Guest Post: Be Accountable

Be Accountable

It’s often too easy to place the blame on others without truly recognizing that we each play a role in the outcome of every situation. Taking responsibility for our words and actions frees us from being a hostage to our mistakes. It allows us the opportunity to accept the consequences, demonstrate our integrity, and move forward focused on what we hope to achieve rather than being distracted by the worry and fear of what might catch up to us. When we are accountable we are refusing to be burdened by conspiracies, and we’re empowered to speak from our hearts and to take action in a way that reflects the good we wish to accomplish.


Growing up one of six kids, it was easy to get away with mischief. My mom often blamed anything that went wrong in our house on the ghost who had clearly taken up a long standing residence. I’d like to think that of all my siblings, I was the good one, but even with that being said, I’ll admit that I might have conspired with the household ghost from time to time.

I now have two girls of my own and it’s important to me that they understand the power of being accountable. Over the years I’ve learned that my fear of being accountable doesn’t compare to the pride I feel when I take responsibility for my words and actions. I’ve also learned that the more I’m accountable the more positive outcomes I experience in the long run.

To give an example … A few years ago, I nearly ripped the rear passenger door off of my car because I was in a hurry, worried I was going to be late for an appointment, and feeling too impatient to simply wait for my daughter. In my haste, I misjudged how much space I had to back out of the garage knowing that my daughter had left her car door partially open while she ran back inside to get something she’d forgotten.

After my mistake had been made and the damage had been done, I suddenly became very aware that I had two options in how I could handle this. I could completely lose control and blame my daughter for all the stress and angst I felt that morning. I could go further and blame her for leaving her homework causing us to be later than we already were. I could go even further and blame her for leaving the car door open causing me to hit the garage wall as I backed out.

Or I could be accountable for my actions. I’m grateful that in that moment I recognized that both of my girls were rattled by what had happened and scared of what was going to happen next. I looked at both of them, took a deep breath, and apologized for rushing them. I admitted that I had not planned well for our departure time that morning and as a result we were all scrambling to get out the door. I apologized for not being more patient and for trying to speed things up, and in doing so, I did something stupid which resulted in the car getting damaged.

I then made two phone calls. The first one was to Ricky, my car service guy. Fortunately, he and I had a great rapport which gave me comfort as I explained what had happened. He assured me that we’d get everything fixed and he encouraged me to focus on the fact that no one was hurt and that the garage itself wasn’t damaged. I then called Chris, my husband, and told him how sorry I was and that it was completely my fault. I could hear the frustration in his voice, but his words were kind and supportive as he agreed to meet me at Ricky’s shop.

After getting my girls to school, I met Chris and Ricky. The two of them inspected the damage and poked fun at my mishap. Ricky then directed us down the road where he had a friend who specialized in auto body repairs and who just happened to owe Ricky a favor. My stomach had been in knots all morning as I anticipated the cost of the repairs. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when we finally got the estimate and learned that we were only going to be charged $100 to realign the door.

While the cost of the repair was much lower than what I had feared, that wasn’t the most powerful aspect of the positive outcomes I experienced from this situation. Taking accountability in that moment strengthened my relationship with each of my daughters. Can you imagine how they would have felt if I had blamed them for what had happened, and what the long-term impact would have been on our relationship?

This situation also acted as a powerful life lesson, not just for my girls, but also for me.

In the days that followed, I felt proud of myself for taking accountability and for teaching my daughters the importance of owning our mistakes, and with that pride came the recognition that while it was obvious that I should have been accountable in that moment, not every situation is so black and white. This incident occurred during a time in my life when everyday felt like a battle. Most of my relationships were strained, nothing was going right and I’d forgotten how to appreciate the simple pleasures in life. I believe this was the wake up call I needed to realize how my own words and actions were playing a role in my state of despair. I began to understand the importance of owning how I was going to show up, how I was going to respond to the world around me, and how I was going to engage with others.

If you can relate to feeling like it’s you against the world, I’d encourage you to take a moment to reflect and ask yourself what role are you playing in all of this and then have the courage to Be Accountable.


