“It’s not about you.”  How often do you have to remind yourself of that?  When providing peer support, the focus is on those we serve, not on ourselves.  We try hard to never “give just to get.”  But helping others still has a positive impact on our own recovery journeys.   It can even lead to stunningly deep insights into larger issues.

On today’s show, our hosts, Juliet C. Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard, interview Renetta Scott, a long-time employee at TPC who is living in recovery with schizophrenia.  Renetta shares her own recovery journey, and tells us how offering support to others has helped her maintain wellness.  Join us as Renetta tells about the surprising things she learned through leading support groups. 

Show Notes: 

1:26 – “I think the job is very therapeutic in and of itself. It helps me in my recovery.” (We all continue to learn and grow no matter how long we have been in recovery.)

5:43 – “being here and being amongst people like myself who are in recovery, who are working recovery, it’s already healing. . . I’m working my recovery with them and they’re working their recovery with me.” (Peer support is a two-way street.)

8:21 – “You would be surprised what we learn. For example, there was an article about schizophrenia and Auschwitz.” (Mental illness exists in a larger social construct.)

9:35 – “There’s unfortunately a sordid history of abuses of people with mental illness.”  (Stigma and violence towards the mentally ill has existed throughout history.)

12:58 – “ . . . if you are not aware of where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you can go.”  (Knowing our history, even the traumatic parts of it, has value.)

Transcript of  “Give and You Shall Receive:  Can supporting others aid your own recovery?

Editor’s Note:  This transcript is computer generated and therefore may not be an exact match to the recording.

Announcer: [00:00:07] You’re listening to the PEER Voices podcast. This show is for peers, by peers, and focuses on information that’s important to our community. Here’s your hosts, Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard.

Gabe: [00:00:28] Hello, everybody, and welcome to this episode of PEER Voices. My name is Gabe Howard, and with me as always is…

Juliet: [00:00:34] Juliet Dorris-Williams. Hello out there!

Gabe: [00:00:37] We are coming to you from Columbus, Ohio, at The PEER Center and we are very excited. We have an awesome guest with us today. Renetta introduce yourself for, like, the next 20 minutes.

Renetta: [00:00:51] Hi, I’m Renetta Scott. I’m a peer support specialists here at The PEER Center. I also work as an administrative billing assistant. I’ve been here for . . . 12 years now.

Juliet: [00:01:03] Wow.

Gabe: [00:01:05] Ever since the beginning?

Renetta: [00:01:06] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:01:07] Wow. Have you been here longer than DeShawn?

Renetta: [00:01:09] Yes.

Gabe: [00:01:10] All right.

Renetta: [00:01:11] Technically, yeah, a couple days.

Gabe: [00:01:13] You’ve been here longer than our previous guests?

Renetta: [00:01:13] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:01:13] Awesome. Welcome. So you’ve been here for 12 years. Is it safe to assume that you like your job?

Renetta: [00:01:23] I love my job.

Gabe: [00:01:24] Wonderful. You’re not just saying that because Juliet is in the room?

Renetta: [00:01:26] No, no, no. I think the job is very therapeutic in and of itself. It helps me in my recovery. And I think if I didn’t have the job, I think I would still come to The PEER Center. Because, for me, it’s just that helpful.

Gabe: [00:01:45] Very cool. So before we delve into other topics, as we talked about before, everybody at The PEER Center, from Juliet, to me, to you, to everybody, lives with mental illness, addiction, or trauma. So, spoiler alert, that means that you live with mental illness, addiction, and/or trauma. Can you talk about that a little bit for the audience?

Renetta: [00:02:03] Yes. I am in recovery for schizophrenia, paranoid type. I was diagnosed when I was about 22. And actually, the initial diagnosis was “schizophrenia undifferentiated,” which just simply meant that they didn’t know where to put me as far as my symptoms and my affect, I guess. So I’ve been in recovery since, I guess that would have been, 1992.

Gabe: [00:02:29] I would never ask a woman her age. So we’ll just leave it at that. Other people are going to have to do math if they want to figure out how long that’s been.

Juliet: [00:02:37] Unless you want to tell us?

Renetta: [00:02:39] I’m 49 years old. I’ll be 50 this year.

Juliet: [00:02:42] Whoa, the big 5 – 0.

Renetta: [00:02:43] Yes.

Gabe: [00:02:44] You look fantastic.

Renetta: [00:02:45] Thank you.

