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Road to recovery: In Our Own Voice presenters to share journey of mental illness

Posted: Monday, Oct 8th, 2012

Deanna Corcoran, left, president of NAMI-Huron, and Lois Knoke, an In Our Own Voice presenter, hold a banner recently made for the local NAMI group. Knoke is one of two In Our Own Voice presenters who will share their journeys of mental illness recovery from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Everyone is welcome to attend. PHOTO BY CRYSTAL PUGSLEY/PLAINSMAN

Lois Knoke believes the journey to recovery following a mental illness involves not only accepting her need for medication, but also recognizing the importance of her physical and spiritual health, as well.

Knoke and Sandy Peterson, both of Huron, will be “In Our Own Voice” presenters at a special program from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The program is free and everyone is invited.

“The kindest thing I can do for myself is to accept that I have a brain disorder,” Knoke said. “I have a chemical imbalance of the brain. My brain just doesn’t fire right without certain meds.

“I’ve learned how to cope,” she added. “One way is faith — over and over I go to the cross, kneel and give what I am feeling and reach out my arms for His grace to get me through the next five minutes — over and over through the past 30 years. The other way is exercise. I walk every day with a friend who’s 88. She’s an inspiration.”

In Our Own Voice” is a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) program that was started in the 1990s. It is an opportunity for those who struggle with mental illness to gain confidence and share their individual experiences with recovery and transformation.

NAMI is the largest national grassroots mental illness organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with serious mental illnesses and their families. NAMI was started in 1979 in Madison, Wis., and today there are chapters across the nation.

NAMI-Huron meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Huron Towers, Room 108. The group provides support, education, outreach and advocacy to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness.

Knoke said her first episode happened 30 years ago, following a very serious situation in her life that might have triggered that first experience.

“I got so stressed, so concerned,” Knoke said. “There were no thoughts, no feelings.”

Knoke said it felt like walking through a forest — only enveloped by complete silence and unable to interact in any form. “Picture that as inside with my first episode,” she said. “I withdrew, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t know how to relate, a muteness came over me. I was in a dilemma, almost comatose for a number of months.”

She remembers her husband just holding her, begging her to just trust him and say anything that was on her heart. “I started to trust him and open up,” said Knoke, who said her episodes included dealing with a traumatic childhood experience.

Knoke said counseling through the years has also helped her tremendously to understand and work her way along the path of recovery.

“With that first episode, I realized something was wrong,” she said. “I remember praying, I said, ‘Lord, either you heal me, get me to doctors that can heal me, or get me on medication. It’s been right around 30 years and He’s done all three.

“I am a person of faith,” Knoke added. “My faith is growing. The church I attend, Hope Lutheran, has been very instrumental in that growth.”

Oct. 7-13 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, a week that was established by Congress in 1990 in recognition of NAMI’s efforts to raise awareness of mental illness.

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood and ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income, and are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. More than 40,000 adults and 14,000 children and adolescents in South Dakota will have a mental illness diagnosis in any given year. Nationwide, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older or about one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That translates to more than 57 million people.

Along with In Our Own Voice, NAMI-Huron also offers Family to Family, a free class that meets once a week for 12 weeks that is taught by trained family members.

Whether a person has lived many years with a mental illness or is struggling to cope with their first brush with a mental illness, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible, Knoke said.

“My journey has been long,” she said. “I’ve had some steps backwards. I am in recovery; there is no cure. I say anyone with a disorder can accomplish many things.”

Knoke, who has degrees in home economics and human services, is on the Mental Health Council in Pierre, and is on her second term on the S.D. NAMI executive board.

“Mental illness is part of my life, but not all of my life,” Knoke said. “I do have a disorder. I do have a mental illness. But I can be comfortable in the skin I’m in because I know there is hope for recovery.

“I hope people will come on Oct. 13 to hear the rest of the story,” she added.

Churches, schools or organizations interested in having In Our Own Voice speakers are encouraged to contact NAMI-Huron president Deanna Corcoran at 350-2332.

For the complete article see the 10-07-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-07-2012 paper.

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