Out of the Past and Into the Future
by Li Faustino PhD
I got a phone call from Howard. Some of you may remember Howard and some of you may even remember phone calls. Howard Smith was running the Friends and Family group that I had been attending. He was trying to talk me into taking the facilitator training class. If the support groups are the heartbeat of MDSG, Howard was the blood circulation system. He had a way of passing through every limb, organ, and cell of the organization and supplying life blood to all of them. He was a vibrant, creative being that pulsed when he worked. Before joining MDSG, Howard had a rich work history as a journalist and an Oscar-winning documentary film-maker. Bipolar Illness had taken all that from him, but now he devoted that same energy to the groups and volunteers of MDSG. He knew more about what was going on at MDSG than probably anybody, and I jumped on his coattails and started to learn. That was 1997.
Over the years, I similarly touched as many pieces of MDSG that I could. One of my biggest accomplishments was starting the then called “Youth Group” and nurturing it until it became the biggest of its kind in the US. I also managed to raise over $60,000 for MDSG, which is a big number for me, an unskilled fundraiser. I am quite proud that I took part in teaching the facilitator class for several years. Our groups really are the heart of what we do and it has always been very important to me that our facilitators are properly trained. I wanted to ensure that everyone got the safe and supportive space that helped me and my family when we first came to MDSG. In addition to all that, I did, well, a little bit of everything else. I ran groups, answered phones, created our volunteer schedule. I oversaw the sites, carried out disciplinary roles, did outreach and numerous presentations about MDSG to mental health facilities in New York. For a short time, I was newsletter editor and lecture series organizer and presenter. I schmoozed with hospital psychiatrists, administrators, and security guards. If it helped MDSG, I made sure that people knew about us and liked us. The only jobs I never did were treasurer and secretary. My brain just does not know how to do those. I truly loved my MDSG family. My colleagues were all also my friends. Howard and long-time facilitator, Judy, were two of them. We were at MDSG every week for about 10 years. I ran something like 500 groups. We went out after groups almost every week. They were my best friends.
But I differed from Howard in that my career was ahead of me, not behind me. While I was doing all of the above, I started pursuing my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. At first, the graduate school schedule worked really well with my time at MDSG. I even recruited subjects for my dissertation from our groups. (We used to allow some IRB approved research studies to recruit from our groups, but we discontinued that because it became more cumbersome than we could handle). Eventually, my clinical training meant working full time. Then I got my psychology license, relocated, opened my practice, and started my family, pretty much all at the same time. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep up with the weekly workings of MDSG. I managed to stay on in a valuable way using all the experience I had accumulated. One thing I learned about myself over the years was that I loved to lead. I found that I had a knack for inspiring. Volunteers seemed to respond to my presence and attention. I became really good at problem-solving, overseeing, and infusing a sense of groundedness when things became chaotic.
Over my 25 years at MDSG, I have watched our groups change lives and save lives. I have seen people go from barely functioning to having careers and hobbies. I have seen people meet, connect, make friends, have relationships, get married, and have families. On the other side of that coin, I have seen people come to terms with their family dysfunction, traumas, and losses. Our volunteers are some of the neatest people I have ever met. They are resilient, weird, creative, super-intelligent, fun and inspiring. Both the volunteers and group participants come to groups to fight for their lives. It is absolutely beautiful to be a part of that and they make MDSG as special as it is.
However, my life outside MDSG has been growing. My family and my practice have needed me and have pulled me from MDSG over and over. Likewise, MDSG has pulled me away from my family and work quite a bit. Being the center of a commitment tug-of-war is not unusual for us busy people, but I wanted to enjoy my work with MDSG and MDSG deserves more. (A chairperson does not have to be involved in every detail, but they do have to be more present than I could be at this point.) They deserve an attentive leader. And I deserve a little less push and pull in my life. So, with bittersweet feelings, I say goodbye. I also say hello and welcome to our two new co-chairs, Becca Finn and Dan Hess. Their experience, insight and energy are exactly what we need right now. They have already been central to MDSG’s operations and so I know we are in good hands with them. Thank you, MDSG, for being a fantastic organization that I love and for being part of my life for so long. I have learned so much from you.