So I’ve finally arrived. I’m finally here. “Where is here” you ask? I’m in a place where I no longer feel shame about my mental illness. I’m not discouraged or oppressed by the stigma surrounding it and I am proud to speak about my experiences with people. I’m thriving in spite of it. This is a gigantic step forward for me. Very important in my work as a Peer Support Specialist and for my business (MaiLIFE) as a public speaker.
A “peer” is someone who identifies as having a mental illness. It’s in my job title! Everyone in my agency knows that I have a mental illness, because of my title. The thought of that terrified me for a long time. I wouldn’t have even applied for the position this time last year. I feared that if people knew I had a mental challenges, I would be judged harshly and viewed differently. Now I wear the title proudly. I’m getting valuable practice disclosing to people as I introduce myself to 90 new clients and explain that I am a peer, and what that means.
Years ago, while in hospital, a social worker said to me “Wow! You have a mental illness and you finished university?! You’re SO high functioning!” (Ever since I heard the words “high functioning,” in that context, I’ve hated them). This was someone who worked in the mental health field and was shocked at the fact that I’d completed a post secondary degree?! What a sad state of affairs. I quickly understood that some people did not expect much of people with mental challenges. More than ten years later I still get that reaction from some people. Some of whom work in the mental health field. The reality is there are many peers like me out here. We live among you! We’re living well. We have completed or are completing post secondary studies. We have healthy relationships and are productive members of our communities. We love. We feel pain. We have accomplished amazing things. We are living “normal” lives.
I want to make that known to people. So yes, it’s on my business cards. Yes, it’s in my job title. Yes, I will continue to be open and share my experiences with people if I think it will be helpful and if they want to listen. I’m proud of every part of who I am. Mental illness is not who I am, it’s what I have. I’m living well, enjoying life, I’m successful, healthy and genuinely happy. It is possible!