Life goes on and the unreality of the eighth falls prey to the angry, hungry lion that is daily reality. And in daily reality inquires are made and solutions are dished out and some people work a 9 to 5.
Then there are those of us who don’t. Then there are some of us who have to awkwardly explain to their non-peer professor that she feels the entire class has conspired against her since her return from the hospital but that she’s been keeping up with the work at home and will be back the following week. Then there are some of us who disappear from math class without warning and have to, once again, awkwardly email the non-peer professor and hope he will be understanding.
That’s what’s been keeping me from going to my creative writing class by the way: the same thing that kept me from going to my Native American Literature class those years back.
Let me say I love this professor. She is hilarious and open and an eloquent writer. Although she is more interested in poetry rather than fiction, she and I understand each other as writers. Her class is very open. Everyone talks among each other, and I was once in a little group. Then I shipped away.
Returning back to class felt wrong. And once I told my professor why I’d been gone, I got this nagging feeling she’s told the entire class who I am, what happened, and why I was gone. Then when I return I’m noticing someone who used to sit next to me, sat a seat away, and while another person used to ask me questions she now asks the guy next to me. I’m sure she told them all to ignore me and hate me. I’ve tried to reason myself into believing it’s because they have all had time to get to know each other better, but that other voice in my head has invalidated and battered reason to the floor.
Driving home one night I realized something significant. First, I realized that this level of paranoia can go fuck itself.
Secondly, I asked myself what someone would say to me at Second Story if I were to explain my thoughts. I asked myself what I would say to someone were I to explain the thoughts to myself. And while I can’t remember the full conversation I had with myself in my head, I do remember the conclusion.
Feeling violated by my professors purported confidentiality disrespect, feeling like an outcast among people with stigma as rampant as it is, is the root of this paranoia. My own insecurity of being seen as “crazy” or “sick” on the outside is the root of this paranoia. And while that doesn’t make me feel any less paranoid, it made me sigh in relief. It made me sigh because it makes me remember all the people I’ve spoken to who struggle in the same way. I sighed because it only confirms there are reasons for thoughts, no matter how “deluded” they could be considered. My interpretation of my environments may be different from yours, but if you’re insecure about the way you look, and I’m insecure about how my mentality is perceived, aren’t we both sharing in the same struggle but seeing it differently?
And that got me thinking about the future, about transferring, about digging deep into my career. And all that bone crushing anxiety got me thinking about questions I hear and have been asked often:
What kind of jobs are there for the “mentally ill”?
You all know I refrain from using terms like “mental illness” or “mental disorder” and instead call them experiences or struggles or interpretations. But that is how the question is often phrased.
And one obvious thing comes to mind and it isn’t office job, it isn’t an online position, it isn’t reclusive writer, and it isn’t backroom stocking associate, all of which I’ve tried.
Well, I’m still a reclusive writer, but . . .
I smacked myself on the forehead at the realization: peers.
And with the rise in peer support sweeping, literally, the nation, there’s a huge need for it.
I will be transferring over the hill next year. I refuse to live on campus unless it will be paid for by financial aid and I can have a dorm to myself: those are rather harsh and specific requirements, so I’m not counting on it. Therefore I will need income. I smacked myself again on the forehead before searching for peer support in the county I will be moving too.
Yes, it exists there as well. In fact, it exists in many, many more places and cities and towns than I thought. Second Story may be peer run, but even within health centers there are peer programs. A lot of them. This gave me the hope for humanity Trump tried stealing away.
If connecting with people who also struggle is something of interest to you, I encourage you to search programs, I really do. It may sound like a huge step, and it is, but let me tell you, you’ll be way better off being nervous around people who understand how that effects you personally, than being in an office where a boss snorts at you and says “tough shit”.
My point is, there are jobs out there for people who struggle in the way we do. I’m not talking people with just Anxiety or depression. I’m talking those who hear voices or bounce up and down with their moods. Self Harm. OCD. WhatEVER it is, we need you.
You don’t need a degree, all you need is your experience with mental health.
The transformation I saw in the woman I met from the hospital who happened to show up a week after I told her about Second Story . . .the difference I saw in her from the time we were in the hospital together to the first week she was with us . . .tremendous. She used to not speak above a whisper. She didn’t make much eye contact and was really stuck in her struggle. The last time I saw her she spoke confidently, she made eye contact, she saw all of the problems she had to go through in terms of housing and such as things she could accomplish: she told me that many times. She said it would be hard, but that they are do-able.
That was the first positive thing I’d heard from her.
She and I cooked a feast that night. I asked her if she was any good at cooking chicken and we were off. We made stuffing and baked chicken and mashed potatoes and a salad and some green beans and sliced some bread. Some of us sat down and ate at the dinner table and joked about Mariah Carey and the 7 million dollar engagement ring her (ex??) fiance gave her.
I remember when I left the hospital she whispered good luck to me. Before I left my shift for that night I told her good luck. The last I heard, she’s signed up to Volunteer with us.
You make a difference in people’s lives, and they make a difference in yours. That’s what peer support is about. These are real positions in this life and real places have implemented these types of programs.
There are people out there that understand. And there are people out there you can use your experience to connect with. If you’re curious, I implore you, please, research it. If you have questions about what I do as a peer support counselor, email me or leave a comment, I’ll be happy to explain in more detail.
You might go in hoping to change someone else’s life and come out the one who is changed. That’s when you know you made a good choice.
We need you.