Lost chapter: NAMI Family-to-Family, Experiment

Between the first draft of Ben Behind His Voices Family-to-Familyand the final one that went to publication, a few chapters (well, about 100 pages) were on the literary equivalent of  film’s “cutting room floor.”    Here is one of the “lost” segments, from a NAMI Family-to-Family class I was teaching at the time.

May of 2004

I’m teaching my fourth Family-to-Family series, and this group decides to try something different. They vote to invite the “ill relatives” we’ve been talking about for nine weeks to attend the class on Recovery and Rehabilitation, where a guest consumer speaks.  They want their relatives to hear the stories. This is unusual, but this class wants to do it; so tonight we are joined by about five of the people we’ve only heard about since February. Ben is one of them. It feels odd, their presence in the room – one of the most effective things about F2F is that, for once, the family members get to be open about themselves, honest about their own sorrows, frustrations, and hopes.  This is the one place where they don’t have to be conscious of how their words will sound to the person whose illness has caused all those emotions.

I, too, feel self-conscious with Ben in the room. Does he disagree with what I’m saying?  Will he rebel against the idea that I hope for a “recovery” from an illness he doesn’t yet accept? Will this help him, or set him back?

I watch our guests during the class. Most are young adults, but not all.  They listen to our speakers, ask some questions.  They offer some insights, and also some resistance. We are, in reality, not expecting to “convince” them, but we’re still hoping something may sink in sooner or later.  I know I am. You never know.

The best part of the evening comes, unexpectedly, during the break. While all the family members are inside the room, talking with the guest speakers around the snack table, our relatives have taken their snacks into the hall and are talking to each other.  They’re in a circle, and they are talking.  I don’t know what they say to each other, but I do know that my heart lifts at the sight.

They are not alone; they are not so different.  They need more of that comradeship. They need each other.  There are so few support groups for teens and young adults with mental illness, unless they’re in the hospital.  Perhaps, like all young adults, what they need most of all is a healthy peer group that can make them feel like a part of something, and can inspire them to take one more step in the right direction.

I plant seeds. I plant seeds of insight and I hope someday they will grow.

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