Peer support coalition forming

Pennsylvania is forming a peer support coalition. The coalition will include all peer support workers (not just certified peer specialists, but anyone who has lived experience and does peer support work) in Pennsylvania. The coalition will have a steering committee, made up of peer support workers from various regions across the state. More information about the coalition, and how to get involved, will be coming.
You can go to PMHCA’s website for more information…. there is a board on the PMHCA forum dedicated to discussion of the coalition.

Peer employment training

I’m back from training!

Over the past three weeks I attended two trainings: one, to be a peer specialist supervisor; two, the certification training to become a certified peer specialist. (Yes, I sort of did them backwards.)

The certification training in particular was wonderful. Two weeks, back-to-back, Monday through Friday. Class was from 9 AM to 5 PM each day, and we had 2-3 hours of homework each night. It was grueling, but it was also wonderful. It gave me a better handle on the “tools” in my peer specialist toolbox; and I feel like I have a clearer understanding of how to articulate what my role in our agency, as a peer specialist, is all about.

We had some incredible moments during the training: spending an entire day listening to each other tell our stories, for one. To hear 20+ people stand up and state what they’ve been through, how they’ve survived and thrived, and where they are now plus their dreams for the future… wow. Every mental health worker in the country ought to experience a day like that. And the talent and gifts we all have! Art, music, writing, humor, speaking, helping others…

I saw incredible perseverance–people struggling with the intensity of the course, who came back day after day to make it to graduation, refusing to give up. Indescribable strength. As each day passed, it became more and more obvious that recovery DOES happen, that people can survive and thrive through anything, that we have incredible strength to draw from, and that it’s imperative that the system start recognizing all of this.

Reinvigorated

I’ve been working as a peer specialist for several months now–without actually being certified.

This month, I am finally getting the certification training.

I was already excited about that–finally getting the training–but this afternoon, that excitement just ratcheted up a notch. Because this afternoon, I found this: Mental Health Recovery.

It is module 2 of the peer specialist training curriculum by Recovery Innovations (formerly META).

Recovery Innovations was only recently approved to be an official training vendor for peer specialists in Pennsylvania. There are now two approved vendors: Mental Health Association of Southeastern PA (MHAPA), and Recovery Innovations. And to be honest… I was feeling slightly sorry for myself, that I wouldn’t be going through MHAPA’s training. After all, everyone else I know who’s been through the training went to an MHAPA training. And all those people LOVED it, thought it was great, learned so much, had a wonderful time… et cetera, et cetera.

So now, a training comes along–one I’m at last able to get into–and… it’s not MHAPA. It’s Recovery Innovations.

Hmph.

It felt anticlimactic.

There was this little tiny piece of my brain saying, “This better be good.”

How judgmental. Really.

So then today, I was Googling terms like “peer support marketing” and “peer specialist tools” and so on. And I stumbled across that article linked above–Mental Health Recovery–which is not an article, but a piece of Recovery Innovations’ training manual. And I was blown away.

It’s good. Really, really good.

So now I’m excited (even more so), and the little judgmental voice in my head has shut its trap.

Go read it if you haven’t already. Really. It’s long (16 pages), but it is GOOD. And it was exactly what I needed to hear today, too… exactly the reminder I needed about what peer support work really is.

Cutting

Can someone explain to me where the stigma around cutting comes from?

Obviously I am not promoting cutting. It’s not healthy. And if someone’s cutting themselves because they feel like they deserve to be mutilated, well… that’s a different ball game. But I’ve met people who cut as a coping mechanism for stress. Several of them have said the same thing: that it clears their mind, allows their thoughts to stop racing, allows a kind of quiet and stillness. That sounds awfully similar to what I get out of meditating. (And yes, I’d recommend meditation and would NOT recommend cutting.)

But all that said… I’m wondering… smoking is a pretty darn unhealthy coping mechanism, too. Why do we react to someone saying they cut to deal with stress as if they were the most hopeless of cases–as if they are doing something shameful–and as if that must mean they want to commit suicide–when we don’t react to smokers that way? Both involve self-harm. But if I say I smoke to deal with stress, very rarely does  anyone suggest I’m subconsciously wanting to kill myself. It’s just acknowledged as a habit–an unhealthy habit, sure, but a habit to help me deal with stress.

