I define a peer as someone on the same level as me. Someone who accepts me for who I am. Someone I want to engage with. Someone supportive and understanding. Someone who overlooks the label of mental illness. Someone that wants to be my friend. You don’t have to have a diagnosis of mental illness to be a peer.
After my initial diagnosis I stayed on a psychiatric ward for four weeks. I made two friends there. My first peers. Ever since, I have sought the companionship of others with mental illness.
My recovery really began when I met two individuals with mental illness who I befriended and am close to this date. It was healthy to seek peers. So healthy it gave me my life back. I found people who “got it.”
Thoughts from the past about myself and “others”
I have a thought disorder. I can be a prisoner of my own thoughts. They are intrusive, racing and scattered. I lack clarity and concentration. This is very disabling. Others live day-by-day with clear thoughts without realizing how difficult my experience is.
My comfort zone is with peers. I prefer to withdraw and not to interact with other people. I linger in the shadows of others. Other people are outgoing social beings. I have low self esteem. Others have self confidence. Others are whole and entire. I am a shell.
People skills come difficult to me. I find it an effort to communicate and express myself. I prefer not to engage in small talk when out in the public. Where others find opportunities to make friends, I avoid. Others have confidence, I lack. Others are inquisitive, I am shut down with little attention given to my surroundings.
What I have against other people, is the vast majority do not know what it is to suffer from mental illness.. They just don’t get it.
Recently, I have been given a revelation…the world outside is no different than mine. People out in the world are no different than me. I now face an incredible challenge. Everybody is my peer.
As Executive Director of The Gathering Place, I am very protective our members. They are my family, friends, and my peers. The Gathering Place is a sheltered environment which is good and bad. I encourage members to step outside of The Gathering Place and to seek relationships with people who do not have mental illness.
I no longer live a sheltered life myself. I have come out of my safety zone of only interacting with peers, no longer thinking that they are the only ones in the world who understand. I have a life just like anybody else. I am no different than anybody else. Everybody out there is my peer.
—By Susan C. Mader, MSSW