The reluctant blogger. I have been writing about matters of head, heart and spirit for 45 years, since I first started copying my poems and feelings into a little spiral notebook in about 1970 in Nampa, Idaho.
I stood on the shore at the millennium and watched as the first wave of blogs began hitting the digital beach. I sensed it wasn’t time for me, although I did not suffer from a lack of something to say. I knew I had to have a compelling purpose and a rousing theme, something that would keep me engaged over the long haul. Something with meaning, heart and heat.
Now that meaning has arrived, and in the most compelling of costumes: a calling.
Certified for being myself. One of my non-conformist claims to fame is that I have managed to make it to age 56 with no earthly credentials. I dropped out of college. I managed to sidestep degrees and certifications. Then one day last autumn I heard about an intriguing training for anyone who related to “a lived experience of psychological distress.”
I cried when I introduced myself to the rest of the class on the first day of peer support training. I couldn’t believe that there was finally a credential that would certify me for being myself, for living through my experience of loss, delayed grief and trauma, and for eventually coming out on the other side feeling like a whole person who had a meaningful life – in other words, for managing to reinvent myself repeatedly.
Suddenly a whole spectrum of possibilities emerged, the most significant being that I might use my own experiences to inspire others and that I might actually get paid for that.
Peer support movement. A big part of what grabbed me about peer support is that it’s part of a social justice movement that aims to put power back in the hands of persons who’ve gotten lost in the mental health system, stigmatized by a diagnosis, medicated into numbness, disabled by a sense of futility and hopelessness, or any other form of power and identity loss.
Our culture is quick to try to “normalize” individuals who don’t fit into the prevailing paradigm, especially if their sensitivity, intelligence, and creativity conspire to launch them into any kind of prolonged or public distress. Asking for help can sometimes turn out to be a dangerous choice in the long run. The list of labels in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders keeps getting longer and there is almost certainly one or more to fit most of us, along with medications to prescribe.
Peer support attracts me because it represents a sane alternative to mainstream insanity. It recognizes each of us as sovereign and valuable, the directors of our own future. And it trains and encourages survivors like me to offer my own recovery as an inspiration. It validates that we are the experts on our own experience – the experience of being a human who has lived through trauma.
Who among us has not suffered? At present, this type of peer specialist support is only offered through community mental health centers, where it is billable through Medicaid. That means that: (1) there’s an immediate challenge to the ideals of the peer support model, which strives to step away from diagnosis, clinical language, paperwork and the rest of the mental health system, getting people back into community; and (2) it’s only available to a limited population.
I applied for such a position at our local community mental health center last fall and never heard a peep from Human Resources. Not one word. Not that I wanted to try to work in the system, trying to walk between worlds. I really didn’t.
Recently one of my trainers issued me the kind of challenge I love. He suggested I figure out how to offer this through a private practice, outside the system, right smack in the middle of the community where it belongs.
“More people need this,” he said. “Who among us has not suffered?”
So here I am, introducing you to my blog and my dream for a new livelihood.
Let’s travel together on a journey to explore what matters, express why we care and imagine how we can grow. Along the way I’ll be telling you some of the stories of how I got here, in hopes they will inspire you on your own path toward wholeness.