Telling the Story “In Our Own Voice”

By Mike Eisenbath … Donna, my wife, and I went through the “In Our Own Voice: Living With Mental Illness” presentation training in early 2015. Since then, we have shared our story as a couple about 18 times as representatives of the St. Louis affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I have given more than a dozen additional talks on my own. Even before that training, we had spoken to groups about a half-dozen times involving our experience with major depression and severe anxiety in our lives.

In all, we have presented that aspect of our history almost 40 times. And virtually every time, the most powerful moments come after we have talked to the group as a whole.

Following almost each talk, Donna moves off slightly to one side and I move off slightly the other way. Each of us usually then speaks one-on-one with people who want to share some of their story, ask personal questions or simply relate some often emotional reason why our presentation touched them. Often, there are tears. And hugs. And quiet hand-squeezes.

Those people have had an epiphany, in many cases, that they aren’t as alone as they had presumed.

“In Our Own Voice” touches young couple

I remember one of our presentations several years ago. A rather long line of people waited to talk with me. A younger woman in line, standing beside a younger man, caught my eye because she was crying softly. Tears still glistened in her eyes when her spot in line reached me. She didn’t say anything. Both she and her husband appeared, at most, in their late 20s.

“My doctor diagnosed my wife just two weeks ago with major depression,” the young man said. “Can you please tell us what we’re in for, what we can expect to happen?”

They both appeared a little frightened, very worried. I tried to explain to them that no one really can predict such things exactly, that the illness could fade as quickly as taking some prescribed medication or that it could be a long, difficult road ahead. By the time we had finished, both of them seemed slightly more at ease. I said a silent prayer for them as they walked away; I still pray for them when I recall our conversation.

Telling stories “In Our Own Voice”

Another time, at a presentation for about 25 people in a small Catholic chapel, another woman in tears approached me. She was quite a bit older than the other woman. “Hearing you talk, I could relate to everything you were saying,” the woman said. “For the first time in 30 years, I found out someone has gone through the same things I’ve gone through.”

She found out she’s not alone in her world marked by mental illness. None of us is alone that way, whether we struggle with a mental illness or cancer or divorce or job loss. And none of us is alone if we love and care for someone who is experiencing something really difficult in life.

In the history of the world, written by God, your character and your plot line are unique, special and significant. Your story has a purpose. It matters. Someone needs to hear it.

So, my friend, tell your story.

(Mike Eisenbath is a member of the NAMI St. Louis board of directors. You can reach him at meisenbath@gmail.com. Please let him know if you would like to share part of your story at this blog.)