Getting payback from paying it forward
I am a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Clackamas County. I volunteer because I have mental illness and my life path has been challenging.
My parents tried to help me, but it was very difficult to diagnose and medically treat my condition(s) 50 years ago. Navigating through a life with ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety, sleep problems, depression and bipolar with no road map or medication was unfathomable. I am now in recovery mostly because I was so driven to succeed. Overcoming the challenges in my mind is my greatest learning experience ever.
I used to be overwhelmed with problems because my brain does not function properly. Now through proper medication and support, and as part of my recovery, I am able to help others, which has always been my way of being.
I learned about NAMI a year ago and it provides the opportunity to share with others who have mental or emotional challenges. NAMI has been a fantastic resource for me. It is my safe place and it is stigma free — no judgements, just support.
Mental illness/homelessness is a much bigger problem than it was in the past. It surprised me to learn that nearly 40 percent of people in our homeless population suffer from mental illness. As someone with lived experience — which helps me recognize, understand and relate to those that suffer from mental illness — I am committed to working to help lessen this crisis.
To that end, I now represent NAMI as a volunteer at the Clackamas Service Center (CSC) Resource Fair monthly. CSC provides our low-income and homeless community a food pantry, clothing, hot meals, hot showers and medical/dental assistance. Last week I met a couple visiting this event that appeared to be in a very tough situation. I could sense from Jim's (not his real name) face the magnitude of his problems.
When we began speaking, he shared with me his struggles. Jim and his partner are living in their car. Jim is in chronic pain from injuries while working construction and is currently unemployed. They have no money or home. Jim also believes he is mentally ill; his partner has bipolar disorder. In his own words, he and his partner have no help or hope. Jim was so lost thinking about the past and the future that he could not be in the present. I worked with him on this and, at the end of our conversation, he had reframed his thinking and gave me a smile and a hug. For a moment, they were in a safer place without stigma and with a little hope for a better day ahead. Mission accomplished — for today.
Using my life experience, my struggles and my ongoing recovery to help others discover a better quality of life has become an integral part of my day and my way of being present during my own recovery.
Paying it forward pays it back too!
Robert "Bob" Smith is a NAMI Clackamas volunteer at the Clackamas Service Center.