Gabe: [00:02:46] You’re very welcome.

Juliet: [00:02:47] You do.

Gabe: [00:02:48] I turned 40, and I look like – well, I can’t swear on the show!

Juliet: [00:02:51] Whatever, Gabe.

Gabe: [00:02:53] But that’s a long time from diagnosis to here. You’re in recovery and you’ve done a lot of really, really great things.

Renetta: [00:03:01] Thank you.

Gabe: [00:03:01] You’re very, very welcome.

Juliet: [00:03:04] And you left out that you also serve as our client rights officer.

Renetta: [00:03:08] Yes.

Juliet: [00:03:11] You wear many hats here.

Renetta: [00:03:13] Yeah, I certainly do.

Juliet: [00:03:15] Yeah. The audience may not understand, because we don’t know who listens to this. What does a client rights officer do?

Renetta: [00:03:26] A client rights officer’s duties include making sure that clients are kept safe in this environment. Hopefully, nothing would happen, you know, because of a staff member. You know, just trying to make sure that they are safe, and they feel good, and if there is an issue I investigate. And, hopefully, it’s just a misunderstanding. And that’s it in a nutshell. You know?

Gabe: [00:03:57] Because misunderstanding sometimes arise. Right? I mean, that happens everywhere. That happens in families, that happens with your best friend. So you can see where, at a drop-in center that has lots and lots of people, if something occurs, we want to make sure that they have a spot to be heard. And you’re kind of their sounding board. And you help explain things and get things on the right track.

Renetta: [00:04:16] Right.

Gabe: [00:04:16] And you’ve been doing – have you been the client rights officer since the beginning?

Renetta: [00:04:20] No.

Gabe: [00:04:22] Have you been the best client rights officer?

Renetta: [00:04:25] Yes.

Gabe: [00:04:27] You know, you have been for a long time, though. Because you were the client rights officer when I came on board almost five years ago.

Renetta: [00:04:33] Yes.

Gabe: [00:04:34] It’s been a while.

Juliet: [00:04:35] You tried to quit a couple times.

Gabe: [00:04:37] You tried to quit?

Renetta: [00:04:37] Yes.

Gabe: [00:04:39] And you were so good, we brought you back?

Renetta: [00:04:41] [Laughter]

Gabe: [00:04:41] I like how I said “we” like I had anything to do with it. Like I knew it was happening.

Juliet: [00:04:45] We wheeled her back in.

Renetta: [00:04:47] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:04:48] She keeps trying to leave?

Gabe: [00:04:52] Not leave The PEER Center. Leave your role as the client rights officer?

Renetta: [00:04:54] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:04:56] We’ve always thought that Renetta was uniquely qualified, because she is always peaceful and easy to talk to. And just her personality is de-escalating. Just her presence is calming. And so when people are upset, they need a calming influence.

Gabe: [00:05:19] Juliet is trying to say that you are super chill. Super chill and laid back.

Renetta: [00:05:23] [Laughter]

Gabe: [00:05:23] She needs a t-shirt that says, “I’m super chill and laid back.” Again, as we talked about, you wear many, many hats. Without putting you on the spot, what is your favorite hat to wear at The PEER Center?

Renetta: [00:05:37] I think probably peer support specialist.

Gabe: [00:05:39] And why do you like that so much?

Renetta: [00:05:43] Interaction. And it’s not simply, you know, for the benefit of our participants, this is for me too. Because, you know, like I said, being here and being amongst people like myself who are in recovery, who are working recovery, it’s already healing. You know? I’m working my recovery with them and they’re working their recovery with me. We’re working together.

Gabe: [00:06:07] Juliet and I work out in the community all the time. And one of the things that we hear from the uninitiated, and we call them the “uninitiated,” because it’s the nicest thing that we can say. But, folks say, “Like at The PEER Center? You mean where people just play cards and watch TV?” And that is fair, they’re not lying. People do come to The PEER Center to play cards and watch TV. But we know that there’s magic in that. Can you talk about that for a moment? From your perspective as a Peer Support Specialist?

Renetta: [00:06:34] I mean, there’s card playing and watching television, but there’s also other stuff, too. There are people that are, you know, they come in and they just want to do their artwork. You know, they just want a section of peace, and there’s nothing else. Each person has a different, you know, visualization of what is peaceful for them. For some it is playing cards, for some it’s watching TV. For some it’s doing art, for some it’s doing puzzles. But you can’t, and I can’t, dismiss anybody else’s need. It’s just something that, at that point, that they need. At that time it is what they need. And-

Gabe: [00:07:10] It lets people feel safe.

