In her late 50s Arlene was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Soon after, she was introduced to NAMI-NYC by an In Our Own Voice presenter, who encouraged her to participate. But In Our Own Voice, where people living with mental illness go to hospitals and colleges to speak about their recovery experiences, scared Arlene. “I don’t speak in public,” she told her friend. That soon changed.
How Arlene Gives Back to NAMI
Arlene did In Our Own Voice training in 2008, and she’s been speaking in public ever since. She likes to give encouragement to people. “I see hope in people’s faces,” Arlene says.
In Our Own Voice presentations are special, says Arlene, because of the effect they have on the people listening. A lot of audiences are agitated or nervous at first but Arlene has a way of explaining that away. “It’s just a disease of the brain,” she says. “Diabetic – pancreas. Bipolar – brain. It’s all a part of the body.” Her message to everyone is, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
What Makes NAMI Different
When asked if NAMI was helpful to people, Arlene replies, “Oh, most definitely!” Then she gets serious. “It’s like life or death,” she says, for people to hear In Our Own Voice presentations. “I’m glad that NAMI came up with In Our Own Voice. These presentations bring hope.”
Arlene’s goal is to bring In Our Own Voice into the church community. “The church’s doctrine is ‘The devil is in you!’” she says, shaking her head. But religious people need support in times of need too. “My hope, and I think it will come to pass, is that we will go into more churches.”
How NAMI Changed Arlene’s Life
“Sometimes when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I will get up and do a presentation,” Arlene says. “And then I’m really grateful I got out of bed!” These presentations mean everything to her. “I wouldn’t stop it for nothing.”
Helping other people is her main motivation. “If I can help one person,” she says, “then the job is done.” To see other people who may be struggling like she once was lifted up by her story makes it all worth it. “It’s a great feeling, knowing that I helped somebody. I hug a lot of people.”