Lived Experience Mental Health Support – Not a compromised service

Running any business is hard and running a lived experience mental health business can be both absolutely soul empowering and continually self doubt engendering.

When a professional, a service or even a community member openly or subtly (same result either way) ignores or disregards your professional experience it becomes to feel disrespectful, frustrating and exhausting. It derives from a place of stigma and bias; based on the incorrect assumption that lived experience can somehow compromise the service provided. It can load noxious mental weight to your already experienced challenges.

Between negotiating and proving my worth to those who hold steadfast to this narrow view, supporting APTF’s ,often maltreated, peers by our system failures and ensuring my selfcare to stay well, COVID has presented as a particularly tricky time for me.

Sure, I could write another post to boost your spirit and positivity or I could be totally authentic and share how it really is and has been for me.  I hope this post serves to enlighten those with a conservative view point and provide some warmth and comfort to those struggling in these times. That is what lived experience is; a shared experience to help carry the load of the peers who trust us. I believe, using both my lived and professional experience, I do that very well.

I was challenged by the first lock down, but I polished up my selfcare skills and even took on some new ones to see me through. The remaining lock downs are now a blur, to the point that I can barely remember when we arose from each restriction. Each isolation reprieve saw me become more and more anxious to venture back out, intertwined with not wanting to stay in either. All I know is where I sit now; feeling almost defeated. This is the closest I have come to that feeling of total worthless since I was acutely unwell after the births of our 2nd and 3rd boys. Don’t get me wrong, I am using coping strategies, just ones that are either really unhealthy and brain numbing, not soul nurturing.

People with pre-existing mental health challenges can find these lockdowns additionally difficult. That is not to claim those experiencing these challenges for the first time are not. The difference is, there is a doubling of everything negative; the loneliness, the isolation, the connection, the lack of support and there is a total body and brain exhaustion that comes with trying to keep employing those positive strategies or find new ones.

When I then need to continually prove my experience and worth as a lived experience mental health professional (as I do over and over again in advocating for our peers) it deflates me.  I disconnect. I feel without words to describe my emotion again. I begin to forget things.; only yesterday I forgot to run a zoom review of our sporting peer program, that I set up

That gutted me. And although I was close to breaking, that very error held me over the edge and instilled back in me a determination to continue, for myself and APTF. I have been fighting so hard within the system so they too see the worth of my peers the way I do, I forgot all about my passion to continue to invest in prevention and early intervention and in myself. Those kids, that club and the many parents who have backed my program as instilling resilience and essential life skills have just as much right to feel as let down in me, as I do in myself.  The program is small, but creating large impact within a safe sporting community for our future young people and their families. I am also disappointed that I have left my own health go as well, watching it as it waved me good bye.

This morning I awoke with Gladys Berejiklian eyes, tired but quietly determined to make some changes; in myself and in consolidating the substance of APTF that connects with my life purpose and what community needs.  I hope I can share some of the journey with you as I get myself back on track again (who knows, maybe you will also see that I can struggle mentally and still provide reputable service, or especially so, given lived experience can be the unique gem in a conservative field for those who look outside the box.

Kirstie

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