Monday, July 4, 2011

Didgeridoo Diplomacy - Honking For Mental Health Awareness

I've shaken off a bad cold just in time to head off to Chicago first thing in the morning to the NAMI national convention. This will be my sixth NAMI convention. I attended my previous ones as a mental health journalist. This time I will be going as a representative of NAMI San Diego, where I serve on the board. But I will also be taking a lot of notes, so you can look forward to two or three road blogs. Plus, listening to patients and family members always results in aha! moments that inform all my writing.

My last NAMI national convention was in 2007, which occurred in San Diego about seven months after I arrived here in southern CA, about four months after I acquired my first didgeridoo. Trust me, didgeridoos make sense in California. So it was that I didn't give a second thought to taking my "Big Boy" didge to the convention. It didn't matter that I couldn't really play it - I could always honk for mental health awareness.

Big Boy is the size of an Alp horn (think Ricola), much larger than standard didges. No sooner did I show up than people were crowding around me, asking me what is that thing and to play it for them. Fortunately, the convention took place in a resort-type hotel, where a lot of the networking got done in the outdoors. That still didn't stop me from honking the thing indoors. Total strangers, old friends, featured speakers, NAMI bigwigs, my strategy was the same - honk my didge.

The picture you see is me at the 2007 NAMI convention, taking my didge to the talent show (sorry about the beached whales). A NAMI photographer snapped it, and it appeared on the NAMI website a day or two later. Back then, of course, I was an outsider, a lone visionary, a voice in the wilderness - a man, a dream, a didgeridoo.

Kind of hard to imagine that four years later, but I'm jumping ahead.

Later that summer, I took my "Little Boy" didge to the DBSA national conference in Orlando. Little Boy is nowhere near the attention-getter as Big Boy, but at least I could travel with it. I also brought Little Boy with me to a state NAMI convention in Riverside, CA six weeks later. At both these venues I was a break-out speaker and incorporated the didge into my talks.

Actually, the didge had nothing to do with what I was talking about, but my honking interlude did make sense in a certain nonlinear fashion.

By now, I had resolved to take my didge everywhere I went, but this was also the time I decided to severely cut back on my travel. Rumor has it that I was short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize for my humanitarian gesture.

We skip ahead to 2010. I had been on the board of NAMI San Diego for about nine months. I was helping plan our annual Walk. I happened to say I will bring my didge to the Walk. Julie, a volunteer, chimed in: "And I will bring my drum." That's how great ideas are born. Julie introduced me to a drum circle. Fortunately, by this time, I could do more with my didge than just honk it. In no time, I was a drum circle regular. At our next year's Walk, we had a group of drummers (and me) set up at a key intersection on the Walk. (Check out the Walk video in the right column.)

Things only took off from there. One of our drum circle regulars, Jon, happens to be the chief psychologist at a large treatment center here in San Diego. He also has a well-deserved reputation for his work with vets and PTSD. It just so happened in May he organized a Drumming Out Stigma event sponsored by the county. The county mental health big cheese and some lesser cheeses were there. So were individuals from the local club houses and others.  I was there with Big Boy and Little Boy. I stayed mainly with Little Boy while some school-age girls made cool animal noises into Big Boy.

I happened to bump into the county big cheese two times since then, but here's the kicker: The other week, at a small NAMI San Diego function, I got into a conversation with a woman, who informed me that it was her girls who were making noises into Big Boy. By now, I am introducing myself as the didgeridoo representative on the NAMI SD board. After I get back from Chicago, at Jon's invitation, I will be joining him and some drummers at an annual vets awareness event.

Now to Chicago and the NAMI national convention. Traveling to Chicago was a last-minute decision, so I didn't even look at the program until two weeks ago. Of course, they're having their usual talent show, but also - drum roll please - they're having a drum circle!

A man ahead of his time, a man of his time. See how persistence pays off?

1 comment:

Bret W. said...

Out With The Old- In With The New… Mental Health Awareness Must Evolve;