Faye breaks the 'no-speak rule'

Faye breaks the 'no-speak rule'
Faye Wendland is pictured at her home near Byron Friday, November 18, 2011. She was recently named Volunteer of the Year by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota recently presented Faye Wendland, of Bryon, its Volunteer of the Year award.

That award, which she also received from NAMI Southeast Minnesota, honors people who have "given generously of their time, resources and energy" to the organization. That certainly describes Faye.


NAMI is a nonprofit that provides support, education and advocacy for people with mental illnesses and their families. Faye, who has been a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic for 36 years, has been a NAMI volunteer for 11 years.

She has served on its board of directors and given speeches about NAMI and the basics of mental illness to all kinds of groups in the community. Also, NAMI often calls on Faye to help individuals and families in crisis.


During our conversation, she told me about the source of her compassion for people dealing with mental illness. It's been affecting her life since the age of 2, when her father began to show serious symptoms of bipolar disorder. The disease causes people to have drastic mood swings, from periods of mania to periods of severe depression.

Faye and her family experienced much trauma due to her father's mental illness. And bipolar disorder has struck many other members of her family over the years.

One of the worst aspects of her childhood experience was what Faye calls the "no-speak rule." Nobody would talk about her father's bipolar disorder because of the shame associated with mental illness. Although the church was her family's main connection to community, nobody there ever asked about her father. Faye's mother wouldn't even talk about it with her children.

"We just survived," Faye said.

Her family's experience and suffering through the no-speak rule motivated Faye to spend much of the last 11 years educating people about mental illness. She started by talking to people at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Rochester, where she and her husband Curt attend, about her own experiences. It was a courageous move that sparked others there to start talking about their struggles with mental illness.

This simple beginning of sharing turned into a culture change at Calvary, Faye said. And today, the church has a regular support group — started by Faye and other church members — for

families dealing with mental illness. It's called Journey of Hope.

"My favorite word is hope," Faye said. "It's all over my house. I don't know why I've always been hope-filled. I think it's my faith. But there's been some pretty dark days, and yet, the hope has never been gone. Never."

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