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Sharing stories sometimes helps with healing

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
Something magical can happen when people share their life stories.
They begin to come to terms with their decisions and everything that has happened to them, and the more they talk about it, the more they start to heal.
For Sarah Boyd, the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ “In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness” offered her a chance to tell her story. The recovery education presentation features a DVD of mentally ill people telling their stories in the following segments: “The Dark Days, Acceptance, Treatment and Medication, Coping Skills and Hope, Successes and Dreams.”
In between the segments, Boyd shares her personal story.
The first time she spoke publicly about her battle with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders was at a 2002 NAMI Rowan meeting, after which two young women told her that her insight on living with depression had given them hope.
“They said they listened to what I had said and that if I could overcome mental illness, they knew they could do it, too,” she recalls. “That made me feel so good to have them tell me that.”
The second time Boyd shared her story of mental illness was for a 2006 program at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Statesville Boulevard.
Afterward, she says five people approached her with questions about her recovery. One young woman had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the other four were family members of mentally ill people.
Though her mental illness may have been a factor in the failure of her first two marriages, Boyd says she’s fortunate to have found a supportive husband. “We’ve had a rough time,” she says, “but he’s stuck by me, and I have to respect him for that.”
Boyd has also shared her story with other Rowan churches, a local day treatment program for the mentally ill, the Rowan County Advisory Council, a service provider group in Union County and the Orange County NAMI in Chapel Hill.
She’s also trained four Rowan Countians with mental illness to be presenters for “In Our Own Voice.”
Another NAMI program being offered to Rowan Countians with mental illness is the Peer-to-Peer education course taught by three trained mentors who are experienced at living well with mental illness.
Topics addressed in the nine-week course include mental illness diagnoses, medications, stigma and discrimination, relapse prevention planning, addictions, spirituality, coping strategies, decision making, relationships and empowerment.
So far, Boyd says the course has been offered twice in Rowan. Eleven people completed it the first time, which qualifies them to be mentors, and nine took it the second time.
“By the end of the courses, they had become more comfortable with themselves,” she says.
The course offers a different perspective on mental illness. “It gets you to look at your illness in a way that is not normally pointed out to you in therapy,” Boyd says. “The emphasis is placed on recovery and maintaining that recovery.
“I think it’s very empowering.”
Boyd is hoping to work with a group in Cabarrus County to try to offer a course there and is willing to help people in other counties start the Peer-to-Peer program.
To find out more about the “In Our Own Voice” recovery presentation or the Peer-to-Peer course, contact Boyd at 704-636-2780 or the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264. Information on the presentation and course is also included on the NAMI Web site at www.nami.org.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost. com.

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