Notes on Gratitude
Monday, March 25 2013, late afternoon
I remember the day and date exactly because it was Tom’s birthday. We’d spent the previous19 hours sitting in the ER at Los Robles waiting for a bed to open up in any psychiatric facility located somewhat nearby for my daughter’s second involuntary hold in as many weeks. She had hurt herself again, and they wouldn’t let us take her home. When a bed finally became available at Vista Del Mar, Tom drove his car behind the ambulance that carried my daughter and me the thirty miles between Thousand Oaks and Ventura. Exhausted, he and I sat in the lobby drinking bitter coffee and stale tea, waiting for someone to come and tell us what was going to happen with our daughter, waiting to see her before we left. She was 14 at the time.
Eventually, a social worker did come. We moved to an office for privacy, and she asked us about our story. Over the last seven months, we’d already told it. We’d told it ad nauseam. We’d told it to my daughter’s pediatrician and her therapist and the school counselor and the team of clinicians at the eating disorder clinic and then a psychiatrist and the team of clinicians at the residential treatment center and the team at the first hospital and the new team of after-the-first-hospital-clinicians and the cop that showed up when we called 911 and the ER nurse and the ER doctor and the CIT lady who came to assess whether or not my daughter was a danger to herself which she was, of course, but we hunkered down and repeated it for the record, one more time. Anything for anyone who could help our girl get well.
Finally, when the storytelling was done, when we’d check on our girl and seen that she was doing fine, we thanked the social worker and said our good-byes, unsure what this place would be able to do that none of the others had. I was shell-shocked, still in my clothes from the day before and hadn’t slept in 36 hours. We were going to grab a bite on the way home for Tom’s birthday though neither of us was in the mood to celebrate. On our way toward the automated door, the social worker said, “By the way, we have some flyers for NAMI in the lobby. You might want to grab one and check it out.”
“Sure,” I said, desperate to take my leave of the place even though I was leaving my daughter behind. I had no idea what NAMI was, but I found the kiosk, grabbed a flyer that said something about a fundraising walk, and headed out the door. I couldn't care less about a freaking walk, I thought. Let alone about raising money for some organization I’d never heard of. I didn’t investigate NAMI until my daughter was well on her way to recovery, back in school, and re-engaged in her life.
I sure wish I’d understood NAMI’s mission sooner. Thank goodness I understand it now.
When the wave that was the tsunami of my daughter’s mental illness started to recede from our lives, I felt as if I tumbled and rolled and bobbed my way along with it back out to sea. One day, well into our journey, I realized that I finally felt the tumult stop; it was as if I came to rest afloat, peacefully, on top of the water. I could feel again the sun on my skin and could take comfort from its warmth. That was when I knew I needed to get involved. That’s when NAMI came into my life.
In the time between then and now, I’ve taken NAMI’s Family to Family class, trained to teach that class and also to sit on panels for the Parents and Teachers As Allies and Ending The Silence programs, and I’ve taught two sections of Family to Family, each 12 weeks long. I teach beside the incredible Diane (see our photo below. I love teaching with her so much!) Together, we will teach another section starting in January. I don’t do this because I’m so great. I do it because I’m desperate.
I’m desperate to remember that I’m not alone, that there are people, many many people, in this world who understand perfectly well what my family and I went through, and what we continue to go through: the challenges we face, the obstacles we overcome, the successes we achieve, and the setbacks we endure. I do it because I learned a lot about what it takes to get a family through this kind of crisis, and I want to share the information with as many people as I can. I do it because, during the course of my daughter’s illness, I determined that I wanted to become a better person and being of service is one of the best ways for me to achieve that goal. I do it because I’m afraid. I’m afraid I'll forget where we were and how far we’ve come, afraid to get bogged down again by minutiae that is meaningless and designed specifically to blow us off course, and make us think the wrong things are important. I do it because gratitude is a practice. NAMI let’s me practice my gratitude in a variety of ways. I do it because of the hugs and the tears and the nods when a mother or father or brother or friend comes up to me and says, "Thanks. You understand."
"Yes," I say. "You are not alone." I say it as much to myself as to the other person, to remember that I'm not alone either, and I never was.
