In 2007, Mitzi was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. She decided she wanted to get into mental health advocacy. In spring 2015 she looked into some opportunities in Vermont, where she lives part time. She trained at the NAMI affiliate there as a Peer-to-Peer facilitator, but her location was rather remote, and it was difficult getting people to come. She also looked into In Our Own Voice, but there was no program in Vermont. She trained in New Hampshire instead.
Mitzi moved to NYC in October, and got in touch with Pam Solomon, NAMI-NYC’s Peer-to-Peer and Family-to-Family courses coordinator. After getting connected with NAMI-NYC, Mitzi started participating in the In Our Own Voice program here in the city.
How Mitzi Found Out About NAMI
Mitzi’s aunt does NAMIWalks, because her daughter is bipolar. From there, Mitzi went online for more research. Mitzi says that “NAMI never came across my radar in any of my treatments or with doctors.” This was a shame, she says, because “I was the only bipolar person I knew” until she talked to people at NAMI.
What NAMI Services Mitzi Has Used
Mitzi has been involved in Peer-to-Peer for quite a while. She has also attended multiple support groups, including Peer-to-Peer and a few bipolar support groups. “I loved them big-time,” she says. “I came out energized.”
She says participating in a support group is a special experience, especially if you have never found a network like the one NAMI provides. “There’s just something about sitting in a group of people who are like you,” Mitzi insists. “It’s a great community.”
What Makes NAMI Different From Other Services
“So many people here are consumers,” Mitzi says. (“Consumers” means those living with mental illness.) “They’ve walked the walk.” Sometimes, social workers and doctors just haven’t had those experiences. She was in a support group once and heard one member say to another, “Time to go back on your meds.” Mitzi says, “No one else could say that.”
How Mitzi Gives Back to NAMI
Mitzi has quickly risen in the In Our Own Voice ranks, both here and in New England. In her words, she has “done a ton of it.” She recently got to give an In Our Own Voice presentation at the New Hampshire NAMIWalks, and just talking about it was very exciting. “I spoke after the governor!” she exclaims. “It’s so cool!”
Mitzi participates in NAMI programming in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and does advocacy in Vermont as well. She also went to Washington D.C. to get trained as an In Our Own Voice trainer, with the plan of starting a program in Vermont. This is what she’s wanted all along. “I’m really excited about it.”
How NAMI Has Changed Mitzi’s Life
NAMI has changed Mitzi’s life “very positively,” she says. You get to talk to so many different people, people who share similar struggles and experiences. The culture of consumers at NAMI has been very helpful to Mitzi, who felt somewhat isolated in her diagnosis before. And yet, it’s always been there. “I’m third generation bipolar,” she says. “My grandfather was first.”
But talking about her illness has been a big step in accepting it. What really helps her are her In Our Own Voice presentations, especially those for people without a mental illness. “It’s really cool to talk to these kids who have no idea,” Mitzi says of a recent presentation at a college. “And it’s interesting talking about your illness and how far you’ve come.”
Mitzi is forging ahead in her mission of education and advocacy, in three separate U.S. states. She is “particularly passionate about medication, and reducing the stigma of medication use,” she says. And with her presentations in New York and her upcoming pilot program in Vermont, she is tackling that issue head-on.