Taking Charge of Your Recovery!
“One of the greatest honors I’ve had in the work I do for my peers is holding onto hope and helping them to see that they are filled with skills and potential, and that they have the ability to determine what their life is going to look like.”
The following transcript is from an interview with MHAAO Peerzone Outreach Coordinator, Ali Koch, on 12/6/2018.
I started struggling with my mental health when I was 9 years old. It was the first time I started having thoughts and beliefs that I shouldn’t be alive.
I felt like I’m not supposed to be like this, I have to hide this, I’m not normal.
As I got older, my suicidal ideation kept getting worse and worse, but I thought that if I could just do enough things on the outside, it would help me feel better.
By my mid twenties, I had started this successful consulting firm, and was travelling around the country, making really great money, living in a great place, and had this life that from the outside looked amazing … but I was miserable. When I was 26, I had my last attempt. Before then, I’d never had anyone diagnose me with anxiety or depression.
I didn’t know that I had mental health conditions. I just thought there was something innately broken about me.
I went through inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment and tried a lot of different medications, and none of it worked for me. I was working on my recovery for a year, trying everything they had, and I just wasn’t getting better. That’s when I learned that I had treatment-resistant depression.
I was told by my psychiatrist that I probably would never be able to work again and that I’d probably need to live in a supported environment with a spouse or a family member.
I had gone through all of these treatments thinking that I was in recovery and was going to get better, and then was told that I had to have a come-to-Jesus moment and realize that for me, wellness was going to be limited.
I went to my first peer support group through NAMI, and shared what my doctors had just told me. The feedback that I got from them was that I shouldn’t let anyone tell me what I can do.
They said, ‘Ali, you are the one who is in charge of your recovery. The only limitations you have are the limitations you believe to be true for yourself.’
After that, I got really involved. I started going to that group twice a week, and realized that I wanted to go through peer support training through MHAAO.
When I started going peer support groups and doing peer support training, it gave me this entirely new set of language with which to understand and describe my experiences. Before peer support, how I thought about my experience was very clinical. The language I use now is so different.
One of the things I love about being a peer support is getting to hold on to hope for people when they are in a state where they’re feeling really hopeless. I was lucky enough to have people in my life who have loved me and been there to hold on to hope for me when I felt really hopeless and I felt like there was nothing to live for.
I look at anyone who struggles with mental health and addiction as the bravest people I’ve met. The message I try to bring to my peers is ‘You are a rockstar. You are a superhero. You wake up every day and you choose to continue your life in recovery, and that’s amazing!’