Less than two years ago I knew absolutely nothing about mental health. I had never heard the term “mental health consumer” and I certainly didn’t know that the term applied to me. When I found out about peer support I wasn’t even remotely excited or even curious. My sister had discovered the information on the Internet. I made plans to meet with a peer specialist mostly to satisfy her (thanks Sis!!).

At this point in my recovery I was in denial as to the seriousness of my illness. I was very confused and afraid but reluctant to even think about my mental health. The confusion and fear was born of ignorance… my complete lack of knowledge regarding mental health, especially mine.

Meeting my peer specialist for the first time was an eye-opening experience. He immediately told me that he was not a therapist and that he also lived with a mental illness. My ears perked up! He didn’t sit behind his desk, asking me invasive questions. He sat at a table beside me and we had an easy, relaxing conversation. We even laughed. I felt comfortable. He shared his life experiences as someone living with depression. It had been a long road for him. He had a wealth of experience to draw on, both his own and that o fpeople he had helped over the years.

He didn’t pressure me to talk but when I did, he listened, really listened. He didn’t judge. He accepted me… just the way I was… broken. He didn’t send me home with a long list of things to do to “fix” myself. He didn’t ask anything of me. The message he had for me that first day was one that was to be a continuing message. ..that he was there for me… that he understood and that he would do what he could to help me.

I left that day with a spark of hope.

I left that day with a spark of hope.

I continue to see my peer specialist on a regular basis. He has allowed me to express my pain, my anger, frustration and fears. He answers the questions I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone else. He directs to me other resources in the mental health community. He helps me understand the process of therapy and treatment. We’ve worked together to complete a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and a Crisis Plan for me (important and useful tools).

Most importantly, when that spark of hope disappears he helps me find it and encourages me to hang on to it. He has shown me it is possible to survive.

About Debi

Debi is a writer, a mental health consumer, and a suicide attempt survivor. As part of her recovery, she has found freedom in embracing her creative side (painting and creating mail art as well as writing), which allows her to be open and honest about living with a mental illness. Debi is passionate about playing an active role in the mental health community, not only as a consumer but also as a friend, resource, and advocate for other consumers. She lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.