I met my caseworker late last week for our monthly get-together at the local coffee shop. We chatted about my recent hospitalization and some weird dreams I’d had. I also confessed that over the last three or four weeks, I’d oddly begun to think about going back to work.
I say it’s odd because I tried working at the end of 2008, and it left me catatonic. I was literally paralyzed on my sofa with fear from the job. I think the biggest reason for that was the nature of the job. It was in commissioned sales. I worked in sales a long time and always hated it. It’s a high-pressure, high-stress world. I did it successfully before my diagnosis, but I went steadily downhill afterwards. This last attempt at working proved beyond a shadow of a doubt I can’t work in that world.
Still, I always had this little idea at the back of my head that I could do something. I volunteered at the library teaching English as a second language. I’ve been intimately involved in local amateur theater. The library work was intense, but I seemed okay with that stress. The work on productions for community theater has induced stress at times, but again, it didn’t seem too bad. What was the difference? I believe it had a lot to do with not having to worry where the paycheck was coming from and enjoying the jobs.
In both those situations, I didn’t have to worry about money. I have a place to live for which I get rental assistance from the government, because I’m disabled and on a meager income. Still, I’m happy here. I have plenty to eat. My bills get paid. I can afford Internet access. Life is good.
So, why would I want to mess things up by getting a paying job? There are want ads posted on some websites I visit for jobs in my area. They are technical or sales jobs, and they make me think of stress. Why would I want stress again?
My caseworker asked me why I thought I wanted to work again, and I replied I wanted to give back what I’ve received. He brightened up considerably at those words and said there was a position he thought I would be perfect for. It’s called a mental health peer specialist. Taken from the National Association of Peer Specialists’ website:
A peer support specialist is an individual who has made a personal commitment to his or her own recovery and is a role model for others. A peer specialist offers wisdom gained through personal experiences, sometimes known as “the therapeutic use of self,” to inspire hope, support personal responsibility, promote understanding, offer education, and promote self-advocacy and self-determination.
I can do that. I am committed to my recovery, and I can guide others by my example. I don’t want to label myself as wise, but I have plenty of personal experience to inspire hope in others. I believe strongly in personal responsibility, and I can do the other things listed.
The biggest change for me would be coming out of the mental illness closet. It would mean that when people asked me what I did for a living, I would tell them. If they asked what a peer specialist was, I would have to openly explain that I was working with the mentally ill because I have a mental illness myself. I have to comfortably open up and explain my situation when necessary. There might be occasions when I would still choose to be vague and simply state I worked with in the mental health field, but it will truly cause me to have to be ready to be open. That’s not something I’ve been willing to do since I was diagnosed in 2001. In fact, I was cautioned not to disclose my status by mental health workers at the time.
This time seems totally different. I would be helping in a field that needs it. I would be working with people just like me helping them with life events, filling out bureaucratic forms, encouraging life strategies that I know work since I practice them, and other such things. Better yet, I can ease into it. I can do it very part-time and not jeopardize any of my government disability benefits. I can do it with as little stress as I want.
I want to help.