Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Experience So Far as a NAMI Family Support Group Facilitator

By Marjorie Antus, NAMI Prince William (Va.)

The remarkable thing about the NAMI Family Support Group is how relaxed it is. My sense of peace during the sessions probably stems from having attended only three sessions to date as a co-facilitator and, thus, from not having experienced the outbreak of raw emotion that likely occurs from time to time.

But I also credit Jeri Weeks, the lead facilitator, for the relaxed environment. She welcomes everyone, laughs a great deal, and encourages openness with forthright stories of her own life as mother of a man with schizophrenia.

In the bereavement support groups I once facilitated, in the NAMI Family Support Group, and also in the NAMI Family-to-Family class I currently attend, I have never failed to see a wonderful dynamic unfold. Many participants seem not to want to walk through the door on the evening of the first session; I among them. That’s obvious from the worried looks. By the third week, however, many come through the meeting room door smiling. It’s almost like clockwork, the camaraderie that takes hold over two weeks.

One of the most striking aspects of the support groups overall is, I think, humor. I expected and have seen tearfulness. I expected and have seen fear, frustration and sadness. What I didn’t expect was genuine laughter—a kind of delight—coming from people who are living with mystifying family relationships over which they sometimes have little control. That was a revelation to me. 

There are two reasons for my becoming a NAMI Family Support Group facilitator. The first is that my teenage daughter died by suicide in 1995. My need to talk about my daughter and her death was immense at the time, but almost no one was capable of sitting with me through the intensity. A support group would have been a safe place to be heard, so that is what I try to provide others as facilitator: a safe place to be heard.

The second reason is that I have a grown son with schizoaffective disorder who is living with my husband and me in a stable and good way. It is mostly concern for John Paul’s future that motivates me to help build the NAMI community.  


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog post. My story is similar.

Anonymous said...

Marj, thank you for sharing your experience for us.

Sarah Eisenman said...

Thanks for sharing Marj! Love working with you and Jeri and the volunteers with NAMI Virginia - you inspire me everyday!

Anonymous said...

That is clearly the benefit of group work..."a safe place to be heard" by people who have lived it or are living it.

Anonymous said...

,refreshingly encouraging story

Barbara said...

thank you for all you do.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of a 9 year old boy with Bipolar 1. I live in Manassas and have been trying to locate a support group but have had difficulty finding one. I stumbled on your story and am feeling hopeful!! Can you tell me when/where the Prince William NAMI group meets?

Larry Springer said...

Thanks for being transparent in your family's mental health situations. Your story will aid those with mental illness who are suffering but afraid to ask for help because of the stigma, and their family & friends who have been reluctant to attend a NAMI Support Group.

Larry Springer said...

NAMI Prince William Support Group Meetings

The Woodbridge group meets the second Tuesday of the month at the Potomac Hospital at 2300 Opitz Boulevard from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. It meets in the Hylton Education Center in room D. Take the other (staff) hospital entrance back to the parking lot in front of the center. Here’s a link to the map of the campus: http://www.potomachospital.com/documents/hyltonedcmappage2010.pdf
The next meeting is April 9th.
Contact Jeri Weeks at 703-590-0783 for more information.

The Manassas Family and Friends support group normally meets the last Monday of each month. It meets at the Prince William Hospital, 8700 Sudley Road (Business 234), Manassas, in the Conference Center on the 4th floor of the main building (normally conference room C), from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The next meeting is April 29th.
Contact Susan Frankowski at 540-349-2687 for more information.

All who have a family member or friend with a mental illness and could use the support of others with similar experiences, who understand what you are going through, are encouraged to attend. Membership in NAMI Prince William is not required.

Inclement weather policy:
NAMI Prince William meetings are canceled if Prince William County Offices or Schools are closed, close early, or have evening activities canceled.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the inspiration.