IMAGINING INCLUSION EXPERIENCES
Posted: June 22, 2018
I have been a Peer Researcher on both phases of the Imagining Inclusion project. I saw a posting in 2013 on the Family and Consumer’s email list and thought it would be interesting. Since I have been on the project for so long, I have done many different things like facilitating three groups of Photovoice, teaching a Peer Researcher curriculum and helping with our peer task groups. I also wrote curriculum for Photovoice and the Telling Your Story and Being Heard program.
The thing I am most proud of on the project is adding the “Before and After Selfie” exercise to our ten week Photovoice sessions. You can really see the difference that the project has made in participants’ faces. At the start of Photovoice, peer participants take a selfie. They all look depressed, tired and shy. Towards the end of Photovoice, they take another selfie and that is when we see a difference. They definitely look more confident, are smiling and you can see the hope in their eyes.
captured through art.
My first experience with peers happened when I was committed to the old Matsqui-Sumas-Abbotsford (MSA) psychiatric ward. My peers were the people who explained to me why I was wearing brown pajamas. They told me the reason I felt drugged, drooling, unsteady and drowsy was due to the Halidol injection. They gave me an ice cream cone, cigarettes and coffee. They told the nurse about my side effects. They entertained me with stories. They made me feel a little more normal and comfortable with being locked up in the hospital. I am still friends with some of them today.
Later on, I became a peer support worker and one of the first WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) facilitators in Canada. At the time I didn’t think it was going to become my career since I was going to university for radio broadcasting and writing. But helping others with mental wellness and health work became my driving passion and took over my life, career and relationships.
When I am not doing my Peer Researcher job, I work for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) where I coordinate a team a 32 peers who facilitate mental health workshops. Being involved with peers gives me support when I need it. Peers help me to feel like I belong. Peers understand each other and are able to reach out and lend a helping hand. Peers make a difference. I believe we need more peers in mental health. Peers are smart, they work hard, take initiative and really understand mental illness.
I want people to know that mental illness is not a casserole disease. No one cooks you cannoli when you are diagnosed with mental illness. Friends and family tend to be there for you more when you break your leg, have a heart attack or get diagnosed with Lyme’s disease. No one brings you casseroles when you are in the psychiatric ward. I think we should start cooking and giving casseroles to people diagnosed with mental illness to raise awareness that it is a real illness.