Our last show discussed the pros and cons of peer recovery supporters receiving services from the place where they work.  Turns out that our hosts, Juliet C. Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard, have more to say!  Listen in as they continue the discussion. 

How much of the refusal to access services is stigma?  Are we stigmatizing ourselves?  Is your employer on your side?  Do you distrust your agency?  How do you know when your worries are justified?  We talk about all that and more!

Show Notes: 

3:43 – “But we’re also putting peers in a cage where we just can’t be human and we can’t talk about very real issues and problems and concerns and things that, you know, tick us off.” (There is a lot of pressure on peer recovery supporters to maintain a façade of perfection.)

4:59 – “We spend more time living our lives than we do managing our illness. ‘In recovery’ does not mean cured.” (Recovery is a lifelong, ongoing process.)

5:51 – “If you’re expected to be perfect, failure is inevitable, because nobody is.” (Employers sometimes have unreasonable expectations of peer recovery supporters.)

9:35 – “Even though our supervisors and our workplaces said, ‘Look, you know, HIPPA is in place. We’re going to protect you. We care about you.’ We don’t believe them.”  (Many peer recovery supporters do not trust that their privacy and confidentiality will be respected.)

18:14 – “You know one on one advocacy is just an area of advocacy that is almost always missed because, frankly, it’s the hardest.”  (Advocating for yourself can be more intimidating than speaking on behalf of the larger group.)

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

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: [00:00:30] My name is Gabe Howard.

Juliet: [00:00:31] And I am Juliet Dorris-Williams welcome welcome.

Gabe: [00:00:35] And we are here to talk about, well, actually, we wanted to sort of continue our conversation from last week.

Juliet: [00:00:41] I don’t think we covered it quite. So, we were talking about peers in the workplace. Not peers in the workplace but peers getting services in their workplace. It’s a question that comes up through in our symposiums. It just comes up all the time. Should peers get mental health and/or addiction services in their place of employment? And we went off.

Gabe: [00:01:05] After we got done recording, we talked like another hour and a half.

Juliet: [00:01:08] Yes.

Gabe: [00:01:09] We should really just record it all.

Juliet: [00:01:10] We should have recorded it all. We should record, “Hey, I think we missed this point,” and, “Hey, we missed this other point and hey we need to do a part two.” So.

Gabe: [00:01:18] And the specific things that really came up were just really zeroing in on the stigma. To why we don’t want to go and why people think that getting help is somehow proof of us failing rather than getting help is proof of a peer succeeding.

Juliet: [00:01:36] Wow.

Gabe: [00:01:36] So it’s that whole thing. There’s many many points that we brought out. I don’t want to steal your point.

Juliet: [00:01:42] No, I mean that. But that’s not all. That’s like, I may have said five things, and that’s a sixth thing that we have. And let’s just go there.

Gabe: [00:01:49] Let’s just go right there.

Juliet: [00:01:50] About the stigma of being a known. And so there are millions of people in the world who live with a mental health condition or a mental health challenge or they are recovering from something alcohol or drug related. And they don’t work there, and they don’t have to experience this situation where they have to “out” themselves as it were. They don’t. They can they can hide if they choose to. They can choose to disclose or choose not to disclose.

Gabe: [00:02:26] And they can do it on a case by case basis. It’s not even all or none.

Juliet: [00:02:29] Yes.

Gabe: [00:02:29] I can disclose to my wife and friends but not disclose to my co-workers, for example.

Juliet: [00:02:34] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:02:34] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:02:34] But when you’re a self-identified peer, meaning that you are you are self identifying or self disclosing, as a person with lived experience of mental health or addiction or trauma. It’s like, and I think this is kind of a repeat from last time, it was like we’re walking around with.

Gabe: [00:02:58] Right. Recap, let’s recap.

