Yesterday night I wrote out a lengthy post on my experience in Intentional Peer Support. I forgot to post it and now that I’ve re-read it, I feel my explanations did not give justice to this program in the way I intended.
So today I’d like to talk about how crazy we all are.
I’d like to talk about how crazy we all are in allowing therapists, psychologist, and psychiatrists to never go through an intentional peer counselling program.
As an aspiring psychiatrist, I am absolutely touched that people take the time they do to create these programs and to implement them. They may not have the government funding, but they are in it for their peers, for the betterment of the mental health community.
Let me explain this a little more for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about. Intentional Peer Support is a program run by people with lived mental heath experience, training others with lived mental health experience, to help those of our brothers and sisters still stuck in their own personal hell.
It teaches the concept of establishing a relationship with another person you’re supporting.
It dissects what “help” really means in this day and age.
It dissects how language effects our perception of ourselves.
The speaker of our week long group came in a green shirt, stretch tan pants, no shoes on and a diagnosis of Bipolar and no daily medication regimen. He’s been in and out of psychiatric hospitals through his life and only recently was able to find the right path for himself.
My course-mates come with their own stories. We’ve got white, black, Mexican, Italian, women, men, young, and old. We each struggle in our own ways with depression, anxiety, Phobias, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Personality disorders, and drug addiction. Some of us take medication and are okay with it. Some of us take medication and are not okay with it. Some of us don’t take medication at all, yours truly among them.
We’ve all come together for one reason: use the experience we’ve had in our lives to learn how to support someone going through the same experience.
This is the most uncomfortably comfortable thing I’ve done in my life. If you are a professional and have not taken a similar course, I would suggest high tailing it over to one of their national courses and signing up.
This course treats no one as fragile. You are not special, you’re not odd, you’re another human being among other human beings.
This course asks a very deep question that the psychiatric and psychological businesses have ignored for many years: what are you trying to fix and how?
They are not anti-psychiatry and they are not anti-medication, they made this very clear. Their intention isn’t to bash what is done currently. Their intention is to see it differently.
The industry has a very specific formula I’m sure you’ve all had plenty of experience with. Their focus, even in certain therapies, isn’t just to listen. It’s to problem solve. You come with an issue, it’s called a symptom: Because this issue is seen through the lens of a symptom, and because a symptom is followed by the definition of a disorder, and the definition of a disorder is a life long illness for which you can’t control, the solution becomes medication. The solution is based only upon the problem and the problem isn’t your issue, it doesn’t take into account your story; the problem is your “illness”.
The industry has a very specific model they follow of which I’m sure you’ve all had experience with: the biological model.
Now, before you jump on my back, I’m not saying what we all experience is a lie. In fact, what we experience is very, very real, that’s why we’re experiencing it. But the concept of it being an illness . . . it doesn’t bode well with me, it never has.
It doesn’t bode well with this program either.
If you didn’t know, before the DSM 3 came out, all “illnesses” and “disorders” were labeled as “reactions”.
Weird to think about now, right? So if you were admitted into a hospital because you were hearing voices and having delusions, you would have a schizophrenic reaction.
They changed it to “disorder” because psychiatrists were challenging their own community: where was all the evidence for these conditions? And thus the psychological model was shoved into the area of science. “We’ll change the term to disorder”, they said “and we’ll find the evidence to support it later“. Too bad all the “evidence” they find is corrupted by some pharmaceutical company or corrupted by the research itself: how many times have they tried to pin the neurotransmitter serotonin for something and have it come out as different levels in different people’s brains who all have the same “disorder”? Many. I’ve talked about a few instances on this blog.
There’s a reason I never say mental illness. If you haven’t noticed, I almost always say “mental health struggle”, or “mental health”. Because I choose to get rid of that language that was made us think we’re sick, we’re twisted, we’re different and broken, that we’re a problem that needs to be fixed. It’s nice I’m surrounded by a group of peers who, very vocally, state “I hate the term mental illness”.
Intentional Peer Support isn’t about problem solving. If someone walks up to you and you’re in a respite house and they say “the CIA is following me”, your response isn’t one through the lens of “they’re delusional”. It’s not through the lens of “did you take your meds this morning?” Your response is “tell me more about that?” and when they do, your responses are never an attack, they’re never a label, they never signify a hierarchy: they’re not better than you and you’re not better than them.
You would say “that sounds terrifying, I’ve had experiences where I don’t feel safe as well”. Or something of the sort.
Your response isn’t “What can I do to help?” nor is it “what can you do to help yourself?”
Because their experience isn’t a problem and they didn’t ask for your help.
