'In Our Own Voice' gives voice to mental illness

Gayle Sisson always loved public speaking.

But she never thought that love would lead her to talking about her own mental health issues in public. She’s been talking about them to various groups now for the past six years

“Several years ago, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind,” Sisson said recently. “I lived inwardly for a long time. But I love this. I want to break the stigma about mental illness and help people to better understand it.”

Sisson and fellow speaker Peter McGrover are part of a group called “In Our Own Voice”. It’s a program of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Southwest Ohio that helps to educate audiences about mental illness through their personal stories.

Sisson and McGrover both say it’s also built their self-confidence.

“I feel like this is something that shows I’m no different from anyone else,” said McGrover. “I have dreams and hopes like everyone else.”

For McGrover, it’s sort of a return to his former social work career. “I did my first presentation in 2013. It felt like talking to the clients I used to work with back then. They learn from what I’ve been through, and how I now feel like there’s hope going forward.”

Sisson and McGrover went through a two-day training to prepare for In Our Own Voice. They practiced their stories that coordinate with a video covering five areas: dark days, acceptance, treatment, coping skills, and hopes and dreams. They’ve taken their talk to churches, medical student classes, civic groups, and jail inmates.

Sisson, who says she had been in and out of the hospital for years before being diagnosed, talks about her first memories of having a mental illness. “I was four years old,” she said. “Always a good student and in bed by nine. At 24, I went to the hospital for the first time. Getting a diagnosis wasn’t easy.”

For his part, McGrover starts by going over a time when he was walking with a friend. “I think I did all the talking about what I was doing and selling my things and thinking I was doing all kinds of good”, he said. “My friend told me to go home. Turned out I was manic.”

By telling their stories, Sisson and McGrover say they hope they are changing people’s perception of mental illness. They both know they have done it.

“I had a woman come up to me after one presentation,” Sisson said. “She told me it helped her understand what someone close to her was going through, and that there’s hope. That made me smile.”

McGrover, too, sees hope in doing the In Our Own Voice presentations. “People understand, but they also see us as people, not an illness. People who hear us have had an extremely positive reaction.”

For more information, or to arrange a presentation of “In Our Own Voice for your group, call NAMI of Southwest Ohio at (513) 351-3500 or visit https://namiswoh.org/in-our-own-voice/.

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Alcohol Breath Tests: How Do They Work?

Posted on: April 16, 2018
Tags: Recovery, Counseling, Alcohol, Drinking, Alcoholic, Sobriety, Police,

You've likely read a lot about sobriety checkpoints. News accounts usually showcase officers at a specified location stopping cars as they come through, administering a breathalyzer test to ensure people aren't driving under the influence.

But how do those tests really work? I was exploring that for a discussion recently, and came across a great graphic on the NIDA for teens website. The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) does a lot of work on the drug issue, providing great information on the effects and consequences of using.

The graphic shows how alcohol breath tests work. It goes something like this:

  1. Alcohol that you drink moves from your mouth to your stomach.
  2. It gets absorbed into the blood -which has already been exposed to oxygen in the lungs - in the stomach and small intestine.
  3. the alcohol is carried throughout your body in the blood. including the brain and lungs.
  4. Alcohol is transferred to the lungs and exhaled through the breath.

Within minutes of having a drink, a person's BAC - blood alcohol concentration - can be measured. And it's at it's highest about an hour after drinking.

Lots of things affect BAC, like a person's weight, age, sex, and how much they've had to drink.

Take time to get familiar with how alcohol works in the human body, and learn how it can affect you - not just when tested by police, but also how it affects growth and brain development. The more you know ... well, the more you know.

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Helping a Loved One Who Has a Drinking Problem

Posted on: March 28, 2018
Tags: Partners, Exercise, Emotional wellbeing, Counseling, Addiction, Alcohol, Drinking,

It was a dark and stormy night ... really. I was out with friends, enjoying a celebratory drink marking one friend getting a new job.

It didn't seem like a big deal. Everyone was fine, laughing and back-slapping our friend and giving him some sage advice about what NOT to do on his first day at the new job. A couple of hours went by in a flash.

What some of us didn't realize at the time - including me - was his drinking. In the span of an hour, our friend had consumed four drinks. Not beer or wine. He'd had four fairly tall vodka tonics.

One friend with us knew - and she wasn't going to let him keep going like that. She told me later that she'd slyly asked the bartender to add some tonic to each drink following a few sips. It was a unique trick that no one else saw happening.

She later told me how she'd stumbled upon our friend's alcoholism. She'd visited him at home a couple of times, taking dinner or a snack over to watch a movie with others. A few times, she went to through away plates and paper napkins, and found empty bottles in the trash. They were tall bottles that once held vodka - several of them.

Over time, she noticed how many were there in a week. Five, or maybe six most times. On one visit, she counted seven.

It wasn't easy helping our friend confront his alcoholism. We talked about what the signs are and how best to talk with someone  who has a drinking problem. Then we worked with him to find a counselor and treatment - not pushing, but gently showing him the benefits of treatment.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to take stock of how to help someone you care about who may have a drinking problem. Every person is different, so every approach to talking with them about it is going to be different. Learn all you can and do what you can to help.

Our friend is doing great now. With a clear knowledge of his triggers and how certain situations led to his drinking more than he should, he's made positive life changes that have helped him confront his drinking. He's got a good head on his shoulders now.

So can people you know.

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