Elise Petronzio

namiourstorypictureI have always been a generally upbeat, social, and intelligent person. As a child, I loved going to school. My teachers agreed that I was an excellent student and had no problem making friends. They also told my parents about some other observations during parent-teacher conferences. I was always asking my teachers if they thought I was sick, asking them to feel my head for a fever when I was fine, or if they thought my heart was beating too fast. At home, I would go through brief periods where I would cry all the time for no reason and not eat. Usually, the episode would subside and I would be back to my happy self.

The summer before my 10th birthday, something changed. We went away on vacation and when we got back, everything felt wrong all the time. I did not want to leave my mother’s side, I refused to sleep over any of my friends’ houses, I refused to eat. For weeks, I was constantly in distress and nobody understood why. I became cripplingly afraid of not being able to fall asleep by a certain time every night. Looking for any form of control, I started keeping my room arranged in the same way at all times, convincing myself that this would help me fall asleep faster. I told myself that if everything was just right, I would fall asleep and I could stop dreading nighttime. But the room was never just right. Nothing was.

My mom knew that I needed help to overcome this. I started therapy at age 10. After two other therapists, I found the man who would help me regain control of my life. I have since been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and although my therapist helped me tremendously, this is a chronic condition that I still face on a daily basis.

How NAMI NJ helped:

I study psychology at Rutgers University – New Brunswick, and last year I really had my eye on an internship. While at a NAMIWalks Information Meeting held on campus, I found out that NAMI NJ was looking for volunteers. Eager for experience, I sent in my resume and found myself pulling up to NAMI NJ for the first time last February. From there, the staff has welcomed me, educated me, and challenged me.

NAMI NJ has helped me take my own experiences with OCD and use them to help others access the same resources that saved my life. I am no longer just a consumer, but also a mental health care advocate. Interning at NAMI NJ has left me with a rich education and solid foundation for mental healthcare advocacy. The community I have found with NAMI has empowered me to be vocal about the stigma surrounding mental illness and touch the lives of many. Not only that, but I know that I am never alone in my struggles with mental illness as long as NAMI is in my life. The opportunities at NAMI are endless; I had an amazing internship planning NAMIWalks NJ 2016, I have been certified as a NAMI Connection Support Group Facilitator, and I have been certified for Mental Health First Aid (as well as coordinated certifications for over 20 Rutgers peers). This organization will make miracles out of anything they are given. There is no place I would rather spend my time and put in my effort.