When I was diagnosed with depression, I was devastated. I thought that this could not be happening. However, I accepted it. I knew that if I could just keep holding on, this too would pass. Somehow, I knew that I would get better. I enlisted into a partnership with a great psychiatrist, took medication, and began the journey of recovery.
After approximately 7 years in recovery I lost my company apartment, gained another, lost that one, lived with family and friends. After depleting my savings, I went into the shelter. It was horrific. No food, dirty, depressing, dangerous (fights, guns, knives, sexual predators, thieves, degradation), you name the horror – it was there. I kept myself motivated by helping to form a Client Advisory Board with the NYC Department of Homeless Services. I also obtained certificates from Workforce 1 and sharpened my skills by attending Arbor Wecare – Work Employment Program, Bottomless Closet Connecting Women and Work and church services. I moved to a studio shelter and now I am in a one-bedroom apartment.
How I became a Peer Specialist was purely magical. My clinic director asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told her that I wanted to help people like I was helped. She gave me the brochure of Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center, located in the old Theresa Hotel in the Harlem section of Manhattan. I attended Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center and obtained my Certification as a Peer Specialist. I moved on to complete an internship at F.E.G.S., Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment Dept. Simultaneously I did an executive internship at HAI (Hospital Audiences, Inc.) where I helped to reorganize their filing system, general office work – and played ball with the founder’s two Hungarian sheep dogs.
It is now 12 years in recovery and I feel fantastic! I have left the corporate field for good and have decided to help my fellow consumers who feel devastated when they are diagnosed with any debilitating illness. I do not consider matters of the mind or body illnesses that should be hushed away like a terrible secret. I help my fellow consumers on their own individual road to recovery by first letting them know that I too have a road of mental and physical wellness to travel – just like them. I share with them that I chose this line of profession and am employed to help them to find their dignity. Each road is unique, but they all lead to mental wellness, hope, happiness, new life.
I facilitate groups such as: Expanding Your Recovery Network, Effective Communication Skills, Smoking Cessation, Stress Reduction, Money Management/Budgeting, Consumer Advocacy, Wellness and Self-Management, and Community Orientation/Resource Development. These groups are real and provide the necessary tools to live comfortably in mainstream society. I encourage them to set realistic goals. I am also the HAI liaison and escort them to wonderful, interesting and exciting events at the theater, Madison Square Garden, movie theaters, concerts and dances. I have fun with my fellow consumers and let them know that their very possible and that I care. I research anything that my peers may need to obtain the services that they may need. Some may need ambulatory care, home attendants, information on nutrition centers, schools, seminars on finance, self-esteem, job-fairs for the disabled, sports clubs, drop in centers, etc. I let them know that I love to see people succeed. My fellow consumers inspire me when I feel down. That lets them know that I truly believe they are important.
I also help the social workers to brainstorm about ways to find housing, day treatment programs, and mainstream agencies who want to get involved in helping someone back to mental wellness. I communicate with the Social Security Administration, VESID, and outpatient clinics to find what benefits and resources my peers are available and are eligible for. I find out what hobbies that they may be interested in and find venues for them to explore and develop these hobbies. Some of my fellow consumers love to write poetry, dance, sing, do standup comedy. Sometimes we have impromptu and informal sing-a-longs. I interact with the families and friends and give them insight as to how they can help. I educate myself and others about mental illness – all types. The more you know the less scary it is and the better you are able to handle those bumps along the way. I help my fellow consumers to develop coping mechanisms for when they are not feeling 100%. We do simple things like listening to upbeat music (instrumental and with lyrics), we eat healthy foods like grilled chicken salad, fruits, we go for walks and look at the changing of the foliage and enjoy the cool breeze and sun on our faces, we tell jokes and enjoy each other’s laughter, we share our frustrations and brainstorm on how to make different choices for a better result. I help them to identify what they can control and what they can learn to accept and have the right perspective. My interaction is all on an individual basis and is person-centered. I let my peers know that they are all special individuals and that they do not have to follow the crowd. I help them to stand strong and regain their determination to be healthy, happy and positively productive. Some do not or cannot work – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are alive and have a chance to choose to live a new and good life today and this time forward.
I help my place of employment to find training programs and Webinar seminars for all levels of the treatment team. I attend trainings given by OMH in Albany and at the Coalition for Behavioral Health and the Recipient Affairs Regional Headquarters in New York so that I can have my pulse on what is changing in mental wellness. I also share that new information with all staff. I communicate with administration on a quarterly basis and as necessary on policies/procedures and offer concrete suggestions on how we can be a stronger, more efficient hospital and MICA residence.
By just being humble, honest and putting my best foot forward I empower my peers to tap into their own source that is lying dormant inside of them. And when they find that source – whooooh they just soar!!!
I’m standing here, still feeling the glow of several of my fellow consumers that found the right path of recovery. I’m waiting for the next opportunity to show someone that they can soar as well!