Stories: Sonja

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Sonja has always been interested in mental health. She’s never really seen doctors or taken medication, though. She’s taken her recovery into her own hands. But one day last spring, she Googled “public speaking mental health,” and NAMI came up. So she got in touch, and that was it. Sonja was hooked.

Coming from a history of abuse, Sonja had been diagnosed with PTSD in her thirties. Her father was violent, her older sister was cruel, and her little sister and mother were weak and easily manipulated. “I thought about suicide from probably the age of seven,” Sonja admits, “when I realized I had no power.” Her younger sister was in and out of mental hospitals, and Sonja herself was “very strange.” She was bullied at school, and when she got home every day would just run and hide.

Sonja needed a refuge, and a place to express herself. She found that at NAMI.

NAMI Services That Sonja Has Used

Other than being very involved in In Our Own Voice as a speaker, Sonja participated in the Creative Writing Group for a little while. However, one of her triggers is social situations, and she soon became worried about socializing within the group. “I need to have a purpose when I’m in a group of people,” she says. She hopes to return to it one day when she is feeling more confident. But in the meantime, “I have to be kind to myself.” Sonja also participates in NAMIWalks NYC.

How Sonja Gives Back to NAMI

Sonja is an active member of the In Our Own Voice Program, which sends people with mental illnesses out to hospitals, colleges, and organizations to speak about their experiences. “In Our Own Voice is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Sonja. “I love it so much.”

“Communication is the most important thing,” Sonja says, and she finds that being able to laugh, especially at herself, really helps. “I’ve finally developed a sense of humor about all of it,” she says. And that helps her get her message across. “If you make people laugh, they listen.”

“It’s so wonderful to be able to talk to people,” Sonja says. “The other presenters. I’ve never had that in my life.” She gets so much from giving her presentations, she says, that she wishes there were even more presentations to give. “I wish this was everywhere.” In fact, Sonja envisions a group where people who want to participate in In Our Own Voice but are uncomfortable with presenting in public can speak and learn communication skills.

How NAMI Has Changed Sonja’s Life

In Our Own Voice has been a godsend to Sonja. “I get so much from it,” she says. “It’s really good therapy.” She’s learned to communicate through the program, and more importantly, has learned that communicating is healthy and necessary. “Finding a sense of humor is the most important part of recovery.”

It’s very exciting, she says, to have a place to go and talk about everything. “I could never have imagined anything like this,” she says. Even speaking used to be difficult, but “it’s so easy now!” Sonja is even writing a book about her recovery. She has certainly found her voice through NAMI.

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