Jenny Landon

Blessed│Wife│Mom│Friend│Founder of GOOD│Author│Public Speaker│Golf Fanatic

It took me years to find my voice and even longer to learn how to use it so that I’m creating GOOD rather than just fighting the bad. Now I use my voice to heal myself and hopefully others along the way.

Sending love to all those who struggle with mental health and/or have lost a loved one to suicide.

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His Suicide Saved Her Life – How Jenny Landon Found GOOD in even the Darkest Moments

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Nearly fifteen years after losing her dad to suicide, Jenny Landon was asked by a friend to write a letter of hope letting others know that healing is possible. Three years later, what started as a letter became a published book called Growing Through Grief. Jenny’s life experiences and her passion for helping others have compelled her to be voice of compassion and authority on suicide awareness, healing, and wellness.

After graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree inPsychology, Jenny worked as a crisis counselor and public educator on suicide prevention. Over the last twenty years, Jenny has endured losing her dad to suicide, supporting loved ones with mental health struggles, as well as overcoming her own depression and state of being suicidal. Through this she has learned effective tools for healing that are rarely discussed with mental health.

Jenny now travels to speak to audiences large and small about the importance of intentional living, authentic healing, and meaningful connections, and how understanding these three concepts lay the foundation for living a life of hope, wellness, and gratitude. Jenny speaks from the heart as she shares her personal journey and offers hope to her audience while empowering them to ask questions, explore options, and take action.

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Guest Post: The Mathematics of Hope

(Note: If this article looks familiar to some of you, it was published earlier and taken down at the request of the author. He has again allowed me to post it. Also, please note that Paul was a guest on The Depression Files podcast. Hear him share his story and much more here).

BY PAUL CURRINGTON

A lot of people say they’d die for their child. I’ve never heard anyone say they’ll show them what it takes to live. The truth is, when life is overwhelming, we justify all kinds of unhealthy behavior. We eat a doughnut when we’re sad. Smoke a cigarette when we’re stressed. Have a few glasses of wine after a hard day at work. Because we all get overwhelmed, we forgive ourselves and we forgive others.

Except when it comes to suicide. Especially if you’re a parent. Years ago, after a lifetime of depression, I tried to end my life. In the months and years afterward, I discovered that as a parent, when you cross the line from thinking about suicide to surviving suicide, you end up having to answer one question for the rest of your life. “You have a child. How could you have been so selfish?” Everyone seems to assume that we didn’t think of that when we made our attempt, but from my own experience, and my conversations with other survivors, I know many of us did think of that and came to the conclusion that our children were better off without us.

That’s the insidious nature of depression. When you’re deep in it, all the lies you tell yourself make perfect sense. I call it The Calculus of Despair. No rational argument or past experience can make you believe otherwise. No matter what you’ve accomplished, you still feel like a failure. You could have a hundred voice mails in your phone and still feel unwanted. You could be holding a handmade birthday card from your son and still feel like he’d be better off without you.

Depression doesn’t give you choices. It gives you ultimatums. It convinces you that nothing will ever change and the only way out of this pain is to get out of this life. If your depression leads you to end your life, it doesn’t mean you haven’t thought about the consequences. It means you put everything in your life into the spreadsheet, did the calculations, and discovered that ending your life was the best thing for everyone. You didn’t decide it, you discovered it using the upside-down mathematics of depression.

If you’re lucky, you survive. Someone stops you. You stop yourself. Maybe you just miscalculate and wake up on the floor of your bedroom in a fog, not sure if you’re if you’re angry or grateful. What happens next shapes the rest of your life. When I woke up the day after my attempt, I realized I had a choice to make. I could keep living the life that had brought me to my knees or I could do everything in my power to change how I lived. If I ended up a year later in the same place in the same state of mind, at least I would know that I went down swinging.

I decided to go down swinging.

