The weekend after I attended BlogHer16, my local NAMI Orange County office hosted an In Our Own Voice (IOOV) training.

In Our Own Voice (IOOV)

Hi, I’m Kitt O’Malley

  • Mother of a teen son, wife, mental health advocate
  • You can find me any given day on social media
  • I enjoy reading, writing, art, photography, flowers & nature
  • Relate to audience

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has become the nation’s voice on mental illness. With organizations and affiliates in every state, NAMI effectively provides advocacy, research, support, and education about serious mental illness. Members of NAMI include those living with mental illness, families and friends of people living with mental illnesses, mental health providers, students, educators, law enforcement, public officials, politicians, members of faith communities and concerned citizens. Services NAMI provides include mental health education and support programs. NAMI Orange County offers numerous programs and support groups.

When NAMI volunteers do official IOOV presentations, we show a 15-minute video divided into five different segments: Dark Days, Acceptance, Treatment, Coping Skills, and Strategies & Successes, Hopes & Dreams. After each segment, we pause the video, tell our own brief personal story, and then leave time for discussion and questions. Here I share my story. Haven’t yet done this in person, just been trained, but I look forward to it.

Dark Days

When I was an 18-year-old freshman UCLA student, I fell into a deep suicidal depression. It truly was a living hell. I believed that my family, the world in fact, would be better off without me. But, though that time was dark, and I’d never wish the pain of deep depression on anyone, those were not my darkest days.

At my friends’ insistence I sought help. I lived with chronic depression with the help of therapy and later medication until I was a 39-year-old mother of a very active toddler. At that time, I experienced a feeling of elation believing that God was calling me to attend bible study at one church and spiritual direction at another.

As a former psychotherapist and as someone who had to be carefully dosed with antidepressants, I recognized the feeling of elation as hypomania. The change of my diagnosis from depression to bipolar disorder type II changed my perception of myself.

I believed I could be a good mother with depression, but as soon as I realized I had bipolar disorder, I put my son in daycare and returned to work. I thought my son would be better cared for by someone else.

I was the same person before I got that diagnosis, but my internalized stigma, my own negative thoughts about what having bipolar meant, that I now had a serious progressive mental illness, my belief that my son was no longer safe when in my own care – that was my darkest days.

Eventually my illness made it too difficult to work and parent. I ended up hospitalized. Since then I’ve been home with my son, who actually needed me at home with him. As it turns out, I’ve been a great mom to my son.


Acceptance has been an ongoing process for me. Not just overcoming denial or stigma – but owning my diagnosis and allowing others in to help me. I had been a high achiever, a perfectionist. Accepting that I have a mental illness has involved accepting myself as broken.

To that extent, acceptance has allowed me to forgive myself for not living up to early life expectations. I quit UCLA after my freshman year. Took a semester off. Attended community college part-time before transferring to UC Berkeley. I never became a doctor or a lawyer. But I did get my bachelors, a masters in psychology, and much later even attended seminary (but didn’t finish).

My journey to acceptance has been essentially a spiritual one. I am not weak. I am vulnerable. I am not perfect and flawless. I am loved, lovable, and loving. My life has meaning. My life experience gives me purpose in helping others. And, I am grateful that I am here today speaking to you.


My treatment has changed over time. When 18-years-old I sought help at UCLA’s student health services. The cognitive therapy I got helped me to identify my suicidal thoughts, stop them, and rewrite them to more rational thoughts. That skill stays with me to this day. Later in my mid-20s, I studied and sought therapy that explored the effects alcoholism and family dynamics had on me.

Then at 30, as a psychotherapist of severely emotionally disturbed teens, following the deaths of my grandmother and a friend from high school, I fell into a depression so deep, psychotherapy alone was not enough. As I couldn’t even get myself out of bed, with my parent’s help, I went to see first my internist and then a psychiatrist for medication. My reaction to rapid changes in antidepressant medications led to a week of sleeplessness and psychotic thought process.

Once a stable antidepressant regime was found, I remained stable on antidepressant medication and psychotherapy until I was 39. With no changes in medication, like the rapid changes in antidepressant medications that led to manic symptoms when I was 30, I recognized symptoms of elation which I knew from experience and education was hypomania. I called the advice nurse on my insurance card who advised I see a psychiatrist or go to the ER ASAP. I could not get into see a psychiatrist until the following week, so my internist prescribed an anti-seizure medication for me to take until then.

Since that time, I’ve taken a variety of medications as my needs and my body chemistry have changed. I rely on medication, supportive psychotherapy, and group therapy to maintain my mental health.

Coping Skills

Honestly, it’s taken decades for me to develop excellent coping skills. I’ve always been good at asking for help and getting support from friends and family. My social skills have helped me to surround myself with loving and supportive friends and family. I’m honest and open about my symptoms and what support I need at the time. That may mean that I have my husband get take out or make dinner when I’m wiped out and not up to the task.