Juliet: [00:03:00] It’s not a repeat, it’s a recap. Walking around with the scarlet “C” on your head, or the scarlet “P” for “patient” on your head. You’re a perpetual consumer, a perpetual client, a perpetual patient. You never stop being that for people, or for some people. And that’s the stigma. That’s the stigma. So that means that you’re very human experience, that millions of people live with, you can’t be human. You can’t just walk in and have a bad day. You can’t just be having a bad day without somebody saying or wondering if they’re symptomatic.

Gabe: [00:03:42] Right.

Juliet: [00:03:43] You know, “Do we need to walk on eggshells around them?” It’s stigmatizing. While we’re at the same time we’re celebrating. Yay! The power of peers! But we’re also putting peers in a cage where we just can’t be human and we can’t talk about very real issues and problems and concerns and things that, you know, tick us off. I was going to say the other word And things that, wow, I mean if we’re having, or if our pet died, you know?

Gabe: [00:04:17] Right.

Juliet: [00:04:18] Genuine grief about something. Or somebody cut you off in traffic. And then really.

Gabe: [00:04:23] You get angry.

Juliet: [00:04:23] And then you know, flip them the bird.

Gabe: [00:04:25] It’s Monday.

Juliet: [00:04:26] And so and then it’s like, hey, it was your fault not mine. Why are you flipping me off? And so justifiable stuff; reasonable human interaction. And as peers, as self identified people with lived experience, then we’re expected to be what? Perfect? Calm? Peaceful?

Gabe: [00:04:47] Well, we’re supposed to be in recovery. Which means, you know people living with mental illness, addiction, and trauma, we know that in recovery just means that we’re doing well.

Juliet: [00:04:58] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:04:59] We spend more time living our lives than we do managing our illness. “In recovery” does not mean cured.

Juliet: [00:05:03] That’s right.

Gabe: [00:05:03] And forgotten about.

Juliet: [00:05:04] It is not the absence. It’s not the absence of symptoms.

Gabe: [00:05:07] Right. Yeah, it’s just it’s well managed symptoms. So that we can lead our best life. It doesn’t mean no symptoms.

Juliet: [00:05:11] Live in our best life. Yeah. I love it.

Gabe: [00:05:14] Yeah. So if, to use this part, let’s say that you’re in recovery from diabetes. And please don’t write us a bunch of letters, we know that’s not correct. But it doesn’t mean that you’re not taking insulin.

Juliet: [00:05:23] That’s right.

Gabe: [00:05:23] You are doing all of those things.

Juliet: [00:05:25] Exactly.

Gabe: [00:05:26] For the most part you don’t. You’re not a diabetic 24/7.

Juliet: [00:05:30] That’s right.

Gabe: [00:05:31] You know, you monitor yourself, you take care of yourself, but mostly you’re just Bob. You’re just living your life. And people might know you as “Bob the diabetic,” and that’s fine you know. But here’s where it gets into a problem. When Bob the diabetic eats cake.

Juliet: [00:05:43] Right.

Gabe: [00:05:45] Falling off the wagon. What’s happening there? What’s it? What? Why is Bob eating cake?

Juliet: [00:05:49] It doesn’t happen. That never happened.

Gabe: [00:05:51] Right, and with mental illness addiction and trauma issues, if you’re expected to be perfect. Failure is inevitable, because nobody is. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care. Listen, all of your pastors have swore when they dropped something on their foot. They just all did. I feel confident and I’m saying that. It’s all right. They’re not perfect. They’re forgiven. That’s one of my favorite quotes. But you can’t live up to that, especially under the microscope.

Juliet: [00:06:18] No. And nor should we be expected to. And so this comes back to, I think, about the work environment, and not just for peers but for anybody. If we are in an environment that is focused on wellness for all of its employees, then whatever it is you walked in to, or if you’re Bob with diabetes, or if you’re Juliet with hypertension, or you’re Sally with schizophrenia, then if you’re in a well environment, a well work place, then everybody is recognized as human with human challenges and issues. And people should feel safe enough to utilize the services that are right at their fingertips. I mean we are here at The PEER Center. I encourage the staff. I mean we do, between our two locations, we do 50 different support groups every week. If you’re having a bad day, go. Go to the depression group today. That would be me. Go to the depression group today. There are times when I need what I call a trauma checkup. And so go to the trauma group, sit in and have a conversation with like minded peers. They’re right here at your fingertips. That’s not even creative. I mean just they’re right here. Why wouldn’t you utilize it? I encourage it. And workplaces should.