For the next year I committed to doing everything my therapist and doctor told me to do. If they said take a pill, I took a pill. If they said eat healthy and exercise, I made a salad and went to the gym. I did everything I was supposed to do so that in the end, if nothing worked, at least I could say I did my best.

But it did work. After a while, I could see my life changing. More importantly, I could see my outlook changing. I slowly started to see where I had gone wrong in the past and how my new habits were helping me stay on course. I stopped isolating myself. I started asking for help when I felt myself slipping. I swallowed my pride and joined support groups. All of these things together helped me achieve the emotional stability I never thought was possible.

The most helpful thing of all however was my decision to reveal to others that I struggled with depression. I was tired of keeping it a secret, and the longer I held it, in the heavier it became. Shame gathers momentum in silence and I didn’t want to give those feelings a chance to grow. I figured if I told my story as a survivor rather than a victim, people would see me as strong instead of flawed, tough instead of fragile.

A year-and-a-half after my attempt, I started telling people outside my close circle of friends what I had been through and what I continue to deal with. I didn’t do it all at once and I didn’t do it online. I just slowly revealed, one-on one and in person, that I live with depression and that some of the things I do, eating healthy, not drinking, doing more walking than driving, are things that help me stay happy and centered.

But before I shared my story with too many people, I knew I needed to speak to my son. It was time to tell him that his father had crashed and risen, and that for the rest of my life I would have to rise again at the beginning of each day and do the things that keep me alive. He was 22 and not living with me when I made my attempt. It had been easy to keep my recovery a secret from him because he was off living his own life and I didn’t see him every day. But I knew that if I wanted my story to help others he needed to hear it from me first.

So I sat him down in the place where we always have the hard talks, the car. There’s something about being side by side that allows us to say things that we couldn’t if we were staring at each other. I drove all over town and the surrounding woods before I found a way to bring up the subject. To my relief, my son was grateful and supportive. He shared with me that he had his own struggle with depression and had once considered suicide. That talk turned into other talks. Those talks led him to finding a good therapist and working on making healthy changes in his own life.

It’s been three years since that talk in the car and I’ve never regretted it. My kid still sees his therapist and isn’t embarrassed about needing one. By admitting I have depression, I showed him that his dad is just as flawed as anyone else. There’s no mythical bar that my son has to live up to now. When he feels sad and lost he doesn’t have to add shame to the emotional equation. He knows his father has also felt sad and lost.

When I shared the real reason I go to the gym, get enough sleep, and spend time helping others, I wasn’t just sharing my story, I was showing him how to get through his own rough times and the ways I’ve found to get around the awful, twisted logic of mental illness. Depression tells me 1+1=0. What I tell my son is this: 1+1=whatever you believe it to be. It is the simple addition of days filled with small purposeful steps forward that we see our way through.

The greatest gift I ever gave my son was to stop pretending I had it all together. It gave me a credibility with him I never had before. When I share with him the things I do to stay alive he knows they work because I’m still here. If you want to teach your kid the mathematics of hope you have to show your work.

A storyteller and TEDx speaker coach, Paul Currington decided to start sharing his own story of his “lifelong friendship with depression” after an attempted suicide. He sought help and also began treating his depression like an addiction. Today, he says his life “has never been better.” Even though he still has an occasional bad day, he doesn’t let himself fall into a pain spiral. He says instead of wishing he was happy he now does things that make him happy.

Note: This story was originally posted on The Stability Network.

Note: Paul was also interviewed on The Depression Files podcast. Click here to listen to this very intriguing interview.

Helping a Friend Through Depression: A Memorable Day During a Bout of Major Depression

As an advocate around mental health and, particularly, depression, I often get asked the question of how one can support a friend or family member who is struggling with depression. Actually, I had no idea how to answer that question when I was in the midst of my own major depression.

I had invited two of my best friends to my house the night before I checked myself into a partial hospitalization program in order to let them know what was going on with me…and to request their support. Of course they asked, “What can we do to support you?” While I really didn’t know a good answer, I asked them to check in with me via texts once in awhile. I also asked them to invite me out for a coffee, alone, without a group of friends, now and then. My last suggestion was to ask one of them to reach out to an acquaintance of his who worked with men and depression and to ask him how they could support me.

