“I get more from volunteering than I give,” says Denise Stewart. “It gives me joy to watch how much NAMI’s programs that I teach, train and present help others.” NAMI Tennessee is the Tennessee chapter of the National Alliance of Middle Tennessee. She serves so people who want help with mental illness can get it. Her service as a volunteer is more than what she learned from class. Her life experience of living with a mental disorder “just about destroyed” her marriage and relationship with her children.
Denise grew up an intelligent child and began college at age 15 on a full scholarship. She excelled in her studies and extracurricular activities, never thinking of her four hours of sleep each night. She later dropped out of college to support her family, married and became addicted to drugs and alcohol. She lived the life of a wife and mother while dealing with her addictions and mental illness symptoms she had become accustomed to over the years of schizophrenia and bipolar depression.
Ten years into the marriage, her husband had been searching for hope and discovered NAMI Tennessee. However, achieving the goals promised by hope isn’t always easy. For example, Denise became angry while in treatment for her addictions. She was so angry that five days into her 28-day program, she was asked to leave. However, suddenly she was unable to physically pick up the pen to sign the papers. This was her first spiritual experience. Her inability to sign forced her to remain in treatment. Soon afterwards, her second spiritual experience was a wave of willingness to do absolutely anything to become her better self. As a result, she became sober at age 29 and found recovery from mental illness at age 34.
Denise credits NAMI Tennessee for saving her marriage, her relationship with her children, and keeping her alive. She carries out the nonprofit’s message of hope in her daily life and volunteerism. She encourages others saying “Family members of those in crisis do not have to go through this alone.” For more information about NAMI Tennessee, visit www.namitn.org.