher, I watch it happen. Stories connect us; they tether us; they offer hope; they make us laugh. Stories give us perspective and give words to the unsaid and remind us we are not alone.

In all NAMI classes, personal experience is revered. We know that the very act of telling your story is hopeful. By putting pain and suffering in context we see that it is one piece of your life, not the entirety. Whenever people share their stories in class, a palpable shift takes place. When a person gives voice to the dark parts of life—the places where shame and fear and loneliness fester—it gets lighter.

The storyteller shares and the group listens and it is healing. A burden is lifted from the teller. Things aren't as heavy when you have help holding them.

It is a process that is as simple as it is profound: I am here, maybe I am OK, but I am not alone. Those moments, really are magic; it’s a little piece of magic called NAMI.

Comments

Comments
FEB, 10, 2016 04:56:34 PM
Diane Martin
Inspiring and encouraging–Thank you!

MAY, 12, 2015 03:28:50 PM
Lynn Warner
Thank you for your words of wisdom. Telling stories, writing stories, hearing stories, reading stories - all are powerful tools for healing and educating. And it is both the similarities we have with others and the unique aspects of each individual's story that make these experiences so rich. Helping someone find her or his voice to share his or her story is a gift to them. Your encouragement of story-telling is such a gift. Thank you.

MAY, 07, 2015 09:53:14 PM
Deborah
What a powerful and succinct title - thank you for writing this.

Now - what to do when there are no groups in my city?

MAY, 05, 2015 05:53:28 PM
Paula
My late father was severely mentally ill and during the 50's-70's it was taboo to even mention such things. I often wish he was still living because there is so much more help out there now and less of a stigma because of information available and groups like yours.

MAY, 03, 2015 11:10:56 PM
Megan McLachlan
And, can I just add, kudos to your photographer, who captures so much of your personality in your photo!

MAY, 03, 2015 10:00:36 PM
Dee Fowler Anderson
Yes, stories are healing, connecting and life-giving! My recently published book, "Sharing Hope, Nurturing Resilience: A Coaching Journey" was a next step in my healing journey. If it can help one other person feel they are not along and realize how important it is to practice self-care, it is worth the feelings of vulnerability in sharing my journey.

MAY, 03, 2015 08:02:48 PM
Linda Caldwell
I would like to be a peer teacher. I have 30 years of experience teaching health education, general science, life science, anatomy & Physiology, Biology, and more.

MAY, 03, 2015 10:11:47 AM
Dr. Sandra Fluck
I am so very proud of who you are, Eliza, and honored to be part of your journey! Big hug to you:)

MAY, 03, 2015 07:15:38 AM
Dr. Sandra Fluck
What a great article. I am so very proud of Eliza and honored to be part of her journey!

MAY, 03, 2015 04:57:42 AM
Gregorio Lozano III
Great post. And yes, I do agree with sharing one's story in order to have other sufferers of mental illness understand that they are not alone or only ones "cursed" with such despairing illness; this has the effect of normalizing which in turn, helps rid of stigma.

MAY, 01, 2015 07:47:53 AM
Joseph VanBuren
I enjoyed this post and can relate to it. I went through drug and alcohol counseling last year, and that sense of group wisdom was definitely present there. Now I am taking Psychology classes in college, and I find myself referring to those moments to help my classmates better understand some of the concepts through my experiences in counseling.

APR, 30, 2015 10:19:37 PM
Sierra Wilde
A beautifully written article. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

APR, 30, 2015 12:29:27 PM
Evangelina (Lily)
Thank you .I have a lot of stories. I want to tell my stories. I don't really know how to begin. But then again I realized, I have been telling my stories all along when I talk to my relatives, friends, and people I think would care to listen and I care to share. It is in compiling these stories that I want to do. I got to start somewhere. You 're telling me, us what being a teacher of Peer to Peer class means to you is a good example for me to begin.
I agree with you that telling stories lighten the load. Sharing makes it feel you are not alone. To start with sharing your stories means you are giving something. When you give something, there is a receiver. This alone is an extension of yourself to others. A very good start.
So , I thank you. Reading this, is a good start for me to continue what I have been doing all along.

APR, 30, 2015 08:48:26 AM
Carol Leatherman
So inspiring, and very true. Each story helps to heal and let others know, THEY ARE NOT ALONE. My book "Pure Hell But I Made It" has helped in this same way. Women have told me that just knowing they are not alone helped them.

APR, 30, 2015 05:40:21 AM
Marty Baker
"Stories connect us; they tether us; they offer hope; they make us laugh. Stories give us perspective and give words to the unsaid and remind us we are not alone." ~ I love these words, Eliza. Thank you for sharing your story.
~Marty

APR, 30, 2015 01:30:06 AM
Jacqueline Taylor
"We read in order to know that we are NOT alone."
Thank you for sharing " writing saves lives" because you may have just saved mine.
There are experiences within that I think I'm now ready to put on paper. My legacy to Mankind, if you like....
thank you

APR, 30, 2015 12:13:03 AM
Audrey Ducharme
Very well said, I'm so happy I've found NAMI. As one in the Leominster class, we do have a great group of people. After spending 1 1/2 hours together on Fridays for the past 8 weeks, something is binding us together, we are connected. I'm not looking forward to the end of class. It must be that little piece of magic called NAMI. Eliza your the best!

APR, 29, 2015 11:15:57 PM
Vlad Kabakcy
Yes, story can save life. Understanding can save life. Connection can save life. But how many people with social anxiety have a luxury of it. Even being able to start blog and have visitors and reactions...

APR, 29, 2015 10:49:48 PM
Ron Farra
I would love if my wife would share the experiences with mental illness with other. I think it would be good for her as well as others. Any suggestions for us.?

APR, 29, 2015 10:25:27 PM
John L Walker
Eliza,

I cannot let this woman suffer. She is just a friend; but I have seen what will happen to her. Blackfoot Mental hospital graveyard. She is really a wonderful person. Bright, talented, but abused by all. Not me, though. We laugh and smile. She is a nut. She brings me a smile. She was raised by a neighbor; Gladys Bickelhaup, a loving talented working girl twenty years dead. Do you know what I mean?

APR, 29, 2015 08:58:20 PM
Paula
This is an awesome group and idea that you have going. My father was severely mentally ill. I grew up in the 70's when it was taboo to even mention it. I am so thankful that there is so much more help out there. I often wish my Dad was still living during this time. I am sure he would have gotten the help he sorely needed.

APR, 29, 2015 08:23:25 PM
Linda
Thank you! I was feeling sad today about my child and now I am reminded of how he feels and that we are not alone.

APR, 29, 2015 07:46:24 PM
judi
I'm glad you feel so strongly about NAMI programs and especially Peer to Peer! Just remember that you are a big part of the NAMI 'magic'.

APR, 28, 2015 08:12:05 PM
Jessica James
Reading this really touch me. I almost started to cry because this story seemed to be talking to me. One day after having a very embarrassing panic attack in front of a lot of people, I said to myself that I want to be a voice for someone else. For many years, I had been suffering with anxiety and depression. I did not know what was wrong with me, and I was labeled to be someone that I wasn't. I could not explain myself, for I felt like I did not have a voice. I want to be that voice for others as well as for myself. I am so blessed to had come in contact with NAMI.

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