As a peer support specialist I find great comfort in the connections that I make working with consumers. That shared experience is so valuable in being able to relate to each other, when it feels that there is no one else could possibly understand what you are going through. To know that another person has been there and will not judge you, can provide some relief to the isolating effects that mental health symptoms can give. I firmly believe that I am not alone anymore because I am a member of my mental health community. Through this community I have become stronger and recognized the importance of seeing recovery from multiple perspectives.
Learning about perspective was a difficult experience for me. As a seasoned “self preservationist” I have always been slightly self -centered, mostly as a coping skill to protect myself. I did not think about how other people felt, I could only see my own pain. Not good qualities for an effective peer. Little did I know that I would soon begin a new adventure with the most unlikely of company.
My beautiful son.
When I was younger I did not want to have children. I was afraid that I would not be a competent parent because of my symptoms or worse; to have them taken away because I had a mental illness. I am happy to tell you that I was wrong; having my son has enriched my life in ways that I did not expect. Becoming a mother has been an amazing odyssey; it has taught me more about myself and how I look at the world.
As a single mother I have had challenges, however I quickly learned to re-frame these into ways I could teach my son to see value in every opportunity and correlate them to mental health recovery. I would like to share some of what I have learned. Whether you are a parent or not, these tips can be beneficial to ones mental health recovery and I use them in the support groups I facilitate:
Recognize your strengths
When you are struggling with a mental illness, your strengths are the last thing on your mind. Make a list of things you like about yourself or areas you excel. You can ask for help in the other areas you need support.
Support not solve
It’s easy to want to just fix a problem for someone as a way to support but remember the old saying “Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.” The same can be said for mental health recovery; supporting people in empowering their own recovery and wellness has more impact when it comes from within them.
Self care is essential to maintaining wellness
Don’t over extend yourself beyond your limits. Create a daily maintenance list to help you keep track of all of the things you need to do in order to stay well and to work on the areas that need extra support.
Language influences how we see ourselves
When I meet people for the first time as a peer specialist I always say; “I am not my diagnosis” which I absolutely believe. However it wasn’t until about two years ago I realized just how deeply this phrase affected how I look at my perspective. I was disciplining my son because he took something that didn’t belong to him and he asked me, “Mommy am I bad?” I thought about what I would want someone to say to me. Am I a product of the choice I have made? Do my choices define me as a person? I told him that he is just a person, that people can make choices, sometimes those choices have positive and negative consequences. And if we are lucky we can find value even in our less than successful experiences.
I am grateful for these observations that I have gleaned in my time so far as a mother but I think it’s important to note that being a mother also does not define me as well. Being a parent dealing with mental illness can be all-consuming, it can make you feel like you are losing your identity. Making time for yourself strengthens your recovery and enhances the health and well being of the entire family.