My wife wanted to help me. She, too, asked, “How can I help you?” I really didn’t know what she could do for me. I asked her to join me at a therapy session or two, which she did. This was comforting to me, although I’m not so sure how much it supported her in helping me.

One of my most memorable times in which a friend helped me out happened to be on a bitter cold Minnesota day. My friend, Dan (one of the two I had mentioned earlier in this post), called me up and said, “Get dressed, I’m coming over and we’re going out with our cameras”. He arrived to my house and, as is common for many when clinically depressed, I made as many excuses as I could to stay inside the house and on the couch. He persisted. He even brought some extra, warm clothes for me in order to eliminate the lack of warm clothes as a possible excuse. Dan happens to be a professional photographer and, as a very close friend, he knew of my passion for photography, as well. We’d been out to shoot on several occasions prior to this.

We geared up, long-johns, Sorrel boots, hats, gloves, wool socks, the works! The weather was frigid. I trudged my way from my house door to his car, feeling that my body movements were slow and heavy due to the depression. As close friends often are, I was comfortable with Dan and knew that I could be silent, sad, or simply emotionally numb and he wouldn’t judge me for it. He drove the mile or so to the Mississippi River. We got out, each with a camera in hand, and made our way to the slow moving, nearly completely frozen river. The air was incredibly crisp and sun was shining brightly. It was actually a beautiful day and the frigid temperature actually, in some odd way, was refreshing and even invigorating.

I still remember that day like it was yesterday. We walked up and down the banks of the river exploring through the lenses of our cameras. The reflection of the sun off of the ice and water was just beautiful. It allowed me to get outside of my head (and out of my house), even if just for a short couple of hours. I got exercise, I had social contact with a trusted friend, I had fresh air, and I was able to enjoy one of my hobbies for which I had lost interest in during my depression.

Was I cured from my depression? Absolutely not. Did it give me a glimmer of hope that is so crucial to recovering from a major depressive episode? Absolutely! Lessons learned: Ask for help, accept help, use every ounce of effort possible (dig deep) to find any bit of energy to do something!

As with all of my posts, I encourage and welcome comments!

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My friend, Dan, at the Mississippi River on the frigid day described above.

Guest Post: 7 Mental Health Podcasts You Should Check Out!

I was really excited to see that a guest from my podcast, Charles Minguez, included my podcast, The Depression Files, in his post regarding seven mental health podcasts to check out! With his permission, I’ve included the post here in my blog. You can find Charles’ bio and a link to this original post at the bottom of the page. Thank you, Charles!

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 8.11.48 PMIn an age where information is available to us with a simple touch or click of a button, we can easily connect and learn from others through the wonderful world of podcasts. Have you subscribed to these mental health podcasts?

In the past, I’ve written about how our phones can control our lives. I’ve even confessed to you my addiction to social media. However, the supercomputers we carry around with us don’t have to be disruptive to our health. They can contribute to cultivating robust mental health.

Check out these seven mental health podcasts

Anxiety Slayer | 4.5 Stars
Created in 2009 by Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer, Anxiety Slayer is more than just a podcast. The dynamic duo of Shann and Ananga offer content to combat anxiety in the form of the podcast, best-selling books, and even music.

Listen or Subscribe Here

Happier with Gretchen Rubin | 5 Stars
I first heard of Gretchen Rubin from another podcast, Live Inspired, but you may recognize her name from an interview with Oprah. Gretchen is also the best-selling author of three books including, The Happiness Project.

In the Happier podcast, Gretchen along with her co-host and sister Elizabeth Craft discuss happiness and good habits.

Listen or Subscribe Here

Happy Place | 5 Stars
Happy Place is a continuation of Fearne Cotton’s book, Happy. Fearne pulls from her own experiences of both happy and not-so-happy times. She also interviews inspiring guests and shares advice from experts giving listeners both hope and steps to work through the blues.

