I found out recently that people in my life, both friends and family, feel that I am a bit of a know it all. I could have been offended at this knowledge, but surprisingly, I wasn’t. I personally don’t think anybody could be a true know it all, but I did think I knew a lot……….a lot about myself, my life, my kiddo’s life and our journey. I knew these things because I had opened my mind and embraced my ability to learn. This week I tested that ability and embarked on an adventure that would drive me to seek a deeper understanding of myself and my willingness to use that knowledge to help others. Over the course of the week I learned more about things I thought I knew and I learned about things I didn’t realize that I didn’t know. Most importantly, I learned about sharing my experiences in an effective way, instead of an intrusive ‘know it all’ way.
One of the beautiful aspects of the state of Georgia is that it’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is one of the pioneering agencies in the field of mental health services…..specifically, in Peer Support Services. For many years there have been adults working in the position of a Certified Peer Specialist in the fields of mental health and addiction recovery. After years of advocacy for both families and youth, there are now emerging groups of Peer Specialists that are specifically centered around youth living with these challenges and parents of people living with these challenges. This week I joined their ranks and completed my training to become a Certified Peer Specialist-Parent.
What is a Peer Specialist? We are people who have ‘been there and done that’. We are people who can use all of the knowledge we have gained, the experiences we’ve had and, most importantly, the emotions we have felt to provide support to others who are walking the same path. We are the people who will ask “How are you?” ……and then listen to the answer without hesitation or judgement.
At the beginning of the week, I felt strong in the knowledge that I possessed all of the skills I needed to be the best Peer Support Parent possible. What I learned, after lots of tears and self reflection, was that I don’t need to have all of the answers…… I don’t need to fix everyone around me…… I should simply be there when they need someone who understands. I also learned that I have been drowning myself in service to others, always feeling that just because I have the ability to do something means I have to. It was eye-opening for me to realize that I can take a breather from other’s lives to focus on myself and not feel guilty……..and that’s ok. I didn’t learn this from the curriculum, power points or exams…..I learned this by walking in the door every morning to 20 people who understood me before they even knew me. I learned this by having virtual strangers sincerely asking me about my well-being every morning. I learned this by having these strangers become caring friends by the end of the week. In my daily life, I have a wonderful ‘mom’ friend who gets me, I have supportive friends at NAMI who get me, but having this large group of peers surround me and envelop me in kindness and understanding every day this week was a life changing experience.
As parents of special needs kiddos, we live our lives for our children and families first…….and then we love to educate others about what we know. I have been doing this in an effort to make this world a better place for my child and others like him. For a long time I felt that I was fighting this war alone. I didn’t realize that by doing this to the extent I do, I am stretching myself thin. I know I spout about self-care to others often, but I rarely follow my own advice. I find it funny that it took me taking a class in an effort to help others to teach me to help myself.
Just goes to prove that this world is full of things that I don’t know. So I thank my teachers this week, all of my peers who taught me that’s it’s alright to care for myself and opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not in this alone. I have warriors by my side. Alone, I might be able to change the world, but I will burn out quickly. As a group, we can give each other strength and a little bit of relief that we can take on the world together…….and go so much farther in our efforts.