Renetta: [00:07:12] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:07:12] And when people feel safe, they can open up.

Renetta: [00:07:15] Mm-hmm.

Gabe: [00:07:16] I’m always fascinated at the number of people that say that, you know, that they came to The PEER Center and they played cards. Or they came to The PEER Center and they took the knitting group. But, you know, I’m always listening, and they think they’re playing cards, but they’re actually having a support group. They’re talking about, you know, issues or concerns or somebody that they’re upset with and people are giving each other advice.

Renetta: [00:07:35] Mm-hmm.

Gabe: [00:07:35] And when you ask them what they did, they don’t say, “Oh I got support on living with mental illness or addiction or, you know, handling a family member.” They are maybe dismissive. They say, “I like to play gin rummy.” But they’re getting it.

Renetta: [00:07:48] Mm-hmm. I think it’s spades mostly.

Gabe: [00:07:50] It’s spades?

Juliet: [00:07:52] So, you also do a number of our support groups.

Renetta: [00:07:56] Yes, I do.

Juliet: [00:07:59] And there, do you have a favorite?

Renetta: [00:08:02] At this point, I think probably the Schizophrenia Group.

Juliet: [00:08:06] Yeah? Why?

Renetta: [00:08:07] It’s close to home.

Juliet: [00:08:08] Of course.

Renetta: [00:08:09] Like I said, what I do is therapeutic for myself as well as for other people.

Juliet: [00:08:14] Right.

Renetta: [00:08:15] So, as I’m doing these groups, I’m improving. I’m improving myself, working on myself as well.

Juliet: [00:08:20] Have you learned things?

Renetta: [00:08:21] Absolutely. You would be surprised what we learn. For example, there was an article about schizophrenia and Auschwitz. The thought was that people with mental illness had no worth. They had no usefulness. So that is why they would put people, well, the Germans, would put people with mental illness in, like, concentration camps similar to that of Jewish persons. The only thing that saved a lot of people back then, was having a usefulness. If they were doctors, or if they were exceptional musicians, or if they had something of what they thought was . . .

Juliet: [00:09:07] A special talent?

Renetta: [00:09:08] Right. Then they could be useful. But if they did not and they were just . . .  right.

Juliet: [00:09:16] Otherwise they’d be gassed?

Renetta: [00:09:17] Otherwise they’d be gassed.

Gabe: [00:09:18] And then that ties in to psychiatry? The schizophrenia link was a psychiatrist invented this method?

Renetta: [00:09:28] Right.

Gabe: [00:09:29] Presumably to use on people with mental illness?

Renetta: [00:09:31] Correct.

Juliet: [00:09:32] And did.

Gabe: [00:09:34] And did.

Renetta: [00:09:34] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:09:35] There’s unfortunately a sordid history of abuses of people with mental illness.

Renetta: [00:09:40] Mm-hmm.

Gabe: [00:09:41] In America over the years.

Renetta: [00:09:43] Mm-hmm.

Juliet: [00:09:44] It’s why we fight.

Gabe: [00:09:46] It is. It’s very much why we fight. It’s why we so much believe so much in, like, our voices.

Juliet: [00:09:51] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:09:51] Because I know that a lot of times, we revisit this and people say, “Well, nobody knew it was wrong.” And I always say, the people you were doing it to, they knew it was wrong. You just didn’t listen to them. But there’s this knee jerk thing. “Well, we didn’t know. We didn’t know.” Yeah.

Juliet: [00:10:08] Because their voices are not important.

Gabe: [00:10:09] Yeah. The people who were lobotomized, they knew.

Renetta: [00:10:12] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:10:12] The people you were warehousing, they knew. The people you were hurting, they knew. They just didn’t have the right voice.

Juliet: [00:10:21] If you live with mental illness, with schizophrenia, or with some other type of mental illness, then you are considered not worthy to live.

Renetta: [00:10:28] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:10:29] Because you are what you are. Or because you have this condition, or-

Renetta: [00:10:35] An illusion of uselessness.

Gabe: [00:10:39] Talk about that a little bit. When you say “the illusion of uselessness.” I like that phrasing. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Renetta: [00:10:46] That would have to do with stigma. With people thinking that a person with mental illness has no abilities, no worthfulness. Worthiness? Is worthwhile? I don’t know how to say this.