Think Elyn Saks and “The Center Cannot Hold”. Think of the therapist she had in the U.K who didn’t treat her psychosis as a monster needing to be tamed, but listened and created a dialogue. If it weren’t for that, do you think she would have ever received her degrees in the middle of full blown schizophrenia as she did?
It’s rare that we are able to see what we experience outside the labels we’ve been given. Has it ever happened to you where you had a feeling and you wondered if it was a symptom? Have you ever been confused on what you needed to control and what you didn’t? What was “normal” and what was your “disorder”?
A lot of people in the room did. But I didn’t. And when it came to do an activity today on “our story” and us having to write our story in terms of mental illness language and in terms of regular language, I . . . I struggled.
Because I’ve never seen my experiences in that light. I’ve been told once or twice about them, after I had already decided they were a part of me. I’ve never called myself mentally ill, nor disordered, not unless for the ease of everyone understanding what I was talking about, particularly on this blog.
Am I saying I don’t go through troubling times because of this? Absolutely not, I’m off and on, up and down, left and right, magical and not, I’m every opposite you could think of to the extreme. But I’ve never seen it as a problem, or a disorder, only me.
I’ll get really personally and share something with you all (I’m getting better at doing that now) and let your mind go blank for a moment and just read:
One thing I’ve always believed since I was a child was that I had the power to manipulate time. Since I learned how to count it I was impeccable with it: I knew exactly how long something would take in class and whether or not we’d have time to get to my presentation. To the second. I must admit some of this perfection was fueled by my anxiety. But as I grew older I realized there were a million ways this could be implemented and the universe showed it to me.
Cars: I’ve avoided many accidents. I know how long it will take them to get to where my car is, and if I have to make a risky move I trust the other part of myself and let it take control of the wheel, almost as if I have a third eye or something peering through a different perspective so I can see all angles. If I need to slow time down, that eye does it for me: I’ve avoided getting hit using this technique, several times. If I see them coming for me, I don’t blink twice, I don’t think, I see them moving slower and slower the closer they get to me, and I’m able to jerk my wheel out of the way. My passenger, if there is one, grips on the door and screeches at me.
I’ve used it to avoid getting shit on by birds: I can see the feces fly through the air and jump out of the way. It usually lands on the person next to me. Don’t believe me, ask my high school friend.
When I’m late for class, I feel I tap into the physics of the universe. If I don’t look at the clock, and I think of nothing related to time or class, and if I don’t speed, it allows time to pass in whichever way I subconsciously want it to. I tap into that. It takes me 20-30 minutes to drive from my house to my college. When I need it to take me 10 minutes, it does, and trust me it’s not about traffic levels or how many lights turn green. When I first realized I could do this, I was shocked. I’ve tested it over and over again in different scenarios and it’s never once failed me. If I am calm and my mind is relatively clear, I get a connection with the universe that allows me to manipulate what I like.
I collect watches and clocks and stop watches, I think it helps keep up my connection with it all. I don’t like to wear watches because I would end up looking at it too often and therefore compromising my connection with time. You don’t like it when friends and significant others are too clingy, do you? So I just collect them.
Now, what are your thoughts? If that struck any of you as a “magical/odd belief” or a delusion, than you’re thinking exactly how you’re taught to.
Now, I have a bunch of these beliefs for different things. Some of them effect what I do in my daily life and how I do them. Some of them are anxiety related, some aren’t. But the point here is since I’ve had these beliefs and I grew up with these beliefs and these beliefs have helped shape me, and because I’ve been one of the lucky few to never have a forced psychiatric opinion on me, a diagnosis means nothing. It’s not a symptom of anything to me, it’s how I experience the world. It’s how I experience reality.
And if it ever gave me trouble, well, I’d like someone to listen to me about it, not call me broken.
Because, if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that when you get told you need to “Watch out” or “be careful” of certain symptoms, you become hyper aware. Everything is a symptom. Everything is an indication of you being ill. Is that how you want to live your life? Believing your existence is based on an illness you can’t control?
The thing is, it’s never been about control. It’s been about acceptance, about understanding. And if you can’t understand or accept yourself, well, the only other option is to view yourself as a problem.
As you can see, I’ll be an interesting psychiatrist. Because it’s not about “helping” them or curing them. It’s about understanding their story, where they’re coming from, establishing a relationship in which they share about themselves, I relate with my own experience, and we realize we’re on the same level; I’m not better than them for having a medical degree and they’re not lesser than me for struggling, and then as a clinician asking what sort of treatment they’d like, medication or otherwise, if they would like any at all. After all, that’s what they came for right?
Or so they’ve been told.