I make sure I get a good night’s sleep every night. I’m aware of stressors that may make my mood to go up or down. I read and write. Every night before I go to bed, I read to calm my mind and often pray or meditate. During the day I write, blog and use social media to connect with others in the mental health community.

Humor is a fabulous coping skill both for me personally and for my husband and me in our marriage. Finally, I’ve attended NAMI Peer-to-Peer program which introduced me to the concept of mental health recovery.

Successes, Hopes & Dreams

My success has been when I fall, when my journey is interrupted, I reassess and adapt. When I quit UCLA, I took a semester off and then went to community college before transferring to Berkeley. I had hoped to become a doctor, a neurosurgeon, actually. That hope, that dream, that goal changed. I learned that I must take life as it comes, adjusting my goals as needed.
When I fell into a deep depression and later a week of mania, I couldn’t return to work right away. I decided not to return to my profession as a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, took time off, then worked in a temporary job which led to a decade long career in commercial real estate.

Now, my success is to be a good mother, loving wife, and mental health advocate. I’ve always hoped to be a public speaker. I’m living my dream by telling my story to you. I had hoped to be an In Our Own Voice speaker, and now I am. My hopes and dreams for the future are continued public education about mental illness, overcoming stigma and discrimination, and better research and treatment for brain disorders.


58 responses to “In My Own Voice”

  1. These are well done Kitt, they take great strength and courage as well as a giant heart <3
    Take a bow, even I don’t have this confidence to stand up and speak my truth for an audience as you have 😀

  2. […] NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer course introduced me to the concept of mental health recovery and gave me HOPE. As a NAMI Provider Education presenter and In Our Own Voice speaker I share my story of mental health recovery. You can see my speech here. […]

  3. […] the time that we devote to our personal trauma stories, so I must rewrite mine. I may edit my In Our Own Voice presentation for content, or I could take a look at what I have shared […]

  4. This information is so helpful. Thank you Kitt.

  5. Wonderful! We’d be honored to have you. Your background as a pediatrician is valuable. Pediatrician are where parents first bring their children who may need psychological or psychiatric help.

  6. David Bailey Avatar
    David Bailey

    I saw one of your posts on WordPress. This looks like something I want to be involved in. I’ve been a pediatrician for 19 years but I am presently recuperating for a depression episode a year ago. I knew I had anxiety and depression as a teenager, but never really accepted that I was disabled by it until a year ago. I’d like to get involved. I’m going to check out the NAMI Inland Empire group but may visit the OC group also. Dave Bailey

  7. […] This summer I’ve been recuperating from caring for my parents, going to the BlogHer16 women’s blogging conference, and training for NAMI In Our Own Voice. […]

  8. Thank you so much!

  9. Hi . U have an inspiring tone . This was a valuable post to have read . Hope you’re doing great ? Hope to catch up with u soon .

  10. Reblogged this on Just my view and commented:
    I find this blog very courageous, informative and truthful. Thank you Kit for all you do . Your “In my own voice” speaks for many.

  11. Thank you, Sheldon. Glad you survived your attempt. I often read your wonderful poetic comments on other blogs. We are blessed to have you and your thoughtful and beautiful contributions.

  12. Our paths have crossed from time to time
    just wanted to stop and say hello
    My story isn’t that much different
    Accepted I survived suicide
    A lot of my earlier posts deals
    With my recovery
    I am beginning to bring some of them out
    I always try to share when I can
    Being a lifer it’s not always easy
    But I try
    See you on the other side of creativity
    As always Sheldon

  13. Thank you, Sheri! Hope your husband’s health is better now. Keeping you both in my hopes and prayers.

  14. Kitt – I’m always grateful that you are willing to move through the steps NAMI offers in its various programs. You carry out the foundations laid before you and tackle them with grace and the knowledge you’ve accumulated. This is a great accumulation of hopefulness for others attempting to find their way through the fog of their disease. Thank you so much for posting this blog. I plan to share your words and videos with my husband at the hospital this afternoon.

  15. Questions and discussion going overtime = good sign. Obviously, you are engaging your audience. Awesome.

  16. Don’t tell NAMI national, but I slip on the 3 minute thing sometimes… 🙂 Not too much though. I find it hard to keep Dark Days down, it always seems to draw the most questions as well. Treatment brings the second most questions.

  17. Thank you. For now, the cards will keep me from talking over the 3 minute limit!

  18. It wasn’t too obvious that you were reading. I just kind of assumed because you had it word for word typed out, and I figured that would be too much of a pain for the average person to do. It came together really well. Keep working at it and you’ll be a pro in no time!

  19. You’ll get to the point where you can speak without even bullet points. I have bullet points handy in case I get nervous, but I’ve forgotten them and done fine. I think it’s because the subject is me and it’s always easy to talk about something I know well. I can speak on electronics and cars with great confidence as well. I’ll bet there are multiple subjects you’d love to talk about as well as IOOV.

  20. Love you too!

  21. Look forward to reading about the logistics and home stretch. Love you!

  22. Thank you. Yes, I was reading off cue cards. Haven’t memorized the speeches. If I put bullet points instead of full text, I could speak rather than read. Not ready to do that yet. Need a bit more confidence.