Juliet: [00:10:59] Worthfulness? I like that.

Gabe: [00:11:00] Value.

Renetta: [00:11:01] Yes, value. Right, right.

Gabe: [00:11:04] So even though that person does have value, and is worthy, the illusion is when somebody says, “Oh you have schizophrenia, or bipolar, or depression. So therefore I have decided for you that you lack value or you lack work.” And that’s what you mean by “the illusion of uselessness?”

Renetta: [00:11:21] Absolutely.

Gabe: [00:11:23] And I think that’s a very excellent definition of the word “stigma.” Because that is where it comes from. This idea that because of your mental health diagnosis, we can make judgments about how you will react in the future. Like, wouldn’t that be great? If we could do that? Like say, “Hey take a medical test! We’ll get a medical diagnosis, and now we know everything you’re going to achieve and do for the rest of your life.” That would just make the world so simple.

Renetta: [00:11:49] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:11:49] It’s nonsense. And, again, we’re not allowed to swear.

Juliet: [00:11:54] Yes. All I can do is give you a raised eyebrow which cannot be communicated via podcast.

Gabe: [00:12:00] In a video blog, that raised eyebrow would go viral. It’s like exasperation and anger, like, mixed together. This is interesting. To move this up into a positive direction though, I don’t think there’s anybody listening to this podcast, because it is PEER Voices. It’s for peers, by peers. And I think a lot of people listening to this are, you know, they’re like, “Yeah. No crap lady. We’re treated poorly, but we want to be treated better.” And there’s probably people listening thinking, “Hey, how is dwelling on what happened 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, how is this helping us now?” And I’ve got a million answers to this question but you know it’s not about me. What do you have to say on this? Because I work with you. You are an exceptionally positive person. And the reason that you’re so good at your job is because people flock to you because you’re an exceptionally positive person. Talk about the positivity. Talk about learning from the past.

Renetta: [00:12:58] The reason why they talk about it is because, if you forget about it it will repeat again. Positively speaking? Knowledge is power. I mean, if you are not aware of where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you can go.

Gabe: [00:13:18] I like that a lot.

Juliet: [00:13:19] You know how bad it could be.

Renetta: [00:13:22] Right. Yeah.

Gabe: [00:13:24] And there’s, you know, what people say all the time, “If you don’t learn from history you’re doomed to repeat it.”

Renetta: [00:13:29] Absolutely.

Gabe: [00:13:29] And none of us want those days to come back.

Renetta: [00:13:33] No.

Gabe: [00:13:33] Nobody in the peer movement anyway, that is.

Renetta: [00:13:34] Right.

Gabe: [00:13:35] And we want to make sure that he people around us understand why this shouldn’t come back.

Juliet: [00:13:40] Right.

Gabe: [00:13:40] Because, you know, it’s been long enough that somebody could say, “Hey, you know, if people with mental illness had their own place to live, everything would be better.” And then there’s probably a kernel of truth in this. I mean, look at homelessness, that’s not a good situation. But I’d like to think that if we investigate this, we do it right this time. You know, one of the reasons that we had deinstitutionalization is because we were just warehousing people with no hope for people to get better. And then somebody said, “Hey, what we need are community supports.” So of course, they didn’t fund that, and then the whole thing just fell apart. I think we do need to be aware of those things, to make sure that as we investigate moving forward, we do things that are helpful and not harmful. And Juliet you talk a lot about the trauma of mental illness, and that’s something that I wasn’t even aware of until I started working here. And I lived with mental illness. So you’ve got to imagine that the average person walking around, well, trauma is really disrespected anyway.

Juliet: [00:14:35] Well, Renetta spoke to it. There’s trauma that we learn about and that some people have survived it. There’s still Holocaust survivors around. And so that’s trauma. And we don’t learn about these things. I mean, we know the big history, but I don’t know if people know this other side note of that history. That they also gassed people for just being mentally ill. I knew that, because I like history. But I don’t know that that’s commonly known. And you doing research for your group?

Renetta: [00:15:21] Correct.

Juliet: [00:15:22] And you came upon this article? I mean that’s, one, devastating and, second, it’s also – I don’t want to say motivating, but it is. It does tell you how far we’ve come.

Renetta: [00:15:40] Absolutely.

Juliet: [00:15:43] And it also shows where we never want to go. Never, never again.