Gabe: [00:07:49] They should, because it’s in their best interests.

Juliet: [00:07:50] Yes.

Gabe: [00:07:51] I mean again, speaking as somebody who lives with bipolar disorder. If, you know, major depression or insomnia or anxiety or anger or any of the wonderful symptoms of bipolar disorder start to creep up in Gabe Howard’s life, and I make the decision, the conscious decision, not to address it, because I’m afraid of fallout at work. What’s going to end up happening is I’ve really just given that symptom a clear path to rise to power. That’s really what I’ve done. I’ve put up no barrier. I’ve used no coping skills. I’ve sought out no help. It’s just, I mean, it’s like a straight shot. It’s the autobahn. It’s a problem.

Juliet: [00:08:28] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:08:28] Whereas, if I felt confident and comfortable in my workplace to whether it’s take the mental health day or whatever. Whether it’s to, you know again, if you work in a hospital to get the services, to talk to the psychiatrist. That is better for Gabe. It’s better for the workplace. It’s better for the people that we serve and for the co-worker. It is better and for the greater good.

Juliet: [00:08:47] It’s just better for the world.

Gabe: [00:08:48] It really, really is. We’ve talked. One of the other things that came up when we were talking about this. You know we talked a lot about why our supervisors and our employers in our workplace should really foster a mental health receptive workplace.

Juliet: [00:09:01] Yes.

Gabe: [00:09:02] Like, that’s important. But you and I both know that sometimes we stigmatize ourselves. Sometimes our supervisor, you know, our supervisor, said, “Look, you’re allowed to attend the group. Come to The PEER Center. You’re allowed to come in on your day off. I have an open door policy, you can talk to me.” But that person is still sitting in the corner and saying, “Nah, I’m keeping my mouth shut.” And that’s something that we do to ourselves. I hate to say it. What advice do we have for people who feel that way? But you know, we’ve been through a lot. You know, you I talk about trauma.

Juliet: [00:09:30] Yes.

Gabe: [00:09:30] All the time. Living with mental illness and addiction, it causes trauma.

Juliet: [00:09:34] It causes trauma.

Gabe: [00:09:35] So sometimes we psych ourselves out. Even though our supervisors and our workplaces said, “Look, you know, HIPPA is in place. We’re going to protect you. We care about you.” We don’t believe them.

Juliet: [00:09:44] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:09:44] Let’s talk about that for a minute, because I know that it’s huge.

Juliet: [00:09:47] That’s tough stuff. But let me say that this is being recorded right on the heels of my watching the Brene Brown special on Netflix, A Call to Courage. And she is my sister, she is a social worker and warrior queen. I love her. Anyway.

Gabe: [00:10:10] And she’s very quotable.

Juliet: [00:10:10] I’m a fan. I’m a fan girl. And so, I totally fan. But in terms of a context, courage. She says that you can’t get to courage without going through vulnerability. So it calls for us to be a little bit brave and a little bit vulnerable, and I mean heck, we’ve done the hard part by saying, “Hey, I live with depression. I’m a trauma survivor. I live with bipolar disorder.” That’s the brave part. But to just acknowledge and accept and walk through life every day, no matter where you are, no matter who you’re with, just being yourself. Being your great and wonderful and flawed and scared sometimes and sensitive sometimes and open hearted self. Just going through life; going through wherever you meet whoever you meet with. And this is what we show the people that we provide services to, right?

Gabe: [00:11:13] Right.