Listen or Subscribe Here

Mentally Yours | 4 Stars
According to co-hosts Ellen C. Scott and Yvette Caster, Mentally Yours, “is a weekly mental health podcast where we chat with guests about their brains and stuff.” This podcast is a fun and refreshing look at the world of mental health issues.

Listen or Subscribe Here

Terrible, Thanks for Asking | 5 Stars
Wow has Nora McInerny been through a lot! A few years ago, and in a matter of months, she lost a child, her father, and husband. Nora has written two books about her experiences, “No Happy Endings” and “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)”.

The podcast isn’t all about McInerny, however. In the series, she asks others to open up about all the uncomfortable stuff, to get honest about what they’ve been through and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Listen or Subscribe Here

The Depression Files | 5 Stars
Al Levin has been working in public education for over twenty years. He also has recovered from a major depressive disorder. Using his education experience as well as his experience with mental illness, Al created the Depression Files to educate, inspire hope, and to help minimize the stigma around mental illness.

Even though the Depression Files focuses on interviewing men who have dealt with mental health issues, there is valuable information in each interview for all people.

Listen or Subscribe Here

The Shek Check | Brand New!
I first learned of Erez Shek after seeing a video he posted about bipolar disorder on Twitter. It was immediately apparent that Erez was on a mission to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The Shek Check, which begun as a YouTube series is now a Podcast where Erez continues the mental health conversation with a combination of inspiring monologue and guest interviews.

Listen or Subscribe Here

About Charles Minguez: Charles is practicing Buddhist and meditation teacher sharing his experiences fighting depression to give you hope that you can fight it too! Learn more at or follow on Twitter at @charlesminguezYou can also hear my interview with Charles on “The Depression Files” by clicking here.

Suicide is NOT Selfish

Let me be crystal clear: Suicide is NOT a selfish act. It is not an attention-seeking act. Anybody who says differently is perpetuating a very dangerous misunderstanding.

I have heard many stories in which someone stated that they would never take their own life because of their family, yet they end up dying by suicide. After having been in an incredibly deep, dark place of major depression, a place in which I did not feel myself and was not thinking logically because of the illness, I have a much greater understanding of how one may tragically come to end their life.

Conversely, I can understand how one who loved someone who died by suicide may feel as though the act was selfish. I would imagine there may be deep feelings of anger by a loved survivor of one who died by suicide. This is typical of the normal grieving process and I would imagine one’s anger is exacerbated when grieving the loss of loved one who died by suicide. I also believe it would be normal to wonder, “Didn’t the person consider me or our family when they decided to take their own life”, thus eliciting the feeling that the person who died by suicide must have been selfish for not even thinking of how the act would impact me/our family.

As a person who had four young children (between the ages of two and seven) when I had planned my suicide, I can attest to the fact that I had not developed a plan out of selfishness. I truly believed that I had become such a burden to my family that they would be better off without me. I no longer believed that I was a competent employee, father, or husband. I was going through an incredible amount of indescribable pain. The depression had become excruciatingly debilitating. Other than uncontrollable crying bouts at night, I was emotionless throughout the days. I was numb to all feelings. I could no longer read expressively to my kids or find joy in playing with them. I could no longer take care of the easiest of chores at the house. Every small task at work felt like a new summit had been placed on top of the peak of a mountain of responsibilities. I felt deeply helpless and hopeless. I did not intentionally develop a plan for suicide. The thought came into my head, I would push it away, and it would be back in my head less than an hour later. I couldn’t stop the thought from coming to my mind. One evening, I dreamed of going through with the plan. This dream scared the hell out me and was the impetus for me to urge my wife and sister to join me for an urgent appointment with my psychiatric physician’s assistant (PA) to advocate for more support.

I was very thankful they were with me, as it took their insistence to finally convince this PA that I needed something more. I made the difficult, yet lifesaving, decision to leave work for three weeks in order to check myself into a partial hospitalization program.

As I was on the verge of acting out a plan of suicide, it was not based on selfishness whatsoever. It was the pain of the debilitating depression and not knowing if or when I would ever get better.