  23. Thank you so much, Ellen! Comparing this to your book? Wow! Folks, read her book. I enjoyed it tremendously. She put far more work into her memoir than I did into these videos.

  24. The logistics are firming up, and I’m getting more excited now…I will keep you posted, and maybe I’ll mention some stuff in the block this week. Sending you love and a big hug.

  25. Strangely, this is the third time I’ve heard of NAMI in the past, I don’t know, two days? I’d never heard of it before. It’s interesting that it’s starting to be splattered all over my life all of the sudden. Strange how that happens.
    I definitely think that the video format changes things. It gives a different perspective to see you talking (or, reading?) instead of just reading something put down in written word. I kind of wish I were brave enough to do something like that, you know?
    Congrats on being chosen as a speaker. It sounds like something you’ve had in your heart to do for quite some time now. I can see your words being a gift to many who need to hear them.

  26. That’s good to know, thanks. I’m sure meeting my online friends would be my favorite part too 🙂

  27. Thank you, Kitt! I pray for you and all your family every morning. My husband is tremendous. I just hope he will stay well now and not get whatever it is I have. You really found your niche, Kitt, with this NAMI public speaking gig! It is so much more effective than reading about you.

  28. Thank you for your comment. Take care of yourself as well as you can. I hope your husband’s health has improved so that he can help you. He, no doubt, is a great resource given his training and knowledge of resources. I hold you both in my thoughts and prayers. Peace be with you both.

  29. Thanks, Dy! Hope all is well with finalizing Birth of a New Brain.

  30. Thank you! I’m blessed to have a loving husband and wonderful son.

  31. I didn’t post about details. Found meeting my online friends in person the most gratifying part of the conference. Don’t get as much from panel discussions. Not a good passive listener. Better at small group intimate communication.

  32. Absolutely great, Kitt. Over the past year whether we had direct e-mail correspondence or I provided a comment on one of your blogs, there is one + quality I really admire. It is your “audacity”. I am sure several of your other followers would agree with me.
    Viva, Kitt. God Bless + Namaste.

  33. Wonderful job Kitt 🙂

  34. There! Got it reblogged, the computer I was on earlier for some reason didn’t show the button for that, back on this one it did.

  35. Reblogged this on mythoughts62 and commented:
    One of my favorite bloggers joining my favorite NAMI program!

  36. Reblogged this on MOONSIDE and commented:
    My dear friend, Kitt, is a natural public speaker and a wonderful advocate for the mentally ill. She and I are both Bipolar. She is Bipolar 2 and I am Bipolar 1. In this post she successfully achieves what I was trying to do in my book, “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things.”

  37. […] Source: In My Own Voice […]

  38. Always candid, always intimate and with bountiful information in the process. You are so good at this, Kitt. Keep it going. ?

  39. Wow, excellent, Kitt! I love listening to you. You are a natural public speaker. How I wish I could sit down with you and just chat. You are so more functional than I am. I am Bipolar 1. Lately cutbacks in therapy and life events have set me back. Things seem to be out of control. But you are inspirational, Kitt. I wish I could gather supports for my problems. You have made me see that we aren’t second class citizens. And much more. But this is all I can write now. Keep doing the public speaking. You’re a natural. Much love, Ellen

  40. Kitt, you’re always venturing outside your comfort zone and providing us with inspiration to do the same. You ROCK!

  41. You are a gifted, articulate speaker and it’s obvious that you find such enjoyment in it, even when you speak about difficult topics. I love how share that you wanted to pursue this specific speaking role. I also love how you continue to explore new, interesting, and progressive ways to help others as you help yourself, and that you share the highs and lows of these journeys with us!

  42. Very good post! I hope life is now beautiful for you!

  43. I want to learn more about BlogHer. Do you go to meetings for that? Or are you involved online? This is maybe a silly question, but is it for women who blog? I’m pretty sure I remember you posting about it, I’ll look back in your posts 🙂

  44. Awesome. I had signed up for ETS training, but it conflicted with BlogHer. Maybe some other time…

  45. Congrats on being a speaker for IOOV! Your story, your experiences and insight, will help others. I also volunteer with NAMI. It’s a wonderful organization, helping people to be more aware of mental health conditions, and helping to end the stigma. I’m in training to present to high school students in the NAMI program, Ending the Silence. Wonderful job, Kitt! Your story is an inspiration. Jenny

  46. Yay! Glad that you find it so fulfilling. I’m thrilled that I got to be trained. I’ve wanted to do this in a long time. In fact, I’ve always daydreamed as an orator. I believe that public speaking is one of my callings. I do better in front of a live audience than my iPhone.

  47. Congratulations on being an IOOV speaker! I’ve been speaking in IOOV for years and it is one of the most satisfying and in my opinion, the most useful, bit of mental health advocacy I do.

  48. Excellent job, Kitt. You have a nice speaking voice, and I know your story and willingness to share your experiences will be a great support to many. ~ Viv

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