Juliet: [00:11:14] We show. We show our open heart and walk through the world like that. It is sometimes scary, maybe. It’s sometimes brave, but it’s courageous and we should lead. We should be the leaders in being courageous because we are using our lives, using our whole lives, as gifts and as as means for people to choose health. To choose wellness. We should be the leaders in this.

Gabe: [00:11:47] We should really be our own, for lack of a better word, I was gonna say we should be our own cheerleaders, but in our own way. Peer support.

Juliet: [00:11:54] We should absolutely be our own cheerleaders. But, yes, be your own peer supporters. Yes.

Gabe: [00:11:58] I just think of how many times I’ve sat across the way, you know, at a table from somebody and I’m like, you know, “Listen you have to . . . ” And I lay it out. You know? I’m like, you know, listen. You know, it’s really important that you tell your mom how you feel. You tell your wife or just whoever you know. And they say why, which is a very good thing. And I’m like because this is clearly bothering you, and it’s hurting the relationship and you know listen you know five minutes of pain you know or uncomfortable or whatever and then you can you can repair this. You can work through and get on the same page and the whole time I’m saying this, I know how great that advice is. I’m thinking man I haven’t talked to Cousin Jim in five years. And I can hear it in my head like Gabe you need to take your own advice and I’m like No I’m giving it to this guy because I was in it.

Juliet: [00:12:48] I read something earlier it said boundaries is setting boundaries is self care. Some people don’t get to sit on the front pew of your life. Some people can’t sit on the front pew of your life because they are not in a well space or you two can’t be in a well space together. And so there’s something about just acknowledging that we’re not going to go with everybody.

Gabe: [00:13:11] And that’s the trick, right, though, to know whether you are setting that boundary because it is in your best interest and because it is safe.

Juliet: [00:13:21] Yes

Gabe: [00:13:22] Or whether you’re setting that boundary because you don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation with your best friend, your mom, you know cousin Jim. And that’s tough because it would be really really easy to say no no no no no. The reason that I’m not talking to my mother is because I’m setting a boundary. But then you think about it you’re like am I? And maybe you are.

Juliet: [00:13:41] They are.

Gabe: [00:13:41] That’s up for everybody to decide. But I got to tell you, speaking only for myself I know how easy it is to say I’m infallible. I know I’m right. I know that my employer will fire me, that my supervisor is crazy, and that I’m being discriminated against and sometimes that may well be true.

Juliet: [00:13:58] It may be true.

Gabe: [00:13:59] Every peer knows that may well be true.

Juliet: [00:14:01] Maybe you shouldn’t be working in that in that environment.

Gabe: [00:14:03] But then right. So are we jumping to conclusions? And I don’t mean you know I don’t mean are we being paranoid because of mental illness. I don’t know that at all. I just mean are we catastrophizing? And again not because of mental illness because all humans catastrophizing.

Juliet: [00:14:19] Oh my.

Gabe: [00:14:20] We all worry.

Juliet: [00:14:22] I’ve had bad bosses a lot. So I think that my bad bosses were my best teachers on how to be a better boss. And did I quit those jobs? Not right away. But I also knew that yeah, this isn’t the place. This isn’t the place for me.

Gabe: [00:14:43] I have a friend who calls that quitting smart.

Juliet: [00:14:45] Quitting is my idea.

Gabe: [00:14:46] You look around and you decide OK. This is not the place for me. But you know listen most of us don’t live in a world we can just quit our job.

Juliet: [00:14:54] No you can’t. You know you can’t actually get a job without having a job.

Gabe: [00:14:57] Exactly. So you know she always just tried to say quitting smart is OK. You evaluated this. You’ve looked around, you’ve realized that this is not a healthy place for you.

Juliet: [00:15:06] Right.

Gabe: [00:15:07] And that’s fine. You’ve made that decision.

Juliet: [00:15:08] Right.

Gabe: [00:15:08] Now you need to find a replacement job. You need to decide what you’re gonna do and you need to go out and find that. Update your resume.

Juliet: [00:15:13] Yes.