Friends and loved ones need to somehow provide those who are suffering with a sense of hope. Suicide is not the answer.

As with all of my posts, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Guest Post: PTSD & Cancer

The following is a Guest Post from a fellow advocate of mine. Bob McEachern is an advocate for Follicular Lymphoma. You can find much more of his writing on his own very popular blog “Lympho Bob”. In this post, he describes how one going through cancer may likely face symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This topic interested me greatly, as I have met advocates of many different chronic illnesses and have often wondered how receiving the diagnosis of a chronic illness and living with a chronic illness may impact one’s mental health. I now have a first-hand description.

 

 

PTSD and Cancer

Recently, a friend posted a link on Twitter. Like me, she’s a cancer survivor – breast cancer for her, Follicular Lymphoma for me.

The link was for a study of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) in cancer patients. The researchers began with a simple assumption – that a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event (I’d say that’s a good assumption). They interviewed patients when they were diagnosed (their exposure to the trauma), and then again at 6 months and at 4 years after diagnosis. The interviews focused on their possible PTSD-related symptoms – intense fear, horror, or helplessness at diagnosis, and then later re-experiencing the event by avoiding it, or feeling numb or detached, for example.

They found that, 6 months after diagnosis, about 20% of cancer patients experienced some form of PTSD. That’s more than 3 times the rate of PTSD in the general population.

The PTSD rate was in line with the general population at 4 years, but there are plenty of cancer patients who relive their experience, even years later.

My own diagnosis was as traumatic as many others. I was 40 years old, the healthiest I had ever been, and had three young children, aged 10, 8, and 6. After the diagnosis, I spent a week doing blood tests, a PET scan, and a bone marrow biopsy, trying to figure out what I was dealing with.

After all that, I went to see a Lymphoma specialist at a nearby research hospital. For the first time, in the waiting room, I was surrounded by other cancer patients, and my reality started to creep in. I picked up a brochure and saw the 5- and 10-year survival rates for Follicular Lymphoma. It was all overwhelming. I spent the next two weeks breaking into tears every half hour or so, wondering, Will that be me? Will I be a statistic? And wondering what would happen to my kids. It was the darkest time of my life.

Fast forward 9 years. My wife needed some testing done at the same hospital. We went up to the second floor of one of the building, and as she was checking in, I got a strange sense that I’d been there before. The building is kind of pyramid-shaped, with one wall completely made of glass windows. In the middle of the waiting area, there was a large planter full of ferns.

I knew those windows. I knew that planter. This was the waiting room that I had been in before.

As my wife sat in the nearly empty waiting room to be called in, I looked around for a directory, to see if this was actually the Hematology section, and not the specialty she was being tested for. Before she got called in, I told her that I thought this was the same room.

She went in for the tests, so I sat by myself in that waiting room, for the 3 hours or so that the tests took. I had brought a book with me, but I couldn’t focus on it. I got up and walked around, still wondering if this was the same room. Sure enough, I found a bronze plaque that had something to do with an important donor and Hematology. This was the place. I also found a big Andy Warhol-type print of a local personality, his face repeated like Marilyn Monroe’s, hanging on the wall. This personality had blood cancer, too. It’s funny — one memory of that bad day was seeing him in the hallway, when he must have had an appointment. This was most definitely the old Hematology department (which I later realized had moved to a new cancer building).

Lots of feelings came flooding back to me. It’s a strange sensation, reliving something so vividly, nine years later.

I don’t know if what I felt would be classified as Subsyndromal PTSD, as the researchers in the cancer study call it. But it’s easy for me to believe that cancer patients can experience those symptoms, even years after they were diagnosed.

One fascinating finding from the PTSD-Cancer research that really stood out for me: patients with all types of cancer experience PTSD at 6 months at a rate higher than the general population, except one: breast cancer patients.

The researchers think that this is the case because breast cancer patients have so many more support resources available to them than patients of other cancers.

