Coming into peer support work validated so many things for me. I once heard a peer say, “peer support work made me see that my pain and suffering was not in vain. It was for this reason.” Her statement resonated with me because it depicted what I felt on the inside, only I couldn’t find such beautifully packaged words to describe it.
My lived experience with mental health struggles is not in any way unique to other peers. In fact, if care is not taken, the accounts of another can blend perfectly with mine. However, it is in the courage of doing peer support work that I am strengthened, and the experience of illness and recovery has become increasingly meaningful. There is something about giving back or even giving without haven had; but giving what you would have wanted is such an incredible impact. Another reality of peer support work, for me, is the idea of holding hope for someone. This takes on a different meaning because it involves a multiplex experience. For instance, while you are supporting someone who may be facing hopelessness in coping with mental health struggles and you are meeting them where they currently are in that struggle, you also get reminded of what it felt like to not have hope, to not be able to see hope nor perceive it’s coming. Yet, you now have the undeniable residuals and gifts hope brings with it once it does come. And it is all these interactions with hope that make it possible to hold it for someone.
Though peer support is not a new concept and has been valued in other fields, in mental health one of its greatest significances is that it validates both the experience of illness and of recovery. Peer support in mental health brings to consciousness for some and affirm to others that mental health struggle is not a death sentence as we once treated (and sadly, sometimes still) treat it. It sends an authentic message that recovery with mental health challenges is reachable no matter what your starting point is and what barriers you may have to fight through to experience recovery.
In the chapters of my own life, I recall moments when I resented having struggles with my mental health and even moments when I was ashamed of my experiences. And as I look back in my rear view, I conclude that such shame and resentment was shaped partly outside myself; that these constructs were portraits of the lack of awareness in my community and in society at large. I resolve that they were mechanisms I learned and adopted. Therefore, it was possible to unlearn and dismantle such. Ever since, my tools for unlearning and dismantling this destructive approach to mental health include continuing my journey of wellness, taking the time to educate the misinformed, and supporting others who embark on and carry out their own recovery.
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