Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Running Down Stigma: Michael's Story

In 2008 Michael Runningwolf was diagnosed with a severe mental illness known as Paranoid Schizophrenia. Although this illness has made life difficult for Michael, he says the most crippling of all things was the stigma attached to his illness. Michael now runs races to help erase the stigma of mental illness and raises funds for mental health organizations. Michael will be running the Santa Barbara International Marathon on November 9, 2013 in support of NAMI Utah. Check out his website by clicking HERE.

We had the opportunity to ask Michael a few questions. Here's what he had to say:

1.) Where did you seek help when you first received a diagnosis? 

When I first received my diagnosis, I was told that I needed to go to a psychiatric hospital so I could get the proper care I needed. I was not educated about mental illness at that time and I had no idea where to reach out for help. At the same time, most of the people in my life were distancing themselves from me and I felt very alone and scared. I found a local NAMI office in Boise Idaho and they helped me with information but I was struggling and it wasn’t long before I found myself hospitalized again and then I found myself incarcerated into the jails psychiatric unit.

2.) Tell us about your first involvement with NAMI.

The first time I found NAMI was in Idaho, but the first time I really found NAMI was when I moved to Phoenix Arizona. I went to visit them and found a home, they let me volunteer there and I found a family that supported me any way they could. I started to volunteer about two hours a week, and before I knew it I was volunteering forty hours a week before and more because I believed in what NAMI was doing and also it felt wonderful to get up every morning and have someplace to go and to know I was helping others. They saved my life, they helped me find my purpose and meaning and they did it without ever asking who my insurance provider was or what could I pay. They were my saving grace and I owe NAMI everything for what they did for me. They helped me learn about my illness, they put me in the NAMI classes, they believed in me, and they taught me that I was not alone. Without NAMI, I am not sure I would have survived it all.

3.) How has running helped you in your recovery?

It has given me a purpose, I run to break down the barriers of mental illness. When you run a 26.2 mile race and you complete with the other runners, you show that people with a diagnosis can go the distance too. Also, I hear things that others don’t and see things that others don’t and when I run, I think it releases serotonin and that gives the illness a real beating! I like to say I can drop my voices at mile five because they can’t keep up. It is my best medicine to fight them; it is my best coping skill. When I run I am free, I know I can use it to help with the symptoms and the weight gain that comes from taking psychiatric medications. In addition, running has been tool for me in breaking down stigma because I can take it to the general population and get it out to the communities, to the people who rarely ever think of mental illness except when it makes headlines because of an incident. It is my way to speak to the world, that we are people too, and we too can go the extra mile.

 4.) What were some important resources for you during your journey with mental illness? 

NAMI classes, NAMI library, and the folks at NAMI with their vast amount of knowledge and caring. They helped me navigate a system that is not easy to navigate; they helped me understand the steps to take to get what I needed. A Another important resource was my psychiatrist who actually listened to me and supported me in my healing. I am also on SMI (serious mentally ill) probation and my probation officer Doug is a huge support for me and makes it possible for me to travel and run.

5.) Do you have any advice for others seeking treatment? 

Yes, contact your local NAMI, contact them and work with them, they can be your greatest source of information and understanding. Enroll in the NAMI classes and meet other peers that struggle with psychiatric challenges. Always hope, never give up, and when you find what works for you, never stop doing what works. And share and support others when you can, giving back is empowering and when you feel empowered you have the energy and motivation to keep going strong!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Alissa's Story

This is a story of recovery from a woman named Alissa who took the NAMI Utah BRIDGES class (a free 12-week education class for individuals living with mental illness). As of this weekend, she is now a certified BRIDGES teacher!! Congratulations Alissa and thank you for sharing your story and teaching others that, "recovery is worth fighting for."

“My recovery is an ongoing project, as I imagine it always will be. That being said, I am healthier today, both physically and mentally, than I have been in over a decade. I have been in what one would call “recovery” for about 6 years now. I take my meds every day, and I follow a strict and healthy diet (low sugars, no caffeine or alcohol). I have even been able to hold down jobs (which is a big deal for me). My outlook on life has changed dramatically over the years. I live my life striving for positivity and optimism each day. Still, I do have a brain disorder, and I understand that it takes a daily effort to monitor myself and keep myself healthy. I have a great “med-manager”, an APRN who keeps an eye on me and works with me to help me feel as balanced as possible. I am very lucky to be where I am today. I know that I could have slipped through the cracks and become a statistic very easily. Without a strong support system of family, friends and medical professionals, I can say I probably would not be the happy and healthy person I am today. I know that I will never be “cured” of my brain disorder, but I have stopped wishing for a cure. I see my “illness” as a blessing. It has given me insight into so many things. Having a chronic illness has given me a level of empathy for others I couldn’t have gained any other way. Most importantly, being diagnosed with Bipolar II has given me something I never knew I had; the spirit of a fighter. I have had to fight to find my recovery. I want to show others that they have that spirit in them as well. Recovery is worth fighting for. It can take years, but ultimately it is so worth it. I am proof.”

For a schedule of FREE classes and support groups in your area click HERE.  

Alissa at the Eiffel Tower. The trip, she says, wouldn't have been possible before her recovery.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

We all have a story to share! What is yours?

Throughout May we will be posting personal and family stories of hope and recovery. If you would like to share your story with us send an e-mail to Mary: