“You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the end.” CS Lewis
The 7th November 2019 marks 4 years for me as a peer support worker. It is something of a miracle. I had completed the accredited peer support training in the summer of 2015, when my bed was still warm from being detained on a section 2, where I also detoxed from alcohol.
Then it was time to apply for a role, after a year of no work following redundancy, I got the job. I remember being pleased, amazed and somewhat shocked but had felt that finally I had hope and direction. So, I had a start date of 7th October, but as the day approached I became scared and anxious and my inner critic told me, quite clearly, that I wouldn’t be able to do the job, that I was useless and that it would be better if I just gave up and lost everything. I self-harmed and cried, not knowing what to do. Eventually, I called the peer support lead and told her that I couldn’t do the job. I expected her to graciously accept the fact that I wouldn’t be doing the role – but instead she just said: “well leave it a month and see how you feel next month?” I couldn’t quite believe it but accepted her offer and took a further month to regroup and decide that perhaps, maybe I could do the job.
How many employers out there would do that? Many I am sure would have just let me go, without further thought. Pretty amazing, eh?
So 7th November came and I started work on a ward in Kidderminster. The first day or two was scary and I was unsure but due to the support from the staff, I soon settled in and began to enjoy working on the ward. I had spent the previous year feeling hopeless, worthless and could only see myself spiralling downwards. Now, a job gave me structure, routine and hope.
Then I transferred to a ward in Worcester, where I continue to work full time now. So what have I learnt during this time?
Firstly, I have learnt things about other people. I have seen so many people who have been devoid of hope and this has led to amazing conversations. I have felt privileged to be part of people’s recovery, to hear their stories and that sometimes its ok just to sit with someone in their distress, not to fix anything but just to be there.
I have learnt that sometimes there is no solution, but to be able to validate people’s experience seems just what’s needed. I have learnt that solving problems often involves helping people with benefits, or housing.
I have learnt, and seen with my own eyes, the amount of paperwork that nurses need to complete. I’ve seen them wrangle with those requirements against the need to spend time with patients.
I have learnt that mental health conditions are so much more than a diagnosis, there’s a social and economic problem too, that needs much more than pills to solve.
I have learnt and seen just how valuable the peer support role is to patients, the things they say to me, the surprise in their eyes when I tell them some of my story, that despite everything I can now work and add value to my own life, and the lives of others.
I have also learnt a lot about myself too – I’ve learnt that I AM resilient and have coped well with some very stressful times. I have learnt that it’s ok for me to relapse, that it takes nothing away from me as a person, nor does it reduce my capacity to help others as a peer support worker.
I have learnt that being honest about the way I feel does not make me weak – and that the honesty I show on social media helps others to be honest too. I’ve had heaps of messages from people thanking me for my honesty and praising my bravery.
I have become ‘slightly’ more skilled in managing my own mental health and maintaining my own wellbeing. I still have relapses, but I am so well supported I get back on my feet and back to work. Work itself keeps me well and I love the job. I truly feel part of the team, people ask my opinion and include me in team decisions.
“It is through this trusting relationship, which offers companionship, empathy and empowerment, that feelings of isolation and rejection can be replaced with hope, a sense of agency and belief in personal control.” J Repper 2013
Four years. Four years on my peer support rollercoaster, and it’s still running. I am still learning and growing. Thank you to those who never give up on me. Thank you to those who show me tough love. Thank you to those who help steer me to success. Thank you to those of you who believe in me. Thank you to those who ask me if I’m ok when they can see I’m not. Thank you to those in this trust who show me that there isn’t a hierarchy and allow my voice to be heard.
A psychiatric ward can be a very sad place, but it’s also a place of laughter and fun and I relish the creativity and brilliance of the people I work with, both staff and patients.
Will there be another four years? Who knows, I didn’t plan these four years but look how magical it has been…
Blog written by Clare Knighton