If you’re looking for a great organization that needs all the support it can get to spread the word regarding the realities of living with mental illness, to fight for a better mental healthcare system, and to bust stigma, NAMI is for you. You might even get a lovely dinner and few cool pins out of it (see mine below).
I am so proud of you and honored to call you my friend, Tracey!
Too many of us don't share; too many children and teens , afraid of the stigma of being considered weak or depressed or mentally ill suffer needlessly in silence and pain. Too many have been left to feel their only way out is to harm others, harm themselves or worse …take their own lives.
"Can't fix her – better fix me" has been what you have been selflessly working towards.
Thanks for all you do to help others, Tracey. You've realized that you matter and that your story matters… and you are now woven into the fabric of many other stories because of the support, love and friendship you give to everyone lucky enough to be part of your life. You are part of my story and I am grateful for your presence. <3
Thank you so much Wendy for the kind words and your unwavering friendship. Your support means the world to me, and I appreciate you! Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting my cause in all the ways you do. xo
Thank you too so much Susan! You have been my biggest cheerleader since my journey here on my blog began and even before that. I couldn't and maybe wouldn't do it without your help. I am grateful for you and the joy and connection your friendship brings into my life.
You would have done this with or without me. It's your calling! It's still nice to have a cheerleader, though. And from my perspective, I get to have fun, learn and be part of a supportive community without having to wear a short skirt and jump up and down for a few hours every Friday night.
Great story Tracey. I had to look up NAMI since I wasn't familiar with it. I have friends and family members who suffer from mental illness and I know how hard it is to talk about it. Thank you for sharing.
Another goosebump maker:-) I know I've probably said this before, but you inspire the hell out of me, Tracey. It's incredible how you can take your unimaginably difficult situation and turn it into a way that serves the community. I am honestly taken aback by your support and generosity on a regular basis. Thank you so much. Is that the walk you participated in last Spring? Oooh, I wanted to mention that I hadn't received any of your updates the last few weeks. And I just happened to go into my junk folder to look for something, and lo and behold, there was today's post. I don't know how they started going to my junk folder, but you're on the safe list now!!!
Thank you so much Rosa! Thanks for reading. Now that you've looked NAMI up, when you can, please spread the word. There are so many valuable services, all free to the community. 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 kids are suffering. Spread the word to help end stigma so people feel safe getting the help and support they need…thank you!!
Thank YOU so much Katie, for reading, your support and your kind words. Yes, NAMI's primary fundraising event every year is the walk. I'll be doing it again next year on April 30!! The money raised during the walk keeps all the services and programs free to the community. Sorry I've landed in the junk in the trunk 😉 but glad you found me…thanks again.
Another lovely, raw, honest, heart-wrenching and heart-filling post, Tracey. I'm so inspired by how you've walked through some incredibly difficult stuff with grace, and been a leader for so many of us along the way. You are one of the primary reasons I got brave enough to start telling our family's story, and to make more connections with people who are familiar with this path.
Tracey, you have an amazing voice. "You are not alone" is the message that sticks with me. Thank you for sharing this and making a difference. Your vulnerability allows me to open up and helps my heart heal. Xoxo
Thank you Stephanie. Isn't that all we really want to know? That someone understands us and is there for us. Thank you so much, for reading and taking the time to comment.
Thank you Tracey for all that you do! So happy you're part of this amazing organization! I truly admire your strength and love reading your writing. Thank you for sharing your life experiences. Love you xoxo
I love learning about you as your story unfolds. I remember those days, going from shrink to shrink, one hospital to another like driving a snowmobile to Vegas. Yet with resilience, and learning that recovery is rooted in hope, we've made it to the other side. There are no cures, there are no experts, and relapse may occur — but we are never alone, and we are surrounded by hope. Lot's of hope.
Thank you so much for volunteering for NAMI, Tracey. The support group and classes offered were a huge lifeline when my family was in crisis. There is so much to be improved on in the mental heath system, from stigma to medications to mentally ill people filling our prison system, but NAMI is a leader when it comes to finding people who can empathize with and guide families in crisis. Thanks again!