With the introduction of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the Wood River Valley, many of us are experiencing greater fear and anxiety just to accomplish our daily routines. All that we remember is the comfort of being with others who validate our experience with mental illness and who can tell us there absolutely will be an end to these frightening feelings. Sometimes it’s just a hug we need and time to be heard by a good friend. No one understands these issues like those who are going through them. As this illness is chronic, we have become our own experts in what is working for ourselves.

I found myself in this same place many years ago, having moved to a new community and knowing no one I could reach out to because I felt the shame and fear that a diagnosis can bring. As well, I knew that others must feel as I do but where do I find them? How do I find them?

In my work as executive director at NAMI-WRV, it became my personal mission to bring in the Connection Support Group because I believed no one should be alone when they are going through crisis. And a great group of facilitators were trained who began their work and did wonders for many of our community members by facilitating and listening. This group became recognized as one that was making a difference in our community and I was honored to receive the Woman of the Year Award in 2012 for my effort to make it real. But it took a village—and I honor each and every one of the original group that made this such a success.

We have reformulated the model and brought it to the Zoom format with our new launch scheduled to begin on June 1. There will be a regular gathering where we share what’s going on and use our wisdom to help each other, a WRAP Wellness Recovery Action Plan Group (in development) so that we are all prepared for the ups and downs that come with a mental health diagnosis, relatable guest speakers and a Night Owl Meeting on Friday evenings so we can just meet in the comfort of wherever we land after a long day of stressing. Call it a wind down. The plan is to have movie nights and gatherings in this format so everyone is able to seek joy as well as lift others no matter where they are in the course of their illness. We want to raise up your spirits.

The times of the meetings will coincide with others offered throughout the state and country, in fact, worldwide! You will be able to attend meetings every evening, just like the AA format, which has been helpful during this period of isolation. I am excited to say that I am back to facilitate from my home in Canada because it doesn’t matter where you are, we share the same room, the same issues and a genuine passion for being there for each other. We are currently meeting with many new individuals and there is a lot of laughter and, of course, some sadness, but we are committed to shine that light in the darkness, especially when times are tough. We are showing up to commit to each other and to connect with compassion, reason, good solutions and love because together, we are empowering ourselves to wellness.

If you are a peer, we invite you to connect with us at wendy@namiwrv.org and we will provide you with information to join us on Tuesday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m. for our launch. And feel free to invite peers from anywhere they have internet access. You’ll meet some fabulous, genuinely gifted individuals who, like me, want to be there sharing the journey with you.

Wendy Norbom is a former executive director and current peer and connections coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness—Wood River Valley.

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