A few months ago a fellow counseling student put the word out about a walk for NAMI Colorado (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I thought it sounded interesting, but I did not really know what it was and did not feel impassioned enough at the time to consider getting involved. Time is a precious commodity these days and I have to be cautious about spreading myself too thin with work and school.
Fast forward to my first day of school this semester. I am sitting in my Strategies in Agency Counseling class and low and behold we had two presenters from NAMI. I cannot say I was excited at the time because I really did not know much about them and I figured they were just there to talk about who they are and what they do.
Two individuals walked in, a man and a woman. They told us they were here from NAMI and would like to present to us their stories and have us watch snippets of a video. Very bravely they stood before us, each taking a turn telling us their story. The video would present the topic and then they divulged their personal story around the topic. They spoke of their darkest days with mental illness and how long and far they had to fall before seeking assistance. The one thing that happened right before they hit rock bottom. Then they spoke of courage and how the process of working towards getting help was overwhelming at times. Followed by hope, the single most powerful agent of change. Where they found hope and how it changed their lives. Lastly, they spoke of success and living a good life in spite of their mental illness.
As they stood before us telling their stories of courage and hope, I found I was impassioned by their struggles and their success. It left me in a whirlwind of thoughts.
So many people suffer with mental illness in silence and anguish. Believing they are alone in what they are going through. Feeling there is no better life to be had and often simply wanting to end it all because living in this world is so painful for them. Many are too ashamed to ask for help. Afraid of how they will be viewed or treated. The stigma is so negative.
Mental illness comes in so many different forms. From PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression, Personality Disorder, OCD, Bipolar to Schizophrenia just to name a few. It is not always easy to tell if someone is living with a mental disorder, despite what Hollywood has portrayed to the general public. It is nothing to be ashamed of and with help, the symptoms can be managed.
So you might be asking, why I titled this post Listening vs Hearing. It is because I have noticed in myself the difference between listening to something and actually hearing what is being said. When I first listened to what NAMI was about, it did not touch my heart at all, but when I heard these two individuals stories it really touched my heart and allowed me to truly hear in a way that impassioned me. Sometimes it takes the right person with a message you can connect with, to take your experience from simply listening, to truly hearing!!
So this leaves me pondering how I can connect with others in a way that they will respond to. In a way which allows them to truly hear and feel my message, rather than just reading a few words on a page, or listening to me tell my story. I also wonder how I can use this skill with future clients to help them be able to hear how much I care about them and their path to a brighter tomorrow.
Tonight I went to my first NAMI meeting and I plan to become involved in spreading awareness, helping to dampen the negative stigma around it and hopefully reaching out to those who suffer with it to let them know they are not alone. I want to let them know there is help!
P.S. for more information on NAMI check out www.namicolorado.org!