"Self Care is Sexy" Podcast Featuring Cee Carver

On Peer Support at MHAAO

The following blog post is an excerpt transcribed from Episode 94 of the “Self Care is Sexy” podcast by Kris Wood. The original podcast can be found at www.selfcareissexy.com.
For brevity, the podcast host’s questions have not been transcribed.

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[As peers], we try to have a culture at MHAAO where everyone is supportive of each other, and we always try to be there for each other and help each other out. I think for myself personally, I have found a way to make use of my trauma history in my work with peers. I was able to have a little bit of a buffer there because nothing that they had to say to me was particularly shocking or troubling. I’ve seen so much, and if I haven’t seen it, I’ve had conversations with someone else who’s seen it. Maybe that ability is an outcropping of my own personal trauma, but I’ve learned how to turn it on its head and use it for good. …

I’m in a place now where very few topics are taboo to me. I was a bit reticent about working here because I had reached the point where I just wanted to be a “normal civilian.” I wanted to blend in with the rest of humanity and not really give much energy and focus on previous experiences in my mental health. Then I found, very soon after beginning working here, that it is more healing to have conversations with people and talk about trauma and be more vulnerable with people. If anything in my story can help somebody else get through their stuff, why not share that?

One of my very first peers, I saw a lot of myself in them, but you have to be careful not to ascribe too much of yourself to another person and think that your solutions are their solutions, because that’s not necessarily going to be the case. … You listen to what they want. With every person that I work with, we kind of created a kind of plan and set goals based on things that they said they wanted. I know some motivational interviewing techniques, so I’m able to ask the kinds of questions that get good answers so that we can start exploring and looking at what they want. It’s always about what they want, it’s never about what we want, because the only way that you can sustain change is by being your own impetus. Nobody can force you to change.

Everybody who works here is very adept at navigating resources and systems, and finding ways through systems, so much so that we have a multitude of options for helping somebody and giving options to offer them to help themselves. It actually works extremely well, in a sustained way as well, because it’s them doing it. The key is that they are doing it on their own terms. Even in our mission, self-direction and self-determination are very much key in that.

They build their own program. They build their own path. They decide if they want to go left right or back. It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure, except it is hard work, but it can still be an adventure! And if someone’s not ready for addiction recovery, we look at harm reduction. …

Truth be told, I think that if you did a poll, of the 50 people who work here, 49 of them have trauma histories that can be reactivated, even within the office. So how I keep myself in a good space as much as I can is to assert boundaries when I need to. I stay constantly learning. I’m very vigilant about my own mental health, which I have to be. …

When I’m not taking care of myself, I tend to get very frustrated and easily lose my temper. I will find myself hearing nuances to people’s statements that are negative in nature. Someone will say something to me and I will think I’m hearing something in their tone that there is some sort of critical or judgmental component to what they’re saying. One of the reasons that I have to be so vulnerable and open and honest with people is because I have to challenge those things directly with that person, as much as possible in the moment. I’ll be very clear and say, “When you said this, I heard this.” And give them the opportunity to correct me. The more that I do that in life, the more that I find that I don’t perceive correctly, especially when I’m having mental health issues. I hear things that are critical of me, my value, my worth. …

I have learned over time to spend time with my emotions in a quiet, inactive way, just to sit with them and process them. The hardest feeling for me to sit with is shame. The hardest emotion for me to sit with is anger, because everything about anger says I want to act, so to sit with anger without acting or reacting is quite a challenge. …

I like journaling with a switchblade. I’m just kidding! When I’m journaling angry, my pen becomes a switchblade. I need five pieces of paper not to ruin the table underneath me.…

[Back to working with peers,] It’s all about what works for them. What works for me might not work for everybody, but there are literally hundreds of things that a person can try. So I might come to them with a list of twenty, and say, “Let’s find one that you might want to try and then we’ll do it together.” You’d be surprised how many things folks will do if you do it with them. It’s about introducing people to the idea of having an open mindset and becoming more solutions-oriented. So that’s what I try to do with my peers. I ask, “How do you learn? How do you perceive?” Knowing that, I ask, “How do we look at you setting up an order of operations to get to your goal? What’s the smallest possible thing that you can do toward this goal?” So I’ll say, “Let’s go to the community center and get on the treadmill and think about the thing that’s [making you angry] and see where that gets you.” Or if they’re not into that, I might say, “Let’s go see a movie and zone out,” or ask them if they want to just talk to me about it.

But I’m not going to say, “Don’t stand a mattress up against the wall and beat the crap out of it.” I’m not going to say that. If you have to have a physical outlet to your anger, it’s ok as long as it’s not harming anyone.

Kaity McCraw