Isn’t it possible that cutting, for some people, is similar?

I’ve never cut. So I am really asking. Is there a difference? Is cutting always a sign of self-loathing, or can it ever just be a(n unhealthy) way to deal with stress? Anyone who cuts (or used to cut), any psychologists, anyone want to answer this?

And where does all the stigma around cutting come from?

Just… talk

I am 28 years old.

It took me 28 years to figure something out. Something rather simple.

That simple thing is this: to have a conversation with someone, I just have to open my mouth and say whatever I’m thinking.

Sounds ludicrous that it took me so long to figure out that, doesn’t it? And yet it’s true.

That truth hit me like a spiritual revelation this summer. I was walking on my lunchbreak, with a coworker, to the corner pizza shop, and noticed myself thinking about the appearance of the fountain on the square. And without thinking about it, I opened my mouth and said what I was contemplating.

And my coworker responded with a comment.

And we had a conversation.

And that was it.

Alright, maybe someone out there is laughing. Go ahead, because yeah, it’s rather absurd that this was a revelation.

But it’s true–for the previous 28 years, I had thought that the way to have a conversation with a casual acquaintance was to think up something to say. It was very freeing to realize I didn’t have to put all that work into chatty conversations, after all.

Why did it take 28 years to discover this? Probably many reasons, but I think there are two main ones:

 (1) I’m introverted. Talking–especially polite, casual conversation–has never come easily to me.

(2) For 28 years, most of what I was thinking was socially unacceptable to talk about. Really, you can’t say to a brand-new coworker, your best friend’s new boyfriend, a dinner party acquaintance, or another daycare mom, “Do you ever think about death? What do you think, did Camus really allow himself to die out of suicidal tendencies, or was it all truly an accident?” Nor could I say (as were often my thoughts in casual social situations), “Um, are you judging me right now? Do I look okay? Is my hair funny? Are you staring at me?”

So, yeah, in a sense I actually did need to think up topics for conversation for those 28 years. In a sense I really couldn’t let any current thoughts spew out of my mouth–not without freaking out my conversation partner, anyway.

But now? Now that death and suicide and depression and negativity and social anxiety and low self-esteem don’t occupy 75% of my thoughts? Now it’s quite possible for me to just open my mouth and talk–without thinking much about it–to practically anyone.

 It’s freeing.

What’s the point in writing this? I don’t know. I guess I figure that, if casual conversation was something I struggled with for years… if it was a revelation to me that you don’t always have to think up conversation topics… then maybe someone else has struggled with this, too. Maybe someone else needs to know that it’s okay to just talk about what’s on your mind.

Maybe this will come as a revelation to some other introvert.

Medical model vs. recovery model

A lot of people ask me what the difference is between a medical model of treatment for mental illness and a recovery model.

You want to know what that difference is, in a nutshell?

The medical model treats me like a disease; the recovery model treats me like a person.

Intake appointments

I dislike intake appointments. They make me feel worse when they’re over than I did beforehand.

The last intake appointment I had was with my new psychiatrist. She was very kind, professional, validating, and not at all shaming. She is a lovely psychiatrist.

But she’s not perfect.

And the intake form she used was not perfect, either.

Here’s the problem with these intake forms: they focus on disease and dysfunction. And they are made with preconceived ideas of (a) what is relevant in mental health treatment, and (b) a bias about what “mental illness” really is. Also? There’s just not much room for the client to talk about what THEY perceive to be the problem. Seems to me that’s an important piece of information, if you’re trying to determine how to help someone.

Anyway, at my last intake with my psychiatrist, we spent an hour talking about how messed up I am. I mean really, that’s what it felt like. I wanted to scream, “But do you understand I’m doing pretty well right now?” We reviewed my history–but by “history,” I mean: me at my worst.

Spending an hour talking about all your sexual indiscretions, your speeding tickets, the loss of your child, your suicide attempts, your failed jobs, your worst depressions, blah blah blah… it makes you feel, um, sick. It makes you feel MAJORLY sick.

There were exactly two–I counted, two–questions about how I cope and what helps me stay well. Two. Out of how many?

There is more to me than an illness.

But on intake questionnaires? In intake appointments? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

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