Another conclusion from the researchers that stood out: many cancer patients who do experience PTSD symptoms have the belief that going it alone is a sign of strength, and they should just gut it out when they have emotional problems.

It’s not an easy leap to put those two things together. Breast cancer patients (about 99% of them are women) have more support resources, but are also more likely to use them. In general, men are less likely to seek out help.

My two experiences, nine years apart, were very different. After diagnosis, when things went dark, I kept everything inside for two weeks. I needed to “be strong.” I remember watching TV with my wife and kids, turning off the lights “so I could see better,” but really trying to hide my tears from them. Things only got better when I finally opened up to my wife. She was and still is my rock. She listened, let me cry, and let me know that whatever happened, we would go through it together. Nine years later, after revisiting the same office and feeling the same feelings, I didn’t make that mistake again. We talked through it all right away.

The researchers conclude that more support for cancer patients’ mental health is needed. Even a doctor taking time to debrief a patient’s emotions, right from diagnosis, can help. A doctor’s willingness to bring up the issue can go a long way toward finding a problem.

And patients need to be willing to seek help. Being silent is not a sign of weakness, they say. In fact, it’s a sign of strength – it takes courage to seek help.

That’s a good reminder for all of us.

 

Reflections from the NAMI National Convention (2018)

During the last week of June 2018, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) held their annual national convention. This year it was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. There were nearly 1,700 total attendees with representation from every state, including Puerto Rico. Half of the attendees at the convention were first-timers. The theme of the convention was, “Live, Learn, Share, Hope”. Each of these themes resonated with me in a different way:

Live:

The theme “Live” makes me think about how I need to live my life to its fullest. The phrase, “Live each day like it’s your last” came to mind. I have become more mindful in the past few years. To some, “mindfulness” may just seem like a buzz word. To me, being mindful and living in the moment is critical in order to be fully present. I now naturally catch myself when my mind is wandering and pull myself back into the present.  This is important because much of our mind wandering has been shown to be negative. One study found approximately 80% of mind wandering to fall into that category. A recent example of mine was when I was playing a board game with three of my kids. I caught myself starting to think about work and things I needed to accomplish around the house. I quickly stopped those thoughts and intentionally focused on my kids and the game we were playing. Of course, everybody’s “fullest” will look different, and that’s okay. Regardless, if we want to live our lives more deeply, learning to be present will always be part of that formula.

Learn:

Much of the NAMI national conference is about learning. I learned about some of the policy and advocacy work that NAMI is doing at the national level. As the nations largest grassroots mental health organization, NAMI has done an extraordinary amount of work in shaping the national public policy in an effort to support both those living with a mental illness and their family members. NAMI has also educated hundreds of thousands of people giving them information and the resources they need in order to support themselves or others.

In addition to learning more about NAMI, I learned about the difficulties and opportunities in mental health research faced by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). I was able to learn more about new medications, new therapies, and how to become a better advocate. I learned more about the unique challenges faced by people of color who are living with a mental illness. The learning opportunities at the convention were endless!

Share:

Sharing is about connecting with others. I was able to connect with so many dynamic, caring people at the convention. People were open to sharing their own personal experiences of living with a mental illness. Others shared  about supporting a loved one with a mental illness. People shared how they advocate for more awareness and better policies around mental illness. Many were there to share their valuable resources. This sharing “culture” was one that allowed for people to connect and learn from one another in a very authentic, caring way.

Hope:

Hope permeated the NAMI convention. Hearing many stories of those living with a mental illness who have made incredible strides, such as Jeff Fink, Lauren Burke, and Lloyd Hale from the movie, “Beyond Silence”. Each of them overcame inconceivable  challenges of living with a mental illness. Learning from others about how they live incredibly meaningful lives full of contentment while managing their mental illness created an immense feeling of hope.

In the end, this convention was both inspiring and educational. It allowed people from all walks of life to connect with one another and to learn from one another. NAMI is an organization that provides a wealth of resources and information to so many. I would urge anybody who has any interest in mental illness to attend a NAMI national, or even state, convention.