I’d always wanted to help others (and myself) by giving back to my peers —by really sharing what I’d been through and what I’d learned along the way.
I was diagnosed with my mental health condition at the age of 16. I’ve always been very open about discussing it, even at that young age, because I felt I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. The problem was that I identified myself so much as “being” bipolar instead of as “having” bipolar. (There is a big difference in those two mindsets.) I did that for 20 years! My identity was so wrapped up in that label that I couldn’t tell where I began and ended in comparison to it. During that whole 20 years I saw myself as well if I was taking my medications and doing what my doctor ordered.
In 2006, at the age of 36, I was exposed to the recovery principles and the recovery movement. I finally started to realize that I am not the bipolar, I am Liz! I have bipolar, but it is not the sum total of who I am. I now say “I have bipolar,” because that’s how other people with illnesses describe themselves. People don’t say “I am diabetes,” or “I am cancer.” At that time I also realized that true wellness meant I could do more than just take my medications and do whatever the doctor ordered. I could be in recovery—I could be well by having hope, having meaning in my life and believing in my ability to heal myself. Not to say it’s been easy for the last nine years. I’ve lost my way sometimes, I’ve struggled with my health and I’ve still had episodes of depression. But with recovery principles, wellness tools and my supportive family and friends I’ve always found my way forward on my journey.
In April of 2012, with hard work and the help of a peer specialist from Philhaven, I was able to go back to work part- time and then full-time for the first time in 10 years. I stayed at that job for 2.5 years until I wanted to do more than just sit in front of a computer and not interact with others for 8 hours a day. I was very lucky to have the opportunity of a lifetime and be able to take the certification class to become a peer specialist. I leapt at that opportunity because I’d always wanted to help others (and myself) by giving back to my peers —by really sharing what I’d been through and what I’d learned along the way.
I proudly got my certification on November 7, 2014 and started work as a Certified Peer Specialist on January 5, 2015 at Philhaven. It feels really good to work for the same organization that was so helpful to me. I love my job!
My dream is to go back to school for my Masters in Social Work and hopefully join a future wave of self-identified mental health consumers working as professionals in this field. The role of peer specialists and recovery principles has been vital to me, and can be vital to others on their journey. There is a lot of growth potential in this field, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Liz is a Certified Peer Specialist in Pennsylvania.