It is important to ask the question, do we BELIEVE that the person we are working with can live a productive life? At times it can be hard to do so. The amount of trauma some individuals have faced in their lives, along with illnesses once thought to be disabling, add to the thoughts of some that maybe, just maybe, the best this person can do is stay out of the hospital.
The thought process connected to this must change in order to best serve the patient. As a Peer Support Specialist, I go into it with the memories of the once overwhelming and nearly incapacitating effects of Bipolar Disorder I and PTSD. I remember the long road and struggle to get well after diagnoses. The bouncing back and forth from stable to symptomatic was frustrating until I found the right combination of medication. I also look at my life now and know that I can live a productive life. If I can, why can’t other patients in this hospital?
A “productive” life can look differently to every individual. Productive to some might mean volunteering; to others the word might mean staying sober. Others may return to work and pursue a career like Kay Redfield Jamison, a well-known psychologist and author who writes about her own journey with Bipolar Disorder. My victory was getting my degree and returning to employment. I’m not cured by any means. I still must work at it, as I tell the patients (peers) with whom I speak. I go to my psychiatrist, my therapist, I watch my sleep patterns, and I try to manage my stress levels.
To some the goal may be to simply stay out of the hospital, but we must believe they can achieve beyond that. Rebuilding their self-image and instilling hope may help make them realize that there IS life after diagnoses. Others have done it successfully. A mental illness can become a small part of a person’s life.
Rebecca Coursey, KPS
Peer Support Specialist