They sat me in a room with a man I never met before. He had walls that were covered with framed diplomas and certifications. He had books on shelves. I knew why I was there.
Better yet, I knew why I had to be there but at the same time, I had no idea why I was in this office. I had no idea what I was going to talk about or what this man was about to say.
Besides, I was a kid. The word psychiatry is an adult word. And depression, sure. I knew what the word meant. I just didn’t want the word to mean that this was me. Besides, all of these grownup words were like a different language to me. Those words belonged to grownups and not kids like me, but yet, I was in there in that office. I was waiting to be seen by a man that looked more like a grandfather than a doctor. I remember.
He had classical music playing in the background, like Mozart or maybe it was Beethoven. Either way, this wasn’t my scene.
I was afraid. I was intimidated. More than anything, it seemed as if I was in trouble because as it was, I already believed I was a burden to everyone. There was something wrong with me. And to the best of my knowledge, there was always something wrong with me.
I saw myself as less efficient than a child with developmental delays. And yet, I was hardly old enough to know what developmental delays were. In fact, I probably didn’t know what developmental delays were. This was something adults would say.
I only knew there was something wrong with me. I knew that other kids laughed and yet, I laughed too but nothing ever seemed as funny. Nothing ever seemed as good to me as it did to everyone else. I was always lacking something or missing something.
At best, I could describe the way I felt subpar at best. If something was pretty, it was simply less than pretty to me. Nothing was ever so enthusing. Besides, enthusiasm always seemed short lived.
I could not explain anything other than this; I believed, thought and felt like I was different. Nothing was ever so vivid to me or pure.
Life in its view seemed to have a layer between me and everything else. I was distant. I was separated and yet, I was right there, which seemed cruel to me because no matter how included I was, I never felt the victory of being involved. To me, this seemed like I could not fit in with anyone or at any place. And yet, here I am, this little kid, and I’m sitting in this big office of some hot shot doctor called a psychiatrist. What the hell?
What does this mean? Does this mean that yes, my worst fears are true? Did this mean that I was right and there was something wrong with me? I didn’t want this. In fact, I didn’t want any of this.
I didn’t want to think, act or feel the way I did. However, I also didn’t know how to act, think or feel any differently.
And who was this guy anyway? Who was this old man that my parents left me in the room with? Why is he asking me all of these questions?
Maybe this is why I do what I do now.
I can think of a long list of doctors and therapists that I have sat with and spoken to. I can think about their degrees on the wall. I can think about the way they used to sit in their chairs while talking to me. But what did they know? How do they know what it’s like to sit in my head and think what I think? What do they know about my problems or my shame?
Do they understand me because they have a few degrees on the wall?
Do they understand because they read about kids like me in a book during a class?
I hated this.
I hated the introductions to different doctors and therapists. I hated the way they questioned me. I hated their positive affirmations, which I never trusted and always saw as condescending. When they applauded me, I compared this to a special needs child going to the bathroom in the toilet instead of their pants. I figured this was how they saw me because this is how I saw myself. No, none of this was for me. None of them would reach me. Not if I had anything to do with it.
Maybe this is why I wanted to become a peer advocate.
I grow tired sometimes. I think about all of what I see in the mental health field. I think about the first time someone told me about the definition of insanity, which is repeating the same things over and over again and expecting different results.
I heard this a long time ago. And yet, I’m not sure how far this saying goes back but perhaps the point rings true. Perhaps this is the definition of insanity.
But then my question is this: If the definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over again and expecting different results then why in the rise of mental illness do we treat people the same way and expect something different.
There is something that has become a new tool called peer advocacy. Rather than someone in a room with degrees on the wall, we have people that have dirt beneath their fingernails because they understand what it means to claw their way out of the dirt.
Finally, a new direction is underway.
I never had anyone to talk to. At least, not really. I never had someone that knew or understood or went through something tragic or catastrophic. Instead, I had doctors and medication and life through pharmacology.
But what if I had a voice? What if I had a translator that could help me explain or understand the thoughts and ideas that I had no language for?
What if I had a voice and someone with the understanding to teach me how to use it.
Sometimes, I come across a new introduction.
And I feel it. You know?
This is not a projection nor is this an opinion, a judgement or a diagnosis of anyone. Not at all. This is me with the understanding that no one ever asks for depression or anxiety. No one wants to be troubled or seen as faulty. Nobody asks to have breakdowns or have bouts with self-harm, cutting, risky behaviors, disorders and the list of labels can go on for a few more paragraphs. No one really wants to act, think or feel this way. However, at the same time, there are people that cannot see themselves acting, thinking and feeling any other way.
I see it this way:
I had struggles in school. I had learning disabilities that went unaddressed and undiagnosed. I had difficulties, which I interpreted as something that made me stupid and incapable.
The truth is none of this is true.
I was never stupid. Instead, I needed a new way to relate to information. This way, I could retain what I learned and understand the material. I needed to learn ways to overcome the obstacles in my thinking, which led me to believe that I was in fact stupid and incapable. I needed to readdress my thinking and learn to see more of my capabilities.
My progress and treatment plan was fit for me. There was no one size-fits-all theme. I can heartily say what worked for me was uniquely tailored to my specific needs. Mental health needs to be treated the same way.
There are no more blanket statements or one-size-fits-all programs to solve all problems. Recovery is more than this because everyone is recovering or healing from something different.
More to the point, self-efficacy is the end-all goal, which means we have to understand what this goal looks like. This has to be set on an individual basis. Same as cancer treatments are geared to interact differently with different DNA to become more effective and lifesaving, mental health needs to follow this same direction.
I am a peer recovery advocate. I am a voice. My style is not for everyone and yet, at the same time, none of what I do is about me. More to the point, I am a resource broker.
I am support. I am an explanation and a translator alike.
I am a promise to myself because when I think back about my lonesome times, I never wished any of this on anyone. I would never want anyone to feel so misunderstood. And for the record this doesn’t mean I always understand. I’m far from always right. As I see it, this only means that I know what it feels like to have dirt beneath my fingernails because I’ve crawled out of dark holes before.
Today, I truly feel blessed to be where I am.
Someone told me I was lucky the other day.
You got off light, they said.
You were lucky, they told me.
I’m sorry but I don’t buy that.
Luck didn’t save my life.
Luck never solved my depression or anxiety.
Not at all.
My life was saved because of the work I did with the right people, the right team and the right formula which fit my needs.
I suppose I do what I do for two reasons
1) to rid my old demons of their voice (and their whispers)
2) to pay forward the help and kindness that was shown to me
3) to see a kid smile a true smile and not worry about if or when their smile will go away.
And as for the peer, somewhere is a kid sitting in a room and looking around at bunch of diplomas on the wall and wondering about the doctor they’re going to have to speak with. If I can, I just want to make this easier.
I told a kid the other day, there are more people that think like us than not. They just don’t have the stones to say what we say. The smile on that kid’s face after hearing me say that: Priceless!