Gabe: [00:15:14] Iron your suit.

Juliet: [00:15:14] Do all the steps. A lot of steps.

Gabe: [00:15:15] And then when you do that you need to give two weeks and you need to be polite. You need to finish up and you need to not burn the bridge because while you may never ever work for XYZ, Inc. again, people who work for XYZ are gonna go get hired over at 123, Inc. where you’re going to apply in a decade.

Juliet: [00:15:32] Yes.

Gabe: [00:15:32] And I got to say that was the best advice that I ever got because I used to not quit smart. I used to quit by sending emails to the entire company telling them they could all kiss my rear end. I would like to point out that that I was untreated.

Juliet: [00:15:45] Yeah. No feeling well where you?

Gabe: [00:15:47] No, no, I was feeling very very terrible but it is an interesting thing. It’s hard isn’t it to figure out what stigma and discrimination is real and there’s a degree yes.

Juliet: [00:16:00] It absolutely exists.

Gabe: [00:16:02] And what stigma and discrimination is in our head because of our traumatic experience. And then where that middle ground is because it could be both. You know it’s possible. And this is that in my opinion this is the hardest. It’s possible that your co-workers or your supervisors or whatever are stigmatizing you but not on purpose. And that’s the hardest one because it’s an accident. But it’s also the best one because you could educate them. You could say, “You know, I don’t like it when you do this.” And because think about how misunderstandings occur you know. Think about all the misunderstandings we have because of gender, because of race, because of age. You know how every 50 year old just insults every 25 year old? Well, those millennials are lazy. It’s like we don’t have the same job people.

Juliet: [00:16:46] Well there’s some backlash about that.

Gabe: [00:16:47] Well sure.

Juliet: [00:16:47] Baby boomers saying that.

Gabe: [00:16:51] You see what I’m saying.

Juliet: [00:16:51] Yes.

Gabe: [00:16:52] It’s not. There’s my favorite quote in the whole wide world. It’s, “never assume malice when stupidity will do.”

Juliet: [00:16:58] Works it works.

Gabe: [00:17:00] But that’s in a way as I said it. It’s good because you and everybody can get on the same page because it’s not malicious.

Juliet: [00:17:08] But it doesn’t. It does take someone to get to their highest self. That’s emotional intelligence to act in their highest self and show a little courage. And again back to courage and vulnerability. And it is we can’t get past it. That’s the road.

Gabe: [00:17:31] Right.

Juliet: [00:17:31] So some people I think are absolutely uneducated and don’t know what they don’t know. And then there’s just some flat out mean people.

Gabe: [00:17:40] Yeah. You know there are.

Juliet: [00:17:43] And you shouldn’t be working for those people. So.

Gabe: [00:17:45] That does suck that we have to figure it out and.

Juliet: [00:17:48] We would do.

Gabe: [00:17:48] But.

Juliet: [00:17:50] This thing is the human condition.

Gabe: [00:17:51] As certified peer recovery supporters, or as peer supporters, or as just advocates for people living with mental health addiction and trauma, we signed up for this.

Juliet: [00:18:01] I don’t think people thought they were signing up.

Gabe: [00:18:05] I’m telling you, that you did.

Juliet: [00:18:07] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:18:08] If you decided that you wanted to be a mental health advocate, we’ll just put it all in the mental health. We signed up to educate people.

Juliet: [00:18:14] Yes.

Gabe: [00:18:14] And while we thought to ourselves all this will be broad. We’ll do it by a podcast or blogs or articles or Facebook posts. You know one on one advocacy is just an area of advocacy that is almost always missed because frankly it’s the hardest.

Juliet: [00:18:27] Yes.

Gabe: [00:18:28] Looking a single person in the eyes and challenging their belief that part of it, my friend that takes some stones.

Juliet: [00:18:37] Ok.

Gabe: [00:18:37] But it’s tough, isn’t it?

Juliet: [00:18:41] Yea.

