When people ask me about my job, I tell them that I use my lived experience of mental health to help other people recover. They smile and nod, but I wonder, should I give them a flavour of what that really means? They see me with my name badge on and I get a sense they assume I’m ‘cured’ or ‘better’ or ‘recovered’; so I think it’s important for me to reflect on what ‘recovery’ means to me and to think about how I can share the magic as a peer support worker with service users.
I’m 18 months past my last section and an inpatient alcohol detox. I’m also in full time employment and was ticking along quite nicely, until one April morning, let me take you to that day……..
I drove to work as usual and sat in the office reading the handover notes. Only, something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t read the words on the page; it was if I was looking at a foreign language. I got up and walked onto the ward. I stood there, and a cavernous voice was shouting in my head, I remember looking round and a patient asked me if I was ok.
Fast forward a day, and I’m under the care of the home treatment team. They were coming in twice a day, bringing me medication, talking to me, encouraging me to wash and dress and open the curtains. I also received support from a Peer support worker, someone who I could be incredibly honest with, and someone who would just sit with me in my distress.
Fast forward another five days and the strong medication had silenced the turmoil in my head, and I could bear to have the TV on, up to that point, background noise was unbearable. At this point, I began to think about recovery. I felt I had failed. How could I ever support other people when I was no more than a page ahead?! What was recovery? How could I think I had recovered? For a short moment I felt a failure, I even felt I could no longer work as a peer support worker……. until someone said to me ‘Clare what better person to help someone in distress than someone who not only has lived experience but RECENT lived experience?!”
So, as I began to stand back up on my feet, and grow strong again, I realised my perception of recovery had changed. It’s not a linear journey; well not for me anyway, it’s full of twists and turns. I began to tell myself that it was ok to fall back……….as long as I got back on track. This is my recovery, my journey and I remembered how passionate I was about using my lived experience to help others recover.
I returned to work, and quickly felt able to fully function in my role. It helped me having a great support network and a team of people who I work with who just accept me as part of the team and who support me unquestioningly. But what really helped me, was not allowing my view of recovery to remain fixed. Allowing my definition to change allowed me to change and grow, and learn. It allowed me to return to the peer support work that I am so passionate about. It allowed me to story share with patients, to let them know that I too struggle, and that it’s ok. They take strength from seeing me at work, supporting them, knowing that I too am vulnerable.
Being a peer support worker helps me to stay well, but I am not infallible as that brief interlude in April showed me. I have no idea what lies ahead for my recovery journey, but peer support has taught me that its ok, and that recovery is there for us all……………..
Clare is an accredited peer support worker based in Worcestershire, a passionate coach, mentor, cat owner and lover of kindness..NHS champion..survivor….expert by experience. You can follow her on Twitter @knightonstar