Gabe: [00:15:51] Well, what was the takeaway for the group? Like after you discussed this? Because I’m assuming you didn’t just read this to them and then dismiss them. You read it, and then you discussed it. Where did it end? Like, where was the group when the group was over? Where did where did this lead you?

Renetta: [00:16:05] If I recall, it was very long time ago, it was before we even moved from 1221.

Juliet: [00:16:10] OK, two addresses ago.

Renetta: [00:16:12] Yes, two addresses ago. People were very concerned, very perplexed.

Juliet: [00:16:18] It was new information?

Renetta: [00:16:19] Right

Juliet: [00:16:20] And it’s hard to absorb the whole Holocaust period. It’s hard to absorb that human beings would do to other human beings the things that we now know was done, right? So it’s heavy.

Gabe: [00:16:36] Very heavy.

Renetta: [00:16:39] Yes, it is.

Juliet: [00:16:41] So Renetta, you were diagnosed at 22?

Renetta: [00:16:44] Yes.

Juliet: [00:16:46] We didn’t know you until 10 years ago.

Renetta: [00:16:48] Correct.

Juliet: [00:16:48] What did you do between those times for your recovery?

Renetta: [00:16:52] I . . . I did, you know . . .  I worked. I worked actually.

Juliet: [00:16:59] As?

Renetta: [00:17:00] Whatever I could. I worked at Subway at some point. I worked at Burger King for a little bit. I, of course, went in and out of recovery, you know. I mean I did have some breakdowns. I worked for a credit card company for a while.

Gabe: [00:17:21] What did you do in your personal life? Like, what did you do for fun?

Renetta: [00:17:26] I just did a lot of partying. So [laughter]. . .

Gabe: [00:17:27] What did you do for positive fun?

Juliet: [00:17:32] Partying can be positive. Can’t it?

Gabe: [00:17:35] I think she said party in, like, the not positive kind.

Renetta: [00:17:39] Right.

Juliet: [00:17:44] Oh, that kind of partying.

Gabe: [00:17:44] What are your hobbies? What brings you joy?

Renetta: [00:17:47] Hmmm. I like music. I love to sketch and color. Music is a big part of me. My father was a musician, and I found out that a lot of, or several of, my mother’s people play music. My cousins especially. I found that I had a particular talent for it when I was in high school. Following music for a while. Because, you know, for a while, because of a recovery issue, I stopped listening to music for a long time. But when it came back and it was wonderful.

Gabe: [00:18:25] Do you have music now?

Renetta: [00:18:27] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:18:27] What’s your favorite song?

Renetta: [00:18:28] Favorite song?  I would have to say, hmmm, I guess I really don’t have one.

Gabe: [00:18:36] What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?

Renetta: [00:18:39] The best concert? The best concert I’ve ever been to was the Sugar Water Festival at the Germaine Amphitheater.

Gabe: [00:18:48] Wow. Previously the Polaris Amphitheater. We’re so old, it has been closed for years.

Renetta: [00:18:54] I saw Floetry. I saw Queen Latifah.

Gabe: [00:18:58] Nice.

Renetta: [00:18:59] I saw Jill Scott, and I saw Erykah Badu there. It was a good venue. It was a good show.

Gabe: [00:19:07] Did you crowd surf?

Renetta: [00:19:09] No. [Laughter]

Gabe: [00:19:12] Renetta, thank you for being on the show. We really appreciate having you here. And we will have you on again when you reach 25 years. So we’re just going to have your people talk to our people. We’ll book you for your 25th anniversary at The PEER Center, which, of course, will be the 25th anniversary of The PEER Center. Because you were apparently hired on, like, day two.

Juliet: [00:19:36] Thank you, Renetta. Thanks, Gabe. Thanks to our lovely producer. And we’ll see you next time!

All: [00:19:46] Bye!

Announcer: [00:19:46] You’ve been listening to the PEER Voices podcast, sponsored by The PEER Center with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. To learn more about this podcast, please visit OhioPeers.org. To learn more about The PEER Center, please visit ThePEERCenter.org. We encourage you to share this podcast with other peers in our community. Thank you for listening and see you next time on PEER Voices.


Renetta Scott
Since January 2007, Renetta Scott has been the Client Rights Officer and an Administrative Billing Assistant at The PEER Center in Columbus, Ohio.  She is currently working on becoming an OhioMHAS Certified Peer Recovery Supporter.