Gabe: [00:18:41] I mean sincerely.

Juliet: [00:18:41] It is. But it is in everything that we do. Life is tough.

Gabe: [00:18:45] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:18:45] Life is there is that. I think that’s the first line of this book called The Road Less Traveled. Life is difficult. First sentence. So we don’t get it easy and we’ve done really well. We’ve done the hard part. We’ve done a lot of hard stuff. We’ve survived some stuff, we’ve gotten through some stuff, getting up every day doing what we need to do for self care. Taking our medication, meditating, whatever, do it. Doing whatever it is that we need to do to get ready for the day. We as peers, as people with lived experience of mental health addiction and trauma, we’ve done some hard stuff already and we are already courageous and already brave and we are. And so remember that we need to remember that when we have to stand in front of the suits as it were and educate.

Gabe: [00:19:36] Yeah we must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. That really just is the reality.

Juliet: [00:19:42] Yes.

Gabe: [00:19:42] I would love to say that all we have to do is scream from the rooftops, “Treat us fairly! Don’t discriminate!” But we’re not the first movement to ever as much as I hate to say it because this is a very depressing thing. You know, think about women’s rights and the civil rights movements and LGBTQ rights and on and on and on. I mean you know immigration and all of these groups of people have had to stand up and say, “Hey, why do you have this misconception about what we’re trying to do here?” And then work to correct it. You know people with mental illness, addiction, and trauma. Unfortunately we just fell into that group where we have to follow the same steps. We can learn from those movements. Those movements are also our allies. What we all have in common is we saw a better path forward and we realized that there was this misunderstanding that existed that was causing us problems.

Juliet: [00:20:34] Yep.

Gabe: [00:20:35] And you know I hope that someday America evolves it to where everybody takes a deep breath before they freak out over the new thing that we saw on the news but we’re not there yet.

Juliet: [00:20:44] Nope, we’re not there.

Gabe: [00:20:46] But you know someday maybe for our great great great grandkids.

Juliet: [00:20:50] We have to start somewhere.

Gabe: [00:20:52] Absolutely. So Juliet, did you have any last words? I mean we covered a lot. And I know we really didn’t in the last episode we didn’t hit a lot on stigma. We did kind of blame everything on the employer, which is again I’m not saying that they don’t have blame, but we have to be open to the possibility they don’t because otherwise we’re just victims. And I don’t think anybody listening to this considers themselves a victim. So you know it’s important to really suss it all out.

Juliet: [00:21:21] I guess the final last point that I want to make and this might lead into a part three, I hope not but it might, is how we stigmatize ourselves Because we don’t respect all paths and all pathways.

Gabe: [00:21:37] Oh yeah yeah. Listen.

Juliet: [00:21:38] And I’m talking about us.

Gabe: [00:21:39] Oh I know.

Juliet: [00:21:40] Peers.

Gabe: [00:21:40] Peers fighting with other peers just makes me, just I guess I hate to say it, but, Juliet, it makes me crazy. You know.

Juliet: [00:21:47] You can say that. We’re allowed. We’re allowed to claim crazy if we want. So yeah, we do it to ourselves sometimes and we have to learn how to be our own cheerleaders. It’s what you said earlier here.

Gabe: [00:22:03] And we need to understand that disagreement does not equal disrespect. Thank you everybody for tuning into this episode of PEER Voices. Remember if you like the show share, us on social media, subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download us, leave a five star review and write something nice.

Juliet: [00:22:19] Yeah, or not.

Gabe: [00:22:21] No nice. only nice.

Juliet: [00:22:25] We’re tough. We want to learn. We want to learn where maybe we missed another point too.

Gabe: [00:22:29] So very true.

Juliet: [00:22:31] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:22:31] You are always welcome to e-mail us at info@ThePEERCenter.org and tell us what you like or what you don’t. We will see you next time here on PEER Voices.

Juliet & Gabe: [00:22:42] Bye!

Announcer: [00:22:43] 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.