My Schpiel

New clients view me with a mixture of distrust and curiosity. I am usually introduced to them by a case worker who gives little information about me or about what I do. Initially, I am seen as part of the system.

I have to break through any figurative walls quickly and carefully to reach a level playing field where I can teach the skills I’ve learned. Passing along what has helped me is my whole reason for working. Giving the tools that help me stay well and not relapse into crisis is what being a Certified Peer Specialist is all about. It’s my job.

In training, I was coached on how to introduce myself. I was given the Five Key Concepts and directed to use them when I meet a new client or group. Those concepts are

  • Hope
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Education
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Support

My introductory pitch to a new person is important. It will determine how we are going to interact. Once the mood is set, it is difficult to change it. I have to be vigilant in my own recovery and follow my own WRAP daily to be ready for these precious meetings. They are precious. Each meeting and each session and each client is a gift to my recovery. I heal freely sharing what I was taught.

My schpiel or pitch is conducted completely using “I” statements. It’s my story. It’s never exactly the same, but it meanders along an outline something like what follows:

When I was diagnosed with a mental illness 12 years ago, I was devastated. I felt like I’d hit a brick wall with no possibility of going around or over it. I lost my job, the respect of my family and many friends, and my self-respect. I felt utterly worthless. My life as it had been was over, and I felt damaged. What’s worse was I felt abandoned by society as a whole. I was an outcast.

I had many dark times. There were days when I had no energy to get out of bed except for the most rudimentary needs. There was a time I wouldn’t leave my apartment for days. I despaired that things would never improve.

I had no hope. Darkness swallowed me.

Luck put a group of loving friends in my life. They listened to my complaints and distracted me with silly card games and other activities. They dragged me into the sunshine when all I wanted was to stay locked behind my door. I also had a kind prescribing psychiatric nurse practitioners and at other times good psychiatrists. I have been extremely lucky to be in therapy with a highly regarded psychologist. All these people gave me a few tools to get through each day.

They showed me that hope was possible. Trying different combinations of medicine gave me ideas that I could improve. Getting out to socialize even in simple settings like the coffee shop was a labor for me, but I did it regardless of my internal desires. I began to exercise. I clung to my friends. I renewed my interest in meditation or guided visualization. I began to see how taking care of my most basic needs was an act of self-love.

Hope rekindled in me. It was slow, and over the course of years, I realized that I had a stake in making me feel better. I was miserable, and I wanted not to be. Those little daily tasks like taking my medicine, socializing, exercising, and meditating became a mantra of sorts. I saw that I had to take some responsibility if I wanted to feel good.

I also had a lot to learn. I was fortunate growing up to have an older sister who worked in the mental health field. I knew a lot about the importance of taking medicine each day. I heard about her experiences with patients, and I knew I did not want to be sick. I wanted good mental health, and I had to educate myself on my illness. Living with the Internet, this process was much easier than just a few years ago. I had a wealth of information at my fingertips, and I used it.

I began using the new information I’d gleaned from the Internet and books and sundry other resources to talk to my healthcare providers about my treatment. I became an active participant. Looking my psychiatrist in the face and stating plainly that I wanted help with a particular problem altered my life. I was a force in my own decision making. I was not a pawn of any system.

Finally, I permitted myself to have a group of supporters who have my best needs at heart. Today, I have an excellent prescribing nurse practitioner, and we work closely together on my medication needs and talk openly about events in my life. I have a top-notch therapist that I’ve known for over twenty years. I have a case worker who is one of my greatest cheerleaders. I have loving children. I have friends who truly love and support me in my endeavors.

I have a new lease on life.

The above is a broad example of my schpiel or introduction. It’s tailored for each setting and each new client, but it’s my joyous responsibility to follow the Five Key Concepts and model them in my life.

If there is anything I would like to emphasize it is regaining hope. Without it, I was lost. I cannot say enough how thrilled I am to do the work I do, to live the life I have, and to practice my own recovery. Today, I am hope-full.

Healing Trauma

It’s taken me some days to write again, because I came back from my second week of training with a horrible head and chest cold. Thankfully, it’s passing. After one whole day in bed reading, I’m feeling much better.

I learned some frightening things last week. Of the mental health consumers I will be working with, 91% will have experienced serious trauma. The definition for trauma we were given was “extreme stress brought on by shocking or unexpected events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in feelings of helplessness and extreme fear and horror. The survivor perceives the event as bodily violation  threat of death or serious injury to self or a loved one. The event may be witnessed or experienced directly.”

All kinds of things can be traumatic. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale tries to delineate the spectrum of major life stressors. Death of a spouse is highest on the list for adults. Death of a parent is highest for non-adults. It goes on to many other events, and it even includes Christmas as a major stress point.

The most devastating effect trauma has on a person is the shattering of trust and safety leaving a person feeling powerless. Thus, we spent a good deal of time learning about techniques for aiding recovery. Each participant had to face their own trauma, and indeed one person chose to drop out. It was a very sad experience for all of us.

Each of us was given a book that will be enormously useful. Seeking Safety by Lisa Najavits is a seminal text on conducting groups aimed at providing tools for recovery. There are pages of information, but the bulk of it is a workbook for conducting groups. When I am finished with training and during my internship and afterward, I will be facilitating Seeking Safety groups as well as WRAP groups.

The best possible outcome for me has been a personal transformation. I’ve already written about how my negative self-talk has ceased as a direct result of creating my personal WRAP. I have gained a sense of hope for the future I’ve not felt for many years.

I want to help, and now I believe I can do it.

For the first time ever in my 49 years, fear is not ruling my decisions.

I am born anew.

I am born anew.

Whacking my Head Against Hope

I’m enthused. I’m excited. I’m exuberant. I’m happy. I’m ecstatic. I’m beside myself with amazement. I have just returned from week one of the job training I’ve been waiting for, and the change is palpable. I have learned so much in just four days it’s going to take at least two weeks to unravel it, and then I get to go back for another week of training.

I have turned a corner and run smack dab into hope! That amazing phenomenon has hit me across the forehead. I’ve been whacked in the back side. I may even have some splinters in me somewhere. I’m marked.

It’s a good transformation. It came over me gradually this week, but arriving home tonight, I’ve been unrepentantly happy. I’m giddy.

I learned so much this week. I will be sharing it in-depth over the next few days, but for now, let me only say I can help. There are many ways I can help. I can remain in a healthy state of mind and spirit. I can reach out to others and demonstrate my recovery story of mental illness.

Persons with mental illness can recover. We can be productive. We can lift our selves and others out of the mire of despair so many with mental illness suffer in.

I have a lot of hope today along with a lot of fear. Going back to work will mean great changes in my life. I choose not to live in fear today. I choose to live one day at a time and let the chips fall where they may. I choose love and companionship and adventure.

I choose hope.