Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jumping Right In

I recently joined the board of NAMI San Diego. Last week, this involved going into town three times for various meetings. Today, I'm off for another one, with some homework I need to prepare. Just what I need in my life right now, more work. Why bother?

A bunch of reasons. First of all, I come from a family that believes in giving back to the community. My mother and late father both served on various community boards and were always there to lend a helping hand and so did our neighbors. I'm not sure if any of them could have articulated a reason for their service. Back in those days, it was something you just did. Period.

Another big part has to do with my work as a mental health journalist. Oddly enough, the conventions of my profession dictate against getting involved. Heaven help if I started getting close to patients and loved ones, not to mention those who have dedicated their lives to improving ours. There goes my objectivity.

For three years, I ran a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. I was the poor shmuck who showed up a half-hour early every Tuesday evening to turn on the lights, arrange the tables and chairs, display the literature, and welcome arrivals. Then I'd facilitate the meeting or help break in a new facilitator. During the week, I might be fielding phone calls or getting photocopies run off, or doing the zillion-and-one things that no one ever finds out about.

Why bother? Couldn't my time have been better spent doing what I do best - namely writing about my illness? No. Absolutely not. I needed to jump in and get my hands dirty. I needed face-to-face contact with people who lived with my illness, including loved ones, on their terms rather than mine.

Shake me up, surprise me, show me what an idiot I am. Close up and involved was the only way to go. Living in my own bubble just didn't cut it.

Now NAMI beckons. Different type of involvement. New challenges. New things to learn. Besides, it's something you just do. Period.


AliceT said...

John - all the things you do and have done are making a meaningful impact on the lives of not only people you've met, or have read your newsletters, book, blog, attended your support groups, etc, but even people you may never meet at all. You have no way of knowing for example the lives you have improved and maybe even saved by your various activites, especially for the mentally ill and their families and friends. And now through NAMI, too. That is what we all hope for, even giving one other human being a hand along the way....and you are helping tons of people all the time. And you're funny too!!!!

John McManamy said...

Thanks, Alice.

t bone said...

yes! Maybe there is a bipolar community somewhere.